Star Wars + McDonald’s VW = A Whole New Concept?

When McDonald’s launched its virtual world last month, the site’s description already promised to bring more interactive characters from movies, comic books, and TV shows. Characters from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” are the first to get the treatment. Today McDonald’s announced that the movie would be featured in its physical Happy Meals, which feature special codes to unlock content in the virtual world. It seemed inevitable that the physical Happy Meal promotions would get virtual tie-ins, and, just as in the real world, you’ll  find Star Wars characters in your virtual Happy Meal for a limited time only.

Through September 10, users can play in a new space-themed area, complete a Jedi quest with Yoda, and unlock six exclusive Jedi characters with codes from the meal. It looks like the space station and Republic gunship haven’t arrived yet, though.

There’s split opinion over niche, brand-based worlds. Some analysts think they’re the best way for a brand to connect to its audience. Some brands, like Coke, are joining larger worlds to access the existing audience.

Virtual Worlds News: Star Wars Heads to McDonald’s Virtual World

GREAT thought process from the gentlemen at Virtual World News… The “split opinion” commentary = exactly what I’ve been rambling about for a few years now (wow… years? Weird).

McDonald’s virtual world, as I mentioned, was a relatively solid contender when you think about how it’s more of a marketing agenda than say… a virtual world based purely on play pattern & original IP.  I’m pretty obsessed with my tutu (on my av that is), and currently trying to sway some “non tutu believers” into incorporating such unique goofiness in another “VW” that I’m closely tied to (water up a hill, sigh – makes me wish I still had that video tape from the College where the ATO frat house did a “large man in tutu” version of the the Suger Plum Fairy dance in The Nutcracker – football boys & tutus = hilariously awesome).

To be honest.  I don’t even eat McDonald’s.  I gave it up in college during soccer.  In fact, I don’t eat fast food either (to keep my girlish figure I had to decide: cookies or fast food? Cookies won, hands down).  So, perhaps I’m starting off on a better foot than the kiddies because I won’t be swayed to eat at McD’s just by joining the world (just like I wasn’t swayed to eat there as a kid when they had that really cool McD drive through window for Barbie… dude, that thing was cool).  So, VW prompting kids to eat there is a valid point to make, but I’m only going to skim that (leave it to those better mentally equiped to con the vw to food to obesity commentary, not really my bag today).

But I digress.  McD is one thing, McD as a virtual world supporting the restaurants is another, but JEDI into the mix?  <My does flip flops and I suddenly giggle with evil delight> 

Yes, yes… it’s a licensed brand promo tying into a licensed brand (forgive the crudeness of the term) pimp.  I know there are a lot of wonderful folks out there who are anti-marketing, and therefore uber-licensed kids meals = insult.  I still remember the Willow glasses available at Burger King – and how much I wanted one of those glasses (despite the fact the movie scared the living crud out of me – those egg monsters turning into three headed dragons?  Uck – nightmare), regardless of the fact I didn’t like Burger King food (forgive me ‘The King’ – I still love your creepiness).  And when Subway had the Bobby’s World toys while I was in High School?  I regulary lied to get my hands on those toys (made them into key chains).  People like to get stuff, especially kids (or juvenial adults like myself).

Jedi + Happy Meal = obvious, given that Clone Wars seems to be a Star Wars movie made specifically for the kid & tween audience (Baby Jabba the Hutt? Ugh, seriously? 1970’s Lucas would not have let such a thing happen).  But Jedi in their VW?  Again – this is embarking on newish territory.

Newish, izzy?  Newish. 

Before – people were micro-licensing parts of established virtual worlds, like Habbo & Buildabearville & Webkinz.  Both Buildabearville & Webkinz are both product worlds with established IPs (although, Webkinz started as one of the first product&VW combo to establisher their own identity, whereas BBV was a beary product first).  Both worlds are trying to pedal their own product, etc.

There’s something slightly different with the Happy Meal Virtual World.  Food location + toy & theme + licensed product.  McD HP isn’t trying to “sell” their product nearly as directly (it’s a theme, but not something you go to the store for, and chances are – if you go to McD land, it’s because you’re already a regular customer, and McD is just trying to create a McD-based fort for you to establish your identity within w/o having to smear you in McD-specific products).  Buildabearville’s main objective is to up-sell their products, followed by continuation of their play pattern product.  If they happen to also cross-license Hello Kitty for some sort of in-store tie in, then so be it.  Happy Meals rarely to NEVER provide McD based toys.  They’re ALWAYS working with other licenses… and that means – McD world could be a constant roll of new products.  They’re going to constantly have themes in the virtual world that support OTHERS.  And if you like the themed-toy, you like it.  If not, then you don’t like it – and won’t have to fear because in two-three weeks there will be a new theme, and you’ll most likely like that one better. 

Naturally, it behooves McD for you to like their micro-themes (like Star Wars), and the micro-license is eager for you to like them too – so the combo effort will be solid enough to entertain the end user in some degree.  But over all – it’s just a 1/5 of your overall VW expeirence, and you still have the other 4/5 of that experience to rely on.  It’s not an overtly new concept, others have tried similar, but nearly to the same degree (in my opnnion) as McD.

If second life or habbo were original dual IPs (restaurant & toy) that also invited others to set up shop – that might be more on target with McD’s path.  Or if  Stardoll was a real store (like say, Delias or Limited or Gap Kids), but also allowed other vendors in their VW experience (as they do), while upselling the others more than themselvs (or at least with the weight of exclusivity on their side).

It’s a bit like what Nicktropolis is doing – allowing licensed brands into their virtual world (re: Mario Galaxy room & ads), but cleaner (less ‘tacked on’ rooms/brands, and more cohesive to the over all experience).

I’d LOVE the ability to purchase a Jedi cloak and keep it in the McD virtual world for the next year.  A lightsaber?  Heck yeah!  Why?  Because I give up any thought process of “upsell” in lieu of my overall objective as a user: getting what I inherently want… a cloak & a lightsaber.

Which comes back to the original thought: products within OTHER virtual worlds, as opposed to products creating their own virtual worlds to support their product.  I have a feeling in the next year we’re going to see more experimentation with licenses & virtual worlds & cooperation & cross-promotion & competitors working together. 

Now, wht I’m also interested in is… how will the anti-marketing parents react to such a thing?  Webkinz already hadd their pitch-fork outcry for the Alvin and the Chipmunk debacle.  Will there be another rally?  Will there be a public need for more balance?  Less license?  Will uber-licensed VWs actually end up helping increase the numbers of non-licensed VW’s (like Dizzywood & Zookazoo & Elf Island & Wisenhiemer)???? 

What do you think?

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