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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+
139 Comments
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Edited by FengShuiGod

I guess if you want to defend junk that's your prerogative, but there is Junk, and then there is junk. This game doesn't even rate. An interesting counterpoint that I instantly thought of was this recent piece from the Paris Review: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/08/04/bad-call/

Empty calories start out as fun and games, but before you know it you're a hooked and obese imbecile, another symptom of the omnipresent grid of commercial stupidity. Pretty soon people don't care and such vapidity is openly welcome. It's harmless after all.

It would be nice to see some real game criticism. You know, give me a Robert Hughes or something, but with vidya games. Instead.....

Edited by ArchTeckGuru8

This kind of thing is a well written scam. The game i mean. The article is well written but the conclusion is just... disappointing.

Edited by Sagalla

@forteexe21 said:

It's official that videogames are dead, right?

I think we're moving into a post consumerism age of videogames, where you have to justify what games do for you socially, emotionally, professionally, etc. Are games just the thing you do while you are on the bus? Are games how you spend time with friends? Do you want to create games yourself, become a professional player? Do you have all the games you need, or are you always looking for more? This is a good article to promote this kind of self-examination and reflection on the industry I guess :)

Edited by MEATBALL

The videogame industry is doomed, thankyou for contributing to its downfall. :P

Edited by Captiosus

@sagalla said:

@forteexe21 said:

It's official that videogames are dead, right?

I think we're moving into a post consumerism age of videogames, where you have to justify what games do for you socially, emotionally, professionally, etc. Are games just the thing you do while you are on the bus? Are games how you spend time with friends? Do you want to create games yourself, become a professional player? Do you have all the games you need, or are you always looking for more? This is a good article to promote this kind of self-examination and reflection on the industry I guess :)

Nah, I think we're on the precipice of another 1983-ish style crash. The AAA-industry can't keep up the pace without imploding financially and the el cheapo market is overrun with too many clones of the newest flavor of the month tap/click game. In other words, there's too many platforms, too many knock-offs, and too much bloat on each end of the bell curve.

Posted by DS23

ahahah

Edited by Devil240Z

I don't even know what to say about these kinds of games anymore. People seem to like them so what can I say. You seem like an asshole if you say to someone, "why are you playing that garbage when there are much better games out there?" You can never win someone over by insulting something they like or criticizing it in anyway. Even if the fact is that no one should ever play this game because its evil. My girlfriend is playing it as I type and theres nothing i can do to stop her.

There should be a separate app store for real games on android/IOS. Steam should really get into mobile games. (haha well if you look at alot of their new releases you might think that they already are)

Edited by fetchfox

I'm sad that this game has caught on and is this addictive...

Edited by Y2Ken

Thanks for the article, Patrick. There have been a few dismissive comments but I'm not sure they read through the article because it's clearly well thought-out and well researched, even if it's on a slightly unusual topic. I think "games" like this are certainly worth taking a passing glance at, if nothing more, for the perspective of the rest of the games industry.

I played The Sims Social for a short while when I got my first smartphone, because it was the only Sims game available on the Android marketplace at the time. It works in much the same way, where you are just using energy to fill up your meters. The problem is that it never felt as deep and interactive as the regular games as a result. EA has since put their paid-for, complete and microtransaction-free, mobile version of The Sims 3 back on sale, and I picked that up and had a much better time with it (although it's still an inferior version of the game compared to the PC editions).

I also would say, as somewhat of an aside, that I bear no ill will against Kim Kardashian and the way she "played the celebrity game". I have no personal interest in her lifestyle or that sort area of pop culture in general, nor would I have any interest in becoming a big celebrity myself (contrary to your implication here), but good on her for finding a bizarre way to success.

Edited by Hour_Glass

I don't see at all how those tweets complaining about you giving an exploitive free to play game access to your twitter "go well beyond irritation at single manufactured tweet. With Kardashian, it becomes personal." Was it the "boo" the "nah" or the "no thanks" where it got personal? You seem to really be reaching and seeing what you expect there to be rather than what is.

Posted by Nethlem

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?

Taking my comment out of context much? You can check the distribution of their job positions on that page, I'm not making anything up. Leads/managers getting recruited from the US and Canada, while everything else gets hired from the cheapest places available, like China, India and Russia.

That company is nothing but an "digital sweatshop" that's churning out freemium crap, produced as cheaply as possible. If that does not remind you of the white supremacy colonialism (outsourcing to places where the work force is much cheaper to "free", like slavery) then I can't help you in any way.


This is an Western company, mostly selling on a Western market, charging Western prices for their products, yet they are only willing to pay their employees cheaper wages according to their place of residence.

I certainly could have used an better word than "civilized western countries", but it's still an applicable term, as not all countries in the Western hemisphere have reached a similar "modern status" in terms of distribution of their economic engines.

Thus my statement says nothing about "Asian countries" at all, as they are part of the Eastern hemisphere of this planet. You are the one instigating that all countries are "the same", when they are not, because there are differences in economic development.

Pointing out that India, China and Russia are pretty much "developing countries" in certain regards, does not make my statement in any way "white supremacist", it's merely economic fact.

I also never claimed that "job opportunities should be exclusive to "civilized western countries", I'm merely arguing for the case of companies supporting their local economies, instead of outsourcing any work of importance into developing countries. In the long run this will only lead to an race to the bottom that's gonna help nobody except huge ass corporations.

Edited by James_Hayward

'Dungeon Keeper'? No to going to play it.

'Kim Kardashian'? Not interested.

'Kim Kardashian: Dungeon Keeper'? hmm... might take a look at that I suppose?

Edited by EternalGamer2

@fengshuigod:

@fengshuigod said:

I guess if you want to defend junk that's your prerogative, but there is Junk, and then there is junk. This game doesn't even rate. An interesting counterpoint that I instantly thought of was this recent piece from the Paris Review: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/08/04/bad-call/

Empty calories start out as fun and games, but before you know it you're a hooked and obese imbecile, another symptom of the omnipresent grid of commercial stupidity. Pretty soon people don't care and such vapidity is openly welcome. It's harmless after all.

It would be nice to see some real game criticism. You know, give me a Robert Hughes or something, but with vidya games. Instead.....

This is exactly what I was trying to get at earlier. It really bums me out that people have become so relativistic that they aren't even willing to call out a lack of substance. This is the dark side of post-modern influence on pop-cultural opinion where people adopt The Dude's "that's just like your opinion man" attitude as a non-ironic creed. If there is anyone in society who plays a role to respond to that kind of attitude and who should willing to draw distinctions between cultural productions worthy of attention and shallow ephemera, it's the media critic.

I'm no cultural snob. For example, I largely think Humanism's, and subsequently academia's, attempts to sectioning off capital "L" literature as special cultural artifact and as cultural panacea is pretty much the worst thing to happen to literature. And I think there is room for guilty pleasures of some sort. But there has to be some room left for some lines in the sand to be drawn at least among critics. The philosophy Patrick espouses in this piece that we should all uncritically admire someone who can "play the fame game" and the implicit endorsement of the idea that critics shouldn't be concerned with calling out "empty calories" is one that I find extremely disappointing.

Roger Ebert wrote an amazing essay on this topic called "I'm a Proud Brainiac." It responds to fan reactions to his Transformers Movie Review and elucidates what he feels is his position as a cultural critic. I highly recommend everyone read it. It's a defense of intellectualism and pop culture criticism written in a very workman like language that is incredibly grounded, sincere, and heartfelt.

RIP, Rog, you were one of the good ones. My generation and subsequent seemingly don't have it in them to carry on the good fight. You are painfully missed.

Edited by tooPrime

Ehh, this game seems fine, but this comment thread is gross. Many games are glorified Skinner Boxes so this is hardly ending video games.

Edited by mrsmiley

I hadn't realized the writing was so clever. I can totally see that being the reason a lot of people that "fit the type" are playing this game. I won't touch it, as I abhor F2P clickfests, but that makes things a bit more clear. Good article!

Edited by frustratedlnc

You can't see why people really dislike like Kim Kardashian? She's vapid and vain. She has a tremendous ego. She has no discernible talent. She's achieved massive success, which breeds resentment...and that's aside from the manner in which she achieved it. She's a very public figure, so you can see her being a dick anytime a person cares to pay attention. And even though she attempts to soften her image, it comes across as insulting and manipulative. I don't care enough to actively dislike her, but I get it. Maybe not to the extent that people are really passionate about disliking her. But yeah, she seems like a shit head.

As far as your next point, I don't feel everyone would play the celebrity game if given the opportunity. There are plenty of wealthy people that avoid that intrusive lifestyle and would prefer to be left alone.

Edited by Curufinwe

" She's played the celebrity game pretty damn well. If everyone could do it, they would."

Yes, Patrick. Everyone with a slightly famous last name would get fucked on camera and release a video of it to the world if they only could.

Posted by Nethlem

@tooprime said:

Ehh, this game seems fine, but this comment thread is gross. Many games are glorified Skinner Boxes so this is hardly ending video games.

Of course many games are glorified Skinner Boxes, but there is a difference how to go about it. You can use it to make a fun game that immerses the player into something unique, build on an actual creative vision.

Or you can use it to build the equivalent of Farmville, where people click away their lives (or spend away all their disposable income) on something that has no fail-state, no ending, no story and no creative vision besides "how do we make those suckers get addicted to spending time/money with the least amount of effort on our side".

Too many people ignore that this crap has gotten mighty successful, tons of kids grow up on this shallow freemium stuff, while many of them couldn't care less about "proper games" that try to do something actually unique and new.

Personally i don't want a future where "gaming" is merely considered playing freemium stuff on Facebook and iOS devices, yet it feels like we are moving towards exactly that.

Posted by MATATAT

Nerds overreacting on the Internet, classic.

Posted by LikeaSsur

This article can be surmised as thus: Patrick is being Patrick.

Posted by tooPrime

@nethlem said:

@tooprime said:

Ehh, this game seems fine, but this comment thread is gross. Many games are glorified Skinner Boxes so this is hardly ending video games.

Of course many games are glorified Skinner Boxes, but there is a difference how to go about it. You can use it to make a fun game that immerses the player into something unique, build on an actual creative vision.

Or you can use it to build the equivalent of Farmville, where people click away their lives (or spend away all their disposable income) on something that has no fail-state, no ending, no story and no creative vision besides "how do we make those suckers get addicted to spending time/money with the least amount of effort on our side".

Too many people ignore that this crap has gotten mighty successful, tons of kids grow up on this shallow freemium stuff, while many of them couldn't care less about "proper games" that try to do something actually unique and new.

Personally i don't want a future where "gaming" is merely considered playing freemium stuff on Facebook and iOS devices, yet it feels like we are moving towards exactly that.

I don't think the existence of Farmville threatens real games. It's a different audience altogether. To me, WoW is a much more sinister Skinner Box than any of these games. I watched a lot of people piss away college playing that, but not so much with Farmville. The ballooning budgets and homogenization of the AAA games is probably more of a threat than anything else.

All games, even those that are largely skill based, include that meter going up reward system. I actually kind of like idle games sometimes. There's no gameplay, just achievement reward systems and they are funny to see stand on their own like that.

Posted by Ronot6000
Edited by Jarno

Although it is a terrible and evil thing, I am impressed with the concept of giving players in-game currency by having them sign up to a whole bunch of spam.

I can imagine Amazon releasing games where you can earn in-game currency by completing a simple task for Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Or what about getting a reward for solving a captcha? A guess-the-password minigame? To unlock the next level now, order a pizza from Joe's Pizza using this code!

Posted by McCrash

Another pretentious article about absolute crap...

Posted by ripelivejam

Endless cynicism is always more entertaining in criticism, huh? The lot of you must be huge Jeff fans, in spite of your callouts on his negativity.

Online
Posted by BasketSnake

Buy this and you don't need to buy another iOS game again.

Posted by mdnthrvst

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.

"Objectively terrible" is a contradiction in terms. You don't like something and that's fine. You don't like that other people like something and that's fine. But don't pretend that everyone who disagrees with you is "factually" wrong.

And nor is quality ever proportionate to popularity in the first place.

Posted by RVonE

@patrickklepek I distinctly recall you saying that you don't like using 'addiction' as a term to think about video games. And yet, here you are...

Posted by Death_Burnout

This not-game's existence would offend me significantly less if the in-app purchases weren't so completely insane, I mean you can spend crazy amounts of money on static images that do nothing, NOTHING. And people are doing that...It's frightening.

What's worse is that this a re-skinned version of another game Glu make, that is only just slightly more of a game, because it makes you remember your "lines" for whatever dumb TV thing you're doing.

Edited by Thiago123

Upon reaching the D-list, I jokingly had the game spit out a robotic tweet.

I understand that the reason people were mad was because it was a freemium tweet and Kardashian related, but would still like to see what the tweet actually was.

Posted by Corevi
@pudge said:

It's a skinner box with a fancy wrapper, and it's the kind of thing that will only contribute to gaming's image problem.

Is something like Diablo that much different though?

Edited by Pudge

@pudge said:

It's a skinner box with a fancy wrapper, and it's the kind of thing that will only contribute to gaming's image problem.

Is something like Diablo that much different though?

I'd say yes. There is some manner of creativity in Diablo's "fancy wrapper". They crafted an entire world for you to explore, and gave meaning to the loot you were collecting. I mean, I guess someone could have that same experience in the world of Kim Kardashian, but it's clear just from the examples in the article that the game's world building is nothing but cheap parody.

Plus, Diablo's skinner box doesn't charge you every time it drops loot or ends a dungeon. The real problem is manuipulating addictive tendencies in players for pure monetary gain.

Edited by clush

"If everyone could do it, they would."

Seriously? And you claim to have spent time thinking this over?

First of it's simply not true. Not everyone would do it. Not everyone dreams of selling their soul to be rich and famous. There's other things in life worth pursuing. Speak for yourself.

Second, you're forgetting one very big factor: simple chance. I won't call it luck, but i guess a lot of people would. I put kardashian in the same league as Paris Hilton. Everyone could do what they do, but hardly anyone gets the opportunity.

I could do what the king of my country does, except for the fact that princess Beatrice isn't my mother.

As for why people are dicks about Kardashian: she's a demon, set loose on the earth to lower the standards. Google it.

Edited by CaptainFunny

@thiago123: https://twitter.com/patrickklepek/status/494550849025110016

Posted by Xanadu

@patrickklepek I felt you should know Kotaku is calling you out on hating on Kim Kardashian even though nothing in your article states this. I commented about it on Kotaku but it looks like they deleted my comment :/

Posted by Ancient_Gray

Girlfriend is addicted to this game. Laughed heartily when I saw this article.