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Big Pharma Ups its Game

Avid readers of The Medicine Maker will know we’ve been following the development and launch of ‘Big Pharma’ – a video game that puts players in charge of their own pharmaceutical manufacturing company (1). The game launched in November 2015 and has since sold 100,000 copies.

But there was one area of the original game that players were disappointed in. Running a reputable, honest business is the right choice in real life, but in a virtual game it’s usually more fun to tread a darker path – which is why players were asking for the ability to use dirty business tricks such as setting their own drug prices (previously set by the game in the original version), bribing doctors hiding clinical trial results, and more. And creator Tim Wicksteed has obliged with the introduction of a Marketing and Malpractice expansion pack. It taps into a very negative aspect of the pharma industry, but at the same time it does make the game more fun to play – although to get access to all the creative marketing functions you’ll need to progress quite far through the game, which may be cumbersome for casual players. It should also be noted that employing such deceitful practices isn’t without its risks, since if the virtual public finds out your profits can suffer.

Twice Circled’s Big Pharma game has never been intended to be a game that tarnishes the pharma industry and Wicksteed admits that he is fascinated by the moral dilemmas that come with making a business out of making medicine. Just like with the original game, the moral dilemmas in Marketing and Malpractice range from the overt to the subtle. “As a player, you’ll have the opportunity to bribe doctors and massage trial results. It’s clear in this example what the morally correct choice is,” says Wicksteed. “But what about choosing a price for your new wonder drug that you have a complete monopoly on? Is it morally repugnant to charge a sufficiently inflated price to recoup the huge research costs you incurred discovering it? At the end of the day, it’s your company, can anyone blame you for choosing the route to maximum profit?”

Players can also attach sales-boosting claims to their drugs such as ‘Fast-acting’ and ‘Non-greasy’. Miriam Krelish, a fictional marketing executive who features in a promotional video for the expansion (2), explains: “These things don't increase the efficacy of our product per se, but they do give us something to put on the label.”

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  1. S Sutton, “Big Pharma Gets Played”, The Medicine Maker, 9, 14 (2015). Available at:
  2. Twice Circled, “Big Pharma: Marketing and Malpractice Expansion Trailer” (2016). Available at:
About the Authors
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.


From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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