Plague Inc game goes viral amid coronavirus outbreak

Surge of downloads has prompted game developers to remind users it is 'not a scientific model'.

Plague Inc: topped chart in countries including China, UK and US
Plague Inc: topped chart in countries including China, UK and US

A game in which players are tasked with creating and evolving a pathogen into a deadly plague that can destroy the world has become the most downloaded paid mobile game in 80 markets around the world, against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

Plague Inc is a strategy simulation mobile game, developed and published by UK-based independent studio Ndemic Creations. It has been trending as the top paid game by daily iPhone downloads in 80 markets as of 3 February, according to data from App Annie. For comparison, it was the top paid game in only seven markets one month ago (6 January).

The markets where it featured as the number one paid game include China, Japan, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the US.

Plague Inc overtook Minecraft in the US as the top paid app on 23 January, according to Apptica.

The game is available as a paid app for $0.99 on iOS and free to download on Google Play. It features lower in the Google Play store – number one by daily downloads in only one market (Belarus) as of 3 February – due in part to the fact that it is competing in the free app section.

The surge of downloads during the coronavirus outbreak has prompted the game's developers to issue a statement, reminding users that it is "a game, not a scientific model". The statement, released on Ndemic Creations' website, guides people to obtain information about the coronavirus from certified health authorities, such as the World Health Organization.

In the statement, the developers noted that Plague Inc has experienced spikes during disease outbreaks before: 

"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.

"We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalising serious real-world issues. This has been recognised by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other leading medical organisations around the world.

"However, 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. We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities."

A version of this story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific


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