Games for Change 2017 (Part IV): A Healthcare Market Researcher’s Perspective

This is part 4 of a 4 part report on the 2017 Games for Change Festival held in NYC (July 31-August 2). Click here to see part 1. Click here to see part 2. Click here to see part 3.

The design of questionnaires remains a foundational, if not defining skillset for many market researchers—particularly those specialized in quantitative methods. Apprenticeships can be difficult for those who fail to avoid the infamous “double-barreled question”, do not quickly develop a grasp of “mutually exclusive and exhaustive”, or pick the wrong type of psychometric scale for the analytic purpose at hand. An equally important consideration for researchers is the actual respondent experience with the questionnaire-- including, in the case of on-line surveys, the interaction with the digital survey platform itself.

The design of games likewise demands mastery of a range of principles and techniques for creating satisfying game experiences. Successful designers need to build environments for play that operate according to discoverable rules, can be manipulated through intuitive interfaces, and are imbued with compelling narratives, challenges and feedback. On the surface, these concerns seem very different from those of the market researcher. Crafting and presenting an effective question seems very different from designing the mechanics that launch an angry bird into a nest of pigs. Researchers assess their success with questionnaires in terms of validity and reliability. Game designers assess their success in terms of engagement and fun.

As was evident at the 2017 Games for Change Festival, however, game designers share market researchers’ deep interest in cognitive and behavioral science. Moran Cref, professor at the Kellogg School of Management, set the tone with his G4C keynote presentation, How Unique are We? The New Neuroscience of Decision-making and Free Will. His main point, that people can’t really explain why they do what they do, would have been relevant and well received at any market research conference. Celia Hodent, Director of User Experience at Epic Games, focused on cognitive biases in her talk, What do Fake News and Video Games have in Common? Exploration of Some Human Mind Limitations and their Impact on our Behavior and Society. Her positioning of cognitive and behavioral science at the heart of good game design echoes our industry’s increasing emphasis on these disciplines in both the design and analysis of insightful market research.

When we think, then, about the skills and mindsets that are common to market researchers and game designers, we find a mutual interest in exploring and applying cognitive and behavioral science learning. In our industry, this confluence of interest is already evident in the popularization of gamification as a way to “hack” the brains of respondents and make otherwise tedious surveys more engaging. Today, an appealing point a researcher might want to add to her resume would be “experience in the application of game mechanics to questionnaire design”.

But market researchers are going beyond mere gamification by re-designing survey environments from the ground up using novel software platforms inspired by serious games. Best termed simulations, these research environments channel much of the appeal and engagement of games while gathering research data in a context that is far more evocative of the real world than a questionnaire. At the heart of these efforts lies a simple premise—that insights into behavior can sometimes be generated more effectively by observing behavior within a simulation than by asking about it in a questionnaire. Mix up the simulation conditions according to experimental design, and you have a virtual laboratory for testing and applying cognitive and behavioral science theories—often more effectively than through questionnaires, and often more cost efficiently than through “real world” tests.

As these types of simulation gain more traction, market researchers will need to fuse their current research skills with simulation design expertise-- as well as with an appreciation of user experience akin to that possessed by game developers. They will also need to hone their skills in experimental design and master at least a basic body of cognitive and behavioral science theory. It may not be long before market researchers are found with titles like Simulation Architect or Simulation Analyst. And on their resumes, under Skills and Interests, these researchers will most likely include “playing games”.

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