Is Your Team Self Actualizing?

Posted on Jan 19, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


As a manager, your responsibility is to make your team as productive as possible.  To do that, you need to motivate them to maximize performance NOW and improve their skills over time.  To motivate your team, you need to first understand how motivation works. That’s where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes in. It provides an easy-to-understand framework that’s really relevant for managers.

In short, he divided motivation into 5 distinct parts:

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

You want your team members to be at the top of the pyramid to maximize their performance. To do that, you have to progress through each tier of the pyramid starting from the bottom:

  • Physiological – The basic needs of food, water, shelter and clothing have to be met. I don’t have much to say about this one since I’ve never had a direct report who was starving.
  • Safety – When an employee was under-performing at Zynga, the were put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Unfortunately, it was very rare for an employee to survive a PIP.  That’s not surprising. When faced with a high likelihood of losing their job, the most rational course of action is to hedge your risk and immediately start looking for a new job instead of improving your current performance (since you’re facing an uphill battle).
  • Belonging - Humans are social animals. You need to feel part of the team and share in their successes and failures.  Failure to do so makes you feel isolated and that your contributions don’t matter.
  • Esteem - Before you can really embrace feedback, you need to feel competent.
  • Self Actualization – This is where you want everyone to be! If you make it here, you’ll start to see your team really KILL IT! They will accept and internalize feedback and will constantly strive to improve.

Make your employees the best they can be!  Move each of your direct reports as far up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as possible!

* There are some exceptions to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (e.g. starving artists partially skip the physiological tier) and it’s not hard science.

Battle Pirates Deconstruct

Posted on Jul 30, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Battle Pirates has one of the highest rev/DAU of any FB game.  I’ve been playing it obsessively over the last month to figure out why.

Key Metrics (as of 7/29 from

  • DAU: 230k
  • Month Over Month DAU Growth: 9.5%
  • Engagement: 19.2%

There are 3 main reasons why I think this game is success:

  1. An external threat to survival with an ability and incentive for users to band together
  2. Aspiration
  3. Egg-timer galore

Threats & Self-Organization

There’s nothing like a looming threat to bring people together.  Here’s how Battle Pirates did it:

At level 10, I attacked one of my neighbors.  Before I could congratulate myself on taking out his base, a level 30 annihilates me.

That level 30 user was an enforcer. He took it upon himself to make sure of that users in Sector 330 didn’t attack each other.  We were supposed to stick together and fight users in other Sectors.
Sector 330 self-organized (with only the help of chat) and built a community around a common goal: Sector security.

No infighting in Sector 330. It's enforced by elder users.



Having a persistent, multi-player game world  let’s you easily see other users bases and fleets.  That provides aspirataton:

George_R has a bunch of Hammerheads (the most powerful ship in the game). I'm jealous.


Speeding up Upgrades

FB’s Game Spotlight leaked some amazing info:

Speed-ups account for 85% of revenue across all of KIXEYE’s games, including War Commander.

There are egg-timers are on EVERYTHING in Battle Pirates!  And as you level up and get swankier gear, it takes long and longer to upgrade.

Upgrading units on an egg-timer.


At level 19, it takes me almost 24 hours to build a single ship, but I can get instant gratification for a mere 32 FB credits ($3.20):


How can you encourage self-organization, generate aspiration and put egg-timers in your game?

Posted on Jul 22, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Here’s a great quote from an article by Audran Guerard on Gamasutra:

“The best moment to plant a tree, unfortunately, was 20 years ago. Lucky us; the next best moment is now.”

The Endowment Effect

Posted on Jul 14, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Maybe dog experience the endowment effect too?

The endowment effect increases your perceived value of a good when you own it. In other words, if you buy a t-shirt for $10 and I offer you $10 when you walk out, you’ll probably say “No way!”   It takes almost DOUBLE ($20) to get you to part with the t-shirt!

The classic example is a study by Kahneman, Knetsch & Thaler in 1990.  After they gave people a mug, the participants weren’t willing to give it up until they researchers gave them twice the market value.

League of Legends goes a great job it utilizing the endowment effect.   They “give” users 4 free champions to play every week.  That gives enough time for people to feel a sense of ownership and then…POOF!  A week later, it’s time to whip out your wallet and buy!

P.S. Thanks to david_shankbone for letting me use the pic!

TF2 Dueling Mini-Game

Posted on Jul 09, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


All my kills are legit, but every time I die, it’s BS!
I never die because of MY lack of skill, I die because my teammates suck or due some ridiculous circumstances!

OK, I admit, that’s obviously a bit ridiculous, but it’s a common psychological phenomenon called the self-serving bias.  People attribute their successes to personal factors (e.g. skill) but attribute their failures to external or situational factors.

TF2 took this psychological bias and wisely created the Dueling Mini-Game (for $1) to exploit it.  Props to them for creating this little gem:

TF2 Dueling Mini-Game

TF2 Dueling Mini-Game

The Power of Popups

Posted on Jul 03, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Don’t assume a user will magically figure it out what you want him to do. Tell them!  And don’t be subtle about it.  Be bold and get in their face.

  • You want them to send out virals? Ask them to do it.
  • You want them to come back tomorrow?  Ask them to do it.
  • You want revenue?  Ask them to do it.

Users LIKE knowing what they need to do to succeed in the game.  I know you don’t want to believe me.  Every ounce of your being wants to say “NO!  That’s not true!  I like DISCOVERING how to do something!”  But a system that yields a satisfying sense of discovery for some, leads to a frustration for others.  That tradeoff is is almost always NOT worth it.

So to move business metrics:

  1. Surface it!  Don’t be squeamish about using popups!
  2. Make it easy for the user to comply with your request (e.g. ideally, it’d require just 1 click)
  3. Tie into the fiction – it has to make sense within the context of your game
  4. Have killer art

Check out these 2 revenue app entry popups from Lucky Slots and Best Casino – 2 good examples of rev surfacing.

Lucky Slots App Entry Revenue Popup

Best Casino App Entry Rev Popup

P.S. These 2 rev popups could still use some UI tweaks :)

Top 5 Things That Made Harvest Moon Great

Posted on May 14, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Harvest Moon was one of the original farming simulators.  It sold millions of copies and helped inspire the most successful game of all time – Farmville.  Even though it’s an old game (from 2000), it’s still STRANGELY ADDICTING.

Min-maxing: Getting the maximum gold for the least effort.

Here are the top 5 things I loved about the game:

  1. Creation: When I  saw my seeds germinating for the first time, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.
  2. Cliffhangers: Movies, books and TV shows use cliffhangers all the time.   Games?  Not so much.  But Harvest Moon does!  I always felt on the verge of something awesome when I quit a session.  I wanted to see my seeds germinate.  I wanted to see what my barn would look like with a chicken.  I wanted to ride my horse. To do that,  I had to come back.
  3. Routine: I woke up, harvested some bamboo from the mountains, watered my crops, talked to my horse and then did my errands before nightfall.  There’s some simple beauty in a repeatable pattern within a progression arc.
  4. Engrossing Economy: The currency felt REAL.  I almost felt like I made real money from selling my crops!
  5. Set ‘em Up and I’ll Knock ‘em Down: The barns and stables are prebuilt, but they’re empty.  It was like a progress bar that was half-full.  I couldn’t resist wanting to fill it up.

Intrigued?  You can download Harvest Moon: Back to Nature in the Playstation Store.

Launching the Zynga Bingo Closed Beta

Posted on Feb 05, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Zynga Bingo got it’s first real users last week!  It was awesome to be part of the project.  More details to come, but for now, here are some scenes from the SF HQ:

The button is about to be pushed to go out of sandbox mode!

And we're live! A graph of concurrent users is in the background.

Transformative Experiences

Posted on Nov 06, 2011 by Michael Gugel.


I was addicted to poker.  It was an awesome addiction though — I loved the ups and I loved the downs. And in the end, it made me a wiser and a much stronger person.

It started playing poker when I was a senior in high school.  At lunch time, you could find me huddled in the dark corner of the cafeteria with a bunch  friends, playing Texas Hold’em for dimes.

In the next few years,  poker consumed my mind.  There were quite a few days when I played 16-hours, stopping only to pee and eat.  I read tons of books, posted a ton on forums, and started a popular poker blog.  Over 6 years, I played roughly 500,000 hands and made decent money for a college kid.

Frank Lantz is right when he calls poker vulgar, violent, dirty, shameful, dangerous, and addictive.  But he’s also right when he says there’s an underlying beauty.  The vast majority of people will never see it.  But if you take the time to actually master the game, it changes the way you think about the world.

Playing poker transformed me.  I can’t say the same about many other games, movies, music, or works of art.  And transformative experiences can be INSANELY profitable if a business can deliver them consistently.  It’s no coincidence that self-help books fly off the shelves.

Charlie Cleveland had a great chart in his 1-Hour Video Game MBA presentation that summed it up nicely:

Sidenote: Charlie Cleveland was one of the founders of Natural Selection.  Natural Selection was 2nd best game (poker is 1st) that I’ve ever played.

Transformation, Experience, Service, Good, and Commodity

As you move towards the top of the chart, customers are more willing to pay a higher price.

Getting Terminology Straight: Open Graph, News Feed, Ticker & Timelines

Posted on Oct 02, 2011 by Michael Gugel.


You know the guy that misuses industry jargon and comes off looking like a dummy?  I was that guy this week.  I didn’t have all the new concepts / terminology from FB’s f8 conference locked down.  Here’s what I wish I knew last week.

Facebook’s old version of Open Graph let you slap on a “Like” button on your website.  Doing so would make your website act like a FB page: your site would show up on FB searches and show up in the user’s “Likes & Interest” section on their profile.

Your website / app is the object and the “Like” button is the edge. (Tip: think of an edge as a verb and the object as a noun.)

In the new Open Graph, FB is opening up the door to a whole bunch of new edges. Instead of just “Liking” a third-party app, users will have a whole bunch of other ways they can interact.

  • A music app can define the ability to listen to (action) a song (object).
  • A travel app can define the ability to visit (action) a particular country (object).

FB will use its algorithms to determine how these actions will be displayed on the Timeline, News Feed, and Ticker.

Timelines are the revamped user profiles.  It shows the user’s likes, interests, friends, important events, etc.

News Feed
The News Feed is what you see when you immediately log into FB.  It shows all the stories/updates your friends published.  There are three main ways to get on the New Feed: Likes, Feed Dialog & Feed Graph object (as described above).

The Ticker is the right bar on your FB page.

Ticker lets you Facebook while you Facebook

Ticker lets you Facebook while you Facebook

Additional Reading: