Japanese Game a China-Wide Hit with Gamers and Non-Gamers

6 min read 

Exciting graphics, a sharable nature and easy gameplay have made “Travel Frog” a hit across China. Though not addictive, the game leaves players interested and wanting more.

“Let me see if my frog is back,” I told my friend.

“Oh, you also keep a frog? Check out all the postcards my frog has sent me,” he replied.

The exchange at my afternoon tea last weekend was all too common. We were talking about the Japanese mobile game “Travel Frog”, which has become a nation-wide hit in China. The main character in the game is a cool frog that carries a green hat.

Since its launch two months ago, this game has become China’s top mobile game with more than 8 million downloads from Chinese app stores. At the time of publishing, more than 10 million users have downloaded “Travel Frog” from the App Store: 2 percent are from Japan, 1 percent from the US and 95 percent from China.

What makes this mobile game so popular in China?

Thoughtful Graphic Design

The first time I saw this game, or more precisely the first time I saw the frog, I thought, “This is pretty cool.” The sketch-like graphic design is one of the major charms of this game – especially as seen in the post cards the frog sends during its travels.

The post cards the frog sends during its travels

If you have been to any tourist site, you will be familiar with the style of postcards in “Travel Frog.” The cityscape on its postcard for Nagoya is very similar to that of the actual Nagoya skyline.

Postcards in “Travel Frog” vs actual scene

There are not many locations in “Travel Frog.” In fact, outside the store it only has a courtyard and a home. These share the sketched graphic style of the postcards, which is both realistic and cute. The settings at home change slightly according to the activities of frog. For example, if frog has left, the candle will be out and the hat will be gone from its hanger.

Details of home with and without frog

The graphic style is a big part of what makes this game resonate with players and fuels its popularity.

Social media sharing has boosted “Travel Frog’s” viral spread

“Actually I was just curious why it was so successful. That’s why I downloaded it,” a friend said.

It’s on Weibo or Wechat that most users encounter “Travel Frog.” Almost overnight, they see many of their connections on social networks post about their “frog son.” The large number of shares many be due to the sharing-friendly nature of this game.

Someone shared his walkthrough on Weibo

Looking at the realistic and cute postcards and the lonely frog in front of his desk, who wouldn’t want to take a break from studying or working to share a screenshot or brag about the game on social media?

And, of course, there are people making funny pictures of the small frog.

Up-all-night frog, and chicken-eating frog

Basically, “Travel Frog” is a mobile game that is “easy to share on social networks”.

Most people keep it installed because it’s the simple rules and easy operation

Many say “Travel Frog” is popular due to the maternal instinct it evokes within female players. However, many of the frog-keepers I see are men. Others say it appeals to the young generation’s “low-desire” lifestyle. Actually, the mobile game gained its popularity exactly because it is too small to throw out. It’s the simple rules and easy operation that make the game a hit.

Beyond beautiful postcards, what does “Travel Frog” offer?

There are only three scenes in this game, and the available operations within them are also quite limited.

Once every 3-5 hours you need to harvest clovers by the lakes outside your door; then you trade the clovers for food and goods in the store; and finally you return to the frog’s room and prepare his food and travel equipment. Then you are good to log off.

This is all you can do the game. The operations are so easy that after finishing them, you either stare at the screen and do nothing or log off. It is precisely because there is not much to be done, and the operations do not take up much time, that “Travel Frog” has become so popular. The underlying reason is very simple – one does not have much time and energy to invest in a game every day.

How much time can you spend in a mobile game each day

This game only takes 2-3 minutes each session, and you do not know when the frog will come back. There is no point in thinking about it, except for an occasional check at your convenience. Sometimes the frog will send you unexpected and beautiful postcards to keep feeding you with something new, and he will leave you always with some expectations.

Would you uninstall it? I would not. It feels like having a bonbon in your pocket. If you do not want it at the moment, just keep it there; it does not take up much space, but can give you something sweet at times.

In other word, “Travel Frog” does not cost either much time or money. Other than providing you with topics for chitchat, it merely gives you occasional delightful surprises.

Actually, it is good to have something to care for

Speaking of delightful surprises, once “travel frog” is out on his journey, it will disappear from your phone. You do not know what kind of postcards it will send you, nor do you know when it will come back. It may take a day or two, or perhaps even longer.

Suddenly the world is quiet

You start to care for it over time. You want to know if your frog is back, or if it has sent you a new postcard.

This care is not that intense – we have so much more to do in our daily life than playing this game. It remains at the back of your mind and only comes out when we are free.

That may also be why “Travel Frog” becomes popular. Though it is not addictive, the game always leaves expecting more.

If I had to find a word for this feeling, I would say: If there was a girl I liked a lot, but we couldn’t see each other very often because of our busy schedules, I would put her at the bottom of my heart. Whatever I do, I will do it with her. Once I am free, I will realize I miss her.

However, this feeling in “Travel Frog” is much lighter. After all, it is but a mobile game.

“I just want to know where it has been and what postcards it has sent me,” my friend says with a sincere look.

This article by Su Hang originally appeared in Sina Tech and was translated by Pandaily.
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