Probability, Possibility, Monopoly, & McDonald’s

This morning I caught this tweet in my Twitter stream:

@LenKendall – I’ve got Park Place for McDonald’s monopoly. If you have boardwalk I want to be your friend 🙂

This made me think about how times have changed. When McDonald’s Monopoly was originally designed, the world wasn’t connected. So the possibility of you finding the elusive Boardwalk piece to complete your set and win millions was extremely slim. Today, in the connected world, I wonder if you would have a better chance? (Think Lazlo Hollyfeld.)

Ionically, from McDonald’s perspective the probability of you winning today was the same as it was 10 years ago. McD’s releases 3 Boardwalk pieces into the world and those pieces divided by the total number of play pieces released is your probability. The underlying assumption is that the only pieces you can play are the pieces you earn through buying fries/drinks/burgers. It doesn’t work that way anymore, (and hasn’t for some time). In 2007 people were selling pieces on eBay. The contest just launch and nothing’s changed..

The best inspiration/example to explain the difference between yesterday and today is the DARPA balloon challenge this past December. DARPA wanted to know how fast a networked group of people could solve a large-scale, time critical task. To learn, they offered $40k in a challenge that involved releasing 10 8-foot balloons in secret locations across the US. It took a team from MIT less than nine hours because they created a pyramid scheme around the challenge. Before the challenge they issued the following message:

“We’re giving $2,000 per balloon to the first person to send us the correct coordinates, but that’s not all — we’re also giving $1,000 to the person who invited them. Then we’re giving $500 whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on…”

So imagine if a networked entity (like 4Chan) decided to unleash the same wrath on McDonald’s that they did on Time’s Time’s Person of the Year. There are already Facebook and MySpace groups with the same intention. There was a Andriod app in the UK for the last contest.

Let’s say only 5% of McDonald’s customers are capable of pulling of this sort of collusion, should McDonald’s design the game differently? (It would cost the same either way.) Should the game be built for the connected world? Individually, those consumers aren’t that significant, but collectively they could screw the game to the wall.

I’m sure McDonald’s has all sorts of rules to prevent this sort of collaborating, but maybe they shouldn’t? The whole contest is about marketing and buzz. maybe they should invite people collude. The cost to McDOnald’s would be the same, but the engagement from their consumers would be radically different. They would reframe their brand in an entirely different context, you would have stories celebrating how people were collaborating to win. The game would be about collaborating to win, not gobbling more McDonald’s. It feels like the publicity alone would reach new audiences and meet our culture where it already is.


  1. You don`t get it. There is only one controlled piece per series (color). The probabilities of getting these rare pieces make colluding have 0 value. There is no reason to trade in those rare pieces except at near face-value of the prize for that series. These probabilities are very, very low.

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the comment.

    You’re absolutely right about the value of the control pieces. It’s prisoner’s delimna – no one wins unless everyone cooperates, and because of this everyone defects. (and no one shares for the reasons you’ve pointed out.)

    My question is, what if McDonalds reframed the way people engaged with the game? What if they encouraged them to share and collude? Wouldn’t they end up better served if it worked more like the DARPA challenge?



    What you need to realize is that the control piece is all that matters. The reason not all prizes are claimed isn’t a prisoner dilemma. You can easily get all the common pieces just by spending about $50 at MCD. The problem is most people don’t bother to figure out that the winning pieces are last in the alphabet for each color group except for boardwalk. There are 3 boardwalk pieces in the world, but I’d say 2/3 of MCD customers don’t know that the piece is worth 1 million. Thus some winning pieces go in the trash because people either don’t check them or don’t realize they have a winner. If you get one of these pieces you are a winner. Just buy a few more items and you will complete the color group.

  4. Thanks George.

    I guess I’m wondering if they redesigned the game to invite collaboration what would happen. I understand how the game works today. I’m wondering if it would be better experience for people (and investment for MCD) if they reframed the game to make people connect with each other to win. You could redesign the game for collaboration, but first you’ll have to throw out the control piece mechanic so it would work differently.

    thanks for reading,

  5. Hey Colin,

    I like your idea of McDonald’s redesigning the game in such a way that they expressly encourage colluding. I think you are right that it could lead to McDonald’s being better served by the game and marketing campaign, since it could potentially generate a huge amount of publicity and reach that many more people, which is the company’s goal, right?


  6. Hi Colin,

    Great question. It invites a bit more thought about what MCD wants to do, right? What is the intentions of the game design and mechanics?

    If the objective of the game is to create seasonal increase in purchases the game works very well for MCD. That’s also true if the primary reward is cash/stuff and not community status.

    The question you ask is about the benefits of setting up user generated challenges and the rewards of community collaboration – status.

    If the goal is to nuture more loyal customers, one benefit that I can see is that since the reward is not tied directly to a seasonal promotion and a cash reward entirely, you can create game mechanics that allow for a more consistent activity stream. I suppose you can also segment based on influence, engagement, etc and provide rewards of “access” and “power.”

    It all goes back to the business and marketing objectives of the game. I’m sure MCD “gets” this and currently is just using it for promotion and riding it for all its worth… probably wouldn’t hurt to innovate it…

    Thanks for the opportunity submit my 2 cents.


  7. anyways, the employes check the tags .. in 2010, the game is riged, and only employee get the winning peices. They have a sligh dis-coloration when compared to the non winning tags. It happened twice, I ordered from the drive thru, and my game peices were already ripped off! WHAT A RIP OFF!

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