McDonald’s is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Chicken McNuggets by opening something called McNuggets Land in metaverse platform The Sandbox.
It’s not the first time the fast food giant has shown interest in virtual worlds. The company filed a patent application to operate “a virtual restaurant online featuring home delivery” in 2022, but given the downturn in consumer and VC interest in Web3, it begs the question: why now, why this and is Grimace there?
Joining the land of McNuggets (which took me two attempts and over 10 minutes), you are greeted with pixelated McNugget characters such as “Coach McNugget” and his assistant, creatively named “Assistant Coach McNugget.”
Coach McNugget invites players to start the fun by finding four McDonald’s signs, and what gamer doesn’t seek an adventure like this? But off I went to find them. By playing the game, players can earn rewards including a 100,000 SAND shared prize pool (roughly $44,000) and “mystery boxes,” according to a press release.
The experience is spearheaded by the Hong Kong arm of McDonald’s, and Hong Kong users have the chance to win coupons as well as the big prize: “365-day free Chicken McNuggets.”
The blocky world is adorned with the catchphrase “Please Share” on signs and in cartoonish speech bubbles which is meant to encourage sharing nuggets with friends but comes off as a desperate plea. (I’m reminded of Jeb Bush’s sad call to “please clap” on a 2016 campaign trail stop.)
Randy Lai, the CEO of McDonald’s Hong Kong, said that “McDonald’s has always strived to deliver innovative experiences and Happy Moments” but unlike the recently viral Grimace birthday shake celebration in the U.S., the experience feels acutely marketed, with pixelated McNuggets spewing salesy phrases as part of the gamified experience. After being told which sauce each anthropomorphized nugget wanted to dip itself in before meeting its glorious end, I was ready to exit the virtual golden arches.
The CEO of the Sandbox, Sebastien Borget, said in a press release that "collaborating with a global brand like McDonald's, with its extensive customer base, takes The Sandbox to a new level and brings us closer to realizing the ultimate goal of mass adoption of the metaverse.”
But does it? The Sandbox has had a number of big brands launch experiences and virtual worlds within its metaverse, including Adidas, Atari, Gucci and many others. I have personally found The Sandbox much easier to navigate and generally more fun than its rival Decentraland, which has struggled with maintaining a robust number of daily active users. That said, would I visit The Sandbox if my job wasn’t to cover Web3? Probably not.
Brands have been trying activations in various metaverses for years that often toe the line between whimsical and cringe from Snapple opening a bodega to Taco Bell hosting a metaverse wedding. When food or drink is introduced into these experiences, people can’t help but wonder what the point of Miller Lite’s Meta Life Bar or spice maker McCormick’s “House of Flavor” was, when you can’t eat, drink or even smell in the metaverse.
While both activations saw some enthusiasm on Twitter upon launch, these gimmicky launches have melted into irrelevance already, with very few people talking about or trading NFTs from either one less than two weeks later.
With much of the venture capital money moving from the metaverse to AI and giants like Disney shuttering their metaverse arms, brands throwing their hats in the Web3 ring now seems ill-timed. Launches which may have seemed silly but fun when crypto was riding high seem embarrassing and strange in 2023’s atmosphere of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) crackdowns and ongoing crypto winter.
If brands like McDonald’s want to have success in Web3, they have to give people a better “why” than what McNuggets Land offers. Starbucks’ Odyssey, the coffee company’s Web3 loyalty program has hit snags along the way, but makes more inherent sense by tying in its customers’ existing behaviors (buying coffee in their real stores) with virtual rewards and digital collectibles that give extra value to activities they are already doing. Along the way, Starbucks is creating a community and gathering valuable feedback it can incorporate when it rolls out Odyssey for all customers.
The unhappiest meal of all in McNuggets Land: There was no Grimace in sight.