Mobile gaming companies across multiple genres frequently use celebrities and their followings to their advantage. Or they try to. Looking at titles in which the famous individual is actually part of the game (not just an ad prop) to judge how well they use fame to entertain and create their fortune. Will you be able to predict which ones hit the mark, and which were near misses…or huge flops?
Celebrities are a marketing tool available to mobile game producers, and mobile games are a way for celebrities to reach fans and cash in. The trend peaked in 2016 when it seemed everyone was releasing or endorsing a mobile game. Yet it continues in 2020: some celebrity apps have survived the years and new ones are still being created to this day, such as the new counter culture game hit by Leaf Mobile Inc (TSX.V: LEAF). In fact, the quality has tended to improve! Some of these match ups are unexpected, others you might see coming, but either way they promise hours of entertainment in just about any field and type of game.
Kim K and the Klassics: leader of the celebrity game craze of 2016
The heyday of celebrity games rose up around the powerhouse that was Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. This mobile game by Glu really took off, and made the company a sizable chunk of cash. While dozens emulated it, it was the most successful, and unlike many of those that spawned in the field, it remains available today, though not with the greatest record for debugging or new content.
Additionally, it was still a game, not just a method for fans to keep up with celebrity buzz (there are plenty of apps out there doing that for various celebrities). Sure it was a time waster, but aren’t most mobile games? It has you build your own celebrity story, giving players a chance at the kind of narrative they admire Kim for, and encourages them to pay for more resources…or just nicer outfits!
While Glu has cut down on its celebrity clones the app is still up and thus presumably pulling in money for both the company and the influential family. And it hardly seems like their last foray into the mobile market, despite letting their own apps fall to the wayside in favor of more generic social media. They have also shown up in major (expensive) ads for other unrelated mobile gaming titles. Though we find this less interesting than a game designed around their unique appeal, which is why Kim Kardashian Hollywood still makes our list.
Kim Kardashian Hollywood: undeniably a hit
Cheech and Chong’s countercultural contribution
Celebrity games are hardly dead in 2020 however. In some cases we even see ambitious projects with fun collaborations. Leaf Mobile’s hot cool new release of the spring features the titular duo’s unforgettable stoner humor and memorable side characters. The celebrities themselves participated in the launch of this new cannabis game Cheech and Chong Bud Farm. A successful launch it was!
Within a week it had hit number one in the category of ‘green’ games, a rather popular niche for cannabinoid fans, and continues to grow since. The game reveals the particular potency of celebrity not just to attract players, but also to provide diverting and varied content in a crowded field. Like the previous, this game also features mostly idle clicking rather than skill to progress, but also adds a plot, humor and a storyline worthy of the legacy of the comedians. The combination makes for solid entertainment during this epidemic,
The team behind it, Leaf Mobile, isn’t satisfied with demarcation however, not when they can have domination. They recently signed a deal with rapper B Real of Cypress Hill fame to work on a game to capture the imagination of his fans and the counterculture community, a field with increasing popularity and wider acceptance every day. Hopefully we will see another fun title from the up and coming canadian studio!
Cheech and Chong Bud Farm: preferably a long hit!
Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmare
Another Glu title that has been around for some time, the chef’s foray into the mobile world was met with mixed reviews. While the gameplay is fairly similar to the classic Diner Dash it is modeled (closely) after, it is the lack of Ramsey’s distinctive flavor that is missing. The only occasional interruptions (or face-ofs) with his character reveal very shallow or mass market sanitized versions of his flare.
Restaurant Dash: Gordon Ramsey does feature his likeness and voice, and yes even a bit of his character, but not nearly enough of his zest. The chicken as it were, is not cooked. Or at least, not properly seasoned.
On the bright side, the app is still available, it has survived despite the shut down of many celebrity focused ventures. On the downside, it is no finely aged cheese. The latest reviews and ratings reveal a plethora of problems from crashes to unresponsive help lines. Clearly Glu has left this one on the back burner and let it fry to a crisp.
Restaurant Dash: Gordon Ramsey may once have been a hit, but now, it’s Miss-ing spice
Tony Hawk title makes you grind…your teeth
We now make a 180° to an entirely different genre (again) to find another famous face in a familiar game. Skateboarding may not be the most extreme of sports, but it certainly appeals to a hardcore following as well as legions of casual participants. Tony Hawk stands tall among them all with a stunning career and impressive achievements. Mobile gaming is not among them.
Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam is a title by Maple Media LLC which makes dozens of skateboarding, snowboarding and racing games. Getting a big name on one of them seems not to have been enough for the fans, who are under no illusion that it’s not just their previous title skateboard party 3, in a Hawk mask. The game has a startlingly low review (under 4) for good reason, but getting such a low review in the epoch of bolstered and inflated reviews is Not a good sign.
The company regularly features famous skaters in their games, or ads, but hasn’t managed to capitalize on this more in depth foray. Unlike some of the other titles we have covered, the Skate Jam lacks much of Tony Hawk’s personality, fascinating life story, or attitude. Instead he is used merely as a standard players can aim for, even as the game fails to meet their expectations.
Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam: a jarring Miss
(room to add one or two more as needed)
Pewdiepie’s mobile adventures
Celebrities have left their mark on the mobile gaming world
Unlike the video gaming genre which requires massive investment of time and effort, the mobile game world is prone to quick solutions and cookie cutter games. These lend themselves well to exploitation of and for celebrities wishing to make a little extra money. They also present a prime opportunity for mobile game producers and developers to make their gme stand out, unfortunately as we have seen the game needs to do more than just feature their celeb.
To be a real success however the game needs to use more than just the name or face of the eponymous celebrity. But instead needs to capture a bit of their soul, that special something that made their name in the first place, and for which fans keep coming back and spending more.
In all fairness we may have been a bit harsh on some of the misses. After all their apps at least are still up. Some runners up using celebrities, looking at you Jason Statham Sniper, have been taken down over the years, suggesting that there are even bigger misses out there.
The core finding however remains, that while anyone can slap a celebrity skin or face onto a game, doing it well is more than just a question of picking your celebrity, but close and careful collaboration. That is why it is promising to read that innovators in the field like Lead Mobile Inc have signed on not for a quick turnaround deal, but a five year working relationship with their latest celebrity pick: B Real.