Dr. Panda, one of the world’s top producers of App-based Games for Children, recently announced two exciting new products: the release of their brand-new app called "Dr. Panda Town: Mall" and the release of their very first app-based physical toy that operates via augmented reality titled “Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer.”

"Dr. Panda Town: Mall" is part of the brand's broader app series that enables kids to enjoy themselves in a free-play atmosphere. The mall setting enables them to explore shops, check out films in a cinema, eat in the food court, and much more.

The multi-touch screen enables children to play alone or with a friend and the game includes sixteen characters, twenty-five unique new outfits, and many hairstyles and other accessories.

“Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer” gives children the ability to use pens and cards to decorate a house and accessories (such as the clothing that is worn by the characters) that exist in an otherwise virtual realm. The app uses a scanning system to incorporate children’s images into the digital world in which the characters dwell and interact. Although still very much an “on-screen-game,” it gives children a chance to be more hands-on and artsy than any of the previous “Dr. Panda” titles.

Recently, via exclusive interviews, game designer Mark C.

Calugay and CMO and General Manager of Dr. Panda, Tom Buyckx, discussed these newest releases, the brand as a whole, and their visions for its future.

Apps augmented reality and reactions

Meagan Meehan (MM): You released two new games very close together, "Dr. Panda Mall" and "Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer." Did you plan for them to be released back-to-back?

Tom Buyckx (TB): We did not plan to release the two games back-to-back. As physical products follow a different distribution timeline compared to an app, they ended up being released closely together. The targeted users of these two are largely different, so it wasn’t a real issue for us.

MM: "Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer" is your first physical game, so how much more challenging was it to design?

TB: The challenge was not so much creating a physical product, but it was in creating a rich experience to integrate all three aspects of physical and digital, and then combining the two, to further enrich the play experience. Designing physical parts brought its challenges, but with our talented team, we managed to produce a high-quality toy set for consumers to enjoy.

MM: What was it like to work with augmented reality?

TB: As an app company, we should be aware of new technologies like augmented reality. Augmented reality opens a whole new world of possibilities, but we always focus on the impact of the overall play experience and how this technology can enhance that. We didn’t just want to create a product that was cool, but we wanted to create a product that would fuse the physical and digital seamlessly.

Working with tools to interpret ‘your’ artwork accurately was a bit of a challenge, but our experienced and talented team made it happen.

MM: What kind of feedback have you gotten from players so far and what are your favorite things about the game?

Mark C. Calugay (MCC): Well, “Dr. Panda Town: Mall” has done well. It actually ranked #1 in the free apps category on the App Store in its first week or release. Across the different app stores, “Dr. Panda Town: Mall” has received positive reviews from customers and the reactions are usually great. Some users do leave comments about the app not being entirely free, which is a challenge for freemium apps.

TB: As for “Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer,” reactions and feedback received during playtesting and from the launch, overall, are very positive.

We had over twenty pairs of kids and parents test the product before the launch and saw kids reacting positively to the toy. With the launch, we received very positive feedback from the consumers who purchased the product. Kids are excited about seeing their creations come to life and parents really appreciate the combinations of learning and creativity. They truly enjoy seeing their children learn from both creative experiences and through the small educational element built into the app. “Home Designer” is an overall creative, fun, and engaging AR experience for kids in the three to eight-year-old age range.

MM: Will you be releasing more physical games in the future?

TB: We do plan on releasing more physical games in the future.

We want to grow Dr. Panda as a brand beyond just apps. We want to develop a loving brand that teaches children to learn about the world with new and innovative products that build on our entertainment portfolio as a whole.

Malls, stores, and current projects

MM: As per “Dr. Panda Mall,” what prompted you to create an app game centered around a mall and how did you select the kinds of stores to put in the mall?

MCC: One of the things that we wanted to accomplish was how we could help players to combine old and new stories. We found that they enjoyed role-playing and the whole shopping experience. Whether it is withdrawing money from the ATM, going into a shop, purchasing items and then taking that new merchandise home.

It was really that novelty of going to a toy store and buying a new car set that inspired this game.

MM: How did you decide which stores to place in the mall and how long did the whole thing take to develop?

MCC: We had a million ideas on which shops we could include inside the shopping mall. Ultimately, our decision process was based on two criteria. One, how can this shop enhance the experience for the currently released games and upcoming games in the future? Since this is the second game of the series, we wanted to plan and make sure that this title will be a little jigsaw piece to our entire line up. The second criteria was about how we can let children learn about the environment – to learn about the different kinds of retail stores and its functions.

This hand-full of shops were ones that made the shortlist, but we still plan on adding more on top of this in the near future!

MM: What is coming up next for you creatively and what are your big plans for "Dr. Panda" in the future?

TB: It is a very busy time for Dr. Panda, and we are working on a lot of great projects. Lined up we have another app that integrates AR that we will be releasing leading up to the holidays, and we also plan on expanding on the whole “Dr. Panda Town” series. Going beyond apps, we recently just launched “Dr. Panda TV” on YouTube which further expands our entertainment portfolio and this paves the way for our current project we are developing, Dr. Panda animated series, which we anticipate releasing in 2018. Dr. Panda now has a strong presence in the United States, and we are excited to be more closely engaged with our consumers.