MARCH 1, 2016 • The Swedish branch of McDonald’s Corp. is the test market for the fast food conglomerate’s first foray into virtual reality. A special edition Happy Meals container will be distributed to the 15 McDonald’s in Sweden the weekends of March 5 and March 12. The box can be refolded into a VR viewer with lenses included in the box. A smartphone then needs to be inserted into the Happy Goggles viewer. The promotion is tied to a national holiday where families often go skiing, so McDonald’s is providing a ski-themed VR title, se upp i backen. The game challenges players to avoid obstacles and is endorsed by the Swedish National Ski Team. McDonald’s has not said whether it intends to bring Happy Goggles to other markets.
Impact: It’s a big leap from a $4 Happy Meal to $799 HTC Vive, yet these two VR products are connected. You cannot escape VR hype these days. The buzz is so extensive that investors are clamoring to lay down hard cash on available software development not to be left behind, regardless of whether the market can support a flood of VR product. Tying virtual reality to Happy Meals is a brilliant move by McDonald’s. DFC sees huge mainstream appeal to VR that won’t be satisfied by high-end Oculus Rifts or HTC Vives. McDonald’s could easily force the issue by bringing Happy Goggles to major markets, and then provide several virtual reality titles a year. That could spur many children to demand more visits to the chain, which is enough reason for the promotion in its own right. Yet in the process, McDonald’s could also seed a young audience for virtual reality that only Mattel’s $29.95 View-Master VR can exploit.
The View-Master takes the same philosophy behind Google Cardboard VR and Happy Goggles but provides a high-quality plastic casing for the viewer that supports four-inch to six-inch Android and iOS smartphones. Mattel has its own virtual reality content yet the View-Master VR is compatible with smartphone titles already available. The mainstream future of VR probably lies more with kids than it does with core gamers or technology early adopters. If McDonald’s goes big with its Happy Meal VR, we can see products like View-Master VR benefit immediately, creating an audience that graduates to more expensive VR platforms as that audience ages. Children are the VR play more in the games industry should be looking at.