By now everyone has heard how the developer of “Flappy Bird” pulled the mobile game from the Apple and Google app stores because it was “too addictive.”

“I just wanted to create a game that people could enjoy for a few minutes,” Dong Nguyen, the game’s Vietnamese developer, said.

Unfortunately, I am not one of the lucky few million people who downloaded the game before it was taken down from the app stores. Some people who were so lucky are trying to sell their iPhones loaded with the game for as much as $134,295!

“If there is a lesson the rest of the world can learn from its success,” reports the Wall Street Journal (here), “Mr. Dong said it is a simple one: ‘Just be patient.'”

I am not sure if Mr. Dong’s advice was aimed at other game developers or at the people who play these kinds of games. More important for me, however, is the lesson that pharma game developers can learn from the “Flappy Bird” experience.

People who have played “Flappy Bird” seem very stressed out: “I would, in a heartbeat, sell my soul to Satan just to have never downloaded this app,” said one user quoted in the WSJ article.

It seems that “Flappy Bird” is also extraordinarily difficult to play and high scores are very rare. Mr. Dong’s own high score was a mere 150!

From this, I imagine that playing “Flappy Bird” is a very stressful experience for some — much like my experience with Complications Combat, a game jointly developed by Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) and Eli Lilly.

Complications Combat is meant to educate people with diabetes about the disease’s complications. You play the game by swiping objects that whiz by into the “Complications” or “Friends” areas of the screen. I was “stressed out” by this because it was so difficult to do (read my review: “Another BI ‘Educational’ Game That I Don’t Get — Literally!“).

I wondered, Is it a good idea to develop a stressful game for people with diabetes or any other disease for that matter? Isn’t stress itself a COMPLICATION that must be “combated?”

I learned from WebMD (“Managing Diabetes Through Stress Reduction“) that, yes indeed, people with diabetes should avoid stress:

“It isn’t just food or extra weight that takes a toll on your health when you have diabetes. Stress can have an impact on your health, too. Managing stress — physical and emotional — can be an important part of your diabetes care plan.

“When you’re under stress, your body acts like it’s under attack. It gets ready to take some kind of action — either fight or flight. To give your body the energy to run or battle, levels of certain hormones shoot up. That can result in an increase in blood sugar.

“In addition, when you’re under stress, you may not manage your diabetes well. You might forget to eat right and exercise. When you’re distracted by stress and anxiety, you also might forget to check your blood sugar regularly.”

This reminds me of those humorous Direct TV commercials. Here’s my version that relates to stressful pharma games and diabetes:

When you play a pharma company game, you feel stressed.
When you feel stressed, you need to feel calm and protected.
When you need to feel feel calm and protected, you try binge eating.
When you try binge eating, your hormones shoot up.
When your hormones shoot up, your blood sugar increases.
When your blood sugar increases, your diabetes complications get worse.
When your diabetes complications get worse, you toss your meds into the trash.
Don’t toss your meds into the trash.
Get rid of pharma company games and take better care of yourself!

On a more serious note, another lesson I think pharma game developers should learn is to determine the “value proposition” that games have for the intended users. If there is no tangible value — positive outcome — that can be demonstrated, why do it?

I agree with ePharma conference attendee Martha Walz (@Martha_Writes) who tweeted:

“We should do an app!” But does it to make sense? Will it provide value?

The same could be said of games.

See Me in NYC This May
BTW, I will be moderating a panel discussion of the topic of “Creating Value through Social & Interactive Media” at CBI’s iPharma 2014 conference this May in NYC. Panel members include

For more on this conference, click here. Disclosure: Pharma Marketing News, which I publish, is a Media Partner for this event.

Meanwhile, listen to this podcast:

Making Games That Work for Patients: Gameplay Without All the Stress