Frank Underwood is going indie.
Kevin Spacey’s fictional president in House of Cards is well-known for his love of shoot-’em-ups like Call of Duty, but in season 3, he’s spotted playing two independently produced mobile games: an iPad puzzle quest called Monument Valley and the interactive story mod called The Stanley Parable.
Monument Valley plays a surprisingly important role in the plot of the third season. Luckily for Ustwo, the U.K.-based company behind the game, sales have skyrocketed for the app.
Underwood plays Monument Valley in a close-up shot for almost two minutes; later, he mentions it by name to his staffers. It turns out that Underwood found out about the game through a review written by the writer Thomas Yates, whom the president recruits to write some propaganda about his controversial jobs plan. Here’s the (fictional) review:
“Whoever you are, whoever you think you are, believe also you’re a silent princess. Your name is Ida, your journey is one through a forgotten landscape of twisting staircases and morphing castles, atop floating stones defiantly crossing an angry sea, within dimly lit caverns cobwebbed with ruins, M.C. Escher could only grasp at in a dream state.”
Ustwo’s Director of Games Neil McFarland told the Daily Dot that his team was “bowled over” after seeing the game as part of the show. Months before the scenes were shot, House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon contacted Ustwo directly, said McFarland. The two had a “frank discussion” about the “typically poor” ways games are portrayed in TV and films, but they felt House of Cards was an obvious exception.
McFarland’s team was asked to make a special build of the game with only one level in it to help with logistics and continuity on set.
“The fact that our game is woven so deeply into the plot and that the game review is read aloud just blew our minds,” he told me, calling it “a really amazing feeling to have our work absorbed into another medium and used as popular-culture reference like this.”
For an app that costs $3.99 and has about 90 minutes of gameplay, Monument Valley has always sold very well. According to Gamesindustry.biz, McFarland announced at a conference in Barcelona in June 2014 that the game “had been downloaded more than 660,000 times, earning around £1,099,000 in revenue.”
Ustwo did not pay for the placement on the show, said McFarland.
Apparently the app’s appearance on the huge show—an analyst has estimated that Netflix took up 45 percent of all online bandwidth on Sunday—has translated to a big sales bump.
On Tuesday, Monument Valley was the second-most-purchased paid app in the App Store. According to analysis from AppFigures, five hours after the show premiered (the game appears in the show’s fifth hour-long episode) there was an immediate spike in downloads, which led the game to the top of some app charts. The company observed that the increases were more intense than ads for apps that purchased Super Bowl ads.
McFarland acknowledged the “very healthy spike” in sales over the last few days. He told the Daily Dot that the figures for players also buying the Forgotten Shores expansion pack [a bunch of extra levels for $1.99] have increased by 48 percent.
And although House of Cards is expected to be renewed for a fourth (and possibly final) season, it doesn’t look like Princess Ida will be back for Frank to play with.
“We are assessing our options on how best to continue to support and promote the game,” McFarland said, “but we’re not currently planning on producing more content or a direct sequel for Ida the silent princess.”
But if there’s anything House of Cards has taught us, it’s that there’s nothing more exciting than a good surprise.
Screengrab via Monument Valley