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My Weird, Addictive Trip into Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

When friends I trusted started getting obsessed with a free-to-play game about celebrity, I had to find out why.

There was a moment my time with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood evolved beyond academic interest.

It's 1:30 a.m., and definitely time for bed. But I'm painfully close to full stars during a photo shoot. It only would take a few more taps to get there. Unfortunately, I've run out of in-game energy, which is only refilled by waiting for a countdown timer to expire or--gasp--spending money. As this experiment was centered around not spending money, I watch the timer methodically tick down. It's only two minutes. Who can't wait two minutes? But that one slice of energy wasn't enough to finish the job. The game asks me to wait another four minutes, which I do. But even that's not enough to satiate this app, and real-life Patrick is real-life tired. By now, it's nearly 2:00 a.m.

You've probably heard about Kim Kardashian: Hollywood by now. The game made $1.6 million in five days. One analyst believes Kardashian is making $700,000-per-day. Another predicts the game could make $200 million annually. Wherever the numbers end up, it's big. What piqued my interest, however, was how many of my colleagues, many of whom spend their days and nights pontificating about the power and impact of games, were spending hours with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and loving every minute of it.

Since I was spending last week catching up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in preparation for Guardians of the Galaxy, I had ample time to poke at a touch screen on my couch.

The game opens by having players select a gender for a character who works in a tiny clothing shop that juuuust so happens to be where Kardashian has an awfully convenient fashion emergency. She appreciates your help enough to invite you to her photo shoot, which quickly turns into your photo shoot. Kardashian takes you under her wing, and so begins your hopeful ascent to join her in A-list status. You start on the E-list.

(As an interesting aside, the game makes no jokes or judgements about a guy becoming infatuated with Kardashian and trying to emulate her lifestyle, which seems like an easy pot shot. Thankfully, the game's much smarter than that. This extends to another early option to identify your character as straight or gay, which it presents discreetly and without comment.)

From there, players are assigned various jobs--photo shoots, club appearances, professional partying--and participate in various activities at each. By participate, I mean click on a bubble, and things fall out. What falls to the ground are icons to fill meters for leveling up (which let you travel more places), cash flow (to buy apartments, cars, clothes), and, most importantly, energy. Energy is required to do anything, and you're always running out. In Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, your most valuable asset is time.

In the first hour, things require so little energy and you're leveling up so often (which refills your energy) that you don't have to worry about the game's free-to-play dark magic. It's what allowed me to realize what probably hooked so many of my friends: the genuinely funny writing.

The game's wink wink, nudge nudge tone serves several functions. Chiefly, it's a seething critique of media culture, and its cyclical obsession with bringing people up and tearing people down. You can argue Kardashian and her ilk are active participants in this culture, which excuses them from being able to credibly present such a takedown, but that's another essay for someone much smarter.

What the writing does, however, is lower your guard. I don't know much about Kardashian personally--my exposure is walking through our living room when my wife is watching her reality show--but I wouldn't have expected a sign-off on such knowing barbs. It feels like a middle finger to the world that made her, even if she owes much to it. Even if that's reading into it, it's sharp as hell, and proves a terrific carrot for coming back. The writing hooked me, as the game slowly dripped new characters explicitly designed as takedowns of popular celebrity tropes. I wanted to know how far it'd go. Plus, as a reporter, I lost it during moments like this.

Soon enough, it's time to get to work. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood's general loop involves answering a phone call, which directs the player to a location. Then, you click and click and click. Your character doesn't "do " any of the actions presented, the meters just go up and down. Eventually, you run out of energy, and one is now presented with the central dilemma of a free-to-play game, which this one hardly tries to avoid: pay up to continue. Sequences end when the player collects enough stars to fill a meter (I hope you love meters, since this game really loves meters) or a pre-determined amount of time passes.

More stars means more fans, and more fans means you move up the celebrity rankings. But I wasn't willing to give Kim Kardashian: Hollywood any of my money, so the waiting game began. It's possible to earn money (but not energy) through alternative means, but it gets dirty fast. The options range from the odd but reasonable, such as playing a web game from for a few minutes, to, uh, signing up for an Allstate quote. Honestly, I tried to play some of the web games on my iPad, but none of them worked. I managed to avoid Allstate.

Money isn't the real draw in this game, though. It's energy. In the game, you're always tired. The game sends alerts when your energy is full again, so it's possible to leave your iPhone or iPad laying on a table, then pick it up when the game notifies you it's time to--oh, god--come back.

A key part of the discourse around Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has been how the game might secretly be instructive about the real-life demands of being a celebrity, charting Kardashian's own journey to the A-list. Like her, the player is always in the spotlight, asked to be the center of attention, deals with manufactured bullshit, and constantly on the move. That doesn't sound particularly glamorous, regardless of the money and fame. Maintaining an abstraction of that lifestyle was exhaustive enough.

Essays about how Kardashian leveraged a moment of personal exploitation--her sex tape--to control her celebrity narrative got me interested in playing the game. It seemed like a shallow game with meaningful subtext. There's much we can read into Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, but I'm not sure the "game" itself deserves all the acclaim for that. What one reads into the game has much to do with what we bring to the table, whether it's our views on celebrity, the success of Kardashian, or other related topics.

Even after the curiosity wore off, I kept playing the game. There were two reasons. One, I might have been slightly addicted to the simple loop of watching meters go up, which made me feel pretty weird. Two, people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. People really dislike her, and I can't quite figure out why. She's played the celebrity game pretty damn well. If everyone could do it, they would. But you can't say "Kardashian" without inspiring ire. Upon reaching the D-list, I jokingly had the game spit out a robotic tweet. People were pissed, and it seemed to go well beyond irritation at single manufactured tweet. With Kardashian, it becomes personal.

Oof.

Ultimately, if judged as a game game, it really is terrible. Similar to fast food, it only feels good in the moment. The writing only carries Kim Kardashian: Hollywood so far, and it's a few hours at best. It's impossible to move forward at a decent pace without paying, and there is zero skill involved. Candy Crush Saga and other free-to-play games might have equally exploitative tactics for extracting money from players, but has some level of mental taxation. Here, it's nothing more than mindless clicking. Click, click, click. Wait, wait, wait.

But maybe that's the point: it's supposed to be boring. It's a time waster. Some games can just be. If a game is shallow and exploitative, does that matter, so long as the participants are willing and content? That question causes an existential divide between folks like myself and casuals, or whatever you want to call them. "These games are shit. Why don't you know any better?" But who cares? They're playing this, enjoying it, and Kardashian is making money. Is someone really the bad guy (or girl) in this situation? Empty calories aren't the end of the world. We all have guilty pleasures. At least Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is aware of the world it's playing in, even when it's asking for you to pay up. "You're here, I'm here. Let's make the best of it?"

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by superdomino

I played The Simpsons: Tapped Out for way too long. It was a similar dumb time waster BUT it had the added bonus of being Simpsons themed. The license tie in hooked me but the tapping kept me. Similarly, I can see how the idea of a climb through the perceived, vapid socialite ladder, would be a good hook and the pleasure of seeing meters fill would keep you in the climb. However, I'm guessing that this game, absent of the Kim Kardashian angle, would go largely unnoticed by popular media. After all, that's what happened when it was called Stardom: The A-List.

Posted by dAVydov

Interesting read! Also - LOVE the irrational rage this game causes some people.

Posted by forteexe21

It's official that videogames are dead, right?

Posted by Animasta

This is all because you broke your bad journalism glass Patrick

Posted by VierasTalo

Oh, so this is like La Dolce Vita updated to the modern era in video game form? That's kind of scary.

Posted by derek_davis

1 article about this game I think most people can live with, but isn't this like the 3rd article about this game after Patrick said it would only be a 1 time thing? 3 articles for a terrible game seems like overkill

Posted by Rayeth

@patrickklepek Games like this, and a lot of other mobile games make me think that we should probably have a lot more government regulation in the games industry. Gambling-like and addiction fueled games like this get a pass, but god forbid someone play poker on the internet? Something seems pretty wrong to me there.

Online
Edited by brokemonkey

You can argue Kardashian and her ilk are active participants in this culture, which excuses them from being able to credibly present such a takedown, but that's another essay for someone much smarter.

Or someone who's more invested in the methods and modes of celebrity and celebrity culture, but whatever.

No opinion on the game, good article though.

Posted by patrickklepek

@milkman said:

I hate to open up a can of worms here but Patrick, didn't you say you wanted to get away from using the term "addicted" when talking about games? Maybe I'm misremembering so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

In this case, it totally applies. I was quite literally addicted to the game's meters filling up, and that's about it. What I wanted to get away from was using "addiction" as a standin for "meaningful gameplay" because our typical association with the term addiction is pretty negative.

Staff
Posted by buft

Ok so i scrolled down and was going to take a pass but i saw the tweets and thinking they were generated by the game I was instantly intent on reading, sadly the drama was real life and my interest waned.

Posted by spraynardtatum

If a game is shallow and exploitative, does that matter, so long as the participants are willing and content?

I'd argue that exploitation necessitates that the participant is willing and content. You can't continue to be exploited if you're not willing to pay or don't want to keep going.

No one should blame the player for taking part in the game. By merely existing on a storefront, it's inevitable that the game will be enjoyed by someone. Doesn't make the fact that it was built to exploit peoples natural human impulses to make money off of them acceptable. You're supposed to be addicted, by design, and then pay them when you want your fix before you're "allowed".

It's terrible design morally, ethically, and creatively and shouldn't be shrugged at. It's seriously dangerous for people that struggle with self control.

I'm still curious why this game caught the gaming presses attention when there are a billion just like it. This article, although interesting and well written, didn't give me any answers.

Edited by Sunjammer

A whole article about this and not a single mention of Glu's Stardom: The A-List?

The writing is only good by virtue of being surprisingly not shit. To conflate not-shitness in a game filled with shit with quality is pretty silly to me. It really, really does not deserve this attention.

Posted by damswedon

I'm still curious why this game caught the gaming presses attention when there are a billion just like it. This article, although interesting and well written, didn't give me any answers.

I've been messing around with it for a couple of days now and I think the reason why is that there are things about the game that feel like they could have a deeper meaning. Things like

  • There seem to be more black celebrities on the D and C list levels than A and B, and at the same time there are very few White D and C list celebrities but more A and B.
  • The fact that the higher celebrities won't befriend you until you get to their level.
  • It doesn't care if you want to flirt with a man or woman.
  • Your manager is an old white guy that doesn't understand his daughter's sex talk, and he is supposed to be the guy selling your celebrity to teens that same age as her.

It is really easy to look at this and wonder if the developers intended for that stuff to have multiple meanings, or if it is a bunch of people who did it by accident.

Posted by JackG100

@lethalki11ler: "something more important, like watching TV..." - Uhh... what?

Posted by DorkyMohr

I'm a little tired of all these deep dives on these types of iOS games because there's usually little rhyme or reason as to why they suddenly become so immensely popular. We've already been through it a few times now: 2048, Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, etc. iOS is a great platform but the app store market is really broken. Thus, I don't see a lot of point in covering "popular thing somehow tolerable" anymore as the market is so competitive that anything that rises to the top is going to be at least competently put together.

Speaking as an iOS developer who's often witness to the absurdity of the app store, I prefer hearing about games that manage to excel at delivering an experience unique to that platform, rather than the ones that are excelling at exploiting the free-to-play app space.

Posted by selbie

A whole article about this and not a single mention of Glu's Stardom: The A-List?

The writing is only good by virtue of being surprisingly not shit. To conflate not-shitness in a game filled with shit with quality is pretty silly to me. It really, really does not deserve this attention.

No shit.

:P

Posted by CornBREDX

I get curious about certain genres or games that make huge amounts of money. I'll play them to find out what the fuss is- even if I discover (and usually I do) that it's not for me.

I won't be playing this game, and I have read multiple people write about it and I still don't get why they are. This game is gambling garbage and preys upon the worst habits of people- buying shit just to get a little bit farther. I find it kind of gross, and I'm not sorry that I do.

I think this is the worst form of video game made today. Don't even try to sell me on how it's similar to arcades because it's very much not the same at all.

I suppose the monetization is the problem I have with this game, to be clear. Not the game itself, which is fine that it exists. I'm sure there are people who actually get a kick out of it, and there's nothing wrong with that by itself.

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Posted by spraynardtatum

@spraynardtatum said:

I'm still curious why this game caught the gaming presses attention when there are a billion just like it. This article, although interesting and well written, didn't give me any answers.

I've been messing around with it for a couple of days now and I think the reason why is that there are things about the game that feel like they could have a deeper meaning. Things like

  • There seem to be more black celebrities on the D and C list levels than A and B, and at the same time there are very few White D and C list celebrities but more A and B.
  • The fact that the higher celebrities won't befriend you until you get to their level.
  • It doesn't care if you want to flirt with a man or woman.
  • Your manager is an old white guy that doesn't understand his daughter's sex talk, and he is supposed to be the guy selling your celebrity to teens that same age as her.

It is really easy to look at this and wonder if the developers intended for that stuff to have multiple meanings, or if it is a bunch of people who did it by accident.

Hmm. I'm still clueless. I'm jaded and I'm starting to think that they're told to talk about it like Fox or CNN is told to talk about the McRib.

Posted by thekitkatshuffler

people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. People really dislike her, and I can't quite figure out why. She's played the celebrity game pretty damn well. If everyone could do it, they would.

I hope you don't really believe that, Patrick. If you do then it says more about you than "everyone".

Posted by shora_f

I used to play this thing before this current iteration of it (when it was just a no-name celebrity game) and as Patrick observed, it is just mindless tapping; that you could proceed to do while doing other activities.

BUT one major thing that everyone forgets to mention is how actually well art-directed/pretty this game is! All the characters/clothing options actually make you actually want to have the in-game currency to buy/look at them (as shallow as it sounds, as if I am caring to look at some artificial clothing option). Even when you pick the shittiest outfits/hairstyles, they still manage to look great.

I think that is one of the major reasons this game has such casual/female following. Pretty visuals/style goes a long way...

Posted by spraynardtatum

people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. People really dislike her, and I can't quite figure out why. She's played the celebrity game pretty damn well. If everyone could do it, they would.

I hope you don't really believe that, Patrick. If you do then it says more about you than "everyone".

I definitely agree with him that people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. They totally are. She gets under peoples skin.

Posted by Karkarov

I have had similar issues when I got into a competitive "free to play" (free my ass) card based game with some friends. It definitely hooked you in that if you got far enough you were playing in real tournaments against real people but if you ran into the same "energy" gimmick and if you wanted to win you had to spend money cause the other guy sure would if you wouldn't.

Fortunately by the time I pulled my head out of ye olde anus I had made enough winnings to cash out for a little more than I actually spent on it.

Posted by spraynardtatum

@karkarov said:

I have had similar issues when I got into a competitive "free to play" (free my ass) card based game with some friends. It definitely hooked you in that if you got far enough you were playing in real tournaments against real people but if you ran into the same "energy" gimmick and if you wanted to win you had to spend money cause the other guy sure would if you wouldn't.

Fortunately by the time I pulled my head out of ye olde anus I had made enough winnings to cash out for a little more than I actually spent on it.

wait...you got actual money out of the game?

Edited by Nethlem

@spraynardtatum said:

I definitely agree with him that people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. They totally are. She gets under peoples skin.

Because that's her whole intention! Ever heard the saying "There is no such thing as bad PR"? This especially applies to people like Kim Kardashian.

Her sex-tape had not been an "exploitation" of her, it had been calculated media exposure to boost publicity for her reality show. It's cheap and it's shallow, people like this exist in pretty much any society that has any kind of mass media.

It's sad that people consider it an actual "feat" to "win" at the "celebrity game" (whatever that ought to be). When in all reality these people are merely a mirror for how sick most societies have become in modern times. They are only famous for their narcissism, they add nothing to peoples lives besides shallow entertainment based on envy, faked companionship and the ancient principle of "sex sells".

While at the same time billions of other people are doing actually good and useful things for other people on a daily basis, yet they never get the attention or reward they'd actually deserve for acting in such selfless ways.

Edited by Evilsbane

I don't like products that are objectively terrible experiences getting pushed past other products that are well made and actually took time to make, its like if Flash games made so much money that no one even bothered to make anything good, why make it good when you can spend a day and half making click bait.

Edited by Yummylee

@thekitkatshuffler said:

people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. People really dislike her, and I can't quite figure out why. She's played the celebrity game pretty damn well. If everyone could do it, they would.

I hope you don't really believe that, Patrick. If you do then it says more about you than "everyone".

I definitely agree with him that people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. They totally are. She gets under peoples skin.

I think he's more so referring to the part where it seems Patrick is implying that if anyone had a good shot at climbing the celebrity ladder, they'd take it.

Edited by Karkarov

wait...you got actual money out of the game?

Yeah my deck had enough rare powerful stuff in it that I was able to sell out for a large amount of money. I didn't make a ton of cash but I got some out of it. I know people who plays these things literally for profit, they drop hundreds of dollars winning events, then turn around and sell the stuff they win for more than they spent winning it. If it looks like a tournament prize will be worth less than the cost of winning, they just don't play it at all.

Posted by paulunga

Why do people keep rehashing stories about this particular game? It isn't any better at using its free-to-play hooks than other mobile games but it gets all the attention for some reason.

Edited by fazzle

I fucking hate you Klepek. Your tweets are what made me download this game...and now I have over 12.5 million fans. Sonofabitch!

Edited by spraynardtatum
@yummylee said:

@spraynardtatum said:

@thekitkatshuffler said:

people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. People really dislike her, and I can't quite figure out why. She's played the celebrity game pretty damn well. If everyone could do it, they would.

I hope you don't really believe that, Patrick. If you do then it says more about you than "everyone".

I definitely agree with him that people are dicks about Kim Kardashian. They totally are. She gets under peoples skin.

I think he's more so referring to the part where it seems Patrick is implying that if anyone had a good shot at climbing the celebrity ladder, they'd take it.

Yeah, that part I don't agree with.

Edited by Nethlem

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glu_Mobile

http://www.glu.com/careers

http://ggnbb.glu.com/forumdisplay.php?162-Kim-Kardashian-Hollywood

The thing that people around here might know Glu for is acquiring GameSpy two years ago and subsequently responsible for the unilateral shutdown of the service. But really that's not the bulk of what makes Glu worth looking at. It's their history, their size, and particularly their global spread just looking at the jobs page.

That and out of curiosity I looked at the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood subforum. It's mostly a lot of people asking for help about how to progress or get around an apparent bug. Still, I think after Patrick's fascinating article about the game itself, it might be worth digging in further yourselves for your own benefit.


That jobs page is actually painting a pretty negative picture about that company..

This "global spread" you are seeing, it's actually them recruiting cheap creative talent from India, China and Russia (the actual grunt force of developing), while ignoring talent in their own country (the US). Only their "leads" and "managers" are getting recruited from the US or Canada. Kinda like "white supremacy" as an business model..

To put it into one sentence: That company is basically an "freemium sweatshop", they do not only exploit their potential customers, by building freemium Skinner boxes, they are also outsourcing all the actual work to cheaper countries instead of giving the young talent from their own country a chance.

Companies like these are the reason why the US economy is actually struggling, they reap in huge profits while not actually offering any meaningful employment.

It's the same situation in many civilized western countries, most young creative talent is stuck not getting a job, as companies rather recruit people from developing countries that can do the same work at the fraction of the costs, due to cheaper costs of living in these countries.

Globalization, ain't it a cool thing?


Posted by JuggaloAcidman

I don't care if the game is fun... Stop giving the Kardashians money! Go play Dungeon Keeper if you have to throw your money away!

Posted by Kevin_Cogneto

@nethlem said:

@bacongames said:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glu_Mobile

http://www.glu.com/careers

http://ggnbb.glu.com/forumdisplay.php?162-Kim-Kardashian-Hollywood

The thing that people around here might know Glu for is acquiring GameSpy two years ago and subsequently responsible for the unilateral shutdown of the service. But really that's not the bulk of what makes Glu worth looking at. It's their history, their size, and particularly their global spread just looking at the jobs page.

That and out of curiosity I looked at the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood subforum. It's mostly a lot of people asking for help about how to progress or get around an apparent bug. Still, I think after Patrick's fascinating article about the game itself, it might be worth digging in further yourselves for your own benefit.

That jobs page is actually painting a pretty negative picture about that company..

This "global spread" you are seeing, it's actually them recruiting cheap creative talent from India, China and Russia (the actual grunt force of developing), while ignoring talent in their own country (the US). Only their "leads" and "managers" are getting recruited from the US or Canada. Kinda like "white supremacy" as an business model..

To put it into one sentence: That company is basically an "freemium sweatshop", they do not only exploit their potential customers, by building freemium Skinner boxes, they are also outsourcing all the actual work to cheaper countries instead of giving the young talent from their own country a chance.

Companies like these are the reason why the US economy is actually struggling, they reap in huge profits while not actually offering any meaningful employment.

It's the same situation in many civilized western countries, most young creative talent is stuck not getting a job, as companies rather recruit people from developing countries that can do the same work at the fraction of the costs, due to cheaper costs of living in these countries.

Globalization, ain't it a cool thing?

Pretty hilarious of you to literally accuse this company of white supremacy (knowing nothing of the ethnic makeup of their workforce on either continent), while simultaneously insisting that job opportunities should be the exclusive right of "civilized western countries". Also implicit in your statement is the notion that Asian countries aren't civilized countries...

The internet, ain't it a cool thing?

Edited by Fawkes

Posted by Lockes84

Thumbs up. Good article mate.

Posted by afrofools

This is like the blog post by that guy that said the probability of winning lotto is extremely low and then made the verdict that "it's fun anyway."

Posted by groundbeef

There needs to be a Jeff Quick Look of this game.

Posted by billymagnum

pat man, i know you don't care, but you're losing me...

Edited by Chumm

The Jezebel article is great, and this fake tweet from the ingame Paris Hilton stand-in really made the writing stand out in a great dumb-good way.

Posted by ep_driver

This is one of your better articles (to me at least) in a long time. Really great work, Patrick! An awesome read!

Edited by LarryDavis

@larrydavis said:

Jesus Christ, Patrick. This is even worse than Dota.

When did I click over to Kotaku...?

This is sub-Kotaku, honestly, which is quite an accomplishment. More like Destructoid.

Posted by spraynardtatum

@chumm said:

The Jezebel article is great, and this fake tweet from the ingame Paris Hilton stand-in really made the writing stand out in a great dumb-good way.

That looks like dumb garbage humor to me...It is just that kind of stuff that people like about it?

Posted by Falconer

My issue with this whole thing? Patrick thinks Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. HYDRA is the kind of show you only have to half pay attention to. I really like that show. :(

Posted by development

@falconer: To be fair, the dude is always pretty busy. He probably feels like he's slacking off if he's not multi-tasking.

And, Patrick,

If everyone could do it, they would.

No. Hellll no. I would not. I give zero fucks about being popular. Not even the money is appealing to me.

Posted by TournamentOfHate

Your wife hates South Park but watches Keeping Up With the Kardashians?

Edited by simguard

I'm glad you played it, and wrote about it, so I don't have to!

edit: I would agree with the people that are uncomfortable about the game using behavioral psychology to take advantage of people, but this is something that we are seeing more and more from nearly every company. This just wears its intentions on its sleeve (and somehow still makes a ton of money... sigh.)

Posted by dagas

I played it until I reached the number 1 spot and maxxed my relationship and discovered nothing happened. People greet you the same and you don't get married or anything and she still breaks up with you for not spending time with her in 24 hours. The game lacks depth and I feel like I would be better off playing The Sims or something.

Posted by Delta_Ass

Your wife hates South Park but watches Keeping Up With the Kardashians?

Funniest thing I've read all day.

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