Recent reports of the deadly coronavirus that first broke out in Wuhan, China, have had a positive effect on the download rate of Plague Inc., a pandemic strategy game that launched in 2012.
The game gets players to create and evolve a pathogen in an attempt to wipe out humanity.
It has long been dubbed as one of the most innovative and successful strategy games of the last decade and years after its release, it hung around the top 25 on the overall App Store charts in China.
Now, downloads have spiked dramatically — right as reports of the Wuhan coronavirus started to spread.
According to the US-based analytics firm AppAnnie, Plague Inc. is now the most-downloaded paid-for game on iOS in China and the sixth most-downloaded paid-for app overall.
It has also risen to the top of the charts in other nations including the UK and US.
At the time of writing, more than 1,370 cases have been confirmed worldwide, the vast majority in China, and others predominantly across Asia.
The virus reached Europe as of yesterday, with three confirmed cases in France, and has also been reported in Australia and the US. In total, 14 countries have been affected.
The highly contagious respiratory virus causes pneumonia and is inducing fears of an outbreak as severe as Sars, a similar coronavirus that killed almost 800 people in 2002 and 2003.
While the coronavirus outbreak is an extremely serious situation that has already claimed over 40 lives, the spike in downloads is actually really positive news.
We are living in a time where antimicrobial resistance and vaccine hesitancy are 2 out of the 10 threats to global health and researchers and institutions are now looking for creative ways to inform whole populations around these issues — issues that are directly exacerbated by lack of education and misinformation.
The premise of Plague Inc. is indeed grim but in recent years, multiple studies have shown that games are a valuable tool for mass education and influencing behaviour.
As popular Weibo influencer Youxijun puts it, “The game ostensibly asks us to destroy the world with a pathogen, but it is actually educating us on science and teaches us how to confront it if we fall sick.”
Ndemic Creations, the game’s developers say that it is not the first time real-world events have boosted sales: “Plague Inc has been out for eight years now and whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks,” a spokesperson said.
“We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative while not sensationalising serious real-world issues.”
Beating the spread of fake news
Further cementing their ability to make timely moves, last month and during the run-up to the UK’s general election, Ndemic Creations partnered with British charity, Full Fact, to create an add-on scenario to Plague Inc in which players took on the role of devious actors running a misinformation campaign in a bid to spread fake news faster than fact-checkers could debunk them.
The charity’s chief executive, Will Moy, said: “This game will reach millions more people, helping them to understand the real threat that bad information poses to their vote.”