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Worldscapes: PeopleFun's Move Beyond Word Games

Thursday, 30th of June 2022, 19:14 +02:00

Haven't you heard? PeopleFun, the creators of Wordscapes, are working on something other than a word game (Worldscapes)! We'll dig into the new game further on, but let's first take the opportunity to see how PeopleFun's core word games-focused business is faring and how that's leading to broader change.

Word games have never been the most mainstream subgenre in the puzzle category. As it stands, not everyone enjoys going over all possible entries of the dictionary every move they make, but a select number of people do. Let's look at some numbers.

In 2021, the Words subgenre made up 3.4% of the Puzzle genre's total revenue while accounting for 10% of total puzzle genre downloads.

Puzzle & Decorate and Classic Match-3 being top performing in 2021's Puzzle games segment.

Over the years, we've seen a pretty competitive onslaught in the Words subgenre with quite a few games rising and falling over time. From the beginning of 2017, when word games became popular, the first big hit was Word Connect by Zenlife. The game has been around ever since, but it's seen more and more competitors trickle in. First, Zynga's Words with Friends 2 and PeopleFun's Wordscapes released, after which CodyCross and Words of Wonders came along. These five games accounted for most of the downloads in the subgenre -even in the huge slump caused by the pandemic in 2020 - until only recently when Applovin's implementation of viral hit Wordle started raking in a ton of players.

Monthly downloads of the top Word games over the last 5 years.

Games like CodyCross, Words with Friends 2, and Word Connect have all exceeded Wordscapes in terms of downloads at some point during these years. Words of Wonders even bested PeopleFun's game in absolute numbers. However, even though most of these games rely quite heavily on ad monetization, what makes a big difference in the end is what players are willing to invest into a game - especially an audience as loyal as Word puzzlers. And one thing is quite clear: Wordscapes is the absolute best word game at monetizing its audience. It took until October of 2020 for the next closest competitor, Zynga's Words with Friends 2, to start bringing home more than half of Wordscapes' revenue each month. And even though Words with Friends 2 is steadily climbing ever since, Wordscapes is still number one.

Monthly revenue of the top Word games over the last 5 years.

The devil is in the details when it comes to profitability, especially when looking at Wordscapes' monetization strategy, which builds on its demanding live-ops cadence. The game initially isn't much more than a series of levels that can actually be played without being gated. Eventually, when playing daily, two additional time-limited progression systems start popping up:

  1. 1. A collection event in which players can earn unique avatars for their player profiles. These collection events can sometimes be pretty short (only a couple of hours) to keep players on their toes about when the events are actually happening.
  2. A new room every month which the player has to fill with butterflies before the time is up. They can do this by completing the daily puzzle or by collecting cocoons in regular levels that sometimes pop up for a limited time.

The game's clear, sawtooth-shaped revenue graph shows that Wordscapes has the art of creating scarcity by time pressure very much down. Even though its competitor, Words of Wonders, has the exact same core mechanic, the events in Wordscapes make a 10x difference in comparison.

In interviews, employees of PeopleFun have confirmed that the audience of Wordscapes is diverse and of all ages. This might be true, but the game's biggest issue at this point is that its addressable market is capped. A whopping 88% of its $216M lifetime revenue comes from the US. The UK, Canada, and Australia contribute 5%, 4% and 3% respectively.

So what do you do when you've reached the majority of your audience with your best-in-class cash cow? You diversify. This is what PeopleFun is attempting with its newest game in soft-launch - Worldscapes - a block puzzler!

"What's a block puzzler?" one might ask. It's a relatively new game mechanic that has recently been increasingly popularized by hypercasual games like TripleDot's Woodoku, EasyBrain's Blockudoku, and Beetles Studio's Wood Block Puzzle. The first game that made a visible splash in September 2017 was a different app with the same name but from Russian origin.

Not a lot can be said about this genre as there has been almost no evolution. While there are some subtle differences in core mechanics of the mentioned games, all of them feature just one level and offer no variation on the mechanic when progressing throughout each game. PeopleFun's take on this genre is wildly more extensive and a lot more elaborate.

Woodoku is one of the most successful block puzzlers of the moment | Source:

But will PeopleFun be able to penetrate the block puzzle market after working almost solely on their word games portfolio over the years? Does the company have enough experience and leverage to pull off releasing other puzzle games? To answer this question, we'll first have a look at who these Austin-based developers actually are.

PeopleFun's DNA

PeopleFun was co-founded in 2012 by games industry veteran Tony Goodman (co-creator of Age of Empires) together with four trusted key members from Ensemble Studios. At the time, Tony mentioned PeopleFun would grow to about 10 people, but he also mentioned the company was "experimenting with Mobile RTS prototypes" in his Reddit AMA. Some things didn't pan out exactly as planned, but with regards to both of these facts it's most likely for the better.

From the get-go, the company has been involved in making word games, a niche that turned out to be highly lucrative for PeopleFun. A timeline: