On Candy Crush


            Chances are that you’ve been there.  The screen popping up and informs you that you cleared all but one jelly, or missed one last combo.  For just 99 cents, you get another shot at finishing the level, but you will probably press end game and try again from scratch.  Yup, that’s right, I’m talking about Candy Crush and unfortunately for my productivity, I am one of those people that play it quite regularly. 

            What is it that makes Candy Crush so addictive, to the point of luring users to spend not only their time but also money in the game?  Allow me to briefly take a break from playing the game and write something about it instead.  I believe Candy Crush’s success can be attributed to three factors: simple to understand and play, difficult to master, along with an increasingly large role that luck plays as you get higher up in the levels.

            Candy Crush was not the first game of its kind: Bejeweled came along much earlier, and were just as addictive to players.  The concept of combining swapping two pieces in a grid to form combinations of three of a kind or more is simple and straight forward, and requires no sophisticated hand-eye coordination or mechanical skills.  This combined with some decent graphics allows the game to be attractive to all age groups.

            The goals of the game vary by level, and the reason I say that it is difficult to master is because of the combination of different patterns that exist.  To a certain extent, you are able to examine the board and attempt to create favorable patterns that result in more powerful candies, but unlike in chess or another board game, the board can be altered entirely in a single move, resulting in having to completely re-analyze the board each time that happens.  Candy Crush is largely a game of pattern recognition, and those who are able to recognize not only the patterns to create the special candies, but one or two steps ahead the potential moves that could create those patterns will tend to do better.  As such, some skills are involved and one cannot simply win the game by playing random moves. 

            That being said, the largest factor Candy Crush relies on to keep people playing, as well as paying, is the huge amount of luck it injects into the game.  Another way to look at it is that on average, as you advance in levels, the probability of you finishing the level within the allotted time/moves decreases.  And here’s why I’m saying that.

            If you look at an average player starting out with Candy Crush, you will see that they typically breeze through the first dozen levels or so, and rightfully so because the purpose of those levels is to teach you the game, not to make it overly difficult for you to get past.  Once you’ve gotten a hang of it though, on average the higher levels will take you more tries than the lower levels, and there are a few levels where many people have declared to be nearly impossible without special candies.  The many attempts drain lives, as well as patience, and that’s where Candy Crush cashes in, and it does so in a very smart way. 

            Allow me to elaborate with an analogy – Candy Crush to gambling.  Both involve luck in addition to skill, and although they have different stakes here (winning money vs. passing a level), they are comparable in the sense that you have to achieve the objective (have the winning hand, if we take poker as an example, vs. passing the level in Candy Crush).  Now let’s look at how Candy Crush smartly monetizes its increasingly difficult levels.

            The simplest monetization opportunity is to allow players to buy lives.  Though I’m not sure how many players actually do it (given that there are many ways around it), it is equivalent to loaning someone money to buy back into the table.  Fresh set of lives, fresh set of chips.  Only difference is the money in your pocket that went to CCS/the casino.

            Slightly more sophisticated to offer power-up candies at the beginning of the game.  This is equivalent to being guaranteed dealing say at least 8 or higher in one of your two cards.  It doesn’t guarantee you a win, but it does improve the odds slightly.  Paying a little in advance to improve your odds sounds like a good proposition, right?  To the makers of CCS, very much so.

            Finally there are the extra moves/time/stop bombs from exploding when the level finishes and you have not achieved the objective.  What does that represent in gambling terms?  It’s similar to having the opportunity to re-pull any one of the five cards already on the table.  Given that you already have a good hand but not the winning hand, here’s your chance to improve your hand and have a shot at winning. 

            The smart thing about CCS is that it does not simply allow you to buy levels.  If it does, the monetization opportunities would be quite limited and everyone who’s willing to spend a bit of money would be at the latest level in no time.  In exchange for your hard-earned (or perhaps not so hard-earned) dollar, it is providing merely the opportunity to finish the level/improve your hand.  And once you use up those extra 5 moves/seconds, it charges MORE for the next set of extra moves/time.  Despite the initial spending being a sunk cost, some of you are now attached to this particular game and are now spending even more money on this game, with only a chance of finishing the level and moving on.  Eventually one of two things happen: you’ve spent a fortune to beat the level, or you realize that you no longer want to keep throwing money at the level and you quit.  Either way, CCS has earned their share from you and now you’ve got a new level to beat or have to restart again for the current level.

            So I’ll take back what I said before and re-phrase it slightly.  CCS does allow you to buy levels, but it does so at typically extraordinarily expensive prices.  Even when you see a way to beat it, it merely offers the possibility, and no guarantee, all as the odds get worse as you go up in levels.

            Why do I say that?  Let’s examine some of the new “features” introduced in the latest levels.  We’ve got candies that swap between colors, candies that become either special candies or hindrances, and my latest discovery: freaking tornados.  I said earlier that CCS is a game of pattern recognition to make those special candies and win the game, well guess what, the patterns you recognize are now easily disrupted by all of these special candies, which may or may not help you.  In stat terms, if you’re looking at the normal distribution for the probability of beating a level, the standard deviation just increased significantly, and in turn the probability of beating the level just went down significantly as well.  No matter how skilled you are at pattern recognition, all of it is wasted if random tornado/candy disrupts the current pattern. 

            And there I think lies the drawback of the game.  As you introduce more and more of these “randomizers” to make your game harder, there will eventually be a point where the odds are so terrible that the users no longer bother playing because the reward is still the same – beating the current level.  If every hand of blackjack you played had the same odds of winning some small lottery but with the same payoffs, how much time would you spend at the blackjack table? 

            The game’s social interactions are present but are largely limited to giving lives/moves and helping others to pass levels.  These interactions do not require large social circles and are not nearly as viral as say the social interactions in games like Clash of Clans.  If two or three of your closest CCS friends stopped playing, it becomes harder for you to get those extra moves/lives and passes for levels, and it’s rather easy for you to quit as well. 

            While CCS has been extraordinarily successful, the model is cannot be sustained in perpetuity.  The monetization can only continue to occur by enlarging the user base, which will be limited due to its existing social interaction features, or increasing levels, which has diminishing returns for the users as they get harder.  The lack of direct competitive social interactions in CCS’s existing model will cause it to be replaced by another game some time from now.  After all, the internet is never in a shortage of new attention grabbing games and people’s attention spans are only growing shorter…  

Now that I just spent 30 minutes writing this on the plane, it’s time to watch a movie, and if I have time before the plane lands, yes, attempt to beat Candy Crush level 419…  Le Sigh.

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The Value of an MBA


It’s been just over a month since I started my post-MBA career, and little over three months since graduation.  Two years flew by just like that, with four semesters of classes, a six month internship in Europe, many fabulous trips with my wonderful classmates, and a forty-odd page thesis, the wonderful journey came to an end.

            I wanted to take some time before I write about my experience.  It wasn’t because of the lack of time that this entry came now, for I certainly had a lot of free time before I started working.  Graduation was an emotional time for many of us: it was the culmination of all of our achievements during the two years, as well as the last time some of us may see one another.  I wanted some time to be more objective, and not just glorify the entire experience as I surely would have done then.   

            As I look back now on my journey, I am really glad that I was able to partake in the LGO/MBA experience.  These two years helped me become inspired to achieve greater things, allowed me to make many great friends, and ultimately allowed me to pursue my passion.

Become inspired

            One of the most impressive things about LGO/MBA program is the people that you get to meet.  Were it not for the MBA, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to sit in the same room as former executives who helped to price Microsoft Windows, veterans from Iraq/Afghanistan, or the founders of several successful start-ups prior to Sloan.  While there are some truths to the fact that bankers and consultants dominate the MBA population, many of them seek to pursue something different than their previous career.  Especially at a school like Sloan, almost every other person seemed to be working on a start-up of some kind while they were there, and after a short conversation with them, you want to join them as well.  Many of my classmates had a clear goal and were actively working toward it, which in turn inspired me to accomplish more. 

            For anyone looking to pursue or starting their MBA program, know that all of the options out there are yours, but you must be the one to pursue them.  Be inspired, but maintain your focus, for chasing after 10 start-up ideas is as good as chasing after none.  Your time is very much limited and between classes, projects and social activities you won’t have that much free time.

            Aside from your classmates, another source of inspiration comes from the professors and the school in general.  In an environment like MIT, it’s hard to walk around campus without stumbling into someone conducting the latest research in all areas of science and engineering.  The Sloan school as well as the institution broadly has vast amounts of resources it provides, anywhere from fellowships and start-up funding to offices dedicated to connecting to alumni and providing access to the top executives at major companies worldwide.  Many of the Sloan professors are also working on some very interesting issues, such as Professor Lo’s proposal to utilize financial portfolio management to solve the cancer problem, and many others.  

Form great relationships

            With this many awesome people with such diverse range of experiences, one cannot help but make some great friendships throughout the two years.  Although we’ve had summer teams in LGO and also core teams in our first semester at Sloan, I’ve found that people with similar interests will naturally gravitate towards each other.  Some of my good friends are from different oceans, and despite not having many classes together we still find time to hang out and talk about things we’re interested in. 

            Business school is perhaps the best time to develop relationships with others because most, if not all, of the class comes with an open mind to learn and make friends.  However, it still requires time and effort and seeking that balance between networking and the other responsibilities you have as an MBA student.

            In a few years (if not sooner) I will have forgotten most of what I learned from the textbooks or course packs of my MBA classes.  What will be the most valuable part of the MBA then?  The relationships I developed from the two years, as well as the ability to reach out to other alumni and have them give me their open and honest opinions.

Pursue your passion

            Everyone comes to business school with a purpose, whether it is to get into a new industry, learning more skills to be promoted to the next level in their current career, or simply to explore options different from the existing career.  For me personally it was a way to switch gears and transition myself into operations, something that I’ve always been passionate about.  For others it is meeting people who share their vision and want to found a start-up together.  Whichever it may be, you are sure to find something you’re passionate about.  Take charge, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new methods and ways to do things.

            Upon entering business school you will discover that you will always be short on time.  The homework and projects notwithstanding, the various mixers and social events can take up a lot of your time, especially if you want to be involved in planning for one.  On top of all of those, there are the Sloan clubs as well as MIT-wide organizations you can become involved in, all of which are great ways to form new bonds and further build the relationship you have with your classmates.  Balancing that with start-up or research activities on what you’re passionate about can be difficult, and sometimes you have to give up the opportunity to do some things in order to pursue others that you’re more passionate about. 

            Despite the time constraints, or perhaps because of them, I found my time at business school to be extremely valuable in terms of learning about myself and what I value most.  When you have time to do everything prioritization doesn’t seem important, and it is times when you must decide between multiple things you value that you can truly evaluate what’s important and what you can live without.  The two years provides many moments for you to take a pause, reflect upon who you are and what you have accomplished so far, and better prepare for yourself for what’s next.

Summary

            In short, business school is what you make of it. As you prepare to open yourself for this potentially life-changing journey, know who you are and what you want.  Even though those things may change over the course of the journey, you cannot pursue your passion if you don’t know what they are, nor are you able to become better than who you were if you aren’t open-minded.  There is no such thing as a perfect preparation for business school, so just dive in, “drink from the fire hose”, as we’d like to call it at MIT, and enjoy every moment of the two years.  I know I did.  

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The Importance of Balance


As we near the final chapter of our MBA/LGO education, there have been many sessions where we’ve had opportunities to take a moment, reflect and pass on whatever wisdom we may have obtained during the two years to the next class.  And this has occurred not only during community events like The Yarn, but also during some of the farewell parties that the clubs have been hosting.

One recent party, hosted by the Greater China Club (GCC), asked several of the second years and graduating students to share a story or perhaps a learning for first-years.  Given that many of them were older and some had more work experience than I did, I wasn’t really sure that it was appropriate for me to give advice.  So instead, I shared some personal views and hope that someone will find it valuable, and I’ve written these down from memory so that I may remind myself in the future.

Some thoughts on the topic of balance

The two years of MBA/LGO has been a fantastic experience.  You meet so many new people, get to take awesome classes, trips, become close with others, in so many different ways.  You get to discover parts of yourself that you never knew were there, and at the same time are exposed to so many different opportunities that you never knew existed.

As with most MBA candidates, there is a tendency to over-commit, to try to make the most out of this experience, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  After all, we’ve all paid a handsome fee to be a part of it, why not make the most of it?  However, what I want to emphasize is while trying to go for everything you want to do, you must also strive to achieve a balance, and I think there are three distinct areas where a balance is very important.

The first area is the one everyone talks about, the work-life balance.  Many of us were high achievers in the past, but the MBA really forces us to tackle on challenges where it’s impossible to achieve the top grade on every single assignment or every single class, and that is okay.  So rather than spending all the time focusing on becoming the best at everything, make sure that you’re already being a great husband/wife/mom/dad/son/daughter to your family.  MBA is just two years in your life, your family will be there forever.

The second area, which I didn’t really talk about during my time at the party, is the balance between working in teams and working individually.  Sloan has many classes where teamwork and collaboration is highly encouraged, and that is a fantastic aspect of MBA because you get to form these bonds with other awesome individuals that will last a long time.  At the same time, MBA is also a time where people have drastically different priorities.  Just because you are on the same team for a class does not mean that you all have the same expectations for the class, and that may result in a very unbalanced team dynamic in terms of workload.  While I’ve had many awesome team experiences, I also believe there is tremendous value in spending time on your own to crack that troublesome problem set and solving that optimization, because your understanding would be so much deeper than if your teammate just showed you the solution and you go, “Oh, of course that’s the solution, makes perfect sense now.”

Finally, you may also get caught up with what everyone else is doing, whether it be founding a start-up or recruiting for consulting, and that is when I’d encourage you to take a moment and find that balance between the world and yourself.  Yes, between everyone else and you.  Only by taking time to reflect on what you truly want can you make the decisions that you will be happy with in the long term.  Don’t recruit for consulting because everyone’s doing it, only recruit for consulting if you really want to do it.  There are so many opportunities at Sloan that sometimes you must take a step back and dig deep within yourself, before you can decide which direction to step forward in.

The past year has been filled with events that have impacted our lives, and it is in light of these events one realizes his/her own mortality.  It is these realizations that have caused me to pause and reflect, to figure out what is important in my life, and to move forward.  I encourage that all of you do so, and I hope by writing this that I may remind myself in the future when work gets caught up to me, to remind myself what is truly important to me.

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The Yarn and LGO Leadership class


Last year the Sloan Senate introduced this great event called The Yarn.  Essentially it is a community event where a few of your very own classmates share with you a few stories from their past experiences.  I have always wanted to go but did not get an opportunity to go until this past Monday.

I have always been amazed by the amount of talent and intelligence my classmates possess, but it wasn’t until Monday did I come to appreciate how truly awesome, diverse and sometimes out-of-this-world my classmates are.  They talked about their life-changing experiences, whether it was a near-death experience or a brush in with the authorities, or beating all odds and becoming successful in life.

And on Tuesday during our regular leadership class, we had a very similar setting where 8 of our LGO classmates got up and told about their personal stories as it relates to leadership and motivating others to succeed in the future.  Even though I’ve known all of them for the past two years, I still was able to get to know quite a few of them a little bit more through these stories.

Less than two weeks left and I am treasuring every moment of it.

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My First Bollywood Dance!


For the SABC C-function. It was a blast.

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What a week for Boston!


As I mentioned in my last post, two bombs went off at the Boston marathon last Monday and hundreds were hurt.  As I was in New Hampshire when this occurred, it was a huge shock and felt a bit unreal.

Thursday night, however, felt very real.

It was the second AdMIT weekend here at MIT Sloan, and most of the AdMITs were at the South Asian C-function, enjoying the food, beverages and the various performances put together by the organizers.  They had five different dances and other programs that kept the things interesting throughout the evening.  I was in the advanced Bollywood dance and we spent a good chunk of time practicing for the performance.

All of the dances and programs went over extremely well, and people were happy and mingling throughout Walker Memorial.  I was about to head back when I received a text message that there was an active shooter on the MIT campus.  After showing it to some people, I decided to walk back to the LGO office to get my stuff and then go home as soon as possible.

Shortly after arriving at the LGO office, I received more text messages from MIT Emergency Services instructing all of us to remain indoors, and this was 11:30pm then.  There were 6 of us in the LGO office and we checked Facebook, Twitter and texts constantly in an attempt to stay updated on the situation.  Numerous police cars went by our building, and we could see the police car lights in Kendall Square through the reflection of E51.

We heard then that a MIT police officer was down.  Sean Collier, a 26-year old officer was shot and killed in his cruiser.  After the shooting, the campus was locked down until 3AM, when the police determined that the shooter(s) were no longer on campus.  My friend came and drove all of us home from the office.

I moved to the US from Canada in 2001, and was shocked by the events of September 11th.  I was in Atlanta then, and had never been to New York at the time so it felt very distant.  But this was close.  The shooter probably walked within a block of where I was, where hundreds of students and admitted students were.  That thought alone is scary: what if, just what if, something had happened?  For the first time in this country, and possibly the first time in my life, insecurity set in.  Sure, I was in the LGO office then and there were two sets of locked doors that only specific MIT IDs can open, but even after all of this ends, what if there are other people equally crazy out there to harm innocent people?

The shooters took away the life of a 26 year old police officer.  Their bombs killed 3 people at the marathon, including an 8 year old.  For no good reason.  What has the world come to?!  And the bigger question is why?  Why did they do the things they did, for what purpose?  In school we’re taught to analyze a problem to identify root causes, but when a problem involves innocent people losing their lives, emotions run high.

There are people out there who wish that the younger brother died from the firefight with the police.  I disagree.  Though it may be a satisfying ending, it does not answer any of the questions, and there are many many questions.  I believe justice will be served, but just as important, we must understand the motives behind the actions, such that in the future prevention can take place.  The heroic efforts of all of the police, army and special forces will forever be remembered by all of us who lived through this week in Boston, especially Sean Collier.

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But I find myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t need any heroes in the first place?”

 

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Another Tragedy


It’s been a while since my last post, much has happened since then, yet unfortunately I did not find time to write about them till now.  Yesterday was a tragic day for Boston, as two bombs went off at the finish line at Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than a hundred people.

I was on a trip with fellow Sloanies in New Hampshire when this happened, and received texts from friends checking up on me.  I knew several friends who did go to watch the marathon and immediately texted them.  One of the LGOs started to make sure that everyone was accounted for, and I did the same for my Sloan core team.  Despite being in the woods of New Hampshire, everyone checked their cell phones to see if others have checked in, and also to get the latest updates. The scenic environment around us did nothing to relax us; you could feel the tension that lingered in the air.  My parents and relatives e-mailed me frantically to make sure that I am ok, and you can almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief after getting my replies.  One of my classmates mentioned to me that until she decided to come onto this trip, she was originally planning on watching the marathon.  Another one of my classmate wrote that he left the finish line five minutes before the explosion with his wife and baby.  Way too close!  I can’t even imagine what could’ve happened, and I am very grateful that no one I know is injured…

However, three innocent people died, including a Chinese student studying at Boston University.  Let us pray for the victims and their families, and whatever else we can do for them…

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