How does a game starring Kim Kardashian, one that many journalists are laughing at, stand to generate $200m by the end of the year? We wanted to find out, so we spent a couple of hours playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, meaning you don’t have to. But we’ve not been doing it alone. We’ve also been speaking with four teenagers about their experiences with the game to find out what they love, what they hate and how they found out about it in the first place.
First let’s put these numbers into perspective. Of the $200m Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is expected to gross, the Kanye-marrying socialite is to take home $90m! When you consider that as of June this year her estimated net worth was estimated to be $45m it’s clear that Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is big business, even for someone who spent $150,000 on hair and makeup for her wedding.
Kim isn’t known for her coding skills but according to the Wall St Journal she has been, and still is, heavily involved in the game’s development. Between them Kim and Glu Mobile (the developer) have managed to create one of the biggest mobile gaming success stories of the year. We wanted to know how they turned all those players into payers!
Keeping up with the Kardasihan
Before we get to its monetization techniques let’s look at the game. Here’s a summary of my first hour as Kim’s new BFF:
After creating my avatar (who can be male or female) I arrived in Beverly Hills. I start by working at a boutique and am told to perform some basic duties, like folding clothes and shutting the shop – it’s here that I’m introduced to the game’s mechanics. In a nutshell it extends no further than tapping the screen to complete tasks. To fold the shirts you tap a circle next to the shirts and they’re folded. Want to shut the shop? Touch the door. This uses one unit of energy (lightning) and I’m rewarded with a small amount of soft currency (dollars) and experience points. Every task in the game is completed by performing the same action, some require me to use more energy (touch more than once) but that’s as deep as it gets – Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has more in common with Farmville than you’d think.
As I leave the shop Kim appears and asks me to re-open it. I’m presented with a couple of conversation options but ultimately they all lead to me opening the shop. It’s at this point that Kim speaks. The game uses her actual voice and she seems to have laid down quite a few lines of dialogue, although she often only speaks the first sentence. My character and Kim hit it off so Kim suggests I join her on a photo shoot. At the venue she surprises me with a shoot of my own, which costs energy to complete. By now Mrs Kardashian West has also introduced me to how to progress up the game’s popularity ladder – basically you date, network and do jobs to earn experience points and boost your fame.
This pattern continues throughout the game and after about half-an-hour you start to realise that your resources are running low and you’re left to either grind through small jobs or pay money for hard currency (Ks). Ks allow you to buy energy, clothes and to charm people – Kim tells you that charming people often gets the best results. During the rest of the hour I’m presented with new challenges (dates, shoots, promotional work) and get introduced to new characters such as managers, photographers and Willow Pape, more on her later.
Seven Things Kim Kardashian Has Done Right
The K Factor
No, we’re not talking about viral growth rate, not yet anyway, (joke for monetization experts). We’re talking about Kim. This woman can’t fail to make money, whether it’s her wedding, sex tape, or just turning up a nightclub, it’s like dollars fall from the sky for her. Having her attached to the game and promoting it is the biggest reason for the game’s success – there’s even proof of this. In February 2014 Glu Mobile released almost an identical game called Stardom Hollywood and, relatively speaking, nobody cared. But when it was rebranded it become one of the highest grossing games of the year. Kim is also involved in the game’s marketing and frequently tweets about it. This is a woman with 22.4m Twitter followers!
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">LOVE the @thek_kollection looks in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/KimKardashianGame?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#KimKardashianGame</a>! <a href="http://t.co/XTtuv0KLvk">pic.twitter.com/XTtuv0KLvk</a></p>— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) <a href="https://twitter.com/KimKardashian/status/490547989724020736?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 19, 2014</a></blockquote>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en-gb"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Dolls! Download my new game and start playing! Xo <a href="https://twitter.com/AppStore?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AppStore</a>... <a href="http://t.co/9VNA6DZfek">http://t.co/9VNA6DZfek</a> <a href="http://t.co/gOubWDexFc">pic.twitter.com/gOubWDexFc</a></p>— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) <a href="https://twitter.com/KimKardashian/status/483683942248087552?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">30 June 2014</a></blockquote>
It’s easy to turn your nose up at celeb-backed games like this but Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is a well produced game. It’s also a very knowing pastiche of celebrity culture. While its players are fans of Kim they’re also aware of the fakery and its clear Glu Mobile knows this. It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that people are more inclined to pay if the game they are playing feels like a quality (expensive) product.
Jobs and More Jobs
Although jobs are the main way to earn experience and money they are also the biggest drain on energy, and they keep on coming. Whether it’s Kim, your manager or your dates, there is always someone giving you something to do. But it’s not just about draining energy; jobs also give you a reason to come back. During my first hour with the game I was told that my photo shoot would take an hour to develop. If I stopped playing this would give me a reason to start playing again in an hour and I’d probably do more than just check on my shoot.
More games should utilise push notifications, but they need to be used well. In this case you’re reminded of events being completed and other news with a cheesy musical sting and given a reason to come back. They’re not needy or pushy; they provide valid reasons to come back and the sting stands out from the usual notification noises.
Many games like this use your friends and social networks to improve virality, and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is no different. What it does well is providing you a reason to link your networks and invite friends. As well as being able to chart your progress against them on the game’s scoreboard you can also date them in the game. It’s the same as Farmville having friends ask each other to visit their farms, but much more personal. You can’t just ask for players to link their social networks, you need to give them a reason to. The game also uses the well worn tick of suggesting you share your accomplishments through social networks. Want to know how well that’s working? In the time it’s taken to write this sentence 25 posts from the game have gone up on Twitter. Here, have a look. Notice that the posts don’t just promote the game but they also include a link to download it from.
Probably the smartest, or at least the most original use of social networks is how Kim Kardashian: Hollywood uses them in a transmedia sense. In the game you’re asked to follow various characters, like a journalist. This journalist then sends in-game tweets for your character to read in the in-game version of Twitter. But here’s the smart bit, you also follow these characters on the real Twitter, providing you’ve linked the accounts. So even when a player isn’t playing the game, they are still getting tweets from characters in their real social networks. Plenty of games ask you to follow their Twitter and Facebook accounts, but Kim Kardashian: Hollywood uses this to blur the lines between and the game and real life. Or IRL, as it’s fans would probably say.
<a class="twitter-timeline" href="https://twitter.com/StarNews_Ray?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">Tweets by StarNews_Ray</a>
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood features one of the best video game characters OF ALL TIME! Don’t believe me? Wait ‘till you meet Willow Pape. Willow’s purpose is to be a bitch and she does it perfectly, Kotaku has even compared her to Pokemon’s Gary Oak. She first appeared to accuse me of hitting on her boyfriend (I wasn’t) and then started spreading dirt about me through social media. I got my own back in the end but essentially Willow is the girl that all girls hate and she spends the whole game getting in your face – she’s the perfect in-game enemy for teenage girls.
Kim’s name might be on the game but Willow (who isn’t a real person) is the star. Want proof? A quick search online and you’ll find countless numbers of Willow-inspired memes, gifs and funny tweets. But how is Willow important for the game’s monetization? Essentially she gives the game purpose. You can take part in photo shoots, parties and dates all day long but essentially they’re hollow activities – having an enemy to battle provides a greater motivation to keep playing and paying. Then there’s all the fan activity – a player might never spend a single dollar in the game but if they’re generating Willow Pape gifs and spreading them across the internet they are helping your customer acquisition which ultimately improves your bottom line.
It Makes Money from Non-payers
Players who don’t want to spend real money for their in-game K dollars have the option to receive the in-game currency by taking part in affiliate promotions. These include activities such as completing surveys, watching videos and signing up for promotions. I opted to watch a video about another mobile game and got rewarded with some in-game credit. Not all of these are suitable for children, or even possible, one option was to sign up for a betting account! Still, it’s another way to monetize players without them having to part with real money. We’d just recommend that the promotions are suitable for your audience.
Paying is Easy…at First
You start the game with a decent amount of hard and soft currency, enough to buy some clothes, charm some characters and progress smoothly through game. Then, before the first hour the need to buy in-game currency becomes apparent (unless you choose to wait or grind). The technique of giving players a taste of what they need to pay for later is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It also helps that in-game items are inexpensive, with a pair of shoes and adopting a cat costing £1.20 each. It’s well balanced too, with the need to spend not coming too soon.
Next time we will speak to fans of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood to find out what it is they got them playing Kim’s game and if they’ve helped contribute to the game’s bottom line.