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McDonald's rolls out 1.5 billion fry boxes for augmented-reality World Cup video game

In what may be the largest mainstream roll out of an augmented-reality game in history, McDonald's has been selling fries in a redesigned container that is used as a goal in a trick-shot soccer game.

The international fast-food chain printed 1.5 billion fry boxes to replace the iconic red boxes used in 119 countries as part of their celebration of the FIFA World Cup.

To play, a gamer has to download the free app on a smartphone or tablet and once in the game, aim the camera at the soccer-decorated fry box. The game then turns the real world view of a box of fries sitting on a table into a soccer scene. The box becomes the goal and the table the pitch. The object of the game is to flick the virtual ball displayed on the screen into the goal. As players progress the game adds animated obstacles. Eventually, the game starts to turn other real objects into things that the ball can be bounced off of for increasingly elaborate trick shots. The app features three levels and time trials. Eventually, playing the game unlocks a pitch editor.

The concept is meant to capture the essence of trick shots, taking a soccer ball and bouncing it into baskets on moving trucks, or through third-story windows, or juggling the ball with your feet as you spin and flip on the ground.

The game was rolled out in conjunction with the first-ever redesign of McDonald's french fry packaging. A dozen artists from around the world were chosen to create new soccer-themed art work for the special boxes. They include designs from Australia, the United States, Russia, South Africa and, of course, Brazil.

"This is the first time in brand history we're changing the packaging design of one of our customers' most favorite menu items on a global scale, and what better reason than to share in the excitement of one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world," Steve Easterbrook, Senior Executive, vice president and global chief brand officer of McDonald's, said in a prepared statement. "This is about bringing fun, innovative programming to our customers and celebrating our shared love of futbol. We're excited to be able to do that through an engaging, interactive mobile experience, and of course with our world-famous fries."

The game is the brainchild of Trigger, a digital agency that specializes in creating content for mobile devices.

"We build games, apps, sites and focus on augmented reality as well," said Natasha Weinstein, account director.

Games, Weinstein said, have become an increasingly powerful tool for marketing brands. That's because games, if they're made right, tend to outlive things like television ads or print ads.

"Our goal is to build brand recognition and entertain as well," she said. "When we're making a game the question is: ‘Is this fun?' We always go back and try to answer those questions.

"A gamer should be entertained by what we create."

While the game currently requires the special fry boxes to play, Weinstein said that will change once the World Cup wraps up. McDonald's plans to release a print out that can be used to create the goal, when the Cup has ended, she said. Then anyone can play the game.

"The reaction of the public has been positive so far," she said. "If you really get comfortable with the game you can set up some really cool shots. That's what we're hoping people will do."

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.