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Commentary > Game Over
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Ronald McDonald: Joystick jockey
Fast food embraces the gaming industry
February 26, 2003: 10:46 AM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - I never would have pictured Ronald McDonald as a gamer.

Grimace? Sure. He's got the physique of someone who has spent a few too many hours sitting on the couch mashing gamepad buttons. Hamburglar? Undoubtedly, he's consulting with Eidos on the upcoming "Thief 3". And I'd easily believe Mayor McCheese logs a few hours per day playing "SimCity 4".

But Ronald? He just doesn't seem the type.

Apparently, though, my fellow redhead has been sneaking in a few rounds between Big Macs. And it appears he's enjoying it. The company bearing his name has been taking a more active interest in the video gaming industry over the past few months.

The perked up interest started last September, when Electronic Arts (ERTS: Research, Estimates) announced it had struck a multi-million dollar placement deal with the fast food giant which would allow players of "The Sims Online" to 'buy' a Mickey D's within the game and sell the company's products to earn "simoleans" (the game's currency). What's more, eating McDonald's (MCD: Research, Estimates) foods in the game improves your character's standing.

sonic  
Sonic is Sega's best known character, but can he sell Happy Meals?

That's pretty good promotion for the company. So how's it working out? So far, it's too early to tell.

The in-game McDonald's stores weren't included in the launch of "The Sims Online", but made their debut a couple of weeks ago, selling virtual burgers and ice cream. Despite the delay, McDonald's said it's still excited about the launch of the promotion.

"We were looking for different ways to connect with our customers," said Palmer Moody, a McDonald's spokesperson. "They are using all sorts of different media and online gaming is one of those. 'The Sims Online' is popular among a key audience segment."

Riding that optimism, the company last week announced pans to create a new line of Happy Meals featuring characters from Sega's popular Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Monkey Ball franchises. The toys will be available this summer.

McDonald's, obviously, is looking to get back in the black. The company reported its first quarterly loss in 38 years in January and Happy Meal sales have been dwindling for three years.

Its choice in partners this time around, though, is a little odd. To say Sega has not been having the best of years is a broad understatement. Sales have been dismal. And earlier this month, the company announced a surprise merger with Sammy, a Japanese maker of pachinko pinball machines. Gaming insiders now wonder if Sega will be able to remain competitive in the industry.

"Sega had the kind of game connection we were looking for with the Sonic character and the Super Monkey Ball characters," said Moody. "We think we can bring a fun, interactive toy into our restaurants that our customers will enjoy."

These recent experiments aren't Ronald's first dalliance with video games. In early 2001, McDonald's and Compaq (HPQ: Research, Estimates) joined forces to launch "McMagination" (really), interactive kiosks in stores that let diners play any of up to a dozen off-the-shelf video games.

 
Previous columns? Fish and chips? Click the dorky pirate.

Those never really took off, though. While a few remain in the Midwest, the kiosks haven't seen widespread distribution. Moody said he was not aware of the program's status these days.

The marriage of the multi-billion dollar fast-food industry and the $10 billion gaming industry is actually a pretty complimentary one. Both appeal to young consumers with plenty of disposable income. As yet, though, McDonald's competitors have taken a wait and see approach before striking their own deals.

That doesn't mean we can't speculate about good potential marriages, though. McDonald's beat Sonic, the drive-in burger chain, to the punch by signing a deal with Sega's best-known character. But there are tons of driving games that would tie-in well with the chain "Motor City Online", "Project Gotham Racing"... heck, even "Grand Theft Auto". Can't you see Nintendo's Mario making a career shift for Domino's or Pizza Hut? How about Pac Man gobbling up White Castles instead of dots? (Ok, I might be stretching a little there. Got any other ideas?)

The point is, don't be surprised if you see more tie-ins between gaming companies and other 'mainstream' companies in the months and years to come as the industry gains greater widespread acceptance. McDonald's may be one of the first multinational conglomerates to recognize this untapped audience, but it won't be the last.  Top of page


Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.




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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.