Pharma is letting its hair down. The industry has embraced this recent trend of the gamification of healthcare with digital games, mobile apps, and even fitness video games. Most of these games, while fun, also try to address a problem such as adherence or just a sustained behavior change to improve wellness (check out pages 4 and 5 for some examples).

Boehringer Ingelheim, however, is taking this gamification trend quite literally by turning the pharmaceutical industry into a game with Syrum. This Facebook game (similar to FarmVille) lets players take control of their own pharmaceutical company and according to the pre-launch Syrum website (syrum-game.com) players will “equip and use [their] laboratory to discover new drugs and bring them to market in order to increase global health.”

Since the game has yet to launch (though the company did confirm on Twitter that beta testing will begin this month), it is not completely clear what this game will be. Or more precisely, how the game will benefit Boehringer Ingelheim or the people who choose to play it. (Besides the opportunity for fun of course.)

We asked a large cross-section of our readers for their take on this game as well as games-as-communication- channels in general. Will anyone even play Syrum? Will the game garner any sympathy for the industry when players experience how hard it can be to develop new drugs? What will this game have to do in order to be deemed successful? Can games that communicate a policy point also be used as a marketing tool for brands? How can games affect the pharmaceutical industry?

What we got were answers that range from the good (pharma should embrace Syrum and gaming in general), the bad (gaming can work, but I don’t know about Syrum), and the ugly (complete disgrace to the industry). We also asked marketers to name a few of their favorite pharma-related digital initiatives.

The Good or Why Syrum Will Work and Pharma Should Love Games

“Social Gaming has gained momentum across a broad range of categories, and healthcare is following suit. With many consumer wellness and virtual surgery applications already in the market, Syrum signals the next important step in engaging the consumer more actively. Anchoring Syrum on Facebook should generate traction—but the key will be delivering a user experience and engagement plan so BI can monetize this investment.”— Jay Nuggehalli, SVP, Director Digital Strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi Health Communications.

“When Syrum was the topic of conversation during a recent #SocPharm tweetchat, the consensus was that everyone was interested in checking it out and that it could be good for the biopharma industry. The success will depend on BI’s establishing relevant engagement for the players of the game with results that align with their goals for creating Syrum.” — Eileen O’Brien, Director of Search & Innovation at Siren Interactive.

“When a game like Call of Duty 3 can reach $400MM in sales in 24 hours, it is impossible to ignore gaming as a powerful communication channel. Regardless of the brand or message you’re seeking to promote, games have the potential to reach and engage in ways like no medium before due to their inherent engagement, interactivity, and ‘stickiness’ factor.” — Mike Myers, President of Palio.

“Syrum is a novel example of a model that can help marketers exploit the untapped potential of gaming in learning—especially regarding complex topics. When teamed with ever-evolving communication channels, gaming technology and design encourage collaboration and result in powerful, exciting learning opportunities. Syrum may not cause a tumultuous shift in garnering support for the drug discovery process, but it’s an engaging first step toward helping players experience the process of developing and marketing drugs.” — Lynn Paolicelli, RN, VP, Director of Digital Strategy at Dudnyk.

“It’s great to see BI pushing the boundaries of social media. Largely because of Zynga’s sexy success story (makers of the popular Facebook game FarmVille), gamification is the newest shiny medium in our industry. Like most new mediums, it has room to grow through data-driven personalization, engaging content, social engineering and overall quality of execution. We’re excited to see gamification advance and evolve as the industry gains more experience.” — Leerom Segal, CEO of Klick Health.

“Health gamification can be meaningful, promotional, or fun. Pick any two.” — David Ormesher, CEO of closer look.

The Bad or Why I Like Games, But Not Syrum’s Approach

“While I admire the effort, I’ve yet to be convinced that games like Syrum have the true power to change the poor perception of our industry. I believe the real opportunity for games in pharma is changing behaviors— such as providing rewards for staying compliant, presenting a challenge and making it ‘fun’ to exercise more (e.g., Fitbit), or rewarding other healthy behaviors.” — Wendy Blackburn, Executive Vice President at Intouch Solutions.

“Pharma had a fling with gaming in the early days of the Web. This is novel in these early days of tablet and apps, but will need a very large investment to be successful in the long term. A better approach is to consider in-game advertisements. Just be sure that all in-game ads are served live, rather than stored on the device—there could be regulatory issues with having stale ads that look fresh.” — Donna Wray, Executive Director, Management Advisor, Digital & Relationship Marketing Practice at TGaS Advisors.

“Gaming is so popular I think it makes sense to try to leverage for a number of challenges. [I] would lean toward more practical applications. For consumers: test their ability to lead healthy lifestyles, compliance with drug regimens, etc. Games along the lines of keeping the virtual patient healthy—add cigarettes and patient gets sicker, quit smoking and he gets healthier. For healthcare professionals: games could involve same concept— manage the patient vs. peers and win contributions to associations such as American Diabetes Assn.” — Terence J. Nugent, VP Marketing at Medical Marketing Service, Inc.

The Ugly or Why I Just Don’t Like Syrum

“The Syrum game makes a laughing stock out of a very serious and expensive industry attribute—drug development. I don’t believe it will improve the image of our industry. It’s also a copycat of many other games available on the internet aimed at 10 year olds to teens. My advice—Don’t waste your time, find something productive to do!” — Anonymous.

Games/Apps/Social Media We Like

“The really good apps out there are the ones that provide a valuable service. For example, there are several apps that help patients manage asthma—they track symptoms, provide pollen counts, and so on. Yet one of the best I’ve seen is from Teva UK and is called the Puff-o-Meter (it is not currently available in the U.S.). The app does one thing: it alerts the patient, based on their individual use, when their inhalers are low and need to be refilled. It answers an important patient need and drives compliance at the same time. Can’t ask for more than that.” — Abby Mansfield, VP/Creative Director at Topin & Associates.

“My favorite game so far is Re-Mission, because it’s topical and helps young cancer patients adhere to meds and be more informed about their disease.” — Joe Doyle, Interactive Director at HCB Health.

“My favorite social media effort is one that I’m not affiliated with—the Facebook page: http://Facebook.com/SoundsOfPertussis. Sanofi Pasteur has leveraged the support and credibility of the March of Dimes as a trust agent to address the issue of whooping cough. This is an example of a mutually-beneficial partnership: the March of Dimes by increasing awareness around this important health issue and Sanofi as a vaccine manufacturer. Part of a larger educational campaign, it’s an excellent example of harnessing the power of Facebook to actively engage a disease community in relevant discussions.” — Eileen O’Brien, Director of Search & Innovation at Siren Interactive.

“I have always admired AstraZeneca’s social media initiatives such as its ‘AZHelps’ Twitter presence. Using social media to identify adverse events, answer payment assistance needs, and other customer service-related issues is an admirable and appropriate use of the social media channel.” — Wendy Blackburn, Executive Vice President at Intouch Solutions.

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