Four years ago, Glu Mobile released Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
Having generated almost $220 million from 67 million installs, it remains the company’s most successful game ever, but also proved to be something of a false dawn in terms of wider business strategy.
Certainly, as one journalist noted at the time, its success was not expected.
In a throwaway phrase, I wrote “Glu's most recent release is a fashion game based on Kim Kardashian”, although investors were quick to notice, driving up Glu’s share price.
No. Not until Glu released its first quarterly figures post the game’s launch did the scale of the transformation become apparent.
It posted a then-record bookings total of $83.6 million, with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood accounting for 52 per cent.
Ironically, however, this was by far the game’s best quarter, accounting for 34 per cent of its lifetime downloads and 20 per cent of its lifetime revenue.
As can be seen in the following graph, both Glu’s quarterly bookings and the proportion generated by Kim Kardashian: Hollywood quickly declined.
At their lowest point in Q3 2017, the game was only making $6 million a quarter, or around seven per cent of Glu’s total sales.
Given the best free-to-play mobile games - see the likes of Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds 2 - take years to build momentum and reach a revenue peak, this downward trajectory demonstrates something of the cultural problems Glu experienced running the game as a live service.
The hard years
Even more calamitous was the business strategy the company followed, which saw it spending big - at least $69 million - to sign up more female-focused celebrities such as Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift.
In Q1 2018, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood generated over $10 million for the first time since mid-2016.
Sadly, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood proved to be the exception to the rule. Perhaps because of the older audience or its star’s constant media presence, but it was the only one of Glu’s celebrity games not to flop hard.
Indeed, such was the extent of this failure that in mid-2016, it wasn’t clear how Glu Mobile would continue as viable company. Even now it remains loss-making; its last profitable quarter was back in 2015.
Yet that’s not the end of the story.
As we’ve previously noted Glu’s acquisition of Crowdstar in late 2016, combined with a new management team who focused resources on supporting what they labelled Glu’s “Evergreen Franchises”, resulted in a surprising turnaround in the company’s fortunes.
Of course, the trajectory of Design Home, which will have overtaken Kim Kardashian: Hollywood as Glu’s most successful game ever within nine months, is the main cause.
But, as one of those Evergreen Franchises, even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has turned the corner. It’s seen sales rise quarter-on-quarter for three quarters and in Q1 2018 it generated over $10 million in bookings for the first time since mid-2016.
So while it’s hard to see the game having its best quarter ever again, four years on Glu can point to Kim Kardashian: Hollywood as a symbol of its own regeneration. The game is still on.