McDonald’s: The Masters of Gamification

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on our sister site,]

McDonald’s has been using Gamification long before us bloggers started talking about it. They’ve been using Gamification for nearly 25 years and considering we didn’t even have mobiles back then, they must have spent a lot of time and money creating their paper based Gamification engagement tool. The famous Monopoly board.

There are several great case studies I will refer to in this blog but will start with perhaps their most popular one, the McDonald’s and Hasbro partnership for the board game which began in 1987.

McDonald’s marketeers (even back then) knew that Gamification works to engage consumers even if they didn’t have the word ‘Gamification’ to describe it at the time.

You’ve all surely seen, known of or even collected the McDonald’s Monopoly stickers. This famous board game/tray paper/online game has become as well-known as the menu itself and literally thousands of people play offline and online every day. For the sake of this blog, I have spent a fair amount of time trying to investigate how much money McDonald’s has made and given away from this game and subsequent ones, but they’ve obviously mastered the art of keeping information like that away from search engines.  This game is so renowned that schemes were developed to win the higher prizes and at one point, even the FBI got involved. That’s how you know when you’ve made something people want to take part in! So much so that there are dedicated blogs to the game and forums where people are genuinely trying to help each other out to win prizes and ‘beat the system’. There are even ‘eBayers’ selling bulk-tokens and looking for the ever-elusive Boardwalk token, which is worth $1m.

McDonald’s consumers have admitted going to eat there everyday to collect the tokens for the Monopoly board, and so, like many good games, it seems it can be as addictive as the food itself. The combination of cheap and quick food and the possibility of winning $1m, $50m or even more cheap and quick food seems just too easy, especially when they give you online boards to print off, just in case you couldn’t get one in a restaurant.

Just type in McDonald’s Monopoly into Google and you can see the hundreds of dedicated websites to it.

The next two case studies have begun much more recently and utilize the technology we have today. With two games, consumers can use their mobile devices to interact with digital billboards to get free food from the nearest restaurant. The Pick n’ Play game didn’t need anyone to download anything, just the GPS function was used to ensure the mobile device was in the game area. This took place in Stockholm, Sweden and McDonald’s deem it to be such a success, they plan to roll out more digital screens playing Pick n’ Play in the future. The other game called ‘Catch One’ used the same technologies (mobile, GPS, digital screens) but this time passers-by used the camera function on the phone in order to take a picture of a fast-moving food item. If they were successful in taking the photo, they go to their local store, show the waiter the picture and get the free goody.

You may ask yourself why McDonald’s insist on giving away free food. But I would say it is extremely unlikely that anyone going into McDonald’s to claim a free burger leaves the restaurant with only a free burger. Who goes into a McDonald’s and doesn’t buy fries or a drink to go with their burger? And this is the premise they spend thousands of dollars developing and executing these games. If we imagine that every time someone goes in to claim a free burger they purchase small fries too at 70p per packet, that’s an extra £350 per 500 customers that the local restaurant otherwise would not have had.

The last case study I refer to is an online game, much like FarmVille, where as the player you get to run your very own McDonald’s restaurant and take part in farming for your McDonald’s ingredients. The game is so popular that again, websites and videos are dedicated to ‘hacking’ the system to get more coins.

This shows us that Gamification and Promotion (or ‘Gamotion’ as I called it in the last blog) can not only get your consumers more engaged in your brand or willing to buy more of your products but it obviously can (and has in the case of McDonald’s), helped to completely turn a once very bad reputation into a glowing one. McDonald’s was the subject of the 2004 film ‘Super Size Me’ which spawned a number of complaints. Before that, McDonald’s was sued for making people obese. Now they offer salads, reduced salt and sugar foods and tell us their chickens and cows roam the earth in ‘open farms’. Such very clever spin.

Other Gamification case studies are again online, aimed at children to take part in games to promote Happy Meals, the toys in the Happy Meals and whatever else McDonald’s are promoting at the time. Right now it’s The Smurfs. In these games children can become part of McWorld, play a plethora of different games and even build a family tree using an Avatar maker. Try a game for yourself.

McDonald’s really are the masters of Gamification, marketing and spin. If you want to get involved with Gamification, just ask yourself what McDonald’s would do!

About Betty Adamou

Betty Adamou is the founder of Research Through Gaming (R.T.G.), which can be found at She is also the editor of


  1. Trying to think, should I say great post or awesome post. Okay, AWESOME. Thanks

  2. Thank you Ken!


  1. […] people credit McDonald’s as a pre-digital gamification pioneer with its Monopoly game, where customers collect game pieces […]

  2. […] extremely effective. Perhaps the best known game-based marketing campaign in the United States is McDonald’s Monopoly game, but with the expansion of mobile technology and online social gaming, the possibilities for brands […]

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