by: Scott Goodson
What can we learn from McDonald's creating their own virtual world? That they are moving into their own customized world says one thing to me, that it will become more valuable for brands to create and curate their own virtual worlds rather than joining existing public virtual worlds.
The reason being that the brand not only benefits from being in an innovative virtual world, but it owns the media and, over time this media, will become more and more valuable. Very smart marketing on the part of the firm and equally smart business.
From Virtual Worlds: McDonald's is apparently in the process of soft-launching a virtual world to take over HappyMeal.com. It's not clear how old the world is, but the contest is still open for kids to pick the virtual world's name--and, according to the intro video, new games, lands, events, etc., to build the world from the ground up based on videos.. So I'm guessing the transition is pretty new, possibly even just from last week. There is already an eye toward real-world integration: entering a code from actual Happy Meal boxes and bags as well as McDonald's milk cartons and Apple Dipper bags will let users unlock exclusive items in the Flash-based virtual world. Treehouse There are also already a fair number of environments available for play in addition to a customizable treehouse where you can store some of your virtual goods. Other items will customize users' avatars, add interactive pets, or feature interactive characters from movies, comic books, and TV shows. Aside from the cost of a Happy Meal, the website says everything is free for its users. Users can also earn points towards purchases simply by completing activities in the virtual world, but it seems like there will still be exclusive items available only for McDonald's customers. There also appears to be a metagame, where characters earn points and have "smarts," "strength," and "spark," stats. Points are earned through all the in-world activities, and the goal is to "keep your avatar happy" by keeping all three stats at their maximum level while playing. I'm not sure what that does, though. In addition to the casual games, there are also larger quests for users to complete as interactive stories throughout the world. Piratebay The registration process doesn't take much information from users, keeping it fairly private. Users can also simply login quickly as guests without providing any information. Of course, then they can't build their characters and houses over time. On the safety side, users can chat and add to a buddy list, but it looks like chat is done entirely through pre-set phrases. However, while there's a "Parent's Retreat" on the main site, I can't find any information specifically about the virtual world to confirm its safety precautions.