Genentech is Saving San Francisco Through Maximum Parsimony

Genentech is Saving San Francisco Through Maximum Parsimony


Genentech Delivers Biotech Knowledge with Ralph’s Killer Muenster


Picture it…

One wet and rainy day on the streets of San Francisco, a local cheese manufacturer was en route to making one of its many routine deliveries when a series of misfortunate events transpired.  In the midst of the downpour, the delivery truck hit a slick spot in which the driver failed to maintain control and crashed into a light pole. Luckily, nobody was harmed and the truck only suffered minor damage but when the driver went to check on his load, he noticed that all of the cheese had disappeared! Lo and behold, the accident jarred the back doors open and released the cheese into the San Francisco city’s sewer system.

Although it was a shame to lose such quality product, the driver thought it was a minor price to pay for what could have led to even more detrimental consequences. However, the driver assumed wrong because as the muenster cheese entered into the sewer system, it mutated and began spreading rapidly.  The local cheese manufacturer knew it had a potential disaster on hand and the only way to avert a citywide take over by this mutant cheese is to enlist the help of its citizens to track its origin and defeat it through a Genentech antidote.


Back to Reality…

This scenario may seem a little farfetched to the educated adult but Genentech aims to attract a wide audience to their Ralph’s Killer Muenster app by using gamification as a fresh new way to teach biotech principles. For those who download this app available in the iTunes store, they are immersed into the hunt to scientifically track the source so the scientists at Genentech can release an antidote to save the city of San Francisco before it is overcame by the mutant muenster cheese.  In order to accomplish this formidable task, the amateur scientists must complete and solve a series of puzzles which concurrently teaches them about genetic processes and methods.

Genentech, a leading Biotech firm, saw the opportunity of using gamification as a way to educate aspiring scientists in a new and exciting way. Always striving for innovation, they decided to team up with design firm Ideo to bring this outlandish scenario to life through their Ralph’s Killer Muenster app, while also implementing specific game mechanics to emphasize the education of biotech principles.


Behind the Design

The designers created their own game mechanic called Maximum Parsimony which reflects a major genetic principle that is used to identify ancestral traits. Their use of this unique game mechanic even goes as far as implementing the exact scientific algorithm associated with Parsimony within the game itself. To further enhance the learning process, they combined unique visual representations of the 3 traits of the imaginary cheese so players can clearly identify the independent traits. By providing visual representations with actual scientific procedures, players are immersed into the biotech field and educated upon the principles underlying DNA and genetic sequencing, making it a bonafide educational tool that could be used by anyone interested in science and innovation.

genentech killer meunster genentech killer meunster
A term like Maximum Parsimony may seem too complicated and confusing, especially for school-aged children who would benefit most from the learning experiences provided in the game, but the app masterfully combines this new game mechanic with the user’s ability to identify patterns in order to teach DNA and genetics in a simple way.  Genentech’s goal by making this free mobile app available to iPad users was to reach a broader audience and educate those with a passion for science, innovation, and technology, with a hope it would be used within school curriculum as a new educational tool. All this comes on the heels of the 60th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA structure, the foundation of the work pioneered at Genentech and inspiration to educate the public through an innovative way as gamification provides.


Creating Buzz

Releasing the app by itself wasn’t going to create the hype and engagement that Genentech craved to achieve through Ralph’s Killer Muenster.  In order to spread the word, Genentech embarked on an unique marketing campaign specifically for this game. To begin with, they created a website that tells the story behind the mutant cheese outbreak and even has a blog from Ralph, the CEO of the mutant cheese manufacturer, demonstrating the panic of the situation that they have encountered. The mock online store even has pictures of Ralph’s illustrious products which just so happens to be “temporarily out of stock due to situations beyond their control.” If the website isn’t enough to buy into the scenario of the mutant cheese, Genentech has even deployed a Ralph’s Killer Muenster food truck on the streets of San Francisco where they actually sell grilled cheese sandwiches to the actual citizens plagued by this simulated outbreak.


With these effective marketing ploys in hand, Genentech is reaching their goal of educating the public on biotech principles through their cleverly designed app. By investing the time to create the unique game mechanic of Maximum Parsimony, Ralph’s Killer Muenster is more than just a recreational app and delivers genuine educational capabilities and impact upon players. The game design reflects Genentech’s mission to engage aspiring scientists in a fun and exciting way through the application of gamification techniques while also delivering educational value worthy of implementation in curriculum.


Margo is a product specialist and blogger, showcasing expertise in the areas of Gamification and Social Media, Margo’s day-to-day often includes writing topical B2B content, product research, and social media management.

 Reach out to Margo on Twitter @MargoKleman and Connect with her on LinkedIn


Need help with behavioral science and gamification? Get in touch with our boutique consulting agency Dopamine.