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Engage your Players with This Secret

Today I want go through the expanded Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and show you how we as game developers can use these needs in our favor to acquire, engage and monetize our users for a better outcome.

Jero Juujärvi, Blogger

August 12, 2015

19 Min Read

We all know that the greatest tool for game development is to research our target audience’s needs. When we understand our audience, we can engage and monetize our players into much greater depth. This is good, but what if we are a small studio who do not have the resources to invest in such research? What if you are working for clients and he does not understand the importance of research and so do not give a budget for such extensive research?

This is where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs come into play. Even when I believe that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is very limited to understand the whole spectrum of human needs, it is sufficient enough for us to understand and take it into practice. When we can use something that is part of our natural programming, it is always a very effective outcome. The needs listed here does not only work, but are must for every human being to achieve/get in their life.

Today I want go through the expanded Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and show you how we as game developers can use these needs in our favor to acquire, engage and monetize our users for a better outcome. Without a further due, let me introduce you:


We all are in different phases of our life. Physically, mentally and spiritually. Depending on our culture, family, environment, lifestyle, wealth, spirituality and so on.

Every one of us has a some type of desire to have/achieve something in life. This creates an opportunity to sell that something for us. Even buddhist monks desire to become buddhas and stoics desire to become rational and logical. This is why Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good read and something what we can learn and use in game development to influence our users into a greater benefit.

In today’s post we are going to take a good look at each need and look into how we can persuade people through this need, here is the rundown of different needs:

  • Physiological

  • Safety

  • Love / Belonging

  • Esteem

  • Cognitive Need

  • Aesthetic Need

  • Self-Actualization Need

  • Transcendence Need


Physiological needs are needs of our physical body to survive. That is water, food, ability to sleep and so on. It is very easy to recognize those needs. When we are hungry, we want to eat, when we are thirsty, we want to drink, if we are swimming in a swimming pool and we run out of air, we swim to surface as fast as possible so we can get that oxygen what we need to survive.

Another example is to think a country that has a very horrible drought, there is no food and no water, and so for people in that country the primary thing that they need is to find food and water so your physical body can survive.

Physiological needs are very difficult to utilize in the games as we really cannot affect players living standards or their personal circumstances. You can have a small control over the sleep, by punishing inactive players if they do not visit game often enough and rewarding active players. When you are creating a need for sleep, the goal is to get players to wake up in the middle of the night and do 5 to 10-minutes of gaming. Human sleep cycles happen between 1-2 hours, if you can interrupt this, players will not receive enough deep sleep. This can be converted into power by offering solutions that player can have his sleep.

Tribalwars uses this tactic very effectively in their game. The game allowed free players to put only three buildings on a building queue. Then the building cycle was set to so timid that you had to get up 2-3 times a night to put your next three buildings under construction. This lack of sleep made it more desirable to have a premium account which would have allowed to put huge building queues in the game.

To remind you, be careful with this need. Most people with mobile devices do not have troubles with physiological needs and so may identify the game as a problem of this newly found need for sleep and may churn out of the game because of that.


Safety needs are the needs to feel that we are not in physical danger, to have shelter, to have a sense of security and safety. Example for safety need is to go check the car for car repairer that its wheels are pressured and it does not have any problems in the engine.

Another example would be a people who are working a job what they really dislike; the paycheck from the work is the sense of security for that person. This can be also applied to someone who is in a bad or abusive relationship because there is a sense of security and safety that comes from familiarity with that person.

So think that when our safety needs are not being met or there is some fear that our safety needs are not met (not able to pay our rent etc. ) will create stress and anxiety for person and so fuels motivation to meet those safety needs and removing all the stress and anxiety from himself.

Many mobile games use this need to monetize their users. Good example of this is Clash of Clans. When you set your defenses on upgrade, it also makes your defenses weak for an attack. This need is useful to implement on engagement features to drive stronger retention. Effective example is a fear of loss of something that player has already gained. Humans are afraid to take a risk if they are prone to lose something what they already have.

If we have teached player a habit of spending premium currencies when he has lost all of his current premium currencies, he faces the problem. “Dang! I’m out of premium currency! If I don’t buy 24 hour  protection again, I might lose all my dark elixir! *gulp* ”


Love and Belongingness or social needs are needed to communicate with others. To have intimate relationships with others. This is your friends, family and intimate or sexual relationships. This, in general, is the need to be social and interact with other people.

When love and belonging are not being met what happens is we start feeling isolated, we start feeling alone so we are feeling lonely and depressed, we start feeling introverting. For example the feel that you do not want to go anywhere and do not want to talk with anyone, you feel the anxiety of going into the social situation.

This is very powerful need what can be used with million different ways to group up and bind the players with social features and elements what supports co-op gameplay. Creating intimate relationships with other players or AI’s will be very effective strategy when executed properly. Most people in life struggle with this need and so, it is one of the most powerfullest need to utilize in your game.

If you have enough knowledge of seduction arts, you can strike directly into humans sexual needs and find ways to get them express themselves in the game. For example, a narrative heavy game with well-implemented seduction art can work miracles to get players in love for a game character and so can be lead in game as more driven and engaged to the experience.


Have you ever met people who fish for compliments? This is because they are trying to fulfill their last of basic needs. Esteem needs have two distinctions on it as one of them are your reputation or what other people think of you and another part is your self-respect or what you think of yourself.

A great example of someone who tries to fulfill his reputation needs is the person who is driving a very fancy car or getting breast augmentation surgery. Something that they want to affect the way other people see them. There are instances where people fish for compliments or try to invalidate other people and so make them feel better about themselves.

So looking at the self-respect side of this coin, there is a good saying that people that matter do not judge and people who do not matter judge. I think it is an important thing to keep in mind here because we have very limited actions to see what other people really think about us. Not only we have a certain amount of control how we present ourselves, but also the only place we can really exert 100% control. What we think of ourselves? What kind of self-confidence we have? What is our internal environment of what we are thinking about ourselves?

Reputation side of esteem can be utilized very easily by offering rewarding competitive features such as leaderboards, tournaments, player comparisons and unlockable show-offs. The goal is to point out the highest mountain in the game to the player and say “Look at that fancy place, it is where legends live”. Esteem need is exploited by most Pay to Win games, but it should be fitted into the balanced gameplay which does not break the game for the free players.

For a self-respect side, skinner’s box mechanics is a very effective tool to use but also there are better ways to get players feel that they are succeeding in that game. This can be done for example by showing how huge percent of players failed in recently played the mission and so making the player feel super good about himself if he gets placed top of the charts.

In here it is very important to think player difficulty. Hardcore players demand higher self-invest to have their praise than softcore players. If the player beats starting the mission and it shows that 90% failed at this mission, hardcore players think that this game is too casual and leaves while the casual player would be happy and proud of his skills.


Cognitive needs are the first secondary needs or “higher order” needs and so not every person has this need. Using higher order needs in your game will be effective, but has no direct value what can be measured as conversion or retention.

Cognitive needs are growth needs what is a need to understand, need to know things. If you are reading this post, it means you also have part of cognitive need in you to learn more and trying to fulfill your need to understand this subject.

People with a cognitive need will become excellent social promoters and community moderators. Players who seek the depths of the game have a ton of gameplay experience and knowledge. These users can bring a ton of great value for your game through player intel and player-created content. When you identify this type of players, you should stay in touch with them and interview them off the game once in a while. Interviewing these players gives a great insight for you about current player base and social troubles in your game. These players have a deep desire to learn ins and outs of the game and so can become very strong community leaders in your game as well.

Seek out players who are interested to read backstories of the games and other extra content what common players would normally skip. These people who want to immerse themselves into the game are very useful to use in game development.


Aesthetic needs are a need for beauty, order, symmetry, balance, etc. It means that we humans have a desire for beauty. We can see that in couple different cases. For example going into nature is for many people very great experience. Another example is artists who have a need for creating beauty and beautiful creations. Another way is to listen to music and satisfy your aesthetic need that way.

This need has been used mainly through vanity items. Players want to have matching items or cute hats to satisfy aesthetic needs. Seek out players who are interested in beauty and vanity. Communicating with these players can give you a ton of great insights on game aesthetics and suggestions on improving it. All players may not have so huge need for aesthetics as those who wants to play around with vanity items, but all aesthetic elements affects all players on some level and by improving them will improve the general user experience.


Self-actualization needs are being who you are, being the best person who you can be, really living up to your true potential. One interesting thing for self-actualization needs is that one of the characteristics of it is morality.

So why morality is part of self-actualization needs? Each human being needs to have a positive self-image of his actions and doings. Therefore, when people did something bad or selfish things, they self-explained that they did those things to satisfy some other areas of their needs.

A good example is if you are really in need of starvation, you have no food, you might steal from someone else and so satisfy your physiological needs. If your safety needs are threatened and you are in constant fear and anxiety, you might be violent to other people to protect yourself. In some cases, people whose attempt to satisfy their love and belongingness may actually have an affair or cheat on their husband/wife.

It is kind of a dysfunctional way to satisfy these needs. People who have strong need to satisfy their esteem needs may even be mean or invalidate other people or even be physically abusive to someone else so they can feel better about themselves

Some examples for self-actualization needs are creativity, spontaneity, acceptance and fulfilling your personal potential or being as good as you can be at things what you are really interested in. So big part of that is finding your purpose, finding that thing what drives you and motivates you.

Uff. . now we are getting really high levels of human needs. To use self-actualization for advantage in games can be difficult as you need to offer players freedom for creativity and experiment. Good example of this is Minecraft. It gives only tools for players to use, and players’ creativity and spontaneity creates wonders in that game. On feature level, think ways to give creative freedom for players to experiment and find what they like to do.


Transcendence need is to look beyond yourself, beyond your selfish needs, beyond the needs we have talked about and actually is a need to help others to fulfill their full potential or to help others in general.

So this would be compassion, sympathy, empathy those true virtues that are taught so many philosophers and it really comes down to that you care more about people around you than you care about yourself. You are ready take time out of your life and really try to help other people.

These feelings can only be met once a person has truly satisfied all of his other needs. Otherwise, it will be esteem need to prove his skill.

Utilizing this in games can be very easy with social features. Players can teach others to do things more effectively. For example, directing this type of players to fill out game wiki or forum is good way to give people opportunity to fulfill their transcendence needs, tho I do not believe many people reach this level of need in their whole life, but those to make it will be a great help for you to build and manage the player community.


Using these needs is a very powerful way to influence your players. You would like to have more hands to help you without spending a dime? Give intensive, sell the job for them. This is why creating a community driven games are more powerful and engaging than any other type of games.

Building a feature for your game to seek out specific type of players in your game and offering them different ways to satisfy their needs is a very powerful way to get into the top of the downloads charts.

If you found this writing enjoyable, check more writings on acquiring, engaging and monetizing your players at www.acquire-engage-monetize.com

Jero Juujärvi

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