How McDonald’s has transformed a family-friendly game into a gamified enterprise.
With the prospect of becoming tens of thousands of dollars richer all by purchasing a Big Mac, it’s no wonder McDonald’s Monopoly attracts a (Mc)flurry of participants.
While the traditional Monopoly board game may evoke frustrating memories of paying rent on Mayfair and getting stuck in jail, McDonald’s has successfully integrated this sentimental experience into tasty transactions of burgers and fries.
As identified by Professor Gerda Reith, through the use of new mobile technologies and gamification, the home of the Big Mac has intensified the notion of consumerism by encouraging hungry participants to consume products from the ubiquitous golden arches via a variety of platforms. Undoubtedly, McDonald’s Monopoly is a perfect example of games and gaming technologies transcending their traditional boundaries, but are we really lovin’ it?
While the expansion of gaming technology is fundamentally embedded in the techno-economic systems of late capitalism, I believe McDonald’s Monopoly has exceeded the boundaries of their social contract as a globalized food enterprise by exploiting a traditional family-centric game into a gamified, gambling commercial campaign.
Gaming, but not as we know it.
As defined by author Alan Chorney, gamification asserts that the mechanics typically characteristic of video gaming environments can be harnessed and transposed to non-gaming contexts. Informed by video game design patterns, such techniques are implemented with the aim of enhancing user engagement and driving customer retention.
While gaming has historically been viewed as a distinct, interpersonal interaction, Professor Joshua Daniel-Wariya argues that modern media technologies are uniquely positioned to facilitate play as they offer endless repeatability and hyper-customization. Furthermore, media scholar Frans Mayra notes this rise of gamification by large corporations has effectively generated new, addictive digital environments, seamlessly blurring the lines between traditional consumption patterns and novel activities.
McDonald’s has effectively merged the best of both worlds — ‘old world’ nostalgia and ‘new world’ digital gamification mechanics — to graft classic Monopoly game design elements onto a commercialized context, accessed through ubiquitous digital mobile platforms. As posited by author Henry Jenkins, this form of marketing convergence has allowed McDonald's to insinuate itself across its customers’ digital platforms successfully capturing dispersed consumption habits.
Rolling the dice at every bite.
In their analysis of what they describe as the ‘new frontier’ of mobile gaming, Cesar Albarres Torres and Gerard Goggin argue that the 24/7 availability of gamified mobile apps has allowed commodified consumption practices to become increasingly ubiquitous and intensive. Through using mobile communications as a key aspect of McDonald’s Monopoly gameplay, McDonald’s has released consumption from the physical confines of their stores and facilitated its spread throughout the daily rhythms of everyday life.
Just when we thought their salty hot fries and creamy choc-fudge sundaes were delectable enough, the lure of having a 1-in-5 chance of winning a variety of prizes (from Macca’s goodies to a seven-night European holiday) has effectively eroded the distinctions between ‘social gaming’ and ‘chance gambling’. Analyst Amy Jokim notes the redeemable prizes, collectable pieces and the lure of winning reflect guileful gaming mechanics used to create a more fun, compelling and addictive experience.
The result? Dubbed an environment of ‘continuous control’ by author Gilles Deleuze, this utilization of gamification has stimulated desire and encouraged play for underage participants that would be banned from traditional gambling platforms. While commandeering a traditional family-friendly game and turning it into a commercial ‘digital game of chance’ enterprise is not unlawful, the spend-eat-your-way-to-a-prize format arguably oversteps the moral boundaries of seemingly family-friendly ‘play’, particularly where many of the players are children under 18.
It’s all fun and games…until you’re stuck in jail.
Scholar James Ash, in his book The Interface Envelope, identifies that capturing consumer attention through a variety of psychological gamification techniques is central to the modern monetization of audiences. And while I agree that new media technologies represent a powerful and effective conduit for play, I believe there is a boundary for corporations when creating economic value in traditionally non-commercial contexts.
Put simply, when ‘value’ is created through the repeated consumption of Big Macs and implicit promotion of gambling masked as a nostalgic experience, players are pacified in a mechanical, mediatized world where an equal exchange between consumer and producer is non-existent.
The amalgam of family memories and addictive gaming techniques with the lure of chance rewards may be a smart, novel marketing campaign for McDonald’s to continually engage customers across a variety of platforms. However, I believe this campaign crosses the blurred line from responsible marketing to unhealthy exploitation of the customer.