Children’s games developer Dr. Panda pulled off something of an app-related coup last year, when its Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars app swept the Apple App Store, ranking as the number one educational iPad app across 14 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK and China, as per apps analytics database App Annie.
Since then, the Chengdu, China-based developer’s mobile offerings have continued to top the charts, having ranked as the #1 kids game in the App Store in over 50 countries.
Now, Dr. Panda’s mobile games have been downloaded over 40 million times, a significant feat in a marketplace that is becoming increasingly competitive, as smaller indie shops are bought up by larger companies.
For Dr. Panda’s CEO and founder Thijs Bosma, the key to designing apps with cross-border appeal is to provide kids with offerings that encourage creativity and open-ended play.
“For us, it has always been important that kids learn something from it, not necessarily in an ABC kind of way, but more learning about life skills,” notes Bosma. “There has always been a big focus on open-ended role play. You can see that in our apps. Kids love the characters but they also love the role play or pretend play—whether they’re a bus driver, a cook or a doctor. Furthermore, we don’t use any text or spoken language, so we also make it as easy and intuitive as possible.”
Instead of focusing on traditional educational fare like mathematics or language, the apps aim to teach kids daily life skills, to help them better understand the world around them. As such, the Dr. Panda franchise—which includes 20 apps to date—simulates every day actions like shopping in a grocery store, going to the airport or growing a vegetable garden.
“We have always tried to always stay close to daily life and global experiences,” explains Bosma. “For example, going in a bus to an airport, that touches the lives of many kids.”
As Bosma can attest, a little role-play goes a long way towards kids—and parents—picking up Dr. Panda apps and applying them to real-world situations.
“We hear a lot from parents about how the apps translate to real-life behavior,” says Bosma. “If they play Dr. Panda’s Airport and their children are in real life at an airport, they can recognize certain things or they can relate to certain things. The same goes for Dr. Panda’s Hospital, where after it’s a little bit easier going to the doctor. I think parents appreciate that.”
As for its growing popularity across the board, Bosma points to the company’s location in Chengdu, China. Along with putting the developer closer to the Asian market, the location served as the inspiration for the main Dr. Panda character.
“The city of Chengdu is also the home of the giant panda,” explains Bosma. “So it was a logical choice to go with the panda. We have always envisioned Dr. Panda as a buddy for kids, as a teacher of these life skills.”
At present, Dr. Panda apps have been downloaded in over 100 countries. Bosma notes that the franchise has seen particular growth in key markets like Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia and the US, as well as its home base of China.
Having carved out its presence on the App Store worldwide, the developer is continuing to expand its product line. “We are as an organization primarily focused on apps but we are definitely also looking beyond that,” says Bosma. “At the same we are also looking into other channels, whether it is animation or toys, in the long term.”