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Plague Inc.

Categories: Disease Investigation, Disease Outbreak, General

Plague Inc

James Vaughan, founder of Ndemic Creations, spoke to CDC staff on March 20, 2013 about his new mobile app, Plague Inc.  Within the game, players select a pathogen and strategize how to evolve symptoms, transmit the disease, and counter actions taken by world governments and scientists. With a successful disease, players can watch as governments fall and humanity is wiped out.

I became interested in Vaughan’s game as a tool to teach the public about outbreaks and disease transmission because of how it uses a non-traditional route to raise public awareness on epidemiology, disease transmission, and diseases/pandemic information. The game creates a compelling world that engages the public on serious public health topics.

For PHPR, using non-conventional methods to communicate with the public has worked really well in the past through social media and blogs posts.  We were very excited to welcome James to CDC and learn more about using other digital platforms to reach a general audience.

“CDC uses digital media to raise awareness on health issues that the nation faces today,” says Katherine Lyon-Daniel, PhD, Associate Director of Communication at CDC. “Meeting with industry leaders is a great way to learn more about reaching new audiences through mobile apps.”

I sat down with Mr. Vaughan to learn more about the game, its creation, and what he plans to do next.

How did you come up with the idea of Plague Inc.?
I made Plague Inc. as a hobby.  I was a strategy consultant in my day job, but I wanted to give myself a creative challenge in my spare time.

Plague Inc. is a bit like the film Contagion except that you are the disease! The 2008 flash game Pandemic 2 gave me the idea of spreading a disease around the world. I liked the game, but thought it could be even better if it had deeper strategy, a strong narrative, increased realism and a lot more. So – I decided to make it!
 
How long did it take to develop Plague Inc.?  
It took around a year to develop the game. I could only work on it in the evening and on weekends. Because I had never made a game before, it was very much a case of learning as I went.  Luckily, I found three great freelancers who were able to help.

How did you ensure it was a realistic game?
Without a medical background, I did a lot of online research in order to make sure it felt realistic to players.  Luckily, I have always been very interested in biology as well as economics and current affairs.  This helped a lot when I was building the algorithms and models inside the game.

A critical stage in the game is the ‘Infection Cycle’ that dictates how people become infected with a disease and how they infect others. The game revolves around this stage, and I spent months making sure that it worked properly. The core design is based on the concept of ‘basic reproduction rate’ and I found lots of great papers online which taught me more about it.

What kind of audience does Plague Inc. reach and what do they get from it?

Plague Inc. has been downloaded over 10 million times worldwide and over 200 million games have been played to date. As an intelligent and sophisticated strategy game, I think Plague Inc. appeals to people looking for something more meaningful and substantial than the majority of mobile games. It makes people think about infectious disease in a new light – helping them realize the threats that we face every day.

An interesting fact is that it has also become an educational tool – teachers and professors often get in touch to let me know how they used Plague Inc. to illustrate biological and economical concepts to their students.

Were players of Plague Inc. interested to know you had been invited to the CDC?
Yes, the reaction to the news has been extremely positive and people are keen to know more! In the first 24 hours after I announced my visit to the CDC almost 1 million people had seen tweets about it!

I think people were excited to see that a prestigious organization like the CDC was interested in the game. A lot of people also hoped that visiting the CDC would give me ideas for future updates of the game (which it did!)

What did you learn at CDC?
It was fascinating to meet the people who are working hard every day to keep us safe from the type of threats that Plague Inc. features. I got a tour of the Emergency Operations Center and Broadcast Center, as well as a trip to the CDC museum. This gave me a lot of contextual information about how the CDC works, which will help me add a greater level of realism to the game in the future – especially in terms of how humanity reacts to outbreaks.

What are you working on now and what do you have coming out next?
Plague Inc. is still proving to be an incredibly popular game, so my main focus must be to keep improving the game and adding new content for players. Recently, I released an update which added a zombie-themed plague, as well as translating the game into four other languages.  In the next update, I will be adding a new game mode for players, translating it into Japanese/Korean and hopefully adding some CDC content!

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. April 23, 2013 at 6:57 am ET  -   Tim Miner

    Consider global applications: FELTP and training for other diseases. Smart phones and other tablet-like tools are popular and available overseas in most resource restricted countries. Most learn quicker if it is “fun”.

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  2. June 26, 2013 at 8:38 pm ET  -   bell

    I played the game and enjoyed it. The issue I have is that well, it is clearly inspired by pandemic 1 and or 2 which is an old flash game that has been out for years. Granted to each his own but still give credit where credit is due.

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  3. July 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm ET  -   name

    Did you even read the article? He clearly gave credit to Pandemic.

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  4. January 30, 2014 at 4:09 pm ET  -   July

    I played the game, and I love it! After game, accidentally, on some site I saw a film “Contagion”. They have the same story, same stragedy, even same music at the end of the film! And after I found that, creator was inspired by film! The music is incredible part of game and film. It’s great!)
    I want to say “Thank you” because it’s one of the best game, that I ever played!
    (And, between us, I thought that last moments of film showed, that disease was started again)

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  5. July 17, 2014 at 4:51 pm ET  -   Geiger Counter

    But, can you make zombies though?!

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  6. July 19, 2014 at 11:39 pm ET  -   Guy Hero

    Played it on pc for the first time a few days ago. The first disease was the most interesting to me, as it actually triggered some sort of emotional response, which is rare for a game without any kind of story. Made my little bacteria highly infectious but with very few and minor symptoms and after billions were infected, I made it cause total organ failure. Watching the death toll skyrocket and the map go dark red was quite a chilling experience.

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  7. September 23, 2014 at 1:14 pm ET  -   Jakk Frost

    God, PLEASE don’t make zombies, zombies are over! At this point I’m about ready to bring sparkly vampires back instead of more zombies.

    Haven’t played this yet, though I intend to as I liked Pandemic 2. I just hope you made it so you don’t have to pretty much rely on pure luck to get into Cuba or Madagascar.

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