Q&A: Keeping up with hit mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Kim Kardashian has conquered everything from cable TV to bottled water with some stupendous branding tactics. Now, the branding maven can add the iOS App Store to her list of conquests.
Reality TV star and actress Kim Kardashian has conquered everything from cable TV to bottled water with some stupendous branding tactics. Now, the branding maven can add the iOS App Store to her list of conquests. Glu Mobile's Kim Kardashian: Hollywood combines the Kardashian brand recognition with proven game and monetization design, resulting in an app that hangs out with Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga on the top-grossing iOS charts. To learn more about the game's success, Gamasutra spoke with Glu Canada general manger Christopher Locke via email about the game's development and the challenges of tuning the narrative tenor of your game to entrance haters and hardcore Kardashian fans with equal aplomb. What tools did you use to build the Kardashian game, and what did your timetable and headcount look like? Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was developed by Glu Canada in Toronto, a 40-person development studio located in the heart of downtown. About half of Glu Canada’s
"I’m especially proud that the 'rubberneckers' (those who downloaded the game for ironic reasons) are getting sucked into the experience."
staff worked on the game over the course of a six-month development cycle -- The rest of the studio was busy maintaining other live portfolio products (including Knights of Puzzelot, Zombies Ate My Friends, and Stardom: Hollywood.) The game was developed using the Blammo Custom Framework, which is the product of four consecutive games: Stardom: The A-List, Zombies Ate My Friends, Stardom: Hollywood and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. It's a flexible, data-driven framework specifically tailored to these types of experiences. All art and animation were created using Photoshop and Flash, and then exported using custom tools. Where do you draw inspiration for designing the mechanics of a game like this? Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was built on an existing Glu game, Stardom: Hollywood. The Stardom series had already proven successful and we believed that could be amplified through a partnership with Mrs. Kardashian West. It looks like we were right -- her brand is a perfect fit with the game’s premise, and fans love it. The game has a 5-star review average on the App Store, which is something you don’t typically see with top-grossing games. I’m especially proud that the “rubberneckers” (those who downloaded the game for ironic reasons) are getting sucked into the experience and rating it highly! How do those "rubberneckers" factor into Glu Canada's development process? The truth is that they didn't factor into the development process at all. We had iterated on this product twice before so we knew that it would retain and monetize well. It's the power of Mrs. Kardashian West's reach that propelled the Stardom series from Top 50 to Top 5 grossing, but the game itself is a genuinely unique take on the "rise to fame" fantasy prevalent in many forms of entertainment. I don't know that it can work for other developers, but for us it went: 1) be different conceptually, 2) iterate until you know it's good and 3) find a brand that adds value beyond just name recognition. Tell me a bit about how you balanced the monetization systems. Fortunately the economy was very well balanced after much iteration on the Stardom product. We optimized the monetization system for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood through the beta process, once we understood how users were responding to the content. So, is the tone of the game self-aware? For example, it's sometimes hard for us to tell if the written bits are intended to be sincere or humorous -- the dialogue often seems a bit over-the-top. The dialogue is intended to be entertaining, culturally relevant and occasionally sarcastic. The game can get a little snarky at times, which we’ve found players really enjoy.
What challenges did you face in finding the game's tone, and how did working with a celebrity affect the game design process? As mentioned, Mrs. Kardashian West was very easy to work with and she was highly involved in the process. As with all game design, we went through quite a bit of tuning to ensure the look and feel were all targeted for our audience. Kim’s influences were incredibly productive and well received. Her involvement only benefited the process. Okay, but what do you mean, specifically? Was she editing dialog, for example, or perhaps offering comments or criticism on the gameplay mechanics or the monetization systems? Mrs. Kardashian West was highly involved from the initial concept phase -– reviewing themes, dialog concepts, and offering detailed feedback on the character wardrobe. She did consult on all dialogue for her in-game character. Because the game was built on the foundation of Stardom: Hollywood, little consultation was needed on the gameplay mechanics and monetization systems. How do you feel about the whole thing? Media coverage of a free-to play-game, both positive and negative, drives downloads. We turn those downloads into revenue. Revenue is what keeps Glu Canada thriving, and that makes me happy.

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