China's Travel Panda is a copycat of Japan's Travel Frog. Photo: Baidu
China's Travel Panda is a copycat of Japan's Travel Frog. Photo: Baidu

It seems that being late is better than not getting there at all when it comes to product plagiarism by Chinese companies.

The country’s biggest mobile game provider, Tencent Holdings, is under fire for carrying an app that is very similar to Travel Frog (iOS & Android), a popular Japanese adventure which has dominated the top games list in China and Hong Kong this year.

Tencent QQ’s two latest mobile offerings, Travel Panda and Baby Panda Travel, have caused a stir because their concepts, layouts and rules are the same as for the Hit-Point produced Travel Frog, which has already attracted a few other imitators.

“This is a naked copycat,” commented one netizen. Another said it was an example of China’s lack of innovation and creativity.

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Travel Panda (right) has a similar appearance to Travel Frog. Photo: Baidu

A Tencent spokesman said the company had suspended Travel Panda while it consulted with the game’s developer H5. Neither panda game,  nor the unofficial Chinese version of Travelling Frog, is found any longer in Tencent’s games list.

Travel Frog became a surprise hit in China and Hong Kong this year. Despite being available only in Japanese, it is easy to play.

The game is about a cute little green frog that lives in a rock cave and goes on frequent trips. Players need to make sure its bag is packed with food and in return the frog brings back local delicacies and snapshots of its adventures in Japan.

The catch is that players have very little control over the frog’s itinerary, which means it will frequently leave home but also suddenly show up at home eating, writing or reading.

The simple game is reminiscent of Tamagotchis in the mid-1990s, where players pulled out a keychain device to feed a digital pet.

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Tencent has pulled the Travel Panda app. Photo: Baidu

Like Tamagotchi,  Travel Frog plays on the human emotions to feed and give care in return for being loved, although it is a slow-paced game that only updates the scene every three hours.

Of course, China did not have the technological know-how in the 1990s to copy the Tamagotchi game, though it has become easier in the digital era. It is more tempting for companies to copy existing products than to innovate.