There's no doubt that "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is this summer's surprise hit app, giving fans and players alike the opportunity to live out their very own Hollywood rise-to-fame story.
In the game, players flirt, work, and party their way to stardom, and Kim Kardashian — voiced by the celebrity herself — also pops up from time to time to help move things along.
The game has dominated the Apple App Store charts, peaking at the #1 overall spot and #4 in top-grossing apps. It raked in $1.6 million in its first five days on the market, according to the studio behind the game, Glu Mobile.
"I think Kim's happy, we're happy, it's been a really great partnership," Glu Mobile CEO Niccolo de Masi told Business Insider in an interview.
With analysts estimating up to $200 million in annual revenue from the game, Kardashian is likely making more from her app than she made from all of her other projects last year. Forbes claims she made $28 million last year, and a report from TMZ says Kardashian receives 45 percent of the game's net profits, which would mean about $85 million so far.
Investors are bound to be happy too. "We are guiding to have our biggest quarter in history next quarter," Niccolo de Masi said, and the company also announced that it expects to make more in the last two quarters of 2014 than it made in all of 2013.
Before becoming chief executive of Glu, Mr. de Masi was CEO and president of mobile technology company Hands-On Mobile. He got his start working with JP Morgan's London team, and has also held positions as a physicist at Siemens Solar and as the CEO of Monstermob Group PLC, a mobile entertainment company.
Even though the Kardashian game is a free download, it makes its money from in-app purchases. Besides purchasing additional outfits and haircuts, the game limits the amount of free playing time. Since your character in the game only has so much energy, additional playing time can be purchased using the game's currency, "K-stars."
It's a game mechanic that may sound infuriating, but it's clearly making the Glu Mobile plenty, and de Masi claims that it's not an issue for most people. "95 to 99% of players in Glu games do not spend any money," he said. But that's for all Glu games, not just "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood," and de Masi says that Glu releases "about a dozen games a year."
The in-app purchase strategy is similar to what has made games like "Candy Crush" and "Clash of Clans" major cash cows in mobile gaming. The games are designed to give you just enough free time and items to get you addicted, and then prompt you to pay to continue.
So how did the Glu Mobile and Kim Kardashian find each other?
"We went to Hollywood 18 months ago to do a number of deals," de Masi told Business Insider. "It was a concerted effort by me to do five or six deals that could reuse engines but could add popular appeal."
Besides the opportunity to make a Kim Kardashian game, the trip to Hollywood also landed Glu Mobile two other projects, including a James Bond game due out next summer and an upcoming "Terminator" title.
"For Kim, we thought that she obviously fit our engine exceptionally well," de Masi said. "She's very responsive, very involved in the game. She approves every part of her character. She and I probably trade a few emails every day."
Kim's very responsive, very involved in the game. She approves every part of her character. She and I probably trade a few emails every day.
With Kim Kardashian: Hollywood's success, Glu Mobile is interested in building new games around other celebrities or athletes, but de Masi says that it's not just finding someone popular, the game needs to fit in naturally with their fanbase.
"Kim's fanbase not only is very tech savvy, it's upmarket, it's aspirational," said de Masi. "You don't have to wait for her show to come out to be part of this world. Other celebrities may or may not have that fanbase."
It's a unique relationship that not only allows Kardashian to promote the title via her personal Instagram and Twitter pages, but also lets the reality TV star reach those who wouldn't usually call themselves gamers.
"Her ability to make the game part of her world is part of her ability to reach her fanbase," de Masi told us. "She's very digitally savvy, which helps get people into the game that have never played games before."
What's next for Kardashian fans?
The CEO mentioned new locations, new clothing, and new narratives, likely with continued involvement from Kim Kardashian, who he says is happy with how things are going.
"She is delighted with the success," he said. "The reviews are great. Our number one priority is spending as much time as possible making this game long-term."