Kanye West (now known as Ye) is one of those celebrities that has a penchant for controversy and unpredictability. He crashed Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for her Best Female Video award at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, pivoted to gospel music, attempted to run for president with Elon Musk as his political advisor, harassed Pete Davidson on social media for dating ex-wife Kim Kardashian after their divorce, and strangely enough, developed a video game. His fashion company Yeezy Gap and Balenciaga released a new mobile game to promote his new fashion line, to the surprise of fans.
In this untitled game, you set the skin tone and gender of your avatar, select any outfit from the Yeezy Gap Balenciaga clothing line ranging from a jumpsuit to a Gap hoodie with boots, and soar above the sky, swaying your phone left and right to collect as many doves as you can to stay afloat without falling back down to the post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s pretty straightforward, but notably weird. Not only does this game lack a title, but the mechanics build upon the premise of Only One, an unreleased iOS game based on his song of the same name with Paul McCartney in which Kanye’s late mother, Donda West, ascends to Heaven.
Tying this simple, post-apocalyptic mobile game into the latest fashion line may seem like an excellent marketing strategy in the eyes of stakeholders, but in practice, it’s an underwhelming culmination of Kanye’s long and weird saga through the games industry.
First gaming ventures and Only One
Kanye initially wanted to develop video games instead of producing music in some way, shape, or form. According to GameRant, he attempted to create a Mario-style game at the age of 12. The contents of the game were sexual in nature, which would surely have drawn the ire of many parents in 1989. The game failed to see the light of day, but it succeeded in leading Kanye to discover his musical talents while composing the soundtrack for it.
Flash forward deep into his successful music career. During an interview on 105.1 FM’s The Breakfast Club in February 2015, Kanye announced that he was creating the Only One video game. Like the song it took its name from, the game was created to honor the memory of his mother, who died in 2007 of coronary artery disease and complications resulting from cosmetic surgery. Kanye explained that Only One would be a linear game about guiding his mother to the gates of Heaven. The premise mirrors that of Journey, in that only the player roams through the clouds.
At E3 2015, Kanye approached Nintendo director Shigeru Miyamoto and then-Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé at the show and presented a prototype for Only One, which was set to a soundtrack he conducted himself. Former IGN reporter Zachary Ryan confirmed the story on a Twitter thread, saying that Miyamoto described the game as very interesting and moving. Kanye asked to speak with Fils-Aimé about pitching the game, and soon enough, they met at Kanye’s fashion company office. As Fils-Aimé explained in the podcast Talking Games With Reggie and Harold, he told Kanye that Nintendo is a very strict video game company, and it had so many game projects lined up at the time that a collaboration between Kanye and Nintendo was not feasible. Two weeks later, Kanye announced Only One at a Yeezy fashion show in New York.
The next year, Kanye showed off the trailer for Only One at the Yeezy Season 3 fashion event, The Life of Pablo album listening party, and at E3 2016. The trailer showcased his mother flying through the sky on a white horse before earning her angel wings to enter Heaven.
Production for Only One was being handled by Encyclopedia Pictura, a film and animation studio based in Los Angeles. The studio comprised 14 staff members who worked on the game from late 2014 to the summer of 2016. The game never saw the light of day.
According to Business Insider (via TheGamer), sources familiar with the Only One project said in 2019 that the game hadn’t been in production since that summer because funding for it fell through. Encyclopedia Pictura denied this claim with a statement saying in part, “We’ve continually worked on the project, through various stages of development, production, prototyping, re-development, more prototyping, then more production, before and after E3 2016.” When TheGamer reached out to the studio for an update a short time later, it claimed that it was no longer working on the game and said nothing further.
The trailer gave fans the impression that the production of Only One was completed, or at the very least a hair strand close to done. However, Encyclopedia Pictura explained on the game’s design page that it left the project even after completing the initial version and developing a prototype due to Kanye getting hospitalized for exhaustion, causing him to cancel the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour.
“We completed a version that was never released, as Kanye wanted to expand the scope,” the studio said. “We built a prototype of this bigger game, but following the events of November 2016, we parted from the project.”
The mobile game released by Yeezy Gap and Balenciaga is kind of a resurrection of Only One, complete with elements like motion controls, camera orientation for the avatar, and the collection of doves for flight maintenance. Its concepts are right on the money, and the rotation of the avatar with the swaying motion of the phone in a superhero pose is reminiscent of a scene in his Runaway music video where the phoenix girl flies back up to the heavens whence she came. The only thing that’s missing is the angel wings that are necessary to stay in flight.
It’s an awkward app that straddles the line between game and elaborate advertisement, but it caught fans by surprise considering that the celebrity seemed to have given up on developing games in his spare time following the failure of Only One. However, this game is a product of his persistence to get his video game ideas out into the world at any cost, despite the games industry being seemingly impervious to celebrity influence. Despite being one of the biggest celebrities in the world, he wasn’t big enough to muscle Nintendo executives into releasing his game. Instead, he had to skirt around the industry entirely to make it happen.
It’s hard to tell if Only One plummeted to Earth so that this game could soar. Perhaps it’s meant to be a teaser for the game, testing the waters and gauging player interest in more Ye games. Either way, it’s nice to see the artist’s passion project realized in some form, as underwhelming as it may be.