Kim Kardashian West has spent a little over a decade in the public eye, and for many of those years, she’s been the most famous person in the world. In this time, she’s left an indelible mark on the new celebrity economy.
Anything she touches is automatically covered in a glittering sheen of gold KKW Beauty branded highlighter. It instantly radiates the scent of any one of her signature KKW Fragrances, sprayed from a bottle modeled after her signature curves. And however you feel about this — confusion, excitement, begrudged admiration — feel free to express yourself through Kimoji.
Though of all the money-printing operations that exist within the Kim Kardashian empire — and this is solely considering Kim herself, not the similarly mind-bogglingly bankable business ventures of her sisters — there is perhaps none as unsung, as latently lucrative as “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.”
The mobile game has been a smash success for Kardashian. In 2014, the year the app was released, Glu Mobile, the game’s developer, reported profits of $43 million, a slightly disappointing figure given the app’s initial behemoth popularity had analysts predicting it could net up to $200 million. Still, the game proved to have impressive staying power, camping out in the top 5 most downloaded apps in the App Store throughout its entire first year of release.
In the overcrowded app market, it’s not atypical for an app to burn brightly in its first few months of release, especially when it’s gilded with the Kardashian brand and the influence it yields, before disappearing. But “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” much like Kardashian herself, refuses to yield its spotlight.
A Forbes profile on Kardashian that names her among “The New Mobile Moguls” states that by 2017, the app had finally reached that long-predicted $200 million revenue marker. It also states that Kardashian had made $45 million off of it. A more recent profile of Kardashian and her sisters in The New York Times implies the app is still lucrative enough that she will still update developers on even the most minute details of her life (she names dying her hair as an example) so they can update the app accordingly.
In the near five years since the game was first released, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” is not only still alive, it is kicking ferociously enough to still attract yearly revenues in the tens of millions. The chances of an app striking out and fading into obscurity far outweigh the possibility of Angry Birds-levels of success. So, how did Kim Kardashian manage to crack the mobile game code and once again come out on top?
Distilling the popularity of “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” would, of course, circle back to Kardashian herself. Throughout most of her career, she has demonstrated the uncanny ability of making people want to buy things with her face on it.
The game follows a relatively simple choose-your-own-adventure style plot. You start as an unknown looking to break into Hollywood and, with Kardashian as your guide, you climb your way up to A-list levels of fame, through mini-challenges such as photoshoots and club appearances, to colossal, celestial, Kardashian levels of fame.
Though “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” is free, it takes on the common “freemium” app structure. If you want to progress in the game – which in this case, means collecting energy points and “K-stars,” the in-game currency that allows you to buy things like designer clothing, drinks at a club or a nicer apartment — you’ll have to spend money.
It’s an effective enough structure, and an apparently addictive enough game, that Sesali Bowen, a Refinery29 writer, admitted to dropping hundreds of dollars on the app. A writer for Vice spoke about spending $25 a month on the game in an article entitled “Kim Kardashian’s Mobile Game Ruined My Life.”
Describing an intense bit of gameplay that included a lunch meeting with a director, a club appearance, a film shoot, and several intercontinental flights, Bowen described the uncanny experience of weathering this condensed mega-celebrity schedule.
“This is exactly what the Kardashians are doing in real life. Except a flight around the world takes way longer than a few taps on a phone screen. Being on set is monotonous and taxing on the body,” she writes. “You may not agree with Kim’s chosen path but you can’t call her lazy.”
“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” works for the same reason all of the world’s most popular games have reached their levels of success. People play video games to glean the experience of soldiers, dragon slayers or NBA players, or to know what it’s like to be Kim Kardashian.
The draw of this is simple: most people will never know what it’s really like to be this famous. “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” offers the glamor of living like a Kardashian — traveling around the world, buying homes in Dubai, wearing custom Balmain — without any of the hard work, intense image maintenance or invasions of privacy this level of fame actually entails. Fame and adoration are hardly ever unappealing, at least in the abstract. The prospect of making this a part of your life, however small or tangential, is easily worth a couple taps on your phone screen and a few dollars spent on K-stars and energy points.
Following the success of “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” Glu Mobile partnered with other celebrities like Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj to produce their own games, with essentially the same storyline but tailored to each of their unique careers and personalities. The company also partnered with Kardashian’s half-sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner, ensuring that, should Kim’s app ever wane in its impossible popularity, the mobile game industry would continue to bankroll at least part of the Kardashians’ extended media dynasty.
In the half decade since Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’s release, the Kardashian family has weathered more public scrutiny than what should be humanly possible. The world has watched as they’ve added countless babies, posted a few hundred selfies and notched a new scandal every couple of months.
All the while, Kim and her family have turned the world’s encroaching fascination into extreme prosperity, growing their empire with the riches wrought from lip kits, athleisure clothing lines and, of course, mobile games. Everyone is staring at Kim Kardashian all the time, she might as well make a little money off of it.