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McDonald's Interactive Sticks it to McDo... or do they?
June 07, 2006 - by Ian Bogost

This post has been updated, please see below.

According to their website, McDonald's Interactive was founded to help the parent company strategize about future markets. Yesterday, they announced their "intention to split from McDonalds." Why? Said co-director Andrew Shimery-Wolf: "We can no longer stand by while McDonald's corporate policies help lead the planet to ruin."

According to Shimery-Wolf, the group had created McMarketplace, a simulation of the global effects of the burger business. It worked well for training, but in long-term predictions, business ended in 2050, when everyone died due to climate change and dead earth. The game's model, which included some of the criticisms of Molleindustria's McVideogame, showed that executives chased profits at the cost of deforestation and other environmental disasters. Adding constraints to eliminate emissions trading, tune prices to the cost of production, and disallow deforestation changed the environmental strategies of players. You can read the full presentation from the UK Serious Games event.

But, apparently McDonald's has no interest in this kind of game, or this kind of change in mindset. So the people in charge of the game's creation are spreading the word until they get fired.

Now, if all that sounds too good to be true, it might be... because it is! Readers at Wonderland have pointed out that the WHOIS information for mcdonaldsinteractive.com seems to be fake, and the group's claim that they needed a climate simulation for a training game reeks of BS. But even if it's fake, as Alice said isn't it amazing that they had the courage to stand up in front of this particular audience and stick it to the man? Others wonder if the group is real, and they're just trying to set themselves up for a break with the real group. I think it's a hoax, but that begs another question: did the conference organizers know? My guess is that they didn't.

(via Kotaku, Wonderland)

Update: Kotaku seems to think it was Molleindustria themselves behind the prank, with their own game serving as the subject, but I'm not yet able to talk to them about it yet. The WHOIS resolves to an Italian domain registrar, but maybe that's coincidence. An attendee seems to think there is no connection.

A Wonderland commenter suggests that it's possibly the work of The Yes Men, which is more convincing to my ears.

Update 2: We're almost certain that the conference got Punk'd. The panel this was presented on had a bunch of other corporations, super prestigious ones like NCR and Bob Stone, and my friend Elina Koivisto from Nokia, who I know is legit. They were probably desperate for corporate speakers to draw a corporate crowd. Who wouldn't sign McDonald's on if they offered?

Update 3: Apparently the conference was supported by government funds, which might or might not have an impact on the aftermath of this event. Reportedly the speaker slammed BP during his talk, who were probably there in the audience. So if this was the case, presumably it was a deliberate attempt to get under that company's skin too. It's also worth reminding readers that anti-McDo sentiment in the UK has tremendous political precedent, given the so-called McLibel case, a twenty year long legal scuffle between McDonald's and British environmental activists.

Update 4: Just in case you needed any more evidence that this prank is a prank, Tim Holt has tracked down the map used on the slide depicted in the photo from the event (you can download the slides too). The presentation claims it is an MIT Climate model, but the image is clearly from a free global climate model created by Columbia University (see more in the comments).

Update 5: Thomas Claburn reports that an email response to a press request came back as:

McDonald's Interactive Press Office" <info@mcdonaldsinteractive.com>
Sent by: <admin@rtmark.com>

RTMark is a social software and social activism group known for anti-corporate shenanigans.

Comment from Ben Sawyer on June 06, 2006

So did you see the name of the presenter...

Andrew Shimmery-Wolf

"How Anglo-Saxon Batman!"

"You're right Robin except it's a Sheep in Wolf's clothing"

"What does that mean Batman?"

"Well Robin, the Wolf is McDonald's and Shimmery means to shine a light on something and the light is shining on a Wolf"

"And McDonald's is the Wolf Batman!"

"Exactly Robin. and Andrew if rewritten as just A gives us A Shimmery Wolf. The Riddler wants us to know that they are the sheep in wolve's clothing a cunning achievement that someone might have seen before it's too late."

"Holy Sherlock Holmes Batman!"

"Apparantly not in time Robin."

This is a play of course Robin - it's the Riddler at work.

Comment from Ian Bogost on June 06, 2006


Comment from Tim Holt on June 07, 2006

FYI the global temperature plot the presenter has on his presentation at...

...is this image...


...from a public/free global climate model.

Comment from Tim Holt on June 07, 2006

And a google of "coefficients ca cb da db" shows us the source of the economic model graph in the PPT...


... from ...


... about half way down.

Comment from Lisa Galarneau on June 07, 2006

I was there and while takem aback, I bought into the whole thing... (even talked on camera when asked my opinion and signed a release, doh!) but I will say that the business cards I was given by the two fellows were suspiciously lightweight. In retrospect, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if this wasn't a rather brilliant hoax... it was interesting, for instance, that the fellows had a team with video cameras following them and they were interviewing people about their response. Also... they weren't as forthcoming to the 'aren't you worried about losing your jobs' questions as you might think...

Comment from Kevin Corti on June 07, 2006

As another member of the audience (who thankfully decided not to get 'interviewed') I have to say that this was one of the best planned spoofs I have ever come across. I know from speaking to the organisers that they had their 'back story' exceptionally well worked out and although most of the audience were staggered by what they heard, I don't think that anyone actually questioned the legitimacy of the source.

Duped we may all have been however at least it once again demonstartes the potential for serious games to affect social change even, in this case, the isn't an actual game to play.

Maybe someone out there should sponsor the development of the concept!

Comment from zach whalen on June 07, 2006

This is fascinating. So does it count as a serious games ARG?

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Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, by Ian Bogost

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