Big Pharma

Game review by
David Wolinsky, Common Sense Media
Big Pharma Game Poster Image
Dense, hard simulation skewers the health care industry.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Your goals are to create medicines to help people, make money. These sometimes oppose one another, indicating problem of what may be more important to pharmaceutical companies.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There aren't many characters, save for other companies vying for same market who appear on spreadsheets as avatars with faces, torsos.

Ease of Play

Huge learning curve; tutorial not very good.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Big Pharma is a satirical downloadable game and a skewered look at how the pharmaceutical industry is slightly corrupt or has more of an interest in not curing people's maladies, only treating them intermittently. That's the bigger picture; the missions are deceptively complex, given the seemingly kid-friendly visuals. The challenge of this business simulator comes via mastering and memorizing the many, many skill trees and ways you can use different compounds with machines to produce medicines while also edging out your competition. So, things like patents come into play, as does tweaking your products so they're just different enough not to cause a lawsuit. The game hits this point repeatedly. 

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What's it about?

BIG PHARMA raises questions about whether players can potentially cure diseases and ease the pain of patients while making money at the same time. The focus shifts from curing the sick to earning money, not because you're inherently evil but because that's what you need to do to win; if you corner the market or cure the populace, you won't be able to earn money anymore. Competition is good because it drives up profit and encourages you to be more inventive with your products, but it may not necessarily be what the people need. It's an interesting dissection and demonstration of ways the real world actually works.

Is it any good?

It's difficult to broadly recommend this simulation, especially for kids, since there's a lot to learn here, but it doesn't do a great job of explaining how to best deploy the equipment, ingredients, and staff members at your disposal. There's a tutorial, though it's lacking, so unless you're incredibly patient, you'll find the lengthy explanations both dense and still somehow coy. It will definitely take lots of tinkering hang of. Parents will need to pay $25 for a game that may take kids a long time just to understand. 

That said, once you do start to get the hang of things, it becomes a nuanced balancing act of creating products that don't cure but rather treat. That also means that though you can get bogged down with the science of how different compounds can be combined, you should also pay attention to what other corporations are doing and how they're faring. Do they have any blind spots? How can you best them? There are a lot of logistics at play here -- figuring out what machines to buy and which to upgrade, what types of medicines you shouldn't bother with. There's even a series of missions that challenge you to meet certain criteria by a certain date, such as curing certain diseases or earning a certain amount of money. But until you get up on your feet, all that may seem woefully out of reach. As such, it's hard to recommend this game. It won't be for everyone. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the health care industry and medical insurance. Why does health care come guaranteed for some countries while other countries run it more like a business?

  • What would the world be like if there were no more illnesses? 

Game details

  • Platforms: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $24.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Available online? Available online
  • Developer: Positech Games
  • Release date: August 27, 2015
  • Genre: Strategy
  • Topics: Science and Nature
  • ESRB rating: NR for No Descriptions
  • Last updated: March 8, 2019

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