From Stardom to The Empire: How Glu has evolved the UX in its celebrity games

A brief look through 7 games

From Stardom to The Empire: How Glu has evolved the UX in its celebrity games

This story was originally published in May 2016. We have updated it to include the December 2016 release Nicki Minaj: The Empire, which brings a few more improvements to the celebrity genre.

When it comes to making sequels to its celebrity games, Glu Mobile must have a hard time trying to work out what can be changed or updated.

To suit the chosen celebrity, the narrative is always different, but beyond that the games remain largely the same.

After all, changing the gameplay too drastically has proven fatal in the past – just look at Katy Perry Pop.

But one area that Glu has constantly been experimenting with is the UI – placement of menus, size of icons, and so on.

Britney's best

It may seem like a minor change, but it’s helped elevate each subsequent release, with each game becoming more enjoyable to play thanks to some small tweaks here and there.

To illustrate this, we've gone through each game in the series to analyse the UI, and show just how far Glu has come when designing its game menus.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Stardom: The A-List

    Stardom: The A-List logo

    The celebrity game genre that Glu pioneered didn't start with Kim Kardashian.

    It actually began with this positively ancient title, Stardom: The A-List, released back in 2011.

    Stardom: The A-List, released December 2011

    The differences from Glu's later games are already obvious without much analysis required. The graphical style is almost unrecognisable, for starters.


    But what's interesting is the fact that the menu is hidden away – you receive a definite counter of the new areas of interest, and you have to tap it to reveal the whole menu.

    Objectives are shown in a slightly obstructive fashion, in a translucent box on the left side of the screen, typically where the character model is.

    And the items are tiny and unappealing.

    It doesn't attempt to disguise its RPG elements, such as by clearly labelling the XP pickup, although each item does play a unique animation when collected.

  • 2 Stardom: Hollywood

    Stardom: Hollywood logo

    Stardom: Hollywood isn't a sequel, per se, but more of a reboot of the franchise.

    The narrative is near-identical to the original game, down to the story beats and objectives, but it does change some elements of the UI.

    Stardom: Hollywood, released February 2013

    The most obvious change is the graphical overhaul from its predecessor, which is now much more in-line with what you'd expect from a Glu celebrity game.

    That said, items are still far too small, and they've even lost the unique animations when collected, replaced instead with a starburst effect.

    The menu is now fixed in place – you can't collapse it at all. And the other annoyances, like the obscuring objectives, are still in place, which makes the whole thing feel cluttered.

  • 3 Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

    Kim Kardashian: Hollywood logo

    The best-known entry in the series, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood doesn't make any major changes to the UI of Stardom, although it somehow ends up being slightly worse.

    One main change is in the pickup designs – the XP button is dropped in favour of the new "fame" item, represented by a person-shaped icon.

    Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, released June 2014

    You also see different coloured objective boxes – purple for tutorial and white for objectives – which are slightly more opaque than before, and therefore even more intrusive.

    And there's also icons showing off ways to get free currency, which clutters up the screen more in order to advertise the game's rewarded video ads.

    There's even still the problem of tiny pickups, the hitboxes for which are now slightly broken on bigger, newer devices.

    Simpler, but not better

    Overall, it's not a great look for the game, which is a shame given that it remains the most played game of the genre.

    As an aside, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood actually removes some small gameplay elements of the Stardom series, which contained actual puzzles with fail-states.

    While not a UI issue, it is interesting that Glu would choose to simplify the game mechanics for this release – before whacking a few new ones into Katy Perry Pop, of course.

  • 4 Katy Perry Pop

    Katy Perry Pop logo

    Katy Perry Pop did a lot of things wrong in terms of gameplay, but when it comes to UI, it started to take things in the right direction.

    Katy Perry Pop, released December 2015

    Objectives have now been moved to the bottom-right of the screen, next to the re-introduced menu button, but for some reason, the translucent box for the objectives is now enormous.

    Pickup icons are now ever-so-slightly larger, with working hit-boxes to boot, and there's no longer any mention of free currency.

    However, entering the menu is now a nightmare scenario. Hitting the phone icon replaces half the screen with a huge menu, filled with extra menus that you may never use.

    It's ridiculously oversized and mostly useless, and was never a pleasant experience when you had to open it up to change your clothes.

    Katy Perry Pop's enormous menu

  • 5 Kendall & Kylie

    Kendall & Kylie logo

    The jump from Katy Perry Pop to Kendall & Kylie is enormous – not least because the game switches from landscape to portrait mode, perfect for the selfie generation that it explicitly targets.

    Of course, the change brings with it an enormous UI overhaul, something which worked incredibly well for this entry.

    There's no collapsible menu anymore, but you don't need one. Everything's lined up across the bottom of the screen, but it feels natural – like having the quick access bar across the bottom of your phone screen.

    Size matters

    The buttons are now purely squares and rectangles instead of bubbles and rounded edges, which gives the interface a cleaner, more minimalist feel too.

    Pickups are now massive compared to previous entries, so you'd have to be deliberately trying to avoid them to not collect them.

    Objectives are found just above the menu bar, but take up much less space than before, though you do still need to go into a separate menu to see all your outstanding objectives in one place.

    Kendall & Kylie, released February 2016

  • 6 Britney Spears: American Dream

    Britney Spears: American Dream logo

    Clearly learning from the UI design of Kendall & Kylie, Britney Spears: American Dream takes the minimalist look and flips it back to landscape mode.

    The black rectangles remain, although these menu icons are slightly translucent now that they're not relegated to their own areas and are once again part of the game screen.

    But the text is now smaller, causing the menu items to shrink as well, giving the player far more screen to play with.

    Britney Spears: American Dream, released May 2016

    Pickups are now the biggest they've ever been, so now it's even harder not to pick them up, and it makes up for the smaller menu items.

    Dropping in

    Objectives are still on the bottom of the screen, but they now stack into one drop-down menu, so you don't need to jump through into different screens to keep track.

    And, in a fantastic move, you now travel by accessing a drop-down menu in the bottom-left, rather than having to scroll all the way through the screen to find the travel button in the game world.

    It's a clear sign that collapsible menus are the way to go, and you don't need to make your menus as colourful as the rest of your game to make for an enjoyable experience.

  • 7 Nicki Minaj: The Empire

    Nicki Minaj: The Empire logo

    The most noticeable change in Nicki Minaj: The Empire is the shift from a straightforward 2D display to an isometric view – and a world that your character actually moves around in.

    Previous entries would leave you on one edge of the screen until you started an activity, but now your avatar walks around the area to get to the objective marker, or wherever you tap.

    It's actually a pretty cool addition, though it does slow the game down by a couple of seconds as you wait for your character to catch up with you.


    One major change to gameplay is pickups. Previously these would scatter around the screen for you to collect, but now they stack on the right-hand side of the screen waiting to be collected.

    These are auto-collected after a time, or if the stack overflows, but what this change also means is that you no longer get a small energy boost for manually collecting them, since the game files them all for you anyway.

    Nicki Minaj: The Empire, released December 2016

    Objectives are now enormous too, meaning that the game is overall easier to interact with, while still retaining all its core elements.

    And nothing has been removed either – drop-down menus for objectives and locations remain, and text and icons on the fringe of the screen are kept as small as possible so as not to clutter the play space.


Ric is the Editor of PocketGamer.biz, having started out as a Staff Writer on the site back in 2015. He received an honourable mention in both the MCV and Develop 30 Under 30 lists in 2016 and refuses to let anyone forget about it.