Digipharm was a fortnight ago and the Aurora team attended across all three days. Speaking to the team, and reading online, I heard mixed reviews of the meeting. While certain sections of the agenda stood out as exciting, innovative and thought provoking, others were reported to re-tread old ground in quite an uninteresting way. Now there is nothing wrong with having different sessions for people at different levels of knowledge, and perhaps this could be a good solution for next year’s Digipharm – to run work streams based upon existing knowledge and experience with digital media. The parallel Pharma Med Comms World sessions certainly added value for the Aurora team.
Three key points ring in my mind from the conference: bravery, integration and game design. Day 1 saw discussions around the ethics of pharmaceutical involvement in the digital space and the rallying cry for comms and brand managers to “be brave” in arguing their ethical position with internal approvers. This comment is particularly pertinent given the Pharmaceutical Package announcement yesterday. The team was impressed by Andy Widger’s presentation of fully integrated comms-digital programmes at Pfizer, with Feel My Pain being a noted example. But perhaps the thing that excited the Aurora team the most was discussions around gamification and serious gaming. We were pleased to see some bold progress by the industry, with Mark Petersen from Boehringer Ingelheim presenting Dr Trombino and being very generous in sharing insights about serious gaming development. He presented a Venn diagram for planning serious gaming – with the key point of overlap sitting between theory, content and game design.
But perhaps the thing that excited us the most was John Pugh’s soft launch of the Syrum game. Syrum is a serious game that applies game dynamics to help the public understand the drug discovery process, from lab to medicine. While this has the potential to clearly communicate the drug development process and value to society, its main purpose is to enable BI to truly engage the public in their disease awareness activity – providing appropriate in-game incentives for people to learn more about their health. Thinking back to ethics, some people may question this, but from our perspective, using elements of human behaviour such as competitiveness, the hunger to improve oneself, the desire to get to the end of story and to complete a puzzle is a completely appropriate approach to facilitate learning and knowledge. Using understanding of human behaviour to improve human health behaviour in a non-promotional fashion makes sense.
One of the agency’s good friends, Olly Lawder, is a Communications Consultant across a broad range of social and environmental issues. He has recently completed a Masters in Business and the Environment at Imperial College London and wrote his thesis on, ‘The Potential for Gamification to Encourage Pro-environmental Behaviour Change’. We asked him to turn his eye to Syrum, providing his thoughts about the currently viewable content. He wrote:
Syrum is a potentially exciting piece of game-based communications. Strictly speaking I wouldn’t call it gamification (but I’m sure you could find someone who would). Gamification is when you take something that isn’t a game and add game elements, usually with a view to improving engagement or motivating behaviour. Syrum is a ‘serious game’ with an explicit effort to educate and inform people about the healthcare industry, and it is a ‘social game’, linking into Facebook as an integral part of the gameplay.
Syrum is still in development and its success, as with all serious games, will depend on whether or not it is actually any fun to play. Oceanopolis, which aims to encourage environmental behaviour and has a similar format to Syrum, largely involves clicking on bits of litter on a desert island and is about as interesting as staring at your own feet.
The link with social media is important as games are far less about winning than most people think. Richard Bartle studied the earliest form of online multi-player gaming and identified the ‘socialiser’ player type as the largest segment of online gamers. These individuals are primarily interested interacting with others and are keen to cooperate. Syrum appears to offer this with the ability to trade and collaborate with Facebook friends, while retaining competitive elements for those that like to win.
I believe that this form of interaction represents an evolution of viral communications. While still spread peer to peer, the interaction is not ‘look at this’ (and then instantly forget about it as the Internet bombards your frontal lobe with mountains of information of tiny relevance to your life), but instead says, ‘play with me’. ‘Play with me’ is a very different proposition, it’s about on-going interaction and emotional engagement beyond “ah, that’s nice, a gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins and something about chocolate…”
Game-based communications is also about ‘play with this’, experiment with an idea, kick-about a few strategies and work it out for yourself. I think this is the most powerful thing games have to offer communciators, the ability to create a space to let people engage with content on their own terms. The implications of this are huge and strategies for getting it right still being learnt. Nonetheless, Syrum feels like a valid effort and I look forward to playing the final version.
Thanks Olly, thumbs up for Syrum! Well done John and keep us posted on progress. NW1er (aka Aaron Pond).