There is something about pharmaceutical marketing and video games that doesn't go together but that hasn't stopped drug companies from trying: Pfizer (PFE) just won two European marketing awards for "Back in Play," an online soccer game promoting "awareness" (i.e. its drug Enbrel) of ankylosing spondylitis, a painful joint condition.
Drug-based video games have become trendy among manufacturers in just the same way that they've caught on with consumer goods marketers. The difference is that the link between the games produced and the drug being advertised is often tenuous at best. And the standard of gameplay often leaves something to be desired.
Here are 10 video games launched by drug companies:
10. Pfizer: Back in Play
The game seems simple: You are a soccer player about to take a throw-in. Just click on the screen to throw the ball as the striker nears the goal. Three sessions later and I still haven't scored. The game was endorsed by Stoke City player Rory Delap, famed for his super-long throw-ins. A video accompanying the game hints that Delap -- a former javelin champion -- will reveal the secret of his goal-scoring throws. Disappointingly, all he says is, "To be honest I don't think there's anything to figure out. It's just something I can do. ... you've either got it or you haven't." (Actually, he does use a technique which you can read about here.)
9. Novartis: Zeck Attack
It's a German game promoting a vaccine for Zeckenencephalitis â€"- a tick-born encephalitis. The game is fairly entertaining: Players must fire ticks at humans, trying to hit as many as possible. The first level of the game takes place in a public park partially populated by nudists. Only in Germany.
8. Bayer: Didget World for Nintendo
The game was developed after Bayer Diabetes Care executive Paul Wessel noticed that although his son was constantly losing his blood glucose meter, he never misplaced his Nintendo Game Boy. Players receive points for keeping up with their blood-check regimens.
7. Teva: BiologicsLand
This was a real WTF moment for Teva: Users choose to play as a scientist, lobbyist, professor, politician or doctor. They then proceed around the board -- which resembles Candy Land -- answering multiple choice questions for points. The questions include: In 2006, the federal government spent how much to purchase biologics medicines?
6. Boehringer Ingelheim: HealthSeeker
BI apparently decided to combine two marketing trends -- Facebook and gaming -- in this social media app that encourages diabetic players to take "action steps" to improve their diet.
5. Bayer: Kid K Keepy Uppies
Another soccer game, in which players have to manipulate a player as he juggles the ball with his head, chest and feet. Like Pfizer's "Back in Play," it's almost impossible to master on the first few goes. The game was intended to highlight everything hemophilia patients can do, rather than things they can't.
4. Sanofi: Silence Your Rooster
Sanofi has long since pulled "Silence Your Rooster," which promoted Ambien, and it won't be missed. Players took the role of an insomniac lying awake in bed. Your peaceful night's sleep is constantly interrupted by the sudden appearance of crowing roosters at the foot of the bed. By clicking your mouse, you can throw pillows at the roosters to silence them. As the game progresses, the roosters come faster and faster. The final few seconds of each game felt rigged --- no matter how fast you click you can't get enough pillows flying to kill the roosters.
3. Novo Nordisk: Captain Novolin
Widely regarded as one of the oddest and worst video games ever made: In the game, Captain Novolin is the only one who can stop the alien Blubberman and rescue the mayor of Pineville. He rides a speedboat and needs to avoid alien invaders who have turned themselves into junk food, while eating healthy meals to keep his blood glucose within a safe zone. Unfortunately, the captain has no weaponry with which to defend himself, and he dies every time.
2. CMPI: Super Race to the Hospital
What could be better than a video game made a Big Pharma company? How about a video game made by a Big Pharma lobbying group as part of its opposition to "government run health care"! Players must drive an ambulance to a hospital while avoiding red tape and government spending caps. Every time you crash, you get a message about the evils of socialized medicine. The gameplay is surprisingly reasonable, if primitive.
1. Pfizer: Viva Cruiser In the game, players are instructed, "You're about to take your partner on a romantic getaway. Pick up a few things on the way." Players must then guide a motorcycle rider down a desert road picking up gifts for a date and avoiding orange hazard cones. The gifts include roses, scented candles, gift boxes -- and of course Viagra. Pfizer yanked the game sometime in 2008.
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