“Since the majority of money spent on market researh is spent on de-contextualised market research – which is essentially asking people to make a theoretical decision – how much predictive value does this really have?” – Rory Sutherland Vice Chairman Ogilcy

Peter Harrison of BrainJuicer presented at ESOMAR 3D 2011 on adopting a game designer’s approach to market research. “My philosophy of the researchification of games has its roots in behavioral economics, which represents the largest challenge to our industry.”

In one BrainJuicer study, respondents who rated their opinion as excited were more likely to say they would purchase a product than respondents who were angry. Speaking of respondent emotions, Peter said, “The respondent has become despondent: people don’t want to take surveys any more or give it their full effort.”

In Jon Puleston’s experiments, he found less straight-lining, more creative responses and more time spent thinking, with fewer drop outs of the gamified survey when compared to the traditional survey.

All good games change the frame of mind of their players. “Game changes the way we feel, think and behave.” Normally, researchers don’t want to change how respondents are feeling, but research games turn that upside down. Why is this important? “Because life changes the way we feel, think and behave.” Research games may help our research get closer to the way respondents would feel in real life.

“If any of the research used has induced a frame of mind that is not present during the actual consumer experience, it is unlikely to have obtained an accurate picture of what people think,” according to Philip Groves in his book Consumer.ology.

BrainJuicer conducted research on people’s household frustation, creating a research game Mopopoly where players have to reveal their frustrations at certain points. Research games can give people better access to their recollections and real-life experiences. “The role of games is to create the context.”

For a pharmeceutical client, BrainJuicer created an online research game about, of all things, abdominal pain. Players had to identify what two fictional characters’ problems were by asking questions of two role players. Players empathized and personalized with the role players.

As researchers, rather than game designers, how do we build effective research games? Games, in essence, are “a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.” For research games, a good definition would be “a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude to uncover consumer insights.”

Schell’s “elemental tetrad” provides an understanding of game experience based on the story, aesthetics, game mechanics and technology. For Mopopoly, the object is to offload all your frustrations on the other players to earn well-being points: frustrations such as “Hungover” and “In-laws Visit” replaced the utilities, for instance. This was a low-tech game, using an actual physical game board rather than an online game. The aesthetics were similar to the conventional Monopoly game.

Research games offer a great way for us to create the context that helps us understand consumers in the right frame of mind.