June's Claim to Fame
Recently, the number "5" has been involved in some important milestones for Wooga, the creators of June's Journey. The world's most successful hidden object game on mobile is celebrating its 5-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. As Naavik wrote a month ago, 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.
The magnitude of June's Journey can easily be described as monstrous, 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 (like their core gameplay and alliterated titles), 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 ladies.
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 gameplays, great audience fits, 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 #1 in its genre through engaging live-ops 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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