The role for ‘gamification’ in pharma

Carwyn Jones and Faisal Ahmed

PM Society

In our digital and social media theme month, Carwyn Jones and Faisal Ahmed discuss the role of gamification in pharma.

Last year, the PM Society Digital Media Awards introduced a gamification category to reflect an area of developing interest for digital.

The category was introduced because ‘it is important to have categories that are a reflection of where digital media is, as well as where it is moving. This is where we felt gamification sits, explained Matt Tickner, digital marketing manager, Pfizer and member of the Digital Media Awards’ steering group and judge of this category. This article discusses the role of gamification in pharma and places it in context with the 2012 winner’s of this category.

What is gamification?

So what is gamification? It is a descriptor often heard, and frequently misunderstood. Like any ‘buzz word’ there is a risk that someone somewhere in healthcare will be pushing to do it because they think they have to. Others will be dismissing gamification as a fad. The reality, as with any digital communication, is that it must enhance someone’s life, it will not work if it is pushing, interrupting or selling.

Gamification is an approach to learning, not a technological initiative in itself. True, gamification is a way of using technology to be more engaging, but it does this by giving the user certain actions to complete in return for rewards. The term comes from the fact that, in essence, this replicates the interaction and reward mechanisms found in games… way before the digital era. It has become popular because its principles contain the most fundamental human desires such as recognition, reward, competition, gifting and status.

If you are interested in gamification, think about how it might work to improve the end users’/ customers’ processes and then look at how that aligns with an overall marketing communications strategy.


“Like any ‘buzz word’ there is a risk that someone somewhere in healthcare will be pushing to do it because they think they have to.”

Elements of gamification

There are literally hundreds of games mechanics principles, including complex behavioural theories and user-experience feedback. However, as a starting point the basic components of gamification can be distilled into five elements:

•     Progress paths – The use of challenges and evolving narratives to increase a task completion.

•     Feedback – Instant feedback on the users’ actions. In business this is usually time consuming to obtain, however in gamification you feedback in real-time to help the user on their journey.

•     Rewards – Think of the best way to give the user a ‘pat on the back’ – a target they can achieve, for example, level of power, leadership or responsibility.

•     User experience – In 2013 we have no excuse for users to not be wowed by engaging straightforward graphics and an intuitive interface that helps them on their journey.

•     Social elements – The social viral loop has to be built into your platform. A fundamental principle of games for centuries is that they have been played with friends and family. Digital and social media helps amplify this, so think about the ability to challenge people or have the ability for the user to boast about their score via Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms.

The winners of the 2012 gamification award

The winners of the award last year were Janssen and Aurora with Sorted: The Daily Organiser, a simple task-setting orientated app designed to help people in the ADHD community. Daily tasks can be categorised and prioritised and personal goals set. Points are collected as daily tasks as completed, clearly demonstrating the reward element as outlined above.

The judges commented that it shows: “A good application of gamification techniques to really address a patient need” and “had all the right ingredients showing a real understanding of the ADHD brain”.

Further examples of gamification

A well-known example of gamification within the healthcare industry is Syrum, which was shortlisted for an award in 2012. This Facebook-based game informs the public about the pharmaceutical industry and users can track progress, exchange lab equipment, recruit lab assistants and steal scientific discoveries.

Outside our industry a raft of examples have already been very successful. These include: – First launched in the UK by Liam Maxwell, now the government’s CTO, whilst he was a councillor at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Residents get points for recycling waste that can be redeemed against vouchers to spend on the High Street. – A US example, where gamification is tackling obesity by getting people off the couch to lead a healthier lifestyle. gamifies its entire store using PowerReview’s social loyalty scheme. They offer points for actions for user reviews, comments and answering other customers’ queries. / Fuelband is one of the best examples of a healthcare element to gamification. Earn points and challenge friends by exercising. Could the pharma industry learn from what Nike is up to?

Idea Street – An initiative launched by the UK Department of Work and Pensions, which challenges its workforce to come up with a new innovation management platform. Ideas for change are posted by individuals, who can receive comments and votes, resulting in leader boards and a tie-in to staff rewards.


“Could the pharma industry learn from what Nike is up to?”


There are also a number of ‘off the shelf’ solutions that can be white-labelled or added to an organisation’s website: working with, Adobe, Intel working with Forbes, PC World, Talksport working with Microsoft, Samsung, Oracle

So where does gamification fit?

Deployed appropriately, the motivational design techniques of gamification can fit almost anywhere.

Gamification could be used for compliance training, research with sales reps, internal staff training and innovation. There may be opportunities to evolve healthcare professional (HCP) websites and detail aids using game design principles to engage, educate and ‘win more time’ in front of HCPs. In the future we may even see pharmaceutical and FMCG link ups where there is a fit – imagine the possibilities of a diabetes drug working with Nike to help patients. And in clinical trials we might use gamification techniques to encourage patients to fill in results and record outcomes, saving time and increasing data.

The key is to stick to the principles of understanding the business needs and how a particular communication might help further them. In that context, adding gamification to various marketing and business initiatives can educate, engage and enhance our customers’ and their customers’ lives.



About the authors:

Carwyn Jones is the PM Society digital interest group lead and MD of The EarthWorks. He can be found on Twitter here.

Faisal Ahmed is a PM Society digital consultant and co-author ‘Digital Unlocked’ a beginner’s guide to digital pharma. He can be found on Twitter here.

Learn more about Sorted and other winning 2012 Digital Media Awards entries via our Digital Breakfasts here:

What is the role of gamification within pharma?