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Q&A: Keeping up with hit mobile game  Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
Q&A: Keeping up with hit mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood Exclusive
July 24, 2014 | By Alex Wawro




Reality TV star and actress Kim Kardashian has conquered everything from cable TV to bottled water with some stupendous branding tactics. Now, the branding maven can add the iOS App Store to her list of conquests.

Glu Mobile's Kim Kardashian: Hollywood combines the Kardashian brand recognition with proven game and monetization design, resulting in an app that hangs out with Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga on the top-grossing iOS charts.

To learn more about the game's success, Gamasutra spoke with Glu Canada general manger Christopher Locke via email about the game's development and the challenges of tuning the narrative tenor of your game to entrance haters and hardcore Kardashian fans with equal aplomb.

What tools did you use to build the Kardashian game, and what did your timetable and headcount look like?

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was developed by Glu Canada in Toronto, a 40-person development studio located in the heart of downtown. About half of Glu Canada’s

"I’m especially proud that the 'rubberneckers' (those who downloaded the game for ironic reasons) are getting sucked into the experience."
staff worked on the game over the course of a six-month development cycle -- The rest of the studio was busy maintaining other live portfolio products (including Knights of Puzzelot, Zombies Ate My Friends, and Stardom: Hollywood.)

The game was developed using the Blammo Custom Framework, which is the product of four consecutive games: Stardom: The A-List, Zombies Ate My Friends, Stardom: Hollywood and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. It's a flexible, data-driven framework specifically tailored to these types of experiences. All art and animation were created using Photoshop and Flash, and then exported using custom tools.

Where do you draw inspiration for designing the mechanics of a game like this?

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was built on an existing Glu game, Stardom: Hollywood. The Stardom series had already proven successful and we believed that could be amplified through a partnership with Mrs. Kardashian West.

It looks like we were right -- her brand is a perfect fit with the game’s premise, and fans love it. The game has a 5-star review average on the App Store, which is something you don’t typically see with top-grossing games. I’m especially proud that the “rubberneckers” (those who downloaded the game for ironic reasons) are getting sucked into the experience and rating it highly!

How do those "rubberneckers" factor into Glu Canada's development process?

The truth is that they didn't factor into the development process at all. We had iterated on this product twice before so we knew that it would retain and monetize well.

It's the power of Mrs. Kardashian West's reach that propelled the Stardom series from Top 50 to Top 5 grossing, but the game itself is a genuinely unique take on the "rise to fame" fantasy prevalent in many forms of entertainment.

I don't know that it can work for other developers, but for us it went: 1) be different conceptually, 2) iterate until you know it's good and 3) find a brand that adds value beyond just name recognition.

Tell me a bit about how you balanced the monetization systems.

Fortunately the economy was very well balanced after much iteration on the Stardom product. We optimized the monetization system for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood through the beta process, once we understood how users were responding to the content.

So, is the tone of the game self-aware? For example, it's sometimes hard for us to tell if the written bits are intended to be sincere or humorous -- the dialogue often seems a bit over-the-top.

The dialogue is intended to be entertaining, culturally relevant and occasionally sarcastic. The game can get a little snarky at times, which we’ve found players really enjoy.


What challenges did you face in finding the game's tone, and how did working with a celebrity affect the game design process?

As mentioned, Mrs. Kardashian West was very easy to work with and she was highly involved in the process. As with all game design, we went through quite a bit of tuning to ensure the look and feel were all targeted for our audience. Kim’s influences were incredibly productive and well received. Her involvement only benefited the process.

Okay, but what do you mean, specifically? Was she editing dialog, for example, or perhaps offering comments or criticism on the gameplay mechanics or the monetization systems?

Mrs. Kardashian West was highly involved from the initial concept phase -– reviewing themes, dialog concepts, and offering detailed feedback on the character wardrobe. She did consult on all dialogue for her in-game character. Because the game was built on the foundation of Stardom: Hollywood, little consultation was needed on the gameplay mechanics and monetization systems.

How do you feel about the whole thing?

Media coverage of a free-to play-game, both positive and negative, drives downloads. We turn those downloads into revenue.

Revenue is what keeps Glu Canada thriving, and that makes me happy.


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Comments


Miguel Fernandez
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Congratulations to all of those who have been able to capitalize on the industry that has spawned from Kim's rear. Get paid. But seriously, how did everyone involved in this keep a straight face the whole time?

Shea Rutsatz
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I thought it was a joke, at first.

Christian Nutt
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What on earth in this article implies they kept a straight face the whole time? X3

John Paduch
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I guess it's easy to forget about dignity and self-respect if you're getting paid.

Steve Fulton
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Or maybe the developers felt dignity and self-respect by "getting paid" for their work. Whatever your opinion of this game, it's valid. However, ignoring the learnings and take-ways from its' success is not.

Carlo Delallana
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I've had my share of working on games / themes that aren't compatible with my personal taste. You still give it your best shot because that's what being a professional is all about.

Benjamin Quintero
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yep.. picking your pride off the ground, tightening your belt, and keeping your head low so no one might notice what you've done. That's what being professional is all about. $)

Katie Chironis
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Glu has made a great game for a demographic that adores it, and they're bringing in bank from satisfied customers. I'm failing to see how that's a "loss of dignity" in any way, shape or form.

Jennis Kartens
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Huh. How is that a loss of dignity, contributing to the active destruction humanity by promoting these kind of "people"and being proud of it. I can't see it either... it's just about money, right? Make money = good! You cannot question that. Ever. No matter the circumstances. Money. Good. Win.

Katie Chironis
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A Kim Kardashian game is "contributing to the active destruction of humanity"?

...How's the tin foil hat treatin' ya?

Jennis Kartens
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Actually, the hat seems to be not working at all, given I see these horrors still each and every day. :(

John Paduch
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@Katie Chironis - If you can't see how the kardashian family, and everything they've built up around themselves publicly, is a prime example of our society rotting from the inside out, then there is no help for you.

Please, by all means, keep living with your head in the sand thinking "Hey, what's the harm?" Especially when it comes to the mindset of the younger members of your own gender.

Andreas Papathanasis
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@John Paduch

While I fundamentally disagree with your premise that fantasizing about being a celebrity is morally corrupting to young girls, it’s your right to have your own moral compass and decide what’s acceptable to you.

I am curious however - do you also argue with the same passion about other types of games that might also be morally corrupting? Examples:

- Fantasizing about shooting people in the head
- Fantasizing about running over a hooker
- Fantasizing about being a drug lord
- Fantasizing about leading a civilization and trying to destroy all other living beings on the globe

Or do you think those things are not as morally corrupting? “Especially when it comes to the mindset of the younger members of your own gender.”

John Paduch
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The kardashian game was created for, and is being marketed toward, children.

The examples you mentioned are created for, and marketed toward, rated-M audiences.

And don't talk to me about "kids get their hands on them, anyway", because that's 100% the fault of their parents, not the developers.

I can't even say "nice try" on that, it's just pathetic.

Christian Nutt
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From its iTunes summary:

"Rated 12+ for the following:
Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
Infrequent/Mild Horror/Fear Themes
Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes"

I agree that 12 year olds are children, of course, but not on the order of a 6 year old. Guessing when you said "children" you didn't mean "12 year olds and up."

And as far as the marketing goes... Where?

Benjamin Quintero
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famous for being famous... i don't even know how that happens. this is why I have trust issues with humanity.

Jane Castle
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She rode a homemade sex tape with some football player to fame. The American dream is alive and well and she managed to convert her A$$ for CA$H.....

Katie Chironis
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When someone releases an explicit tape of you without your knowledge or permission, you either become "the girl from that sex tape", or you take control of your image and turn it into a source of empowerment.

This article might be helpful for you to learn something. http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/07/kim-kardashian-holl
ywood-and-the-price-of-fame.html

PS He was a music producer, not a football player.

Andy Thomas
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Its funny you say that, but people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are pretty what's wrong with both celebrity and pop culture. In the end its quite a shame how our culture continually look up to people like this....make you wonder why american culture as a whole is nothing but a sewer.

Speaking of, even though I'm not a fan of Obama his criticism of the entire Kardashian family and celebrity culture was pretty right on the money.

Alan Barton
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@"or you take control of your image and turn it into a source of empowerment"

Nicely spun. :)

However there are multiple possibilities.
(A) It was recorded against her will and genuinely leaked against her will.
(B) It was recorded willingly yet genuinely leaked against her will.
(C) It was released willingly and then said it was against her will, when really she wanted it released for publicity.

But then some who feared it could be leaked, and didn't want it leaked, wouldn't want a recording made in the first place. So which from this list it is, we will never know. But we can be certain she is very evidently an expert in playing the self-fulfilling role of being a celebrity. So she knows a great deal about how to work the media and history shows all too well, how some celebrities will do almost anything they have to do, to achieve their goal of becoming a celebrity. (Lady Gaga is a master class in this. (I think she is this decade's Carmen Miranda). Kim Kardashian by comparison has some way to go, but she has already shown she is very good at building her branded image very quickly, so either she is very good or she has some very good help).

I find in life, it helps to be aware that the images people want others to believe, are not always the truth, but rather an act and some people are very good at acting.

Ian Griffiths
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A fascinating title. It's funny how these somewhat simple games, which I imagine most developers completely dismiss, end up performing exceptionally well in the market. Clearly Mrs. Kardashian West's name has had a big impact on getting people through the door but Glu have then made a game that is compelling for their audience beyond that.

TC Weidner
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This has more to do with merchandising than game making.

James Coote
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It's interesting to see how an existing successful game can be further enhanced by adding complimentary IP.

Equally, it feels like most mobile IP is relatively weak, with few able to capitalise on mobile success and jump to stuff like TV or films. (The exception being kids IP like moshi monsters or Angry Birds)

Ron Dippold
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I said this elsewhere, so won't spam the full analysis again, but this game actually respects you a lot more than something like Candy Crush does. It's a perfectly good non-abusive game design for the target market.

Samuel Green
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I don't get the hate for this game either. It's got great writing, appeals to a demographic that doesn't get too many quality offerings, and it's harmless fun. Who doesn't want to roleplay as a socialite some time? Apart from the ludicrous energy costs, I'm a big fan.

Ilya Zarembsky
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I was hoping to learn more about the actual game mechanics from this article.

Heng Yoeung
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Man only started to walk erect after God created woman.

Joshua Wilson
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Some of the comments here are disappointing.

I'm not really sold on what I've seen of it, but I haven't seen enough to comment more than that and I'm just not interested. But its easy to see the appeal of the fantasy and even if it's not what you would consider a particularly noble fantasy, that can be part of the fun. No different from GTA, Mafia, Leisure Suite Larry, etc.

I may not be interested but more power to her and Glu. Attacking, making fun of, or judging either just seems like petty jealousy disguised as morale superiority, with the latter being no better than the former. I get it, but it doesn't make it worthy of being expressed.

Live and let live. If you don't like her and this isn't your thing - move on.

Heng Yoeung
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Opinions are a dime a dozen, they say.

Joshua Wilson
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/Edit, nevermind, not worth it.

Matthew Mouras
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Why does someone's distaste for Kardashian's presence in this specific game have to be about "petty jealousy"?

I don't care for Kardashian's brand and don't like seeing it in magazines, television, and games. A young girl like my daughter tends to think that anyone who is constantly in the media is worth the attention. I don't like that. I'm not jealous of Kardashian in the least. I just wish we had better icons.

Andreas Papathanasis
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Sample things we could be discussing here:

- The appeal of this game to certain demographics (that we separately complain do not play games - you know, the “good” games we like). How we could diversify our teams to see such opportunities to fulfil similar player fantasies that are currently unfulfilled.

- Why this game was much less successful before the brand was applied. What’s the difference between this and other cases where applying a brand hasn’t moved the needle.

- Yet another top 10 game on mobile is using such simple technology that is kind of insulting to the rest of us who just KNOW the way to deliver a good gaming experience is with as many polygons/realistic shading/complex systems/lens flares as possible. Could it be this game’s excellent 2D art and character customization system is actually delivering better value to its players than the most complex nose/cheek/eyelash slider system in a AAA game? Could it be its visual style and the way it presents story is just as efficient (if not more) as the most cinematic console game? Does it make sense to continue down the tech arms race in the mobile era, or do we need to think different about what value really is?

But instead most of you have chosen to argue that Kim is indeed a hooker, or to demean the game’s developers (hey, since I wouldn’t be caught dead working on something like this, neither should they).

On an industry website, that’s supposed to attract industry professionals.

Christian Nutt
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This, this, this.

Wendelin Reich
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Thanks Andreas for finally turning this into a constructive discussion. I want to add:

- The game's monetization model, which I'd like to hear more about. I've heard it described as by-and-large-ethical, in the sense that the game doesn't manipulate you into buying stuff you dont want to buy. And it also seems to be ultra-successful. Do games like 'Hollywood' and 'Hearthstone' show that F2P monetization is finally getting consumer friendly?

Kris Graft
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Couldn't agree more, Andreas.

- P.S. I moderated the "hooker" commentary. :/

Benjamin Quintero
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AP, my comments were very much tongue in cheek because; let's face it, it's a glaring example of slapping a famous face on an otherwise solid but forgetful game to raise awareness and emotional attachment. This is why we have Hello Kitty and Spiderman lunch boxes, and Superman sneakers. They don't make the meal taste better or make them run faster, but that kid certainly thinks it does. Is this new?

Anyways, I agree that the character bashing was a big much. I really don't give a damn what she does with her personal life, but clearly there are 10's of millions who disagree with me on that.

This website is (or at least used to be) made up of mostly creators, not suits. Trying to talk about sell through, attachment rates, monetization strategies, and increasing your download counts through a completely transparent attempt at exploiting a flaw in our youth is going to get some backlash. You might as well be asking us to listen to NPR on a dimly lit road after a 48 hour sleepless crunch.

John Oliver had something interesting to say about why useful but boring information seems to slip by us everyday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU

Joshua Wilson
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The website title is "The Art and Business of Making Games" and for many on here making money, even if they're primarily creators, is kind of important.

And in this game part of the fantasy and fun is that you're interacting with a specific personality. It's the difference between playing a game with random sci-fi villain and playing a game with Darth Vadar.

That's not exploitative and it's not limited to "a flaw" in young people. Its just more fun.

Benjamin Quintero
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And I welcome your opinion Joshua.

Kristian Roberts
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@ Andreas

Thank you. I feel better now. That is all.

Nooh Ha
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Conclusion: game not made for your demographic (yes there are demographics other than young and middle aged male core gamers) does not appeal to you. #shock #horror

Alex Nichiporchik
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These comments are awfully judgmental. There are plenty other demographics out there who play video games, and if you don't develop for that demographic, you probably don't understand it. Stop judging.

There's a whole market segment out there built around 5-11 year old girls playing dress up games, with plenty of money being pumped into it. Most of the core devs here would laugh at it, but there is a huge audience out there, and plenty of game designers making a good living off of it.

Broaden your scope, people

John Paduch
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Yes, that's the problem, we just don't get the demographic. Are you f'ing kidding me?

Kardashian and Hilton represent everything awful in our society - excessive amounts of money are the only goal in life, because money brings popularity, adoration, 10 houses, 10 cars, and living the "high life" above all the peasants.

So yeah, let's make MORE games glorifying these peoples' lifestyles. I'm sure the younger members of our society need more of that. /s

Vasily Yourchenko
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Supposedly professional game designers can't tell theme apart from craft. More at 11.

Cory Gagel
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I think congratulations are in order. I know that the article starts with saying Kim K. can add iOS mobile games as conquered but the real winners are Glu. They made a game about a person that they knew would generate instant buzz, put a good game behind the image, and were successful.

Ryan Andrew Smith
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I haven't played the game, but apparently people like it. If it's a solid, non-abusive game, then there's nothing negative about it. But the way I see it, this game's success or failure never hinged on the game design, it hinged around people being attracted to the name attached to it - for better or for worse.

The gameplay could be as solid and timeless as chess, and people would still laugh at it simply for being "The Kardashian game"; likewise it could literally be nothing but a dress-up app and it would probably still have millions of downloads. The fact that they put serious effort into this is laudable, because they sure didn't have to with a name like Kardashian attached to it. Also, the fact that they've seen people who downloaded the game with the intent of disliking it, then actually like it, tells a lot about their effort and skill. Kudos!

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Christian Kulenkampff
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Interesting interview, thank you!

I don't get the hate. It seems to be a really nice progressive game: http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/24/5930655/kim-kardashian-game-prog
ressive

Games are a great medium to play with the ideas of modern Hollywood and pop culture. "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" - spiced up with sarcastic remarks - is probably more thought provoking than many other games.

Heng Yoeung
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The problem as I see it isn't with the Kardashian image and what she represents, which is moral corruptedness. The problem has to do more with the idea of money as a way to sustain life. If there is a way to make money, then people are bound to take advantage of that because, well, no money no life, it's that simple. Let's not fool ourselves: money is power, people. Wars cannot sustain without a steady flow of money. Medicine cannot work miracles without a steady flow of money. You get the idea. And so, is it really surprising that Kardashian is taking advantage of her popularity to make money? If you are, you've been living under a rock. The alternative lifestyle is to have a society based not on money. Instead, it has to be based on mutual trust that the other guy's got your back if, for example, your garden withers and you run out of food. Clearly, the free market enterprise isn't about mutual trust. Every man for himself. And so, we have the Steve Balmers, the Larry Ellison of the world. Come on. Do you really need to have a piece of Hawaii just because you can? Get a life.

Christian Kulenkampff
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And this is perpetuated by this game?? o_0

I guess this game is more an outcome of our society than input. It's a great way to play with themes like shallowness and pop culture. Humans understand play as fictional worlds from the earliest childhood on. We are born players and we can differ between shallow fashion worlds and real life as we can differ between violence in games and in real life.

I have the unpleasant impression that the criticism we can read here has many misogynist undertones. A game with a male figurehead and a male oriented theme would never face accusations of having spineless developers because of the theme.

Heng Yoeung
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>And this is perpetuated by this game?? o_0

No, that's not what I am saying. The game perpetuates moral shallowness and the extravagant lifestyle iconic of Ms. Kardashian. I am saying that this whole thing is just symptomatic of an underlying illness, which you perceive in the second paragraph. And that's the fault of money being the basis of our (or a majority of peoples') existence. Don't you think it's just plain unfair that certain people have riches beyond what they can possibly use it for? And that their descendants will be born with a silver spoon because once you have your back to the wind, it doesn't get harder but easier so to speak. You don't need to own a piece of Hawaii to validate who you are or what you might intend. You have to be seriously blind to not notice other people are hurting. I don't have an issue with what Kardashian is about, that's not for me to judge. She is merely a product of something rotten with this culture. Do you think the power resides in Washington DC? No. DC's got no power beyond waging wars. The real power resides in monasteries secluded around this awesome country. Prayer. That's the power. If it were not for prayers and intercessions from these ascetics, the universe would collapse tomorrow.

Christian Kulenkampff
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@Heng Yoeung: I don't believe in capitalism nor in money. Yet I don't think cultural workers always have to make a moral commitment, people sometimes want guilty pleasures, they also want to deal with the crazy sides of our society in ludic ways. Games can provide this to us. There should also be games that make moralizing observations, but especially as game developers we should praise any game that is apparently able to provide so much joy to so many people.

@Boyer Geoffrey: That's great. I see, I didn't want to make plain accusations, I thought everybody would feel these misogynist tendencies.

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