The Cost Of Living: Big Pharma

Big Pharma is “part business sim, part logistics puzzle”, set in the cutthroat world of throat lozenge development. Like Theme Hospital, Big Pharma looks at the price of healthcare through the lens of a management sim, and it seems likely that it’ll bring a strong dose of gallows humour to help the medicine go down.

Being totally altruistic may not be the best BUSINESS PLAN. The uncomfortable truth (is there an ointment for that?) is that some remedies are more profitable than others and illness is good for business.

As well as researching new machinery and active ingredients, you’ll have to cope with a dynamic marketplace and puzzling factory layouts.

From what I can gather, peering at screenshots and reading text on the official site, Big Pharma will have at least three main components. The development of drugs, all the way up from generic treatments to patented superdrugs. The pharma field is fascinating and terrifying – the realisation that your job might be to keep life-saving drugs away from the penniless majority while a patent still protects profits is sickening, but perhaps that can be justified if the earnings are pumped back into the cure-all machine. Probably not.

Dealing with markets and research should be familiar enough to anyone who has played a business sim, but factory construction looks rather unusual. A miniature version of Factorium or Pipemania with added complications? It certainly looks like a puzzle game of sorts.

Factory space is expensive, and those fancy new agglomerators and centrifuges don’t always SLOT nicely together.

You can play Big Pharma at EGX this weekend, where it will be shown to the public for the first time – the game has been picked up for publishing by Positech, developer of Democracy and Gratuitous Space Battles.


  1. gorice says:

    Theme Park for drugs, with a hint of social commentary? I can see that being interesting.

    My only concern is that it seems to perpetuate the myth that big pharma actually funds drug research.

    • Stickman says:

      I’m no fan of the big pharama structure of biomedical research, but industry did paid for about half of biomedical research during the 2003-2008 period, at least according to this study:

      link to

      • MadMattH says:

        The problem with looking at it that way is that a lot of that research might not go into making entirely new drugs at all. In doing their research the big pharma companies are always researching other companies’ drugs and formulations so they can get either a drug that works in a similar way to an already existing drug or change the formulation to make a big enough change to get a new patent. It’s really all about the patents. There is a period of ‘exclusivity’ that allows the company with the patent to be the only maker of that formulation of drug for a period of time. This is why a lot of times they will make an ‘extended release’ version of a drug they already have the exclusivity for.

        • WiggumEsquilax says:

          What’s more, most of their research tends to go towards a treatment, rather than a cure.

          Can you imagine what would happen to the industry if they actually CURED the common cold? Or the flu? Big pharma would never, ever recoup those losses.

          • FriendlyFire says:

            Which could be an intriguing gameplay mechanic actually. You could have the choice to research for a cure or for a treatment and see how you can sustain that business model.

          • Rich says:

            To be fair, some diseases will never be cured. Sadly, despite what CRUK’s marketing department may say, we’ll never actually cure cancer.
            Also, the comment about researchers trying to break existing patents, while true, is as much about following scientific trends as it is following marketing ones.

            The biggest criticism I have of big pharma is that only a small fraction of the masses of money they rake in from sales goes back into research. Most of it just goes into a few very deep pockets.

          • Koozer says:

            Maybe I’m an optimist, but surely if a company develops a cure for the cold they’ll be sure to market the bejeezus out of it, charge a ridiculous markup, degrade their competitors for being behind the times and obsolete, and watch their share price and market share shoot up.

            (It’s funny how the above is being optimistic in a capitalist society…)

          • Geebs says:

            To be fair, some diseases will never be cured.

            Most of them, in fact.

            Maybe I’m an optimist, but surely if a company develops a cure for the cold they’ll be sure to market the bejeezus out of it

            Epidemic flu is quite the money-spinner; a drug that governments are going to want to stockpile, probably won’t need to be used, and has a pretty short shelf life is a good thing to have developed.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            Re: curing cancer, it’s essentially impossible to wipe out cancer like we did smallpox, but the idea of a cheap, safe, and reliable treatment for cancer isn’t that far-fetched.

    • dsch says:

      I’ve worked in Big Pharma, early drug development for migraine and Alzheimer’s. The company had twenty-odd drugs in the pipeline in various stages of development, testing, and regulatory approval. I don’t know where the idea that Big Pharma does not fund drug research comes from.

      • Rich says:

        The amount of money that goes into research is enormous, but it’s only a fraction of the money they rake in from sales.

        • waltC says:

          All of the money they rake in from sales is…their money, too…;) (In case clarification is needed on that point.) People have these extremely weird ideas that when businesses spend exorbitant amounts of cash on stuff, that only a small portion of the money comes from the companies spending the money; the lion’s share reportedly always coming from nebulous, unidentified, extraneous sources *not of the company* like…invisible government (taxpayer) largesse, aliens from other galaxies, shadow governments, sinister ChiComs, Atlantis citizenry, Michelle Obama, A Mysterious Race of Greedy Giants, etc. ad infinitum…;)

          It reminds me of constantly reading the repetitive assertive commentary on one “popular” site confidently explaining how the ISPs in the US spent but tiny sums of their own money to roll out their networks while Congress appropriated 90% of the actual ISP infrastructure investment funds (taxpayer expense, and so on.) Finally one day on that site (not this one, just for clarification), I issued a challenge for someone to please provide me with genuine links to proofs that it was Congressional appropriations which paid for the ISP Internet network roll-outs in the US as opposed to private investment capital *from* the ISPs themselves. Unsurprisingly, no one took me up on it–but really interesting when you consider the amount of “they don’t spend their own money when spending their own money” rhetoric that often surrounds such “issues”..;)

        • beekay says:

          Yes. A very large fraction. About a third.

          • dsch says:

            I don’t think people realise how expensive drug development is, and how risky it is to throw a massive amount of money down for the initial steps only for unforeseen side-effects/interactions/shit-just-not-working to scrap the entire project. Pharma companies invest the way they do because, otherwise, they’d be three failed drugs away from bankruptcy.

    • beekay says:

      If I remember correctly, pharma has the highest rate of R&D investment proportional to revenues of any industry. Bar none.

  2. Lambchops says:

    Too related to the day job for me (unlike SPACECHEM!).

    Yeah OK, I just wanted to type SPACECHEM in all caps again, it has been a while.

    • Lambchops says:

      PS: is there a way I can get rid of that supporter tag thingyamejig, it looks rather ugly?

    • MadMattH says:

      I’m with you. I worked for a large pharma company for 7 years. It is an experience I don’t care to repeat.

  3. RegisteredUser says:

    Just wanted to say that amongst the slew of sandbox games, F2P, MMOs, roguelikes, etc pp, I sincerely miss business sims(of all flavours, be it pure like Capitalism 2 or something like Theme Hospital etc) as an alive and kicking genre for the PC(these days, as much as good turn based squad strategy with RPG elements).

    So I approve of anything like this. Although to be perfectly blunt, I do hope its more business sim and less puzzle-puzzle.

    • SAM-site says:

      I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      I don’t care what business I’m managing, give me a sim/tycoon/theme game of it!

  4. SohNata says:

    As someone who’s worked closely with the pharma industry, this should be fascinating. Always happy to see some new simulation spaces played with – will eagerly try it at EGX.

  5. GewaltSam says:

    You surely meant to write “Factorio”, not “Factorium”, didn’t you?

  6. gruia says:

    big pharma is shit
    western medicine is shit
    people need to prioritize health and educating themselves.. improving themselves

  7. somnolentsurfer says:

    Will this game let me build a multinational homeopathy and alternative medicine company, and exterminate the human race that way?

    • Geebs says:

      Succussion: Memory Of Water: Origins? Love that game although the pack-in USB shaking-flask motion controller is a bit flimsy – I’d look into a good third party one.