John Pugh is the Director of Digital for Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH - a group of pharmaceutical companies that specialize in research and development for prescription medicine products. He spoke to PSFK recently about driving innovation in a large organization with his forthcoming game Syrum – which he will launch at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON on September 13.
Your company has a new game, Syrum. What is it – and why is a pharmaceutical company like Boehringer Ingelheim involved in it?
What really sparked my interest in the potential of gaming is that a lot of what we do in pharma is around educating and teaching people; whether that’s teaching doctors about specific products, educating the general public and patients about diseases and healthy ways to live, or teaching people how to take their medication.
Gaming seems to be a useful way and effective way for us to do that. I basically began the journey to try and work out what I could do in gaming that wasn’t an arcade or platform based game — but was something a bit more immersive.
Syrum has been in development for at least two years. At the beginning, we called in lots of experts from different industries, different locations in countries, and with different skill sets. We had various leaders, from specialized futurologists to branding experts, from pharma people to gaming people, and even young entrepreneurs who’d made a million dollars by the age of 17.
We really worked together to create a vision of the future, and one of the strong things that came through was the influence of gaming and gamification.
After two years of hard work, the result is that we are about to launch Syrum, the pharmaceutical industry’s first social game.
Can you tell us a little more about the gameplay in Syrum?
Syrum is a social game. The health of the world is in your hands, and you’re the only one who can save it. In each chapter, you have to solve a particular problem, which could be a disease or a pandemic that is sweeping the world. The player’s goal is to discover cures, create a stable drug, and then create a clinical trial so that you can launch the drug and cure the disease.
It’s a social game, because you can collaborate with friends or other people, and you can give them gifts, even headhunt their staff. As the game progresses, it gets more and more complicated.
What do you think people will get out of it?
First, it’s a fun game. It wasn’t built with a view to being an educational platform or anything like that. It’s very much a game which is meant to be engaging and entertaining to play. In the same way that Farmville doesn’t just appeal to people who like farms, Syrum isn’t just for people who like the pharmaceutical industry. It’s for anyone to play.
It’s built on Facebook because that’s the world’s biggest gaming platform. What we really wanted to do was try to use a lot of the features of Facebook. For example we leverage Facebook Places, a service where people can check into locations. It’s really bridging that offline/online world. Places helps players market the products they make. Wherever the players check in through the Facebook mobile app, that data gets integrated into the game and you get rewarded accordingly.
When will it be available?
September 13. We are taking a Silicon Valley approach, where we know we have got a really good game that’s stable but we’ll launch a beta version. We really want to make it so that we get lots of feedback from the people who are playing.
We’re offering rewards and prizes for people to give feedback so that we can really create the duration of the game, and develop it, and have more of a crowdsourced collaborative effort to develop the future stages of it, so the game will grow and evolve, as more people play it. This is a very unique offering from a highly regulated industry.
Can we finish by understanding your role within the organization – and how you drive change.
My job is anything which is connected to digital, so that includes apps, mobile, websites, gaming, crowdsourcing, and so forth. Our goal is to find applications for all of that. I bring to this company new ideas and I inspire them, educate them, cajole them, prod them to try new things, particularly in digital. I want BI to stretch out beyond the traditional marketing activities because in pharmaceuticals, and particularly at Boehringer, we’re still very traditional in what we do.
Come see John talk about the launch of Syrum at PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON.
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