To congratulate Wooga on June's Journey's impressive $1B lifetime revenue milestone, we make this deconstruction public for the first time. It is from Naavik's archives, and was first published in October 2022.
Recently, the number five has been involved in some important milestones for Wooga, the creator of June’s Journey. The world’s most successful hidden object game on mobile is celebrating its five year anniversary this month while having grossed $500M in revenue. The game is by far the company’s biggest hit, and it has successfully surpassed all of its direct competitors. It’s time for a long overdue look at this beautifully crafted murder mystery.
First, let’s take a look at June’s Journey’s performance and the hidden object subgenre as a whole. The game’s revenue has been consistently growing, even though downloads remain relatively flat, while maintaining a healthy all-time RPD increase. The updated RPD is $7.73 (on iOS), which does not even count the game’s significant amount of ad revenue.
Let’s start with a little history: Wooga was founded in 2009, and its first hits — Brain Buddies, Bubble Island, Monster World, and Diamond Dash — were all Facebook-first hits. From 2013 onwards, the company pivoted to being mobile-first and released what would be its two biggest hit titles for a long time: Pearl’s Peril and Jelly Splash. These two games, together with Diamond Dash, have been Wooga’s main sources of revenue up until June’s Journey’s launch in 2017.
As early as the launch of Pearl’s Peril — June’s Journey’s spiritual predecessor — Wooga unknowingly discovered what is now its main strength: creating high-fidelity and story-driven hidden object games. Without Pearl’s Peril unleashing the combination of episodic hidden object content on one hand, and island decoration on the other, June’s Journey would have never seen the light of day.
The hidden object genre has always been niche, and it has proven to be Wooga’s key market segment to this day. Especially after the company announced its vision to become the market leader in creating story-driven casual games in 2018, no other subgenre has been more suitable to fit its ambitions. The visual storytelling in this genre is unequaled due to the ability to paint beautiful scenes even within the core game. Whereas other puzzle games struggle to combine the stories in their meta games with highly abstract challenges at their cores, hidden object titles have the potential to become something much more immersive and meaningful.
However, creating these games has not proven to be an easy path to success at all. Monetizing players without a loss condition is a tricky endeavor; companies like Playrix even pivoted away from hidden object, changing the core of one of its most prominent games, Gardenscapes, to level-based puzzles at the last moment. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Playrix took another stab at the genre by combining its answer-to-everything mansion decoration meta with a hidden object core. This resulted in Manor Matters, which achieved profitability but has been suffering from a heavy decline a bit more than a year after its launch. Even genre-expert Big Fish has not been able to translate its expertise from browser-based hidden object games into mobile success.
June’s Journey‘s success is unmatched, which is why so many competitors have failed or refrained from trying to replicate it. While Manor Matters and June’s Journey have some overlapping features, the two games are incredibly different. The(worst-kept) secret that makes this genre so difficult to penetrate — and what has been key to the success of June’s Journey(and the demise of Manor Matters) — is narrative. Whereas games with the decoration loop usually have paper-thin stories tacked on with practically zero character development (with rare exceptions like Lily’s Garden and Love & Pies), June’s Journey is truly story-driven, releasing a weekly chapter of fresh narrative since 2018 without fail.
Now, it’s not a secret that a big part of the mobile audience does not seem to be interested in narrative arcs, but the other part of the audience that is looking for narratives is incredibly loyal when they find a story they identify with. This is especially true for the audience that Wooga has found with June’s Journey, which predominantly consists of older women.
On a more personal note, as an advocate for engaging narratives in any medium, I don’t think that the strong appeal of the game’s setting to its audience demographic (New York in the roaring ‘20s) is the single unique factor to its success. Only stories deep enough to bring forth interesting stand-alone fiction outside of the game are able to drive it forward and make players invested in what’s next. We haven’t seen many great casual game examples of super engaging narratives yet, but games like June’s Journey show it is doable.
However, even games with smooth core gameplay, great audience fit, alluring storylines, and fun, decorative metagames don’t naturally retain players for years on end. In June’s Journey’s case, the game’s steadily increasing RPD has been correlated with its growing arsenal of strong live-ops features. In fact, June’s Journey is a perfect example of how a high-potential hit game can steadily grow to be number one in its genre through engaging liveops and community management.
This article will shed light on this thesis by:
- Comparing the June’s Journey core gameplay to the competition it surpassed.
- Analyzing its core, loop, and content pipeline.
- Listing its base features.
- Breaking down its live-operations.
- Covering examples of its best-in-class community management.
- Pondering what the future holds for Wooga.
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Game of the Week
Call Of Duty: MW III at War with Ratings
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Platform: Steam, Battle.Net, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5
Low Player and Reviewer Scores: While the Call of Duty (CoD) series has historically maintained an average Metacritic score of 80 or above, recent installments have seen a decline, with the latest game achieving an all-time low of 53. Steam numbers paint a similar picture, indicating dissatisfaction among players. Notably, the previous installment, Modern Warfare II (2022), garnered a low 17% positive user score on Steam, while Modern Warfare III isn’t performing much better at 26%. Both players and reviewers have expressed disappointment in the game's failure to deliver on promises, citing issues like a short campaign, unfulfilled multiplayer map commitments, and limited new content for the Battle Royale mode – Warzone. Even though the overall multiplayer experience looks to be high quality, the market's consensus is that the $70 price tag doesn't align with the perceived value of what’s new.
Slow Start of Sales: Limited data shows CoD: Modern Warfare III trending to a 25% drop in boxed sales in the UK compared to the previous year’s installment, CoD: Modern Warfare II. Despite this, the game debuted at Number 1 in the UK during a week with minimal releases, except for Football Manager 2024. It’s never surprising to see Call of Duty selling at an extremely high level, but more broadly the title is likely experiencing global sales softness versus last year’s title.
Ratings vs Sales: We thought it would be interesting to compare trends between units sold and Metacritic scores / Steam ratings (which we acknowledge can overly swing as review bombing occurs). As can be seen in the graph below, a potential correlation could be suspected from CoD: Black Ops (2010) onwards. But CoD’s more recent installments remain outliers and that makes us hesitant to draw any significant correlations just yet – especially when random review bombs are a real risk. This is especially true for CoD: Modern Warfare II (2022), which has been crowned the best selling game in franchise history even though it showcased one of lowest Metacritic scores and the lowest Steam rating in franchise history.
Sledgehammer and CoD: One interesting callout from the above graph is that the lowest performing titles (CoD: Advanced Warfare, CoD: World War 2, CoD: Vanguard) were also the ones whose development was led by Sledgehammer Games. While Infinity Ward also had one poor performing title (CoD: Infinite Warfare), the studio’s track record with leading development on various CoD titles is far better than that of Sledgehammer’s. Reports suggest the game's rushed development, being completed in a year and a half instead of the typical three years, led to a crunch for the developers. Other reports indicate interference from Infinity Ward, causing inefficiencies and frustrations. Further reports suggest that the game's original concept as an expansion to MW2 changed midway, contributing to player perceptions of an incomplete installment (such reports have been denied by Sledgehammer). In other words, it starts to put into question Sledgehammer’s ability to handle CoD titles or whether Activision’s broader system is best setting them up for success.
Looking Ahead: Despite CoD: Modern Warfare III’s less than impressive early performance, let’s not miss the forest for the trees. The graph above also shows how the franchise beautifully ramped up during the early years (2003-2009), and since then has delivered 20-30M+ units titles almost every year – except for a few of underperforming installments – thereby making CoD: Modern Warfare III's performance a small kink, in our eyes. Not only is that a great franchise track record and enough reason for Activision to continue investing in the franchise, but also it is clearly a sign of such great IP dominance that consumers continue to buy it regardless of poor ratings. While this purchasing behaviour could lightly be attributed to CoD not having many comparable product competitors to incentivise its core player base to switch, if Activision does nothing to fix the franchise’s reviews and rating trends, player perception will likely start to hurt sales over the long-term – although the IP might have another 2-3 years of leeway until the scale skews in that direction. Until then, we have Treyarch's 2024 CoD title to look forward to and the setting rumors are timely, to say the least.