“Has your frog returned home yet?” – it is a somewhat odd question that has become normal since the ‘Traveling Frog’ (旅行青蛙／旅かえる) mobile game has become all the rage in China.
In the Traveling Frog game, that is now dominating China’s online mobile gaming charts, players have to help a little frog prepare for his travels across Japan.
The app is characterized by its unique design and revolves around a frog who lives in a stone cave and goes on frequent trips. Once he goes traveling, the frog comes back with local delicacies and snapshots of his adventures – but players are never sure how long their virtual friend stays away from home.
With its cute design and stress-free strategy, the hype surrounding Traveling Frog is somewhat comparable to that of the Tamagotchi in the 1990s and early 2000s. The frog, which players can give its own name, is like a mobile cyber pet that players have to keep an eye on and take care of.
Although the game was initially meant for young girls, it is now a hit amongst young working adults, mainly women.
A Virtual Baby
Over the past week, various Chinese media outlets have connected the success of the game to China’s low birth rates. Caijing.com writes: “Facing higher house prices, intensive jobs, the collapse of the [hierarchical] pyramid family structure, and huge medical and educational costs, we can no longer deny the reality that more and more young people are choosing not to get married and not to have children. And ‘nursing a frog’ is one kind of psychological substitute for ‘nursing a baby.'”
The news site reports that the obsession of some people over their frog is comparable to a parent’s worries over a child; players are so upset when their frog does not return home during the night, that they cannot sleep.
Despite the shift from China’s One Child Policy to the Two Child Policy, China’s birth rates have been declining year-on-year; 17.23 million newborns were added to China’s population last year – 630,000 less than the year before.
China News also reports about the deep attachment some players show for their virtual pet, and suggest that the Traveling Frog is a “low-cost way” in which people can “fill an emotional gap” in their lives.
Baby or Husband?
The suggestion that the virtual frog is like a baby has stirred discussions on Weibo about the matter, with some wondering if the frog really is like a baby, or if he is more like a friend, partner, or husband; the matter in itself has become an online squabble between netizens and media.
According to gamer’s platform 17173 (@17173游戏网), the designer of the game, Mayuko Mura (村真裕子), recently refuted the idea that the traveling frog is like a child. In an interview, she said: “For Japanese players, the frog is actually more like their husband, who goes on business trips and then comes home with some local specialties and photos.”
Many Chinese netizens were not too happy with the explanation. “If my husband would stay away a night and a day, I’d be infuriated!”, some said. “So now you’re telling me I’m raising a guy?!”, others commented.
The interview even led some people to wonder about the butterfly that is often depicted on the snapshots the frog sends players from his travels, suspecting she represents his mistress.
But according to news outlet Pear Video, Mura’s words have been misinterpreted. In a recorded phone conversation, she does say that for many Japanese players, the frog is more like a ‘husband,’ but that the original intention of the game was never to turn the frog into anything but itself.
“We just want players to freely enjoy the game and turn the frog’s role into whatever they want,” one of the game’s developers told Pear Video.
One author on Weibo (@魔力的真髓) reflects on the idea that the Traveling Frog apparently plays a different role in Japan than in China, and writes: “How comfortable it must be to be a husband in Japan, where you don’t have to do anything around the house, your wife serves you, and then you just take off with the things your wife prepared for you, and go out and seek an extramarital affair.”
“Whatever, the island nation turns it into a husband, we turn it into a child,” one pragmatic netizen concludes. Another Weibo user adds: “What’s the difference – husbands nowadays are like babies anyway.”
Others commenting on the issue, however, are too occupied with the real important matters: “It’s been three days, and he still isn’t back,” one unhappy commenter writes. Another one has the same worries: “All I want to know is why my baby has gone traveling for a week, and still hasn’t come home..”
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China’s Top Mobile Gaming Apps
China has the largest mobile gaming market in the world. It’s an exciting market not just for game-lovers, but also for those into marketing and advertising.
One of the key drivers behind this online gaming environment is the fact that China is a mobile-first country. China’s average mobile user owns a relatively cheap but high-performance mobile phone, which enables them to play mobile games. As the quality of China’s smartphones keeps on rising, so are the possibilities and developments within China’s mobile gaming market.
The Chinese gaming industry is flourishing, but also highly controlled. Online games are allowed to be imported
To gain more insights in this enormous market, we list five of the mobile apps that currently play an important role in the mobile gaming industry. We made our selection based on the data from the Android app stores Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, and Zhushou360. We tried our best to give you a representative overview of a variety of apps that are currently most used in China, but want to remind you that these lists are by no official “top 5” charts.
This article is part of a series of five articles, listing popular Chinese apps in the categories of short video & live streaming, news, health & sports, and knowledge & education. We’ll list the other categories for you below this article, but let’s move over to review these popular mobile gaming apps now.
#1 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds 绝地求生
PlayersUnknown’s Battleground (PUGB) is a so-called ‘sandbox style’ survival game, which basically means that gamers are allowed to freely roam and change the game, that does not have a set storyline, and that they are required to do all they can to survive as long as possible by eliminating its competitors.
In this online multiplayer game, that is called a Fortnite rival, players are placed together with up to 100 other players on an island. As the game proceeds, the battlefield gradually shrinks, putting more pressure on its players. The users have to assemble weapons and other necessities, and in doing so, need to kill their competitors and take their possessions. The last person left is the winner.
PUBG, which is currently the most popular mobile phone game app in China, was created by the South Korean Bluehole. In 2017, Chinese gaming giant Tencent launched the mobile app version of the game. The Chinese version is not entirely the same: it has been adapted to make sure it aligns with ‘socialist values.’
At the moment, there are two versions of PUGB games: Exciting Battlefield (刺激战场) and Full Ahead (全军出击). The games Exciting Battlefield and Full Ahead subsequently ranked most and third most popular game app in the Chinese Apple stores in 2018, with Exciting Battlefield reaching 14,9 million daily active users at the end of 2018. Currently, Exciting Battlefield still ranks the most popular game app in both the Tencent and Zhushou360 app stores.
#2 Honor of Kings or Kings of Glory 王者荣耀
Honor of Kings is a game developed and published by Tencent which was first launched in 2015. The game is a multiplayer online battle arena game, where players have to team up for a five-to-five battle.
Every user can personally assemble their hero and equip it with certain features such as appearance, powers, etc. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s base.
In 2018, Honor of Kings was the second most popular game app in the Chinese Apple store with 53,8 million daily active users in the last quarter. This year, the game especially rose in popularity during the Chinese Lunar New Year: in the week from 4-10 February, Honor of Kings reached 92 million daily active users.
But the game’s popularity isn’t limited to China. In 2017, Tencent launched an international adaption of the game called Arena of Valor. The game was adopted as one of the games at the eSport Demonstration Event at the 2018 Asian Games, where the Chinese team won the gold medal.
#3 Speed QQ / QQ飞车
Speed QQ is a 3D game that combines both casual and competitive racing. The game has three kingdoms: wind, fire, and fantasy.
In each kingdom, there are different kinds of races, and players can move up levels if they beat other players. In the end, the strongest player of all will be crowned ‘king.’ To prove their skills, the best players of each kingdom can also race against each other in races played on racetracks on the border of the several kingdoms.
The game can be played by either a single player or multiplayer, with a maximum of six players.
Speed QQ, just as Honor of Kings and PUBG, is a game by Tencent – it is the world’s largest game distributor by revenue. Speed QQ was first launched in January 2008 as a PC version, and it was not until 2017 that the mobile app version was released.
#4 Identity V 第5人格
Identity V is a so-called asymmetric warfare game, meaning that the game is a wargame between individuals or a group of players and their hostile opponent.
The horror game, designed in gothic art style, is a one-versus-four multiplayer game. Later in the game, players can decide whether they want to play either the hunter or one of the four survivors.
However, the game is mainly a survivor-based game. The player first enters the game as a detective who receives a mysterious letter inviting the player to investigate an abandoned estate and search for a missing girl. As the player is searching for clues about the missing girl, a hunter will try to catch the player and strap it to a rocket ready for blast off. This is where the three other survivors come in; those are the ones who can free their fellow-survivor from the racket. But if they are too late, the player will be fired off and lose.
Identity V is the newest game app in our selection as it was launched in April of last year by NetEase. Despite its short period on the market, the game gained significant success. The app was the fifth most popular game app in Chinese Apple stores in 2018, with over 26 million downloads.
#5 Mini World 迷你世界
Mini World is a 3D sandbox style game, allowing its users to roam around in the virtual world of the game.
Mini World, also called a block art game, allows its players to build their world by moving around blocks and placing other elements. They can do this alone, but they can also invite friends and create a dream world together. The game closely resembles the Swedish game Minecraft (我的世界), which is also available in China.
Mini World was first launched in December 2015 by a Shenzhen based company. A couple of years later, the game was available in both Android and Apple stores. In 2018, Mini World became the fourth most popular game app in China with 3.7 million daily active users in the third quarter.
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UPDATE: Taiwanese ‘Devotion’ Game Taken down in Mainland China amid Discussions over “Hidden Insults”
The super popular Devotion game is being blocked in the PRC after users discovered hidden messages insulting President Xi.
Yesterday, we covered how Chinese gamers were going crazy over the first-person atmospheric horror game Devotion (还愿). The popular game took social media by storm this week, triggering discussions all over Weibo; the hashtag #Devotion (#还愿) received over 120 million views on Weibo within no time.
But today the game has been taken offline in mainland China, with discussions focusing on the game allegedly containing hidden insults directed at Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Devotion game has certain so-called ‘Easter Eggs’ (小彩蛋) which are hidden jokes and secrets that are concealed throughout games that would only be noticeable to people searching for them or paying extreme attention to the details of the game.
Some of these ‘Easter Eggs’ in the Devotion game seem to be highly political. One obscure detail on an evil talisman in the game shows an indirect insult of Xi Jinping (featured image and see image below), with four characters on the side of the object (呢嘛叭淇) representing a curse in Hakka while the stamp in the middle of the image showing the characters for ‘Winnie,’ which refers to Winnie the Pooh – the Chinese President is often compared to the bear for various reasons. The ‘curse’ would then mean something along the lines of “Xi Winnie the Pooh Moron.”
As explained by Spieltimes here, the seal in the middle of the talisman, which is considered evil in traditional Chinese culture, shows the name of the President next to the characters for Winnie.
One of the persons to expose the so-called “Easter Egg” is a well-known Weibo blogger from Shanxi, who is a secretary of the Daoist Society (@全真道士梁兴扬). He wrote that he had stopped playing the game after noticing the insults to the Chinese leader. His post has since been deleted.
In another part of the game, there allegedly is a newspaper segment that is showing what is believed to be a blurred picture of a younger Xi, with the headline saying that ‘Baozi’ (also used as a nickname) has been sentenced to prison, even suggesting he has been given “capital punishment.” People believe that the blurred image is that of the President. Please keep in mind that this image is being spread online but we have not been able to verify yet if it actually comes up in the game, and consider the fact that it may have been photoshopped (we’ll update if more facts surface). Updated later: although this was suggested, it turns out that this is not true.
At time of writing, the live-streaming videos of the game through the online platform Billibili seem to be taken down, or at least, a search for the game now comes up with zero results. When searching for the Chinese name of the game on the Chinese version of online platform Steam, we also found no results at time of writing. The game is still available for international users. For Chinese users, only the soundtrack of the game is available now.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese developer of the game, Red Candle, has issued an apology through Facebook, stating that the “insults,” that were allegedly referring to “internet sub cultures,” were already removed from the version released on Thursday night.
The Chinese publisher of the game, Indevient, has also issued an apology and stated it would end its cooperation with the game.
Various discussions across several online platforms show that Chinese netizens are outraged. On Weibo, some commenters said that they felt they were being insulted while the developer was also taking their money. On Steam, Chinese commenters also said that the game was “sh*t” for using its platform as a “political tool.”
Hashtags such as “Devotion Game Insults China” (#还愿游戏辱华#), “Reject/Boycott the Devotion Game” (#抵制游戏还愿#), and “Devotion Gate Brings Disaster to Steam” (#游戏《还愿》事件或殃及steam#), are quickly spreading on Weibo.
On the news site Spieltimes, which is focused on reporting on video games and more, the current Devotion scandal is being described as possibly “disastrous” and “a matter of utmost importance for Chinese players and the entire Chinese gaming community,” suggesting that this matter might possibly lead to a Chinese ban on the Steam site, which is a leading multi-player platform and game distributor.
As the game is now no longer available in mainland China, some commenters on Weibo are asking for their money back, an issue that Red Candle has not responded to yet.
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