The True Story Behind Kim’s “$80 Million” Game Checks

Courtesy Covet.
Last week, Nina Dobrev told me that she was craving spicy crab sushi from her favorite spot in L.A. She asked me to help her find an outfit that would be perfect for the "sushi night selfie" she wanted to take mid-sake-bombing with her crew. I'm not Dobrev's personal stylist or her close friend. I'm also not the only person she asked to style her for this sushi outing; three million others were also included on the request. Dobrev is the current celebrity host on Covet Fashion, a dress-up game for adults that uses clothing and accessories brands such as Michael Kors, Rachel Zoe, and Calvin Klein to bring elements of reality into the virtual world. As its celeb host, she poses a series of styling challenges that task users to create looks. Those looks are voted on by other users, and sometimes, Dobrev will choose and wear a winning design IRL. Covet is part of a growing category of gaming apps — including Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Shakira's Love Rocks, and Kendall & Kylie — that celebrities and designers are using to expand their personal brands and interact with fans. These games are bringing in big bucks, building fan bases, and taking over the social world.
It started with...the Kardashians. Glu Mobile CEO Niccolo de Masi credits his company with kick-starting the current celebrity-app boom. In 2013, de Masi reached out to Kim Kardashian West about the possibility of rebranding an already existing game, Stardom: Hollywood, to make it all about her world. When the game launched in 2014, it exceeded all expectations. "We had a game that we knew monetized well," de Masi says. "With Kim, we turbocharged it." Just one year after its debut, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood became one of the 50 top-grossing apps in the App Store. Kendall & Kylie (another Glu creation) followed with similar success. Covet, which is developed by Crowdstar, was also a quick hit: Within a week of its release, the app reached number one on iTunes. Demi Lovato: Path to Fame, a game from Episode Interactive, was one of the Top 25 most popular in the App Store after its launch.
Photo: Courtesy Glu.
Yes, these celebrities are probably making a lot of money. To date, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has generated over $140 million in revenue. Analytics company Thinkgaming estimates the app makes nearly $40,000 a day. While Glu won't report how much Kardashian West (or Kendall and Kylie) are paid for their involvement, Kardashian West recently tweeted about a hefty figure:
That number has been disputed by some, but it puts celebrity games on par with apps such as Instagram and Snapchat, on which influencers and celebs accept deals to promote different brands and products. It's been estimated that top models, including Kendall Jenner, can earn up to $300,000 per Instagram post. For celebrities, though, there's more than just money at stake. Dobrev likes that the games bring more women into what has been a traditionally male-dominated gaming space. "This is my first time working with an app," Dobrev says. "When I first heard about it, I really liked it because there are so many games, but not many catered towards women. This is a way for women and girls to express themselves and be creative in terms of fashion." Celebrities also have a higher level of control and engagement. "It's not just a passive experience for them," Ethington says. "They're getting to interact with fans and show a part of their life that may not otherwise get seen. It puts them in the power seat." Those factors differentiate celebrity gaming apps from social platforms such as Instagram or Twitter. There, celebrities might show glimpses of their lives, but you can't really get "involved" beyond commenting on a post or watching a video.

Not every celeb gets his or her own game.
Glu is picky about who gets to join what's becoming an increasingly elite club. "I get probably one approach a day from a tier-two or -three celebrity," de Masi says. "We've had management teams for celebrities increasingly calling us up...[but] we spend a lot of time vetting who we're working with." While the bigger names are a pull, a celeb's willingness to put in the time and work also matters. With a game like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the continuing success depends on keeping the details relevant. "Kim sends me emails every day, and text messages; we chat on the phone — we're always trying to drive the future of the game," de Masi says. "Her vacation updates, holiday updates, and the things that she's doing in her life are what drive repeated engagement [with the game]." Glu has signed women such as Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift. For Crowdstar's game Covet, its celebrity hosts, who have a month-long engagement with the game, have included Emma Roberts and Gabrielle Union, in addition to Dobrev. Rovio, the developer behind Angry Birds, even collaborated with Shakira for the colorful Love Rocks Shakira game. "It has to be someone who connects with our audience," says Blair Ethington, Covet's senior vice president and general manager. "We want to have a diverse group of celebrities, including ones who are up-and-coming, as well as ones who we think will have an interesting story on the app." By merging the virtual world with realistic elements, celebrity gaming apps make it feel like you're getting an exclusive invitation to join that person's world. But at the end of the day, the game is still a fantasy, and you're still separated from your favorite celeb by a screen — even if you are "living" his or her life.

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