The Psychology Behind Why Kim Kardashian’s Game Is So Addictive
(Kim Kardashian: Hollywood)
In the world of cable TV, keeping up with the Kardashians is a passive exercise, done easily while painting your toenails or vacuuming the living room.
But in the digital world of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood — a free-to download mobile app released last month for Android and iOS — staying within the Kardashians’ social circle requires constant attention to your wardrobe, social standing, romantic life, media presence, and accumulation of wealth.
The game is structured to keep you furiously tapping your screen (and into your bank account) in order to earn virtual cash, energy, and special Kardashian branded K stars that are used to “charm” people, to help you rise from E-lister to A-lister (just like Kim!).
The app’s release, and subsequent mega-success, has come paired with horrifying stories of overspending and addiction. Social networks overflow with tales of falling into a Kardashian K-hole. Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey recently wrote a harrowing tale of how she unknowingly spent almost $500 on in-app purchases so she could rise to highly coveted A-list heights, only to finally realize “that I simply do not have enough money — real or virtual — to keep up with the Kardashians, no matter how much those marketing geniuses try to drain every penny out of my wallet.”
And even best-selling author Ayelet Waldman took to social media to complain that her (likely mortified) 11-year-old son was pushed to tears when he accidentally spent $120 on the game in two days. “This game is designed to prey on children,” she wrote. “It’s pure evil.”
This all might sound like some ridiculous niche fad, but within the first five days of its release, the game earned more than $1.6 million in revenue for its parent company, Glu Mobile, according to The New York Times. And those profits don’t seem to be waning. Mobile analytics site App Annie shows that Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is currently the fourth-highest grossing app in the iTunes Store.
There’s no question that the creators of the Kim Kardashian app hath wrought a game that’s almost impossible to put down. And to do so, they’ve exploited (knowingly or unknowingly) some of the basic psychological precepts that cause addiction in the first place.
Psychologist Simon Moore, who specializes in gaming at Innovation Bubble, a psychological insights consultant group, says the seduction to spend starts with the graphics of the game.