Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the mobile role-playing game featuring the socialite herself, is forecast to make $200 million this year, which is significantly more than what most video games make in their lifetime. While it may be easy to attribute most of those earnings to her rabid fan base, which has been known to throw money at anything the Kardashian Klan puts its name on, there might be more to its success than just a pretty face.
"There are a couple of things," said the co-founder of Drexel University's game design program, Frank Lee. "If the gameplay itself was really horrible, it probably wouldn't sell as well. Certainly having her name attached to it and given the amount of media interest she's able to generate is a great help, but the underlying gameplay is pretty straightforward."
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has what Lee describes as a fairly standard role-playing game loop where players are tasked with performing activities, which reward them with items or currency, which they can then use to perform upgrades and buy more items. Lather, rinse and repeat. And while there are obvious differences in theme and depth, Lee said you could compare this kind of loop to the kind found in games like Dungeons and Dragons or any role-playing game.
In addition to having a straightforward role-playing game system, which Lee describes as being "not terrible," Kim Kardashian: Hollywood taps into an area that successful role-playing games do well: wish fulfilment.
"Dungeons and Dragons is fantasy wish fulfilment" Lee said. "And this is almost a perfect fit to the current times of wanting to be a star. This is made possible by the rise of reality TV where we think we could all be stars if we're on the right show. So there is this sort of larger belief that we could do it, and this game provides the fuel for that wish fulfilment. So it's the perfect game for the perfect time."
The game is already a financial success, but Lee said the real test for success is whether it will still be pulling in the kind of money it is currently making six months or a year from now. Will people still be playing and spending? Will anyone still care?
"I'd be curious to find out," he said. "Because the gameplay itself ... it's cutely done, but there's nothing interesting or new about it."