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Betty Adamou is the CEO and Founder of revolutionary and award-winning company Research Through Gaming Ltd, based in London, which specialises in making games for research. She invented ResearchGames™ & is doing her best to ensure this methodology of market research is enjoyed throughout the world by brands, academics and Playspondents alike. We caught up with her for a chat about her work.

Hi Betty, For those that don’t know what Research Through Gaming is, can you explain a bit about the concept of gamification and how this relates to market research?

Research Through Gaming is the name of my company, but the name of it was born out of a methodology I had theorized would work, and wrote about in 2011, which I named ‘RTG ‘– Research Through Gaming. At Research Through Gaming (the company), we do use Gamification in research, and we provide workshops and training on it, however in practicality we don’t “gamify surveys”. No one has ever given us a survey to Gamify. We go beyond gamification and create what I’ve called “ResearchGames™” using our own game-engine. ResearchGames are more immersive platforms than points-awarded traditional looking surveys.

My team and I have developed recognizable game components and use other game-play functionalities to create immersive, experiential ResearchGames. For instance, the use of music and sound effects is not part of the framework or rules that make a game a game, but the use of audio is a familiar part of game-play, almost strange without it. And the use of audio has many benefits in online research, even without game-play. We also use Avatars, which again, do not make up a core game framework, but avatars and characters with a back-story are increasingly integral parts of traditional digital gameplay. We only have to look at console ‘Top 10 Games’ like Max Payne, and the characters in Grand Theft Auto 5 to see how the story of characters, and a wider narrative, are ever-increasing keys to engagement in digital gaming. So, at Research Through Gaming we use that too: there’s always a story in our ResearchGames, and story is what Gamification misses out on.

So what makes a game a game? Rules, a Feedback system, a Voluntary approach and a Goal. The idea behind gamification is that you can apply these 4 key components to any non-game task, and you then have something ‘gamified’.

How has gamification evolved from its beginnings a few years back?

Gamification has changed, and more profit-making businesses than ever are using Gamification. Gamification is now mainstream for commercial purposes, and commonplace.

However, Gamification has not evolved in the last few years in the way I would have liked to have seen ‘it’ do by now. When I say ‘it’, I don’t mean as an industry. The Gamification industry is doing just fine, it is a great community where people really strive to educate and evolve; an industry I’m glad to be part of. So when I say ‘it’ mean the type of platforms being designed and released. But perhaps I am too impatient – I believe the platforms I would have wanted to see come out by now will be designed eventually. There’s already some headway being made.

For example, by now. I would have liked to have seen more ‘Serious’ Games being used in the mainstream in governance; from decisions that might affect a small town to decisions that have an environmental and economical affect on us globally. I would like to see Gamification being used to bring more people together in physical spaces to create; create better neighbourhoods, create artworks, create more community spirit. I would have liked to have seen games being used much more in mental health as well by now, although I feel positive that all this is to come as some platforms are already emerging and as much as possible, I try to be involved with these things myself. I’m part of a collective called GADAC – Gaming Artists, Designers and Academics Collective which hopes to bring games into the mainstream for social good.

While the amount of platforms being used for social good is less than gamification platforms being used for money-making purposes, I would like to name some of these platforms. One example of a truly pivotal game using crowd-sourcing invited Facebook users to help in the fight against the Ash Dieback disease that was threatening to kill up to 90% of Britain’s Ash tree population. They did this by playing a computer game that analyses genetic data on the disease. (http://www.researchthroughgaming.com/gaming/how-a-game-is-helping-to-save-the-trees-of-britain/). Another platform I’ve had the pleasure of looking at is Mathletics, which I absolutely love. It’s a game produced by a company called Skoolbo, who’s purpose is to aid learning through games for children around the world. (http://www.researchthroughgaming.com/gaming/mathletics-a-global-maths-classroom/)

But are these platforms Gamification, or are they games? After looking at both these platforms, they both felt like games. Not something trying to be a game which is where Gamification fails, and sometimes feels a bit manipulative. The evolution of Gamification is that people are now moving beyond Gamification, and making Games. In many ways, this is a kind of ‘back to basics’ approach. We all know what a game is, we all know what it feels like to play a game and so with this knowledge, we’re better game designers. The word Gamification is unfamililar to us, and the lack of knowledge has lead to poorly designed Gamification platforms which is partly where Gamification gets itself a bad name. So let’s make Games is what I say; Games for Research, Games for Good and Games for Change.

How is this method being used in the market research world at the moment?

It's definitely being used by more online market research communities. InSites consulting are using game mechanics to produce engaging online communities, and I like what they do. However, increasingly, market research agencies producing ad-hoc surveys are saying they use Gamification but in looking at what is being produced, a big ? raises above my head. I’m still seeing people say that drag-and-drop functions on their own are ‘gamification’ (which they are not), and I’m still seeing a lot of design for designs sake, with little to no regard on designing the gamification framework to support the market research objectives and to be relevant to specific demographic audiences. I’m seeing these agencies try to produce a ‘one size fits all’ approach on Gamification research to save money, and I think that’s a bubble waiting to burst. Don’t get me wrong, not everything has to be bespoke. My advice would be to create functionalities and a graphics library that you can cherry-pick from in relevance to the content of the research, the demographic of the participants and the budget of the client. Churning out the same gamification survey for everyone and everything isn’t going to work. Also, giving points to people but still using traditional online surveys doesn’t work either! That’s a naff use of game techniques.

Can you see an increase in its popularity?

Yes and no. I think where market research agencies have tried to do Gamification Research themselves and failed, they’ve decided to walk away and look at the ‘next big thing’. But they’re missing a trick: don’t gamify surveys, make games. And if you’re going to gamify surveys, evolve from the look and feel of traditional surveys please.

But there is hope. The market research students of today (the researchers of tomorrow) are doing me very, very proud. I have had several students over the last two years tell me that they are taking up Gamification in a serious way within one of their modules at colleage or University, and I have had three students email me to say they are taking up Gamification Research as their thesis in the past 6 months alone. David Wiszniowski, a student from the Georgian College in Canada carried out a whole Gamification seminar for his fellow students while he was at the college last year, where he invited me to guest lecture and carry out a ResearchGame with the whole room over a webinar. I’m being asked more and more to guest lecture at universities to students who begin to become starry eyed at the amazing opportunities games for market research opens-up and they approach me after my talks with many questions and interesting suggestions. Even non-research students who I speak to back at my old school in London have become interested in what I do, and say they want to make ResearchGames too.

I believe that in the near future, Linked In profiles from students as new researchers will list skills and qualifications in Gamification and game based market research. Especially if I have anything to do with it. And more so, with the emergence of new software and hardware systems, the scope for game-based market research is massive. ResearchGames using Augmented Reality. ResearchGames using Google Glass. All of this is on the horizon and it’s the students of today that will have the task of making that happen.

Outside of research I know profit making organizations will continue to use gamification, but not necessarily by just the big companies anymore, as we’ve already seen with IBM and Salesforce, but being used by smaller companies too. Even my local family-run café is using Gamification now! And digital Gaming communities like Battle.net are also upping the ante with their Gamification: Gamifying the process of playing their games.

I’m seeing Hip Hop stars like Eminem use Gamification too in their marketing campaigns  to car manufacturers looking to make better vehicles . Gamification for profit is everywhere.

How is the application of gamification working in the pharma market research industry at the moment and how do you see it evolving?

After producing a webinar on Gamification in healthcare for EphMRA last year, I took quite an interest in the area of games in healthcare. Gamificaton is currently being used in healthcare in fantastic ways, but Gamification is not necessarily being used in the pharmaceutical industry per se. For instance, if we were hoping that Gamification would be used to create new medications and/or get the correct medication to more people and quicker, then this hasn’t happened in the mainstream yet. There was one interesting competition called the Merck Activity Platform in 2012  which aimed to develop safe and effective medicines by predicting molecular activity. The point of the competition was to “identify the best statistical techniques for predicting biological activities of different molecules, both on- and off-target, given numerical descriptors generated from their chemical structures.” The competition was worth a $40,000 dollar prize, and I’m sure, plenty of recognition from the pharma community.

Games (notice I say Games and not Gamification here) are, however, being used to help defeat disease and make patients feel better with more crowd-sourcing going on. There’s Generun, a crowd-sourced game to pin-point changes in genes at a faster pace with Facebook, Cancer Research UK, Google and Amazon all involved, and there’s also the Syrum Game on Facebook which was 3 years in the making allowing players to solve the world’s health problems. These two games put you at the heart of solving a health-related problem for other people, not just yourself.

Re-mission 1 and 2 from HopeLab is a collection of games to help children fight cancer by using weapons like chemotherapy, antibiotics and the body’s natural defences thus encouraging children to stick to medication in the real world while shifting attitudes about chemotherapy to positive emotions. Also, the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington, D.C., opened a new pain care complex on April 3 2013, using game technology like the Microsoft Kinect and specially designed games to help children with chronic pain. There’s also the SuperBetter game produced by SuperBetter Labs involving Jane McGonigal and her sister, Kelly McGonigal. SuperBetter produces quests for people to overcome their health-related issues; anything from loosing weight, quitting smoking or even overcoming concussion. Gamification applications and platforms for general health and fitness are commonplace now, for example GoMeals by In Touch solutions the Nike+ app and of course, Weight Watchers!

In pharma, I do hope to see Gamification being used for knowledge sharing, more competitions like the Merck Activity platform arising and gamification being used to treat more people, and get medication to them faster. I hope that with more crowd-sourced games like GeneRun, everyone can have a hand at defeating cancer and other diseases, not just those affected.

Meanwhile in Gamification market research for Healthcare, we are dealing with some hard-to reach physicians and sometimes, some sensitive content when speaking to patients. In two recent consultation sessions I’ve had with healthcare research clients, they’ve been very taken aback by my suggestion that Gamification and game-based research might actually BEST be suited to healthcare research more than any other subject. But it makes complete sense; physicians are notoriously hard to reach because of such a lack of time, and little to no triggers to get them to remember to participate in a survey as and when the right patient comes into their rooms. However, a ResearchGame, or Gamified research platform, can provide triggers, stimulate memory and motivate physicians to participate because they are more engaged due to an element of competition perhaps, rewards that genuinely mean something to them, clear goals and feedback systems so they can see how they’re genuinely helping people through their participation in research. So many games harness community spirit – and what better way to discuss ailments and illnesses experienced by patients than with other people in a game-based community also feeling, thinking and wanting the same things? Games for Healthcare research make perfect sense to me, I just hope that more research agencies and healthcare organizations are brave enough to give it a try.

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