While the great majority of the video game world takes a breather every December, the mobile game market kicks into high gear. People around the world are going to receive new phones and tablets for the holidays, and they're going to download apps for said tablets and phones. Sneaking onto the top of various app charts around Christmas can result in a ton of revenue and visibility for enterprising publishers.
That climate helps to explain the timing of the release of Katy Perry Pop, the newest celebrity-centric fame simulation from Glu Mobile. If the name rings a bell, it's probably because of the company's hyper-successful collaboration with Kim Kardashian, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. It made Glu over $40 million in its first three months on sale and became the subject of widespread media fascination. If you spent any time hanging out with virtual Kim, shaking down pigeons for energy, or spatting with the notorious Willow Pape, you understand why: it was an addictive experience.
At the very least, I should find this game interesting
Katy Perry Pop is Glu's highest-profile game release since Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and it's the company's first attempt to prove "celebrity + free-to-play = profit" is a sturdy formula. (There's some weight riding on it: the company's also making a game with Nicki Minaj, and Jason Statham starred in another of its releases.) The premises of the two games aren't radically different. In Kim's game, you tried to become a leading Hollywood socialite with her guidance. In Katy's world, you're trying to conquer the pop charts the same way she has. I like video games, and I don't mind the music of Katy Perry. I should enjoy Katy Perry Pop; at the very least, I should find it interesting. With that in mind, I played the game for as long as I could in one sitting without spending money and recorded my first impressions.
8:06AM ET: I fire up Katy Perry Pop and allow the game to send me notifications, a mistake I may yet live to regret.
8:07AM: Katy greets me with a video message, asking if I'm ready to pursue international pop stardom and if I'll be able to do it without "losing myself." She's wearing a tight pink Teenage Dream-era top and matching earrings.
8:10AM: I design my pop star-in-waiting, Carl Ray Jepson, giving him a giant beard and a quizzical default look. Wardrobe options are sadly limited at this point.
8:13AM: I'm out walking in Santa Barbara when I decide to visit the local coffee shop, Rise & Grind. I gaze out at the view and tap on the horizon. Staring out at the ocean yields a single Katy Gem (one of several important currencies, it seems) and a little sunflower node full of "inspiration," which I need to write great songs.
Staring out at the ocean yields a single Katy Gem
8:14AM: It turns out I'm an employee of the Rise & Grind, one who needs to work the evening's open mic even though I'm desperate to perform. I spend my hard-earned Katy Gem and convince my boss to let me play a set. She gives me another Katy Gem and five rainbows (which help me level up, I think) and I change into a hippie costume, which is apparently the only non-V-neck piece of clothing I own. A generic acoustic track is playing in the coffee shop's background. I'm almost positive it's not an instrumental Katy Perry song, but it's close enough to the real thing for me to question my judgment.
8:19AM: KATY PERRY JUST WALKED INTO RISE & GRIND. Katy Perry is going to watch my set! She keeps waving, but I can't actually engage her in any sort of dialogue. I spend my energy on "killer hooks" and "all the feels," yielding more rainbows and some pawprint coins I don't know how to spend yet.
8:22AM: I finish my set, and Katy is impressed. The screen bursts, showering me with pawprint coins, Katy Gems, lightning bolts, and yet another unknown currency (pink roller skates). "You sound amazing," Katy tells me in a voiceover. "Do you have a demo?" I'm so excited, I level up right then and there.
8:26AM: Katy tweets about my performance at the coffee shop, giving me a boost of almost 2,000 Twitter followers. (I don't mean to sound greedy, but that feels a little low, right?) I go to record my demo at Mom's Garage, which is conveniently located across the street from Rise & Grind. Katy is waiting there for me. She encourages me to change out of my hippie outfit — it's important I'm "comfortable" while recording.
8:30AM: Katy invites some musicians over so we can "have a jam." I can write a song about either "style," "drinking," or "anger." (I pick "drinking," obviously.) The game suggests I call my song "Deep Baby of the Party," a title way more brilliant than anything I could've come up with on my own. I spend the next six minutes recording "Deep Baby of the Party" with Katy and Topher, a guitarist she made me call. Topher has awesome hair and terrible ripped jean shorts. I have no idea what his guitar skills are like.
8:31AM: I run out of energy in the middle of tracking "Deep Baby of the Party," which makes me regret spending four lightning bolts on the "about that bass" action.
8:32AM: But wait! "About that bass" is just what I needed to finish "Deep Baby of the Party!" Katy tells the world my single is dropping in three minutes. "Wow, you really are a firework," she coos. I blush.
8:34AM: We leave the studio and Katy texts me less than a second after saying goodbye. Her friend Simone, a talent manager, loves my demo, but she can't take any more clients. (I reply "YAAAAAS!" and "NOOOO!!!" respectively.) Katy tells me I can get Simone to sign me by applying some in-person pressure, so I visit her office in West Hollywood, a journey that costs three pawprint coins and requires a plane ride. In the meantime, Katy gives me another boost by tweeting, "'Deep Baby of the Party' is doing me justice!"
8:37AM: Simone is wearing a hyper-fashionable suit and radiates intimidation. She ridicules me for never having heard of the Top Songs Chart. I spend another Katy Gem convincing Simone to sign me. She tells me Katy left a pair of glasses for me at her office. I try them on and enter Katy Vision, which Katy tells me is a peek into "the world of [her] imagination" in another video message. They are truly magical: West Hollywood transforms into a glittering futurescape, and Katy is there wearing a mesh bodysuit and a different haircut. "Surprise," she exclaims. "Isn't this amazing?" I have no choice but to agree with her.
8:41AM: I travel back to Santa Barbara and enter Katy Vision. The landscape transforms again, and I find myself talking to a sunflower named Sunny who asks me to cheer up her friend Lefty...
8:43AM: It's Left Shark.
8:44AM: I play a show on the beach for Lefty and it's a total hit. @BlogGod92 promises to tweet a review in half an hour. I don't have any pending tasks, so I play with my in-game smartphone. "Deep Baby of the Party" might've killed the beach show, but it hasn't even cracked the top 100 yet; babychris' "My Lucky Angel" has a stranglehold on #1. There's a fully featured chat client, and players around the world are poking their heads in. I'm too focused on my career to get involved.
8:49AM: Katy tells me I need more bandmates if I'm going to make it big, and Simone tells me I need to come to her office immediately. I ignore both of them and strike up a conversation with a Santa Barbara stranger. When I finally go to Simone's office, she sends me off to play some record exec's daughter's Sweet Sixteen party. I feel this is beneath me — I made "Deep Baby of the Party," after all — but I do it anyway.
8:55AM: The exec informs me I have to plan the party in addition to performing. He sends me scuttling back to West Hollywood. His daughter is obnoxious. I buy a new costume and hope she'll be nicer to me. I'm just about to play her party when I pull out my smartphone and... the game crashes.
8:58AM: I reboot Katy Perry Pop and play the party. It's another smashing success! Simone and the exec (Nick Mossi) are blowing up my phone. Katy gets in touch too, but she doesn't actually want to see me — she just wants me to hop back into her psychedelic world to hang out with the sunflower, who is apparently getting lonely.
9:02AM: My energy's finally starting to run low, and I understand why when I look at my to-do list. I'm trying to record my next hit "This Is Not a Song" so I can impress a pretentious director waiting in Amsterdam; I'm brightening people's days on the sunflower's behalf by serving coffee and working diner shifts; I'm paying Nick Mossi to record another song with me in Venice. I have no clue where Katy is, but she's really hung me out to dry.
At this point I've been playing Katy Perry Pop for about an hour, and I can feel myself settling into the same Glu rhythm that's familiar from the hours I spent toiling in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. I can taste in-game pop stardom, but I'll have to work for hours before I actually get there; I have a ton of menial tasks on my plate and don't have the energy to finish them all. To the game's credit, it wasn't particularly intrusive about recommending purchases when I'd exhausted my supply of in-game currencies. There weren't any pop-ups reminding me I could shell out a few bucks for an energy refill or more Katy Gems, though I knew the option was lurking in the background.
I don't think the game's going to snare me the same way its predecessor did, but I can see myself popping (sorry) in and out a few times a week, slowly winning Katy's favor and climbing the charts. (Maybe someday she'll actually want to hang out instead of pawning me off on an imaginary sunflower.) More than anything, I can't stomach the thought of being a virtual one-hit wonder. "Deep Baby of the Party" made Carl Ray Jepson a star, but it's only the beginning.