If Kim Kardashian can make $80 million from her mobile game in partnership with Glu Mobile, then, hell, Gordon Ramsay should be able to make a whole lot f****** more. After all, the reality TV chef star swears a lot more than Kardashian, who, together with Glu, pioneered the lucrative market for celebrity mobile games.
We were part of a small group of journalists who interviewed Ramsay last week at Glu’s headquarters in San Francisco, alongside game maker Becky Ann Hughes and Glu CEO Niccolo De Masi. Ramsay said he has been working on the chef’s game for almost two years as part of an effort to grab a bigger slice of the $34 billion mobile game market.
The Michelin-starred Ramsay said the seeds for the collaboration started in May 2014, when Glu acquired PlayFirst, a studio that created the Diner Dash and Cooking Dash games. De Masi approached Ramsay about making a game based on his celebrity personality, combined with the moment-to-moment, frenetic gameplay of the Dash games. Ramsay said he started playing games like Cooking Dash while on long flights.
“We’re delighted to be working with the most-recognized man in the world when it comes to this,” De Masi said.
Ramsay has 10.5 million followers across all his social-media accounts, and he is also regularly on television with his Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, and MasterChef. When he’s seeking out a subject for a game, De Masi tries to pitch the popular celebrities who can share or tweet things about the games to get players re-engaged in the content. Glu has lined up celebrities like Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, and Nicki Minaj — with a total following of more than a billion followers on social media. That adds up to a lot of free advertising for Glu’s games — a very important element in a world where user acquisition costs are skyrocketing.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
Niccolo de Masi: As you know, we’ve done a number of partnerships with what I call “best of genre” brands, living and breathing brands. Mr. Ramsay is a favorite at ours because everyone at Glu is a foodie. In looking for a partner for Becky Ann, we all instantly thought of one man and one man only, who we’re fortunate to have sitting here.
This is a partnership that will break new ground, because we’ve never done anything in this genre with someone as unique as Mr. Ramsay. We believe we’ve built a game that will persist for many years to come. This is a unique, living and breathing partnership, and as with our other partnerships, we believe it can not only bring installs to Glu, but also enhanced metrics when it comes to things like lifetime value, retention, monetization, and so on.
Becky Ann Hughes: We’re building on the Cooking Dash 2016 engine. We’re adding a ton of features, though, so it’s not a reskin. We have all new strategic elements within the core gameplay. We’re adding first-ever social to a time management game. We have chef tools and a farmer’s market. We’re actually selling stuff. That’s huge. We’re also adding some mechanics Gordon himself came up with, a kind of inspector mechanic with Wishelin stars.
Gordon Ramsay: Everyone’s reputation lives and dies by the critics. It’s what keeps us on our toes. My first ambition was to launch my own restaurant. As a chef there was no greater achievement. To be given a chance to help work together on this game — we came up with Wishelin. It’ll keep you active and concerned and a little bit paranoid that your restaurant is in great shape while you’re sleeping. You don’t want one of those little bugs to creep in and take a star away. A Wishelin star is a way of keeping the chef on their toes. Which I need on a daily basis.
You think back to Ratatouille, 100 Foot Journey, Chef, which I was very luck to work on last year with Bradley Cooper—It’s that real. I think that’s important for me, in association with Glu — to keep it energetic and adrenaline-pumping. Also, having a chance to create your own chef avatar, designing the jackets and pants and shoes — the chef role today, what you have to look like even before you turn on the gas — the pressure is insane. I want the supporters and fans and viewers to feel that. It’s a continuing excitement when you can be that free to cook and get that sense of achievement through the game. That’s my job done.
De Masi: This is a pioneering partnership. There’s never been a Gordon game. There’s never been a celebrity chef game. We’re delighted to work with the most recognized man in the world when it comes to this. You’re hearing the authenticity that comes from these sorts of partnerships that make our games special — carrying Gordon’s unique voice and creating a mechanic that differentiates. Do you feel like we’re correctly enacting the tone and what it’s like to be running your own shop? At least philosophically speaking? Are we hitting the right emotions?
Ramsay: Definitely. We worked hard on the voice overs and all the interaction with the characters. They feel present. That’s the objective for me. Also, the chef tools. Chefs had best get that right, so we can compete globally with other chefs in other countries. That’s where it becomes a bit of a chef-off, all for the right reasons, and have a bit of fun with it.
Hughes: The partnership here is super important. We’ve been working very closely with Gordon. He’s great to work with. We’re constantly iterating, making sure we have the right things in the game. The ideas are great and the partnership has been amazing.
Ramsay: We got a great start. Also, because this is the first game where I’m going to put myself out there, it means a lot. It’s been planned over 18 months now. It’s something I’ve taken very seriously. Also I think at the beginning of the game, it’s based on when I was coming back from Paris in 1994. Didn’t have a pot to pee in. Barely a restaurant, just a neighborhood bistro. The foundation of the game is starting out with that humble gravitas, and then you build your reputation week by week. Then you can afford another member of your staff, afford glamorous china. You build this reataurant.
If you turned around to me in 1995 and said that 20 years later I’ll have my own empire, I’d never believe you. But it’s just through hard work and understanding that you’re as good as your team. This game proves that. You have to build out that restaurant and shoot for new staff. When you go to restaurants for food or for fun, it’s a glamorous environment today.
De Masi: So build your restaurant, build your life.
Ramsay: Yeah, from an amazing burger stall to an amazing kitchen in the middle of Singapore. It was a huge expansion for us three years ago, across Asia. Doing the kitchens in Singapore and Hong Kong was brilliant. I wanted to make this international on a big scale. We have bistros, burgers, neighborhood restaurants. One star, two star, three star Michelin, which is our flagship in London. And then of course the steakhouse in Vegas. I’m excited.
Also, having four young kids that are focused, talented, hungry individuals, it’s nice for them to realize how to build confidence. I like seeing that in this game. It’s a nice platform to stand astride and get into.
Question: Why were you attracted to doing a game in the first place? You have a lot of things going in the world.
Ramsay: I don’t think there’s been a chef-tailored game out there yet on the market. Cooking Dash was something I’d started watching on long flights. The idea was giving guests and fans a chance to feel what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. I started cooking for the love of it. It wasn’t about money. I’d like to see this game in the same way. It’s a proper insight into building an empire and having fun, which I think is healthy.
Question: 25 years ago you didn’t think you’d be here with a restaurant empire. 24 months ago, did you think you’d be here with a game?
Ramsay: No! Never. There’s something quite ground-breaking being the first chef to get this right. But when we started to put all the ideas in the pot early last year, it wasn’t a rush. It was about planning this properly, about making that character you. It’s a bit of an adrenaline kick because it’s you performing as you, cooking as you. It’s going to be very close to a restaurant. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
De Masi: Cooking Dash is already the highest lifetime value game in the genre. It’s a very good chance that this becomes a new grossing record in the genre. Installs plus LTV equals grossing.
Question: You’re famous for your insults. Will that come up in the game, if we make mistakes?
Ramsay: If it didn’t, you guys would pan me. For me it’s an industry language. If you play a sport, basketball or soccer or even the NFL — If you mike these guys up 24/7, if you listen to them on the field and you see them in their fights, it’s no different. As an industry language it’s something I’m not proud of, but yeah, we’ve gone through pages of curse words and new words. Fucking donut to….
Here’s the thing. I have to keep it real. There are areas across the game where, as the intensity builds, I’m going to get a little bit more fierce because the stakes are high. Honestly, tonight, if my chefs were standing there in my flagship restaurant and sending crap out, I’m not going to high-five them and pat them on the back and thank them for destroying my 25-year relationship with every guide in the country. I’ll be firm and fair.
We got through a 100-page script and they said, “Hey, there are some words I’ve heard you say and we haven’t got them in here.” We’re going back in the studio in two weeks’ time for another 10-pager. So yes, there will be — I want someone to unlock that little beast. It is an industry language. If you do fuck up fried eggs, then of course you’re not going to send them. That’s the biggest thing about a chef — currently we’re shooting Master Chef, and it’s about not sending you mistakes. I’d feel a bit short-changed if I was smiling a corner watching mistakes leave the kitchen. It won’t happen. So there are some severe words.
Also, on the flip side of that, there are some gestures that — we’re off to a great start. Let’s keep this momentum going. Let’s continue this focus.
Hughes: It’s about Gordon being a mentor in the game. He’s your mentor through ups and downs. We’re trying to craft in payoff time frames where you might be messing up a little bit, but when you actually get it right, Gordon is going to be there to make sure you understand you did a good job and you came back from something tough.
Question: The game is innovative, and you’re vouching that the cursing and insults are innovative as well.
Ramsay: “Fuck off” is such a lovely word. We know we can’t use it so often, but to tell someone to fuck off — we’re all dying to do it, but we can’t.
Question: Do you have a PG rating on this, then?
Ramsay: It depends which country you’re in.
Hughes: We have bleeping technology.
Ramsay: And a password to unlock the bleeping.
Question: Would you call it tongue in cheek? Looking at your animated likeness, it’s hard not to think of this as a character based on a character. Is it totally sincere or more of a wink?
Ramsay: It’s an art. If you’ve seen Tracy Edmonds’ work, studied her as an artist — it’s an industry language. It’s something that, in the heat of the moment, I need to get things off my chest and straight to the point. You move on. You get a little bit less sensitive and just get on with it. Am I making silly references? No. We kept it very real. It’s going to bring in a new form of reality at the core of the kitchen, running a restaurant, dealing with waiters, answering complaints, and then the ultimate will be setting up that empire.
De Masi: That’s a key point. If we’ve done a good job here, and I think we’re off to a great start, we’ll be blurring the virtual and the real world.
Question: No game is perfect. Are you going to send it back to the kitchen if you don’t like it?
Ramsay: I’m really excited. It’s your world. I’ve had to build up to that point over two years. But I’m pretty blown away with what we’ve built already. Also, there are characters that haven’t been seen before. You can tailor and personalize the game in a way such that you feel much closer to it. And then the chef duels, for instance. I get asked from time to time to go up against Bobby Flay or Mario Batali and do a cook-off. I’d love to. I’d do that in a fucking heartbeat if I could. If I can’t do it on Fox, I am going to do it in my game. We’re gonna kick their ass. I know that’ll ruffle feathers, but I think that’s healthy.
I want to bring it back to the heart. I love my craft. I’ve worked endlessly hard. It’s never been a job. It’s been a passion. I like to think the relationship with Glu from two years ago has started to really resonate across this.
De Masi: Can you contractually throw the gauntlet down to battle with you in our game?
Ramsay: I’ll give Bobby Flay a 20 minute head start tomorrow morning. That’s not to blow smoke up anyone’s backside. I just know my fucking craft. I will go up against anybody. But also, that was my first ambition, to never be faced with an ingredient and not know what to do with it, whether it’s golden caviar or a fruit from the back end of Asia. I never, ever wanted to be in a position of not knowing what to do with that. Once you’ve gone on that journey and lived it, you take that knowledge with you.
Question: Do you have your own favorite games?
Ramsay: Having three daughters — nobody tells you how expensive girls are going to be, right? 17, 16, and 14. They can cook, or they’ve started, but they all got into the Kardashian stuff. I had no idea. “Why are you buying so much stuff?” “Well, I need to do it.” I got attracted to that through my three girls, which has been fascinating. Also, it’s easier now, with that level of communication. They all have phones, and they all have downtime in transit going to and from school.
Question: Because of the Kardashian example at home, were you horrified that you were working with someone that was involved in that?
Ramsay: No, it just made my life a lot more difficult. It’s raised the bar in terms of glamor. I could never go look for a pair of shoes that look fantastic. I have to buy a pair of shoes that fit me. I had size 15 feet when I was 14 years old. Guys just don’t go around looking at styles like that. Girls see these things, these dresses and shoes, and it’s not about what fits them. It’s about what looks good. And it doesn’t last long, as you know.
Question: What parts of the game, what details, have really delighted you?
Ramsay: It starts and you build out that restaurant. You can’t afford great china. There’s an over-glamorous side to my industry that gets highfaluted very quickly. What I’m more excited about at the beginning of this game is that you appreciate everything you build on. It’s a very humble abode. Then you add that glitter only after you’ve had that success.
When I got started it wasn’t about having three Michelin stars. It was about becoming the best local restaurant. How do you fill that restaurant on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? Because Friday and Saturday take care of themselves. When you’re full on Monday, you can afford to close Saturday-Sunday. I like to think we’ve implemented that across the game, where it really is humble. Master it, get good at that base, and then step up.
And then of course how you form that character. Chefs are patently characters. Whether it’s Michael Voltaggio at Ink, you look at him with the tattoos and how cool he is and what he stands for. Or whether it’s the serious Thomas Keller, a guy who eats, drinks, breathes, sleeps Napa Valley — it’s like military precision in that kitchen. You go from there to there and you’ll see those changes about the game.
We’ve seen the excitement in the team today. We’ve met a few times. When you see the excitement on their faces — it’s a tough time for them now. It’s a 120 days from launch and it’ll be a big one. They’re already competitive, which is nice to see in-house so early.
De Masi: Everyone was playing the game for two hours when we had our little test period. One of the guys missed his bus. By the way, which kitchen does our team remind you of most, stylistically?
Ramsay: Sometimes you get a bit ahead of yourself. You get a bit too excited and you forget — I’d say it’s a uniquely excited neighborhood restaurant that’s too eager to please and falling over themselves. But we’ll slow that down when we fill up the restaurant. That’s how I’d describe it. And ambitious beyond belief.
Question: Are there any items you’ve personally created here that you wanted to make sure got in the game?
Ramsay: There will be some ingredients that resonate. And also the close-ups on some of those ingredients. What I’d like to do down the line is specialize. Every quarter a couple of ingredients — not necessarily seasonal but something we could make available for 30 days, 40 days.
Hughes: We want to line up a lot of our content delivery with what goes on in Gordon’s real life. We’ll be looking at refreshing the game constantly, adding new stuff, and relating it to things he’s doing in his restaurants and his career.
Question: What is the proper way to scramble eggs?
Ramsay: One thing that’s really important, never season before you start cooking them. The salt dilutes the eggs and turns them runny and gray. Cooking scrambled eggs, for me, is about slowing down the process. Start by cracking the eggs. Never whisk them up beforehand. You’re taking the energy out of the eggs. Into a pan, crack three eggs, couple of lumps of butter, and then gently star. It goes on the heat for two minutes, comes off, and continues cooking naturally. Because you can speed up the process and it ends up overcooking too quickly. And then, when it’s three-quarters of the way cooked, start to season them. Then a teaspoon of crème fraiche that slows the temperature down. If you go online you’ll see. I think 15 million people have downloaded our scrambled eggs. It’ll transform the way you eat eggs. It’s a kind of sumptuous, rich way of eating scrambled eggs, even for dinner.
That’s what I wanted to get through in this game. On my video, on YouTube, with 15 million downloads about scrambled eggs, I burn the fucking toast. I’m not that far on my backside, saying I don’t want to see that, because I do make mistakes. I just start again. But it’s funny. I’m so much into my scrambled eggs, focusing away, that I go off and burn my toast. There are situations that come up in this game where, yes, we’re mentoring, but it can go pretty well off quite early on. Especially when they fill the restaurant with customers. They don’t understand that everything’s staggered so you can cook it all to perfection. When you slam a restaurant full of people thinking you want to get the turnover, then you’re not going to meet the standard.
Hughes: That’s the perfect way to explain a Dash game, too. It’s borderline chaos. That’s what we’re putting players through. When you get into that, you have to start figuring out order. It’s an amazing game to play.
Question: How much research goes into the perfect scrambled egg process? Did you have theory on your mind, or was there iteration?
Ramsay: After training in London, I wanted to become French, so I went to the birthplace of French cuisine. I remember seeing this amazing dish with scrambled egg and sea urchin. I tasted the sea urchins through the scrambled eggs and thought, “Oh my God.” We took it back and topped it with caviar. I thought, “Wow, I’d never have put sea urchin in scrambled eggs.” But the texture was incredible. It made it all much creamier.
What was more accessible to the average person at home was crème fraiche. I’ve done crème fraiche and chopped seaweed in scrambled eggs and it’s been the closest thing to sea urchin. I perfected that in France. That was making scrambled eggs to order, standing in restaurants behind the line as a 22-year-old.
Question: Your game’s going to make people hungry.
Ramsay: That’s the idea. Have you made a reservation? I think people will be pleasantly surprised. There are some twists and turns that we’ve worked hard on.
Question: Are there any bits of cooking tips sprinkled throughout? Can you actually learn a little about cooking from the game?
Ramsay: Oh, yeah. Whether it’s searing and how you work with the particular protein you’re searing and what meats need to be seared particularly heavily — whether it’s filet or pork chops or a slice of fish — yeah, big time. It helps to individualize that character. It can be so easy to cook fish, overcook it. There’s only one temperature, and that’s perfect. There’s an art in cooking a steak, in doing that properly.
Question: What’s the biggest difference between working on this game and some of the other media projects you’ve been involved with in the past?
Ramsay: It was a first for me in terms of having a blank canvas to create this kind of game. It feels a bit like building a restaurant, because ahead of any buildout, first you have to conceptualize the market, who you’re dictating that to. Then making it user-friendly, the way a restaurant is customer-friendly. They vote with their feet. That was the one thing we discovered early on, making it too complicated. “Pull it back in, let’s start off with this.”
It’s like the restaurants we opened up in Singapore, and then Hong Kong and Dubai last year. Tailor-making the same concept and then transforming it into a global success is hard. You have to mainstream the menu, not curtail the chef in terms of making it integrational, and then please the locals. That’s hard. I’ve gone through that process three or four times in the last five years.
The last time I was this ambitious was opening up my burger restaurant in Las Vegas. You’re doomed if you come over as a Brit and attempt to open a burger restaurant in the middle of Las Vegas. But we perfected the patty. We basted it in Devonshire butter. We put something new in it. We toughened up the brioche bun so it absorbs all that butter and made these patties incredible. I was there on Saturday. We were out there eight or nine weeks and still on point, with a line out the door. 10 o’clock in the morning there’s a 90-minute queue to pick up a burger. That’s the kind of work that goes into something before we launch. We did a whole summer of tastings on different wood chips, making sure the blend in that patty, that combination, the fat ratio, was spot on.
Hughes: And that’s exactly like making a game. We’re constantly iterating, constantly tuning, constantly getting user feedback. When we launch, this game has a long tail. We’re going to be operating this game a long time. We’ll be constantly adding systems and content. It’s like we’re opening a restaurant. That’s how we’re treating it.
Question: Not every celebrity game has been a success. What have you learned in order to do that right?
Ramsay: I always keep my eyes wide open. I don’t tend to focus on who’s endorsing, because I know I’ve been at the heartbeat from day one and given birth to the DNA of this. We’ve also personalized it in a way that’s very organic. You’ll see that through features of the buildout. I tend not to focus on other people’s failures, sadly. But just pull in what goes right across that and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.
Hughes: We’re building on our engine in a very strong way. We’re not starting from scratch here. We’re building up. We’re adding features that we know players have been asking for. We know this is something they’ve been asking for. As we start to test and as the team starts to play it and interact with it, it’s going to be amazing.
Question: Is the Dash branding in it as well?