Cape Cod Startup PartingGift Looks to Gamify Market Research

8/9/11Follow @xconomy

What do running a farm, being a mobster, and taking orders at the drive-through at Dunkin’ Donuts all have in common?

They’re all experiences simulated on Facebook, thanks to game developers Zynga (maker of Mafia Wars and Farmville) and a much newer startup, PartingGift, which operates in a Massachusetts area not exactly known as a tech hub: Hyannis on Cape Cod.

Haven’t heard of the Dunkin’ Donuts game? Called On Your Mark, it debuted on the first of this month and lives on Dunkin’ Donuts’ Facebook fan page. The game interface pushes an image of a coffee cup along a virtual coffee assembly, with stations for flavor, sweetener, milk, and brew, with a virtual customer’s order. The player is responsible for correctly filling the order in the allotted one minute. The orders become bigger and the cups move faster as the players hit higher levels of the game. Ten players a day have the chance to each win $10 gift cards to Dunkin’.

On Your Mark does more than waste hours of the players’ time and earn the game developer money in the process, though, says PartingGift founder and CEO Brad Crowell.

“The whole game platform was designed with research in mind; there’s a strong data-collection component that’s part of our platform,” Crowell says.

See, On Your Mark starts off by asking the player to input their favorite Dunkin’ Donuts beverage to make at the virtual drive-through.

“We are looking to figure out what people’s preferences are in terms of beverages—that’s sort of the starting point of being able to understand what we can do with those preferences,” Crowell says. “We’re working with Dunkin’ on multiple games, building on that sort of information.”

He says he got the idea for the company four or so years ago, after automakers like Ford released online apps where consumers could design their dream car before going into a dealer. Ford said the cars that actually sold were very closely correlated to the ones that were designed on the site by consumers, with a few months of delay.

“That really excited me,” Crowell says. “If you could measure and predict something to that degree of accuracy, you could optimize for it.” PartingGift actually got started in 2009, and most of its five-person team came together the following year.

PartingGift also enables brands to interact with consumers for sustained periods of time. So far, players have spent close to 15 minutes each on the On Your Mark game, on average. The platform also offers the ability to deliver coupons on the spot to players as prizes. Dunkin’ didn’t choose that option for the On Your Mark game, but Crowell says PartingGift has that capability for other brands that want to use it. He says brands that could benefit from the gaming technology are quick-serve restaurants like Dunkin’ and makers of packaged consumer goods.

PartingGift has raised about $35,000 in a friends-and-family financing, and is in conversation with corporations and venture firms about other funding, Crowell says. He couldn’t give specific numbers about the players On Your Mark has nabbed, but said that the game is the most-visited tab on the Dunkin’ Donuts Facebook page—which has more than 3.8 million fans.

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