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Will Katy Perry's Game App Be a Hit Like Kim Kardashian's?
On Wednesday, San Francisco-based Glu Mobile Inc. (NASDAQ: GLUU) announced its fourth quarter earnings along with a spicy bit of news. The mobile game shop has inked a deal with Katy Perry to produce a game featuring the singer's fully-licensed "voice, likeness and personality," to be released later this year.
The Katy Perry deal comes on the heels of the breakthrough success of Glu's Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which the company reports has garnered $74.3 million in 2014 revenues since its release in June.
In the Kardashian game, players vie to launch their avatar to A-list celebrity status through a complex assortment of choose-your-own-adventure-style tasks like dating, modeling, wardrobing and networking, with mentorship and encouragement from a cartoon-rendered Kardashian enhanced with the celebrity's actual voice. In-game credit card purchases grease the wheels of virtual fame, and though the game failed to meet meteoric early earnings projections, it was still an enormous boon for both Glu and Kardashian, and notable enough to win TechCrunch's "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" award.
It has been the biggest hit in Glu's 13-year history by far, has occasioned a jump in its stock price, and, according to the San Jose Mercury News, has likely launched it onto the SV150 list of Silicon Valley's largest technology companies of 2014, one of very few gaming companies to make the cut (only Electronic Arts -- which partnered with Perry for a Sims 3 expansion pack in 2012 -- and Zynga made the 2013 list).
Perhaps more impressively, Kim Kardashian:Hollywood is likely the single most lucrative thing Kardashian has ever done -- in July TMZ reported that the deal entitled her to 45 percent of the game's net profits, with expenses believed to be no more than $10 million. That would bring Kardashian's total near $30 million for 2014. For perspective, Forbes has reported that in 2013 Kardashian's various ventures netted her $28 million.
Glu hasn't revealed any details about the Katy Perry game in the works, other than that it will "introduce players to a digital playground of global success and talent." But they spent the better part of a press release gushing about Perry's audience reach and the global extent of her stardom. Importantly, Perry is the world's most-followed Twitter account (Kardashian is a paltry 16th), not to mention her clout on Facebook, Instragram, Vevo, etc.
It stands to reason that, given Perry's monstrous fame and the demonstrated ability of Glu to imbed a glittering array of profitable viral hooks into an addictive and time intensive game, the Katy Perry game-to-come will make a pretty penny. Glu's investors seem to agree, judging from a jump in its stock price in the days following the announcement.
In ice-cold business terms, the Glu/Perry partnership makes a lot of sense, with Kim Kardashian:Hollywood serving as proof of concept.
It's fun to imagine the gamification of Perry's rise from Christian pop-rocker through the secular wilds of LA to the back of a golden tiger puppet at the Super Bowl -- where she introduced the world to one fiercely independent dancing shark -- to touring the world and brokering promising licensing deals with mobile game makers.
But Kardashian and Perry are on (somewhat) opposite sides of the media-savvy LA biobrand coin. Kim Kardashian:Hollywood whole-heartedly embraces the shameless social climbing/scaling that made its subject a household name. It's a logical guilty pleasure, complete with Pavlovian response triggers linked directly to players' Twitter, Facebook and bank accounts. In the words of one of the nonsensical Kimisms that pop up in the game, "changing your look and buying nice clothes can get you noticed." By buying stuff in-game and tweeting about your exploits, you're just emulating Kim and leveling up the way she did. The digital experience maps closely to the real.
But when Glu says the new game will include Perry's voice, likeness and personality, they are leaving out a few of the singer's most notable assets. First, of course, is her music. Close behind is her ostensible inspirational message of empowerment, self-expression and self-acceptance. Both of these aspects could present difficulties. How does one express oneself in a mobile game? And how do hours and dollars spent manically tapping your phone leave you feeling empowered?
These questions and considerations leave plenty of food for thought. If the game is a flop, then perhaps there are certain irreducible facets of personhood -- or amalgamated pop artist personae-hood? -- that resist commodification. Or maybe it just proves that mobile game audiences prefer greed-based fun to idealism. If the game does, in fact, turn out to be idealistic (in that special
On the other hand, if the game is a smash hit that greatly enriches Glu's investors (and Katy Perry), it might mean that we have crept another shade along the spectrum from Angry Birds to Black Mirror. What if, instead of courting acceptance by tirelessly promoting their own personal brands, tomorrow's teens get hoodwinked into doing the same on behalf of their in-game avatars in the virtual realities of their favorite stars? Actually, what's the difference?