Since the dawn of video games, there have been seemingly endless efforts made to bring the pastime we all enjoy to a more mainstream audience: television, comic books, movies, music, and more. But one method that’s been around for nearly as long as the medium itself is the fast food tie-in promotion.
Video games began to make strides towards mainstream popularity in the early 70’s, and it was not long after that res- taurants such as Burger King and McDonald’s began to experi- ment with the idea of aiming special meals at kids that would tie in with popular movies of the time, with Star Wars and Star Trek being the respective pioneers in this new frontier of marketing synergy.
However, while it’s difficult to pinpoint what the actual first video game tie-in at a fast food restaurant was, we do know that two of the earliest such promotions on record took place in 1982.
Have you ever seen an old-style Pac-Man drinking glass around and wondered where it came from? If you’re thinking Arby’s, then you would be correct! For just 59 to 65 cents USD (about $1.54-$1.70 in today’s money) with any purchase, you could bring home your very own glass featuring the puckish hero grabbing and gobbling down ghosts like so many Arby’s roast beef sandwiches.
Unlike most promotions of this sort, though, there was only one design available – handy for collectors.
The other big promotion of 1982 came from none other than McDonald’s. Rather than a more tangible offering, the Golden Arches was the home of a sweepstakes with a range of Atari and McDonald’s prizes, an Atari Home Computer and Video Game Center being foremost among them.
In order to win, participants would receive a scratch-off card themed around one of four Atari games: Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, and Star Raiders. They would then scratch off silver spots one at a time in the first section in the hopes of matching two identical prizes before uncovering a “Zap” spot. If they succeed, they would then be able to scratch off the silver screen to reveal what they’d won.
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