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Will Boehringer succeed with Syrum?

Time will tell if Boehringer’s bold ambitions for its Facebook game can be fulfilled

Boehringer Syrum drug builderIt's not yet two months since Boehringer gave its Facebook game Syrum a Europe-only beta launch and, as such, far to early to make a call on whether it will be a success or not.

I'm also not the right person to speculate whether Syrum will succeed on face value as game. Not when my idea of a good game is spending a few minutes slashing at defenceless pomegranates on Fruit Ninja.

In contrast to such high octane, devil-may-care fun, Syrum, which sees players compete on Facebook to run their own pharmaceutical company and develop drugs to combat a range of deadly diseases, is very much a slow burn.

Intended as a 'social game', it is not only played within Facebook, like Farmville, but players can also use the social network's mobile 'check-ins' to earn in-game rewards and connect with their Facebook friends to collaborate on molecule development.

But rather than asking whether Boehringer will make a success of Syrum, perhaps we should be looking at the potential gains for the company if it does succeed – and here, already, the company is considering different versions of the game.

“In the future there could be an opportunity to do a more advanced version for physicians, where we have more in-depth clinical studies and go into more of the medical side of stuff,” the company's director of digital John Pugh told me at Syrum's launch event.

“We've talked about what we can do in the US, for example, where you've got direct-to-consumer advertising, perhaps we could do something different there. The beauty of Facebook is that it allows you to segment your audience, so we can have a game that is only available in America and a different version elsewhere.

High five, swan dive or nose dive?

Syrum isn't the first time pharma has used games and gaming. It isn't even the first time this year that Boehringer has worked in this space – in June its collaboration with online research community Kaggle produced academic-standard data models in just three months. But the scale of Boehringer's new game, not to mention its ambitions, place the company in unknown territory for pharma.

Certainly it will be incredibly tough to break into a consumer games market dominated by mega brands that measure their numbers of daily players in the millions.

But, although many people have questions about why Boehringer has done this, no-one wants to know why footwear company Nike develops technology like Nike+, or why cereal brand Special K runs online health and fitness programmes.

So if, and it's a big if at this stage, Syrum attracts a sizable public or professional audience, my guess is we won't be asking why Boehringer developed a Facebook game. We'll be speculating on who's going to do it next and asking why no one thought of it sooner.

2nd November 2012

From: Marketing

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