I carry out workshops on gamification for the MRS in London and just a couple of months ago ran one in Toronto for NetGain. The delegates who attend are all researchers in some capacity or another.

Some of the delegates have no idea about what gamification is before they attend, some have at least Googled it, while others have done some heavy reading. Some delegates are client-side and some are agency side. Many are 30 and above, and only 1 or 2 are younger than 30.

But there is something all these delegates have in common. They are not game-designers before they walk into the workshops. And most of them are happy to testify that they’re not particularly creative people.

When we, researchers, go to work everyday, we’re dealing with online surveys. The survey is one of the core products our industry produces. And yet, this thing which is the cause of so much debate, the subject of dozens of conferences annually, blogs and articles, and is the spine of hundreds of companies worldwide – looks as dire as it does today. And yet, 20 minutes is all we need to quickly figure out how to make surveys more engaging and fun for the respondents.

So, this is what the delegates come to my workshops to find out: how to make the surveys better. They are looking to me to give them the secret sauce, but the real spark where the survey goes from boring to engaging is when they spend 20 minutes storyboarding in a team. I get them to play a game where the goal is to gamify the boring survey. In this article, I have updated the rules I usually use in my workshop for an even better game – now with the added rule of trying to ensure the gamified survey is no longer than 20 minutes. Let’s call this game ’20 for 20’ (20 minutes to create a 20 minute gamified survey) And anyone can play this game!

To start with, I give the delegates an example of a typical online survey (I usually take a screenshot of the most recent one I’ve taken part in or one which I feel really summarises a ‘typical’ survey) to which they usually gasp: ‘This is terrible! Who would create such a thing?!’

In order for the delegates to create the best gamified survey they can, I tell them the subject of the research, the demographic of the respondent(s) and a bit more about the brand behind it. This task I set is very much a game in itself, where the delegates have 20 minutes to complete it and the winning team are rewarded by getting a mention on Twitter and at the next conference I speak for recognition of their efforts.

These delegates who claimed at the start of my workshop that they’re not game designers and ‘not very creative’ make me extremely proud every single time I run this game.

I’ve had some of the most bizarre, out-of-the-box thinking from even the most sceptical of researchers. ‘The Gadget Girls’ in my last gamification workshop came up with a car-simulator driving idea which really related to the brand at hand. Another team, ‘In the Middle’ from Toronto, created ‘personalities’ for the respondents where depending on how they answered the questions, a personality was assigned such as ‘Gadget Geek’ or ‘Tech Apprentice’.

The best research game designs I have seen are when the delegates show that they have clearly understood how to grow a research game exponentially. By giving bonus research games to a respondent and making a game out of a long-standing tracker study, these teams gave this once boring survey a new lease of life and longevity for the future while really engaging the respondent to want to come back for more year after year. Another team had the idea that they would reward the respondents differently, with better rewards per ‘level’ the longer they took part in the tracker study which may have lasted for a decade.

With just 4 marker pens and a couple of pieces of A2 paper, these teams spend 20 minutes or less basically doing what I now do for a living – gamifying surveys. Sure, for the first minute or so I see the delegates look at their team mates apprehensively, not really sure where to start, but once they figure out their team name, I notice that ideas start being jotted down. Other people flesh out a seedling idea. The conversation becomes increasingly animated and the ideas grow like branches of a tree. And when the buzzer goes 20 minutes later – what do you know? They’re all game designers.

I’ve been so pleased with the results from my game, that I want to share the rules of play with everyone!

(As you can see here from the winning team ‘In the Middle’ they actually wrote my acronyms RAVA and CABIN so they could ensure all points were covered to create the best research game possible.)

Play ‘20 for 20’ game at work!

How to start: Grab some marker pens and paper. Make sure everyone involved understands the study at hand. You can take a current struggling survey or apply this game to a completely new survey. This game can be played alone or in a team, or in competition with other teams. If you decide to play in a team or teams, make an effort to record the session and get as many people involved as possible!


  1. You’re allowed a maximum of 20 minutes to gamify your survey. You should also set a timer on to help keep you to time. 20 minutes is also easily found in the working day, even if you take this out of your lunch-break.
  2. If you’re playing in a team, you have to give your team a name. This will help you start to feel playful and get the creative thoughts bubbling to the surface.
  3. While gamifying your survey, you have to keep in mind that the maximum length of this survey should be 20 minutes. This will 1) aid in keeping the attention of your respondents 2) will help you eliminate any  questions that aren’t relevant or important to the study and 3) will also let you see how, creatively, you can put perhaps 5 or 10 questions together in one interesting format for the respondent, as opposed to spread across as many pages.
  4. Teams are not allowed to peek at each other’s storyboards/brainstorms!
  5. The winner in the team, or the winning team should be decided by a vote of hands. The team with the most votes wins.


  1. To create a fully gamified, implementable survey by applying RAVA and CABIN ( see pictures)
  2. To win against your opposing team(s)! If playing alone, see point a)


  1. You should go over your storyboard/ideas objectively when playing alone and go through the pros and cons of your ideas by writing a list. In a team (or teams) everyone playing should discuss and list the pros and cons of the winning gamified survey idea.
  2. When creating a list of the pros and cons for the winning gamified survey, think about how to eliminate those cons. If one of the cons is that you think the idea will cost money for instance, weigh this up against money you could potentially lose (or have already lost) through drop-outs and boredom.
  3. If drop-outs aren’t applicable to your study, think about less expensive alternatives to your ideas. For instance, if your idea is to create Avatars of various personality types as part of your game, think about doing away with the graphics and making a note of those personalities in text. (Images aren’t everything!)

Rewards and recognition for winning:

  1. If you’re playing in a team against another team or teams, there should be a genuine reward and recognition for the effort made by the winning team. Whether the reward might be tweeting about the winning team, or writing a glowing review on the team members’ Linked In profiles, there should be a useful reward to make the winner(s) proud.
  2. If you’re playing alone, assign your own reward! If after 20 minutes you feel like you’ve done a really good job gamifying your survey, assign yourself a reward AT THE START of the game – and stick to that reward, even if it’s treating yourself to a fancy lunch.
  3. I hope that you do play, dear reader. And I hope that when you play you smile proudly (as all my delegates do) at having produced something which is miles better than the survey you had to begin with (and is now genuinely fun for the respondent to complete).

Play this game with Twitter!

I’d like anyone who plays ‘20 for 20’ to tweet about their game using the #20for20 hashtag! Post up your ideas, thoughts or photos of your brainstorming session using #20for20. For non-Twitter users post thoughts/photos of your gamified surveys below or on the RTG Facebook profile page.

Happy playing!

Betty Adamou is CEO and Founder – Research Through Gaming Ltd and runs the gamification blog GameAccess