MEET THE DEVELOPER
There's No Cure for Plague, Inc.
Time has only made this indie game more infectious.
When he began work on Plague Inc. back in 2011, Ndemic Creations founder James Vaughan, then a business consultant, had small dreams. “It was a hobby,” he says. “I wanted to do something more creative, and I figured while waiting for my genius idea to come along, I’d build a game.”
The result wasn't just a game; it was a wonderfully crafted experience unlike anything on the App Store. In Plague Inc., players control diseases that are trying to infect and eradicate humanity. Inspired by the 2008 Flash game Pandemic (“The concept had a huge amount of untapped potential”), James drew on his background developing economic models to create a realistic simulation of how diseases might take over the world.
Sure enough, Plague Inc. spread as quickly as its name. Since its 2012 release, it’s climbed to more than 100 million players worldwide across all platforms, James tells us. And it continues to be one of the App Store’s top paid games.
At launch, James felt good about his creation, but didn’t realize how popular it would become.
“I didn’t make Plague Inc. to make money. It was more about building a game I wanted to play. I figured if I could earn back what I’d spent developing it, that’d be a glorious success,” he recalls. Looking back, he attributes Plague Inc.’s initial popularity to its uniqueness and the way it “appeals to all sorts of different people,” including hardcore and casual gamers.
The fact that Plague Inc. is fun and based on scientific principle means education is in its DNA.
James Vaughan, co-founder of Ndemic Creations
With Plague Inc. topping the iOS charts, James threw himself into expanding the experience. Over years of regular updates, he’s added new pathogens that significantly change the game, including a zombifying Necroa Virus and the Simian Flu (an official tie-in with the recent Planet of the Apes movies). He’s particularly proud of how the latter feels like your own “custom-built film” as you maneuver first the disease, then bands of super-intelligent apes to conquer the world.
James also released a separate scenario creator for user-created challenges within the main game. He’s even released a Plague Inc. board game with a companion app. And cute little plushies. This is how a franchise is born.
A learning experience
Pre-release, James hadn’t given much thought to Plague Inc. being a teaching tool. Then he was contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They offered to fly him out from Ndemic’s headquarters in Bristol, England, to talk to their scientists about Plague Inc. It was an experience James calls “unbelievably awesome.”
“I explained how I took the core science and reduced it down to a form that makes for a fun game, while also being scientifically relevant. Of course, I had to be very careful not to tell them how [the science] actually is, since they know it far better than me,” he laughs.
I like to think the Necroa Virus update is the most realistic zombie-attack simulation ever.