The viral viral game: plague.inc

At some point last week my husband Tim downloaded a new game to his phone: Plague.Inc from Ndemic. He loved it, said I might I like it. I liked it. I’ll tell you about it  …

You choose how you’d like to wipe out humanity. At first it’s just bacteria, but as you gain DNA points you get more options.

screengrab
select plague type

You name your chosen killer disease, pick the part of the world to infect first, and off you go.

screengrab
infect a country

Gradually you can choose different transmission types – fancy a bird flu? insects? or just airborne? I’ve got the most experience on bacteria so I’ll focus on that. You optimise it for different climates. The trick is to keep the symptoms low key so that the health authorities don’t notice. Then as you infect the world, and they start to notice, you spend your DNA points on building antibiotic resistance and other cunning tactics to avoid them curing you. When you’re ready, you let the symptoms build up into horrible nasty medical conditions and ultimately death. It’s you against humanity. And it is BRILLIANT! And every type of disease needs different tactics and game arcs, so it builds and builds.

The intriguing thing to me is the story behind it. Apparently the creator, James Vaughan, had never made a game before. But he had the idea, got himself £5,000 in cash, an old mac and a couple of programmers working with him (for free, I think), and off they went. He was inspired by pandemic, which I haven’t played. 3 days after launch it was a top download on IoS. The game is now a massive hit on IoS and android markets. He didn’t even spend money on marketing, it spread by recommendation. A viral viral game.

There’s a long interview with him on the Ed Tech Crew website but that was before he’d even released to android. I’d been thinking he must be an epidemiologist or virologist, but I know now he’s a management consultant. And he’s not himself a programmer, he designed the game structure, then he found the people to make it happen: programming (Mario), graphics, sound. In his job “I didn’t really make solid things, I gave advice to other people”: here’s a story of an advisor becoming a maker. It took a long time to find the right people, they worked remotely, without ever having met face to face. As he put it himself, its a “story about globalisation and the power of technology to connect people together“. He used MS Excel to programme it, to tweak the algorithms.

To feed the game’s variables, to give depth to the world’s geography he used an open dataset from the UN from 2011, what a fantastic illustration of the power of open data for a simulation tool. I’ve always loved SimCity, it increased my understanding of town planning and urban regeneration. Imagine SimCity powered by open data, with simulation models by sociologists, criminologists, environmentalists. I’ve heard of serious games and I know about simulations used in education, but Plague.Inc really brings the potential to life, and it is a properly fun, engaging, rewarding, challenging game. Imagine what else could be done. Curiosity plus rich data plus talented people can make amazing things happen, I hope this a sign of more to come.

11 thoughts on “The viral viral game: plague.inc

  1. I’ve not played pandemic but my colleague Russell has played both and didn’t say its a rip off as such. As understand it, pandemic is an online collaborative game, I probably wouldn’t play that, for various reasons, not least I struggle to do anything without pausing it millions of times :-/

  2. nah, pandemic 2 is a single player game, and you get points for infecting people, then can evolve new traits. You can also play as a virus, bacteria or parasite.

  3. i wonder why there is no big outcry? i’d be interested to know if you downloaded it how it compares. i don’t know how IP works on games. i guess in films you regularly see copied concepts but no-one sues afaik. like antz and bugs life. hmmmm!

  4. Skype has launched its online-dependent customer beta for the world, after launching it largely inside the U.S.
    and You.K. previous this 30 days. Skype for Web also now
    supports Linux and Chromebook for instant text messaging connection (no video and voice but, individuals require a connect-in installing).

    The increase of your beta contributes help for a longer list of languages to assist strengthen that international user friendliness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s