Neuroanatomy hits the jackpot with 3.5 million plays in one month. This game about brains took Wellcome Trust’s message to the masses

The brief

The Wellcome Collection is one of London’s leading exhibition spaces featuring curated shows exploring the connections between medicine, life and art. As part of their engagement remit, the Collection has a growing portfolio of free online games designed to extend the reach of the subjects and themes from their exhibitions.

Following the success of our High Tea game for their High Society exhibition, the Wellcome Collection commissioned us to produce a game to accompany their latest show, Brains: The Mind as Matter. This major new exhibition explores one the of the most complex entities in the universe – the human brain and what humans have done to brains in the way of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change. Featuring more than 150 objects including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, artefacts, videos and photography, Brains follows the long quest to manipulate and decipher the most unique and mysterious of human organs, whose secrets continue to confound and inspire.

Our response

Axon is a game set inside a foetal brain, modelling real biological phenomena found in neural development.

The game challenges players to grow their neuron as long as possible; climbing through brain tissue, out-competing rival neurons and creating as many connections to distant regions of the brain as they can.

We worked closely with the exhibition curator Marius Kwint and neuroscientist Richard Wingate as well as the Wellcome Collection digital team to ensure the science learnings were fully embraced and embedded in the core of the game.

Taking the anatomy of the brain as a starting point, and a video showing the microscopic growth of neurons in a chicken’s brain, the team combined scientific and games-making expertise to create a challenging, enjoyable game that has its roots in real science. A concise explanation of the science behind the game, the video, and links to Wikipedia articles on neuroanatomy are included, as part of a holistic, scientific approach to casual gaming.

We developed Axon for a mainstream audience using games portals to seed, increase reach and encourage distribution.

Axon is a fun and engaging game experience which offers players a rare glimpse of how the brain is formed and an ‘inside the brain’ introduction to the strange world of neurons, proteins and axons.

Designed with portability and ‘portal-appeal’ the game has been distributed using our online publishing strategy. In the first week of launch AXON was played over 1 million times, and has had an overwhelming response from the gaming community, twitter and journalists. Within the first month AXON has been played over 3.5 million times making it one of our most successfully online published games.

"Preloaded were the perfect partners to develop Axon. From the initial ideas meeting to their execution of a well-crafted, beautiful game, working with them has been an inspiration and a pleasure."

Danny Birchall, Web Editor, Wellcome Collection

The Results

  • 3.5 million

    Gameplays in first month

  • 1+ million

    Gameplays in launch week

  • Nominations

    Webbys - Official Honoree, Best Game (2013)
    Armor Games - Game of the Year (2012)
    TIGA Awards - Arcade Game (2012)