Dr. Panda is the independent kids’ game franchise that’s taking on the world.
Chengdu, China-based developer TribePlay today announced that its successful mobile franchise passed 40 million installs worldwide. It’s a huge milestone for an independent studio going up against big companies like Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Bonnier Group-owned Toca Boca in an educational games market predicted to be worth $2.3 billion by 2017.
As it looks to further push its Dr. Panda franchise, TribePlay is also rebranding itself as Dr. Panda. Cofounder Thijs Bosma, a Dutch national who relocated to China in 2006, told GamesBeat that the rebranding is part of a bigger effort to grow the Dr. Panda brand worldwide, and not just with games. “Our long-term goal is to expand towards toys,” said Bosma via email. “We are actively exploring ways to enter this market and we believe Dr. Panda can have a unique presence; [we are] also seeing the potential of hybrid and connected toys.”
The Dr. Panda games aren’t focused on strictly academic progress. Instead, the range of free and paid-for iOS and Android titles — which deliberately avoid in-app purchases and advertising — are more about giving young kids examples of real-life activities that they can play around with. Titles like Dr. Panda’a Supermarket, Dr. Panda’s Airport, and Dr. Panda’s Ice Cream Truck are popular in China and the West, showing that kids across the world aren’t all that different, even if their parents are.
“Kid’s perspectives and parent’s perspectives can be very different,” said Bosma. “A kid in China indeed likes similar kinds of games as a kid in the U.S., in our experience. Chinese parents are generally more focused on curriculum than Western parents, who also value things like free play and life skills. With Dr. Panda being focused on helping kids learn about the world — thus life skills and less curriculum — we face an interesting challenge in China.
Dr. Panda is the top kids’ brand on iOS in China, showing that its playful approach to early education is having a big impact in a country that traditional focuses on academic achievements. “We do feel our brand is valued in China and shows Chinese parents there is more to education than the ABCs and Math, and our success proves this is working.”
The local Chinese market is key to Dr. Panda, but its games are also popular in the U.S. and Northern Europe. This worldwide success is down to a number of key factors, says Bosma, not least the focus on character and gameplay over language and text — something which immediately opens up its global appeal.
“We believe our success has come from the fact that we moved in the market relatively early,” said Bosma, “and we have a very good team of people who are truly passionate about developing games for kids. We believe this results in more fun and higher quality apps, and that is something that kids and parents recognize. Also, we develop a franchise series under the same brand name, which helps us enormously in recognition and discovery. Our apps do not contain language or text, and that makes them scale easily over multiple countries. Last but not least, our focus on life skills sets us apart, and it is something that parents — and kids — value.”