There are only three controls in EpiPen Tycoon. You can increase the price of an EpiPen by $5, reduce it by $5, or, in the rare occasions that the public gets too mad at you, deploy a few outrage-deflating special bonuses. The goal is simple: you, Heather Bresch, are the CEO of Mylan. You want to make as much money as possible by selling EpiPens. If your customers die, they die.
The game is an effective, simple satire of the Shrekli-esque EpiPen price gouging controversy that’s been in the news for a bit over a week. A quick refresher: Pharmaceutical company Mylan has been under fire ever since Senator (and Twitter user) Chuck Grassley wrote a letter to the company asking why the price of an EpiPen pack had increased by 400 percent from $57 to $600 since 2007. Bresch is the public face of Mylan and she has bore the brunt of public outrage after she was found dumping $5 million worth of shares just before Mylan made their earnings public. She then claimed that “nobody is more frustrated” than her. She’s attempted to allay public clamor by announcing a generic, $300 version of a drug that costs $1 to make, but she’s still a pariah, and even Mylan’s celebrity spokesperson has left the company.
The simple browser game is a game about balance. There is an outrage meter that you can tip back and forth between the poles on either end (“Investors” on one side, “Public” on the other) as the price fluctuates. Your salary rises as the price of the medicine does, and 8-bit customers come to the Mylan building with peanut or bee allergies, either dying or leaving with an EpiPen.
Your goal is a simple one: get your salary to $25,000,000. If the public gets too mad, their outrage can trigger an event that will compound itself, such as, “A Slate intern just wrote a hot take about how mean you are!” The inverse is true too, and investors will curtail your private jet usage if you keep the price stagnant too long. As the price creeps up, the amplitude of an outrage swing increases with it. You can’t make anyone happy when you jack the price up beyond $1,500 per pen, it seems.
The mechanics of outrage deflation are simple, but they get to the heart of how pubic outrage works and doesn’t work. The game’s invisible hordes don’t care when someone dies and makes an unsettling deathbarf sound. But when “Matt Lauer just called the situation ‘troubling!’” comes up, everyone gets mad. Early on, I tried to ward them off by reducing the price, but that doesn’t do anything. If you wait outrage out, the meter depletes shockingly fast, and you can get right back to gouging. Even if “A celebrity is tweetstorming about how bad you are!”, all you have to do is chill. Everyone moves on quickly, just like they do in real life, and your salary keeps going up.
The darkly comic message at the heart of EpiPen Tycoon becomes clear once you try to balance the increasingly unwieldy outrage budget late in the game. The public can’t take you out if you eat enough shit and have tools like “Blame Obamacare” or “Call Your Dad (Senator)“ or “Offer Generic Version” at your disposal. It’s effective satire because of how easy it is to win. Just keep deflating the bubble of public outrage, keep your investors from ousting you, and eventually, you win the game.
Just like the IRL Heather Bresch, your character wins the game by taking a golden parachute off to a private jet. Martin Shrekli takes over Mylan and Bresch heads off to St. Barts, writing home that “I can’t wait until Zika gets its start!” It’s a bitter finale to a morbid game, which was quick enough and fun enough not to get heavy-handed. You could do a lot worse in the “timely political satire browser game” genre, even if the moral of the story is that power wins.
Mylan still has a monopoly on the EpiPen, and the wave of outcry at their quasi-monopoly and Bresch’s astronomic salary increase has already crested. As the game lays out, outrage only goes so far against. The rich won; at least you can still make fun of them.