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Inside the Game: How partnering with Glee's Lea Michele upped our games

Jennifer Young on celebrity power
Inside the Game: How partnering with Glee's Lea Michele upped our games has partnered up with US developer Pixelberry Studios to highlight its candid stories on the trials and triumphs of a startup game studio whose debut title High School Storystayed in the top grossing top 100 chart for a year.

This bi-weekly series of articles will provide a mix of drama, detailed learnings, and actual numbers from their experience launching and supporting a top game.

On September 9, Pixelberry Studios proudly announced a special update for both High School Story and Hollywood U.

Our first-ever celebrity headliner, featuring award-winning actress and singer Lea Michele!

Why have a celebrity headliner?

High School Story has been on the Top Grossing charts since launch, but two years in, we've had to be more creative with our strategy for finding new audiences.

With the rise in fascination with games like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, it was clear that Hollywood stars were becoming a major presence in mobile games.

Lea Michele, best known for her Emmy-nominated turn in Glee and her new role in the TV show Scream Queens, seemed a great fit for both our games.

Live High School... Lea Michele's Way
Live High School... Lea Michele's Way

From a user acquisition perspective, working with Lea Michele meant we could ally ourselves with her brand and attain more visibility from people in our desired demographic.

From a UA perspective, working with Lea Michele meant we could ... attain more visibility.

By incorporating Lea, we would attract a new audience and generate more word-of-mouth for both our titles.

From a content perspective, we wanted to refresh our game and find another way to connect with our players.

With Lea Michele, we'd be able to add in more original storylines and art: players would feel like they were interacting with a real-life celebrity, an event that would be special in the High School Story universe and would add another dimension to the Hollywood U world. We also hoped Lea Michele's fans would be more invested and engaged in the content we generated.

Lea Michele starring in our Games

The question we had going into the update was: how could we effectively incorporate Lea into our games?

The first was to change the title of one of our games to High School Story with Lea Michele to highlight her.

Since Lea was headlining, we wanted to have her be someone the player could interact with in multiple ways. We created Lea as a character, placed Lea-inspired outfits in the closet, and wrote exclusive quests to concretely place her into both games.

Creating Lea's character

In both High School Story and Hollywood U, we have special characters that players can purchase.

Known as All-Stars in High School Story and A-Listers in Hollywood U, these are characters that cannot be partied for but are enticing to buy because they offer special storylines and premium benefits.

All-Star character, Lea Michele
All-Star character, Lea Michele

We made Lea one of these characters, giving her a customized face and hair different from that of any other character in the game.

Creating Lea's closet

Since Lea Michele is known for her style, we also wanted to incorporate her outfits into the closet. Thus, we created a Lea-inspired fashion line. We aimed to put twelve outfits in total into both games, six in each.

Choosing which of Lea's outfits to showcase proved a challenge. We wanted to represent Lea in her entirety, not just in her red-carpet outfits.

Get Lea's look
Get Lea's look

So, based on feedback and direction from her and her team, we created outfits that spanned the range from casual trendy to red carpet and came up with looks that we felt encapsulated her personality and lifestyle.

Writing Lea's exclusive quests

To encourage people to purchase her character, we offered a series of quests in both games with Lea starring next to the player's character.

It was really important to us that the storylines between High School Story and Hollywood U were unique, so the stories we wrote in both games were exclusive.

For High School Story, we brainstormed Lea jumpstarting a musical theater program at the main character's school. The story was a perfect fit since the real Lea got her start on Broadway.

Lea's character would be able to draw on her experience and act as role-model and advice-giver to the player's character as they both tackled the adventure of putting on a musical together.

Lea helps jumpstart your musical program
Lea helps jumpstart your musical program

In Hollywood U, Lea's presence herself became the story. Since Hollywood U focuses on making a name for the player's character in Hollywood, we played up her celebrity status.

Lea's quests put her in the role of players' celebrity mentor, helping them to win an audition and further their careers. At one point in the quest, the player's character even gets to spend time with Lea on the set of a TV show.

Lea becomes your celebrity mentor
Lea becomes your celebrity mentor

Between the storyline and Lea's voice, the narrative offers a behind-the-scenes look at Lea's life and how she deals with and faces the challenges that come with her job.

Your friend and mentor - Lea Michele

Both Lea Michele and the Pixelberry writing team wanted interactions with her in-game character to feel genuine. We approached the quests with the perspective that the story would be about the players getting to know Lea and spending time with her as if they were actually friends.

The writers and I took the player's friendship with Lea's character very seriously and wanted to make it realistic.

To do that, we watched Lea's media, read and tried out the facials and recipes in her books, observed clips of her auditions and interviews, and collaborated with Lea throughout the course of content creation.

Lea's own stories were incorporated in the narrative
Lea's own stories were incorporated in the narrative

We learned about her philosophy and her lifestyle, about how important it was that people be true to and take care of themselves. During creative calls, we would gather real stories, true experiences, and specific advice for characters in the storyline.

Lea's anecdotes personalized the feel of her narrative.

The future

After the excitement of the Lea Michele update, we're already planning future partnerships and are thinking of more ways to engage players by integrating headliners more completely in High School Story and Hollywood U.

We're definitely looking forward to seeing how featuring more celebrities in the upcoming months will up our game!

Jennifer Young is a writer and the studio manager of Pixelberry Studios.

Through partnerships with non-profits, Pixelberry's hit game High School Story has taught millions of players about tough teen issues, like cyberbullying and eating disorders.

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