Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Alternative Media: Game On

Alternative Media: Game On
Marketing that uses gaming and other immersive technology proves to be more than just kids' play

Source: Pharmaceutical Executive (July 3, 2007)
You are commanding a white blood cell as it travels through the blood stream. Your mission: to collect as many adhesion molecule inhibitors as you can to defeat an evil autoimmune disease. Bank left, bank right, squeeze through the tiniest vessels, plough through the refuse in the largest arteries. But be careful. If you veer off course and crash through those delicate vessel walls before reaching your goal, it's GAME OVER.
No, this isn't a hot new video game for the PlayStation 3. It's the latest marketing tool being used to grab physicians' attention at conventions and meetings. Video games, it seems, are just as much fun for doctors as they are for kids. BioLucid, a medical animation studio and game-design firm established by pharma marketing expatriates, has spent the last few years developing immersive video game technology, 3-D animation movies (think Shrek), and virtual exhibit booths to bring some much-needed buzz to the trade show floor. Pharm Exec spoke to Jeff Hazelton, president of BioLucid, to learn more about this new marketing strategy.

Why video games and pharma?

For years now, many pharmaceutical companies have used cutting-edge 3-D animation to draw physicians to their booths on the convention floor. As animation became the norm, pharma companies began looking at new ways to make an impact at shows. With gaming technology, companies can display immersive animation that allows doctors to explore inside an interactive environment pertaining to a particular drug's mechanism of action (MOA).

How can marketers use this technology at a convention?

Right now, we are doing dual projects: 3-D animations and games, which work together in an exhibit environment. First, the convention attendee watches a traditional 3-D mechanism of action animation shown on TV screens around the booth. In a separate area of the booth, the interactive games are set up with computers, a joystick, and a flat-screen monitor.

Could you give an example of a game?

In one case, doctors controlled a white blood cell. The goal was to collect adhesion molecule inhibitors because that's what the client was promoting. The game is kind of like Defender, where the user controls a ship and tries to pick objects up without hitting the walls. Once they picked up enough inhibitors, the cell became "immune" and would no longer go through the wall. The game showcased a drug for an autoimmune disease that involved diapedesis, which is when a white blood cell migrates through the wall of the vessel out into tissue and causes inflammation. So the doctors were essentially stopping that white blood cell from exiting the blood vessel. And as they collected these inhibitors, fewer cells would penetrate the wall, hence less inflammation. Doctors were waiting in line for the opportunity to compete against each other—and at the same time, they were educated about the drug's MOA.

What was the reaction from the physicians?

We had a leader board that listed the name of the highest-scoring doctor. Physicians were constantly coming by the booth to see if someone else had beaten their score and would often play again or listen to a spiel from the salespeople. It was a big success in that it allowed the pharma company to attract people to its booth with something engaging and unique. It gave the company the opportunity to interface with these people that were waiting to play or that were watching their peers play.

Can gaming be used to market drugs to consumers?

Companies can use this technology to create a consumer-level version of the game that's not so technical, to educate patients about staying in compliance. Consumers and patients are far more likely to play a game than to watch a health-information movie. Also, with immersive animation, the audience is not locked into a presentation that's being fed to them. They're in control of a virtual environment. This enables marketers to offer more detail in certain areas and create useful tools inside the program.

How long does a game take to go from concept to creation?

Typically, a project like this requires about a six-month timeline. First, we gather information from the client about what their marketing objectives are, what the scientific objectives are, and who the audience is. We then take that information and create an outline, which evolves into a storyboard. And then we create a script that includes both the language that's going to be contained within the game and a description of the action and images to show what the game is going to look like. From there, we create motion tests and some basic animation. We also begin building beta versions of the games with basic game play and art.

Can this technology also be used on the Web?

Yes, it can. Video games can be developed with a similar technology as one would use in an online multiplayer game. For example, marketers could invite users to join a group game from different locations through a social network, or physicians could download the application from the Web, then run it on their computers. The client also could host servers where they could control the experience for the users or even inject virtual representatives of the company to give more information about the drug or ailment.

What is a virtual trade show, and how does it work?

Essentially, a virtual exhibit is an online recreation of a client's trade show booth and exhibit in the online world. Using this technology, marketers can make their booths available to physicians 24/7 on a CD or via the Web. Doctors can watch MOA animations, view sales aids, review papers and posters, print slides, or even interact with immersive MOAs from the comfort of their desks.

Last year, we created a virtual booth for a company that had a very small exhibit space at a show. The electronic exhibit allowed visitors to view additional information and presentations from monitors located in the booth, and it helped extend the company's presence at the convention beyond the exhibit walls.

What is the average cost of making an immersive video game, and how does it compare with other marketing strategies?

The price is equivalent to a high-end animation that has a six-month window of production time. You're looking at about 170 percent of the cost of a comparable 3-D animation. It is even more economical when you combine it with an MOA animation, because then we're building 3-D assets. We're able to reutilize assets, reutilize storyboards, and essentially combine these two different products, which offers a lot of savings on the client's side.

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