Embrace my beloved frog, as a guardian

It seems that almost overnight most, if not all, of this Kat’s Chinese peer groups have added a deeply cherished “frog baby” to their smartphones. As an indifferent kind of mobile game player, this Kat thought this “旅かえる(Tabikaeru/Travelling Frog)” game is just another hyped up fad with no real connotation. Plus, the interface is all in Japanese: although some Kanji characters might be comprehensible to some Chinese players, the Kana part is apparently not. 

Very much to this Kat’s surprise, the Chinese fellows play the game cheerfully anyway. CCTV News reports that by Jan 29, 2018, the game has been downloaded more than ten million times from the App Store, and users from China account for 95% of total downloads. It turns out the language barrier has been overcome by all means -- the little frog has captured millions of hearts in a breeze.

1. The basic setting of the game

This game centers on a frog that often disappears on vacation. The main scene is a stone hut, where the frog will be living its life, e.g. reading, eating or writing. There is no verbal communication, nor eye contact, between the frog and the player -- the player sometimes is rather an observer. 

Often the frog goes travelling, during which the main thing that the player can do is waiting. Sure, the player could also collect the clovers growing in courtyard (as the in-game currency), and “buy” some food and equipment for the frog’s next trip, but most of the time, the theme is waiting, and in the meantime, experiencing the mixed emotions of expectation, uncertainty, disappointment and joy, etc. When will the frog be back? What is its travel destination? Nothing is certain until something actually happens. 

2. Why has it become a hit in China?

Unlike most popular dazzling games that normally require putting in big amounts of time and attention, 旅かえる is more of a healing style that features cuteness, tranquility, simplicity and gentle pace, which only requires very small amounts of time and efforts to play. Further, it simulates the Chinese-style parenthood, inter alia the typical aspects of caring and worried state of mind. The loneliness of being an empty-nester is new to those young players who haven’t had any children yet, and the surprise postcards sent by the frog remind them of the warmth of family and the bittersweet feeling of being missed. Some people also quite enjoy the “Buddha-like” philosophy of life that is reflected from the game, e.g. embracing the uncertainty, letting it be and focusing on personal spiritual development, rather than to competing endlessly with others. There is no real “goal” or “victory” in the game; on the contrary, it implicitly tells you to drop the obsession with success, and to realize that there are many sources of happiness and contentment, even, the bonding established with a 2D frog.

3. Knock-off and the fans’ fightback

Not interested in the causes of the fad, instead, some crooked brains deliberately sought the means to misuse the accumulated high popularity -- free riding alert!

As said, this Japanese game has no Chinese version. However, a while ago in the App Store, I typed in “the Travelling frog” in Chinese, and several alike search results would show up. In particular, a game called “旅行青蛙.” (i.e. “the Travelling Frog.” in Chinese) which charged 30 Chinese Yuan successfully deceived thousands of players into buying, and topped the most downloaded app in the mainland China App Store. 

Though being deceptive in form (e.g. the figure of frog and the name of the game), the knock-off version in fact has different content, in which, instead of frog-rearing, the player will control a frog jumping between timber blocks. 

旅かえる and the knock-off
Apparently, there are many perspectives that we could be discussing over this whole incident. First, the possible loopholes in the approval process which allowed the knock-off eventually becoming available in the App Store. Plus, the official 旅かえる game, for some reasons, was delisted from the relevant keyword searches on the App Store for hours, and it left the freely playground for the knock-off. During its 30 hours remaining in the App Store, the knock-off was downloaded around 30,000 times, which amounts to 900, 000 Chinese Yuan gross revenue. The developers of the knock-off probably will still obtain illicit yet handsome profits after the deductions of the sharing with the App Store and the refunds requested by unhappy users. 

IPRs are a valid perspective for sure: the copyrights in the artwork, including the character of the frog, was apparently infringed. Meanwhile, the deceptive and misleading advertisement might be considered as acts of unfair competition. 

Indeed, there are various angles worth discussing, yet this Kat feels that the fans’ fightback against the knock-offs has been a remarkable highlight that reflects the significant changes happening in the mindset of Chinese players. 

Throughout the entire incident, fans played very expeditious and effective roles in this “battle against fakes”: the resultant forces of the nearly 4, 000 negative comments (out of 8, 000 comments in total) combined with several complaints being filed online to defeat the fake app “旅行青蛙.” in approx. 30 hours, during which Hit-point, the small team developed the official App in Japan was too far away to take any substantial action. 

It seems that hit-point did not have the intention of entering the huge Chinese market in the first place. Therefore, they had had done neither localization in terms of language, nor any marketing in China. There is something interesting here: recently, 荒野行动, a Chinese FPS mobile game developed by Chinese company NetEase, with no Japanese version, still ranked top 1 in the Japanese App Store, and was loved by a large number of non-Chinese game players -- the language barriers in between seem to be not difficult to overcome, in particular, in the context of globalization. 

"Sino-Japanese cultural exchanges" -- no language barriers 😎

According to ChinaDaily, the booming mobile game industry in China reached $14.6 billion revenue in 2017, beating the United States market which recorded $7.7 billion revenue”. Driven by the great profit and the “good” risk-reward ratio, knock-off and free-riding keep emerging one after another. As is known that normally developing a mobile game does not require intensive R&D or initial investments as much, and unfortunately the cost of IPR infringement is relatively low. In the meantime, safeguarding the legitimate rights seems always to be time-consuming and expensive. This time, the fans’ triumph over the knock-off indeed sends out a good sign that more and more groups of people are sharing the consensus of respecting the originality the efforts of the creators, and the commercial atmosphere of the IPR protection has gradually reaching a more mature level. Therefore, the free riders might need to reexamine the costs of infringement and be ready to suffer likely flops on the Chinese market. 

Photos courtesy: the 1st one: Sina News. the 2nd one: Sohu
Embrace my beloved frog, as a guardian Embrace my beloved frog, as a guardian Reviewed by Tian Lu on 15:15:00 Rating: 5

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