Coronavirus leads to sales spike of Plague Inc., a game about pandemics

The real-time strategy game tasks players with evolving a virus that will wipe out humanity.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read
Ndemic Creations

As the high-profile coronavirus spreads, Plague Inc., a real-time strategy video game that tasks players with spreading a deadly pathogen, has seen a dramatic uptick in sales

"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," Ndemic Creations said in a statement Thursday. And maybe to engage in a bit of black humor. 

The game, available for iOS and Android, as well as for Steam and consoles, came out in 2012. It has players pick a pathogen and strategize how to transmit it while countering actions by governments and scientists attempting to contain the global threat.

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"Your pathogen has just infected 'Patient Zero,'" reads a description of the title. "Now you must bring about the end of human history by evolving a deadly, global plague whilst adapting against everything humanity can do to defend itself."

On Wednesday, Plague Inc. became the top-selling app in China, reported the BBC, which suggested some people were downloading the game to cope with fears around the still-mysterious virus. On Friday, Ndemic Creations said its website and servers were struggling to keep up with the high player demand.

The coronavirus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected more than 1,300 people and killed over 40 as of Saturday, with cases now confirmed in Asia, the US, Europe and Australia.

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Plague Inc. relies on an epidemic model with a complex, realistic set of variables to simulate the spread and severity of a pandemic. The developer has spoken to staff at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta about the game's disease models, and the CDC has said the title "creates a compelling world that engages the public on serious public health topics." 

But amid coronavirus fears, Ndemic Creations warns that the game shouldn't replace a scientific understanding of the illness. 

"Please remember that Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people," the company said. "We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities."

Originally published Jan. 24.
Update, Jan. 25: Brings number of coronavirus infections and deaths up to date.

Ndemic Creations