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Manufacture Technology and Equipment

Big Pharma Gets Played

In October 2014, we reported on the development of Big Pharma, a video game that allows you to take the reins of your own pharmaceutical company (see The aim of the game is simple: rid the world of disease and make a successful business in the process! But is being altruistic the best business plan? Released recently on the PC (an iPad version is being considered), the game is as much about solving puzzles as it is about running a business and making profits – not unlike the real thing.

On launch, there’s a detailed tutorial to get you up to speed on how to play the game. In brief, you have a factory floor space where you must install production lines that will manufacture your medicines. The basic gameplay mechanics are not difficult, although at first you might be a little disorientated as you figure out how to lay your conveyor belts effectively and place equipment. There’s a lot of freedom in what kind of company you create. For example, some of the medicines come with horrible side effects that you can remove, but doing so may cut into your profits. To make your drug, you must import the necessary ingredient into your factory. Each ingredient has a starting number assigned to it and to activate a particular therapeutic effect, you need to increase or decrease the number by running the ingredient through various pieces of equipment. Once you’re reached the right therapeutic number – voila! – your drug is ready to hit the market, and you have the privilege of naming it.

Only basic equipment and a few ingredients are available at first, but you can unlock more as you progress through the game, which allows you to make more complex medicines. You can also upgrade current medicines and remove unwanted side effects, which is where the puzzle element comes in. The main challenge is making best use of your (limited) factory floor space; your production lines can get very long as you try to juggle the numbers and effects needed to make the desired medicine. And it’s easy to make a mistake and create a “sugar pill” instead. In addition, your ingredients can only enter your factory through specific entry portals that appear on some of the walls. The production line also needs to finish at a portal before you can export your drug. It sounds simple enough, but when you’re building a complex line it always seems to end nowhere near a portal. To be successful, you really need to think and plan ahead. Once again, much like the real deal.

This isn’t a game you can pick up and instantly become an expert, and it’s probably a bit too complicated for younger children. But it is fun and addictive, particularly if you enjoy puzzles and strategizing. You’ll certainly need to have some patience because you’re likely to run out of money and fail on your first few attempts... Sound familiar?

The game’s creator, Tim Wicksteed, isn’t looking to demonize the industry – he merely wanted to make a novel game and was fascinated by the pharma industry because of the moral intricacies of balancing people’s health with making a profit. That said, there is certainly an element of dark humor to the game; its website keeps track of how players are doing by clocking up the total amount of revenue generated, the number of seizures averted, and the number of comas caused. The Medicine Maker team hasn’t contributed much to revenues, but is pleased to announce that it is has helped to prevent several seizures. Let us know how you get on with your own company – in the game or the real world.

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About the Author
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.

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