If you thought that it was strange for MTV to create its own virtual world, then you probably are forgetting how desperate companies always are to jump on the latest trends. With social media and virtual worlds becoming blazing hot in the 2000s, it wasn’t the worst idea to try to create a platform to draw consumers in, immerse them in the corporate brand, and subtly try to sell them more stuff.
And if there’s a company that still hasn’t found the bottom of the barrel of its shame in trying gimmicks to sell fatty, salty foods to people, it’s McDonald’s. The fast food giant long had a reputation for trying to appeal to kids as well as adults, particularly with its colorful mascots and toy-toting Happy Meals. So it only made sense that the company would give the go-ahead to develop an online game to fill the void between visits to Mickey Dees.
Thus, we were gifted with McWorld.
During the 1990s, McDonald’s took ownership of the term “McWorlds,” which initially was meant to represent the chain’s global spread. We were all part of McWorld now, the company liked us to think.
So when it came time to take a stab at this virtual hangout thing, recycling the McWorld label was a no-brainer. In 2008, the company launched a website with that name, offering kids an online clubhouse with “games, prizes, avatars, shopping, friends, and treehouses.” Treehouses? Sure, those Keebler elves don’t have the monopoly on living in trees, so why not?
Being a web game from 2008, of course it utilized Flash. Players were tasked with keeping their avatar happy and content by participating in games to increase their smarts, strength, and spark stats.
Obviously, McWorld was a not-so-cleverly hidden marketing campaign to encourage consumers to become even more deeply wedded to the McDonald’s brand. The games and cartoony visuals would draw players in, and by the time they were hooked, they found themselves wanting to head out to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal or two for “McCodes” that they could use for decorations and avatar cosmetics.
Kids who used it most fondly remember their treehouses, which was bigger on the inside than you might assume from looking at any given tree. There was also another area called Petsylvania where users could adopt and play with virtual pets, as well as minigames like Tiki Toss and Bumper Cars to while away the hours.
Weird as it is to say, there exists some powerful nostalgia for McWorld among the now grown-up kids who were there on the scene.
Advertising blogger Scott Goodson said the idea was a good idea at the time: “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.”
Believe it or not, McWorld wasn’t a here-today, gone-tomorrow fad. The virtual hangout stayed up and operational from 2008 all the way to 2014, at which point it was shuttered on February 7th of that year to be replaced by McPlay.
Did you ever dip your nuggets into McWorld back when it was running? If so, sound off in the comments!