Skip to navigation


Supporters changing lives

Playing for a cause

Mobile games can help your brand reach new audiences and show you’re supporting a charity to meet their objectives. Cancer Research UK recently developed Play to Cure in partnership with Google, Facebook and Amazon. Supporter Tony Selman and developer Mark Hastings talk about how the mobile game could help scientists find treatments for cancer

Play to Cure

In one month ‘citizen scientists’, like 72-year-old Tony Selman, analysed DNA data that would have taken a scientist six months to study by eye. But they weren’t all wearing white coats. They were playing Cancer Research UK’s new smartphone game 'Play to Cure: Genes in Space', launched in February 2014.  

"I’ve watched this game develop from the start and have played it. I think it’s marvellous,” says Tony, who has prostate cancer and is Cancer Research UK’s citizen science ambassador. “I know that the project won’t be able to help me but it will be a fantastic boost to help scientists discover new clues to the development of cancer more quickly – to provide effective new treatments for cancer to protect my grandchildren and future generations."

The game uses the collective force of players to analyse real genetic data which could provide scientists with information that helps them develop cures for cancer. Players guide a spaceship along an intergalactic assault course to collect precious material called ‘Element Alpha’. This produces information which is fed back to Cancer Research UK scientists, providing analysis of variations in gene data – a process which usually take years.

Reaching a wide audience

The game was developed with corporate sector partners, starting off with a GameJam in March 2013. For 48 hours, developers from Facebook UK, Google, Amazon and other companies and agencies, got together at Campus, a co-working space in the heart of East London's Tech City. Cancer Research UK asked them to test the concept of whether analysing real genetic data through a game was possible.

Scotland-based digital agency Guerrilla Tea used this expertise and the results that came out of the GameJam to build 'Play to Cure'. Amazon Web Services host the huge amount of data generated by the game.

"We wanted to create a game that successfully analysed the data but was fun to play so we could reach a wider audience, not only gamers or Cancer Research UK supporters,” says Mark Hastings, CEO at Guerrilla Tea. “One of the great things about mobile games is the fact that everyone plays them. Really all they are looking for is a fun game and something to hold their attention for a few minutes."

Mark says players have got in touch to say they used to think mobile games were a waste of time but it’s great to have one they can play whilst doing something good. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen more people start playing mobile games,” says Mark. “Charities can work with partners to make use of that trend to widen the base of their supporters, getting them involved in new and exciting ways, and extend their brand.”

Raising awareness

Wud U?

Barnardo’s is working with Microsoft on a new app, 'Wud U?', to help teachers and care professionals educate young people about behaviour that could put them at risk of being sexually exploited.

Please play and share the Barnardo’s web-based game ‘Skint’ to help raise awareness of child poverty.

<<Back to Impact