Travel Frog, or Tabi Kaeru, a Japanese mobile game about rearing a pet frog and supplying him with equipment to travel, has in recent weeks risen to become the most downloaded free game from Apple’s App Store in China. So popular is the game in China, presently the world’s largest gaming market, that there are now low-quality copycat games appearing in the App Store, as well as unauthorized assistant software that helps users cheat in the game.

China’s obsession over Travel Frog has come as a surprise to many, not least to its Japanese developers at Hit-Point, who released the similar-natured game Neko Atsume, or Kitty Collector, back in 2014. In an interview with Sina, the developers behind Travel Frog expressed that they had also been taken aback by the news of how much of a hit the game is with Chinese youths. While Travel Frog is currently only available in Japanese in App Store (an unsanctioned Chinese version of the game, however, is available in Android systems), the language barrier appears to have no effect in deterring Chinese players. According to a statement released by Hit-Point, Travel Frog has hit 10 million downloads in Apple’s App Store and Chinese users alone are responsible for 95% of the downloads. Japanese users, on the other hand, contributed only 2%.

There have been many theories about why the mobile game is so beloved in China. The cuteness of the character, the titular frog, and the interface of the game may play a significant factor. The game developers themselves have stated that when they designed the game, they had initially envisioned young females between the age of 10 and 30 as the target demographic. The fact that the game calls for less time commitment or skills from its players—most of the time when you’re playing Travel Frog, your frog is traveling and all you can do is patiently wait for him to come back home or wait to hear from him via postcards—has also set it apart from other mobile games, which are more demanding of the users’ focus and energy.

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Pang-Chieh Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho is currently an editor at Digg and a columnist for SupChina. She previously worked at China Film Insider as a newsletter editor and her work has appeared on Screen Comment and VCinema.