Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame debuted at No. 10 in the App Store yesterday. Of course, if we’ve learned anything from Kim K, celebrity-backed mobile games tend to do quite well. If that were all this was, it wouldn’t be much of a story. The truly interesting part is that Andy Ross, guitarist for power-pop band OK Go, is the guy who programmed the game and made it into a funny parody on celebrity culture.
“I had this idea for The Price of Fame based on another popular game we made called “Make it Rain: The Love of Money,” Ross explains. This is a game where people earn points by swiping as fast as they can on a virtual stack of bills to figuratively make it rain money.
The Price of Fame is more of a freemium-based gaming model with commentary on desperation, addiction and celebrity tropes. Download for free and spend real money or work hard over time to gain points and level up.
In The Price of Fame a player must swipe up as fast as they can to gain fans and coins. These fans are basically counted as points that can later be used to buy things like the outfits or even the “Raw Food Diet” and “Not Nice Girls” in the Conspicuous Consumption section of the game.
Make it Rain, the LiLo game and other creations are productions of Ross’ Space Inch mobile gaming business. He wanted to make clear that he wasn’t the sole programmer for the project.
Ross has been pounding away in C and other languages since high school. Band members often find him clicking away on various projects in the back of the tour van while on the road.
“I would never consider myself a cool kid in high school,” says Ross. Then fate sent him from one public school in his hometown of Worcester, Mass., to, as he put it, another school full of nerds. The old school was barely holding one minor class in BASIC, but the new place had four different courses in just C alone. Ross, now a Columbia University computer science grad, was hooked.
He joined his first startup in New York City back in 1999. The now defunct Upoc was a promising mobile messaging service that allowed users to mass message followers in 144 characters. It was sort of like the beginnings of Twitter before Twitter was ever a gleam in Ev Williams’ eye. Unfortunately the company came about in a time and place where texting just hadn’t caught on yet. Then the dot-com bust hit and Ross decided starting his own recording studio might be a better bet.
That didn’t really work out as a good business for Ross, either. Still, it introduced him to the world of music. He fell in love around the same time, followed his lady to California, and through a series of fortuitous events somehow found himself playing guitar for a then unknown OK Go.
Ross has maintained his street cred as a decent programmer through all this, taking on various side projects, banging out code backstage and eventually forming Space Inch. He recalled getting up at 8 a.m. to take conference calls and then performing with the band at night. Ross is literally a rock star programmer.
For him, it wasn’t enough to just create another top-grossing celebrity game. He wanted to make a statement. Ross says he chose Lohan because she seemed to embody the message he was going for. “She’d said a few things in the press that made me think she had the right energy for this,” he told TechCrunch.
So he reached out to LiLo’s people and they seemed to get what he was going for. Of course, they had a few of their own requests based on the Lohan brand. A little back and forth with everyone and a mobile game mocking fame was born.
“Andy did a great job. He understood what I wanted and the game captures a great part of culture and our current media society,” Lohan said in a publicist issued statement.
This is definitely not a Kim Kardashian: Hollywood replica. Sure you build an entourage and must gain fans to move up in the game, but then additions like Paparazzi Repellent, a Designer Cult and strategically placed nuggets within the game like Lohan telling us that, “Gender is a social construct and so is your celebrity persona,” clue you in on that.
“We’re definitely aware of that [Kardashian] game but there’s a different mechanic with ours. Hers glorifies the sort of celebrity we are battering,” says Ross.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood hit No. 1 in the App Store and was on a projection to gross over $200 million by the end of this year. Interest waned and that projection has most likely plummeted. According to App Annie the game fell to No. 176 most popular overall and No. 55 for games in the U.S. Members of Kim’s family, including “momager” Kris Jenner, have since been added to boost activity. The app is ranked No. 114 in the U.S. and No. 32 in games, currently.
Ross didn’t want to peg down exactly how much Space Inch earned on Make it Rain or give out the projections for The Price of Fame, but he did mention that Make it Rain had earned in the low millions since launching at the end of March.
He also revealed that the OK Go word game Say the Same Thing (also a Space Inch creation) had received over 2 million downloads and that the band was in talks to possibly turn it into a television game show.
“I would never consider myself a cool kid in high school.” Andy Ross
Ross continues to both program games for Space Inch and perform with the band. A clear crew of geeks in their own right, OK Go plans to release their fourth studio album, “Hungry Ghosts” as DNA. “Legally speaking, it’s unclear whether we will be able to sell the DNA to anyone, or how we would physically get it to them…This stuff is regulated really fucking heavily,” Damian Kulash, OK Go’s lead singer, told the New Yorker.
The band made the rounds for the release of their album this fall and have a bevy of stage appearances planned globally for early 2015.
OK Go is also starting to make its way on the Silicon Valley tech conference circuit. The Wall Street Journal Digital conference had the band play for a bunch of attending audience members and tech billionaires like Jack Ma and Peter Thiel a few months ago. Ross mentioned they were also picked up as the main act for New Relic’s Future Stack conference.
“Either performing or just going. I enjoy it,” Ross said of tech events in general. He mentioned recently sitting incognito in the audience as one of the attendees at one such conference and listening as Ok Go was announced as the performance. “Would it be cool or like ‘oh man those guys?’,” he wondered. “I was glad everyone seemed to really be excited we were there.” Either way, he says that he gets a lot out of going and learning at various tech conferences as a participant. “I’m all in on the nerds are the new rock stars movement,” said Ross.
Lindsay Lohan: The Price of Fame can be found in the App Store, on Google Play and at Amazon.