In just over three weeks a mobile role-playing game featuring Kim Kardashian as your life coach has made more than $85 million and is projected to eclipse $200 million in sales by year’s end. While hitching a game to a rising star is a tried-and-tested business plan, the rapid success of this app likely has more to do with our culture than its gameplay, according to Drexel game design expert Frank Lee, PhD.
Lee, an associate professor in Westphal College who leads Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio and was responsible for putting Tetris on a Skyscraper, recently took a look at the game, developed by Glu Mobile, after its ascent to No. 2 on Apple’s free game list.
Celebrities like Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson and Shaquille O’Neal have appeared in video games, but none enjoyed the commercial success of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Lee contends that this is because Kardashian’s star seems to be reachable –if you make the right choices.
“The success of this game says a lot about our current obsession with the celebrity culture and the belief -fed by reality television- that anyone can be a star,” Lee said. “I think the fact that it’s Kim Kardashian and a big part of her celebrity is tied to reality TV, feeds this idea that anyone can be famous.”
One of the nearest precursors to Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, The Sims: Superstar, came out as a computer game in 2003 and featured digital versions of Avril Lavigne, Andy Warhol, Christina Aguilera, Cameron Diaz, Sarah McLachlan, Jon Bon Jovi and Marilyn Monroe in an entertainment industry-themed expansion of the game. But its mobile successors, games like Sims Social and FarmVille, are enjoying a great deal more popularity and prolonged financial success due to the accessibility of mobile gameplay and their social media tie-ins.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood enhances the addictiveness of this genre of role playing games by having Kardashian herself –well, her voice and avatar anyhow- guide players to stardom.
While Lee concedes that, stylistically, the game does not stand out much from other mobile role-playing games you’d find in the app store, the fact that Kardashian voices much of the game helps strengthen the bond between player and game.
“What draws people to this game is that it has put wish fulfillment in your pocket, and the more such connections you make in the game with the players to encourage that make-believe, the better,” Lee said. “Dungeons & Dragons was also a fantasy wish fulfilment game back in its day, but this game is almost a perfect fit for the current times of people wanting to be a star and thinking that anyone can be a star.”
But does a game like this provide a new model for developing and marketing mobile games? According to Lee, the flashiness covers what is essentially a rather pedestrian game design. But both are essential elements in making a commercially successful game.
In a recent interview with the gaming news site, Polygon, Lee noted that the game is “…the perfect game for the perfect time.” But the true measure of its success is yet to come.
“What you would want to keep an eye on is the longevity of the game,” Lee said. “How is the game doing three months from now, six months from now, two years from now? The game itself is pretty generic in its design, play and monetization. Say what you will about Kim Kardashian, but I respect her ability to market herself.”
Members of the news media who are interested in speaking with Lee can contact Britt Faulstick at 215-895-2617 or firstname.lastname@example.org.