McDonald's Turns Happy Meal Boxes Into Virtual Reality Viewers

Special Happy Meal boxes can be folded into a virtual reality viewer and will be offered in 14 McDonald's stores in Sweden under a March promotion.

McDonald's, VR viewer, VR, Happy Meals, Google Cardboard, Sweden

Fourteen McDonald's restaurants in Sweden will offer special Happy Meal boxes that can be folded into simple "Happy Goggles" virtual reality viewers under a special promotion being held for two weekends in March.

About 3,500 of the special foldable Happy Meal boxes for children will be available over the weekends of March 5 and March 12 as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the McDonald's Happy Meal in Sweden, according to a Feb. 29 announcement by the company.

The idea is to encourage children to create a virtual reality viewer and explore VR games and experiences by simply refolding their Happy Meal box and attaching a pair of included lenses and a smartphone. The viewers look similar to Google Cardboard, a VR viewer that similarly can be built from folded cardboard and a few extra parts.

"Happy Goggles are a test designed to modernize the Happy Meal and provide a digital experience in addition to the physical toys usually found in the box," the company said in a statement.

"New generations are growing up in a world where smartphones and tablets are a part of our ordinary [lives]," child psychologists Karl Eder and Fadi Lahdo, who worked with McDonald's Sweden on the project, said in a statement. "The VR goggles open the door to virtual worlds, which of course is very exciting. This step might come more natural for children than for adults. It creates an opportunity for adults to learn from the children's knowledge and experience. The gaming can also be a good, joint activity that makes it easier to hang out—on equal terms."

The Happy Meal first arrived in Sweden in 1986. McDonald's Sweden is the first nation in the world to develop the Happy Meal box into VR goggles, according to the company. The idea was born when a Happy Meal box was simply folded into a new shape, the company said.

As part of the Happy Goggles promotion, McDonald's is also launching a VR skiing game, "Slope Stars," which offers a 360-degree skiing experience that allows users "to open the doors to a world of fantasy, fun and how to stay safe in the ski slopes," the company said. The game, which will be available starting March 4, is endorsed by the Swedish National Ski Team. The game aims "to help kids understand the need to be alert on the slopes and avoid obstacles—including other skiers," the company said on its Website.

"The Happy Meal is one of our most loved menus and therefore an appropriate platform for reaching out to our family customers through experiences that focus on play and learning," Jeff Jackett, marketing director at McDonald's Sweden, said in a statement. "We believe that many people will enjoy the fun skiing game with the new Happy Goggles."

McDonald's has about 220 restaurants in Sweden.

So far the promotion is only being tested in Sweden, but "we hope to be able to roll it out in your country soon," the company said on its Website.

Google Cardboard, which first appeared in 2014, is a similar VR viewer made up of cut-and-folded cardboard that is shaped into a boxy-looking VR device. The gadget has a slot that accepts a compatible Android smartphone so that it can take advantage of the phone's display and other features. Several other parts are used besides the cardboard, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses, which can be purchased online. Several companies also sell pre-cut and packaged kits of parts.

The first Cardboard device was dreamed up and built by Googlers David Coz and Damien Henry in 2014 at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris as part of a 20 percent project, where Google employees can use up to 20 percent of their work time to engage in projects that are interesting to them.

In October 2015, The New York Times partnered with Google Cardboard to distribute free Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to more than 1 million print newspaper home delivery subscribers as part of a special VR content and advertising promotion. The promotion allowed home subscribers to use their Google Cardboard viewers to dive deeper into The New York Times video content by seeing it using VR tools for a more immersive visual effect.

The VR industry is definitely growing with possibilities lately. In January, Oculus began taking preorders for its $599 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will ship starting in May. Samsung launched its own $100 Gear VR virtual reality headset last fall. The Samsung Gear VR is a consumer version of virtual reality headsets made by Oculus.