HIGH-TECH FUN JOINS FOOD AT MCDONALD'S: GOAL OF INTERACTIVE GAME KIOSKS IS TO LURE OLDER KIDS TO RESTAURANTS

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McDonald's Corp. is moving into the digital age with interactive kiosks designed to make young customers hungry for another visit to its restaurants.

Next month, the burger giant launches a limited test of the kiosks, which will have a computer terminal offering new interactive games, according to an executive close to the project.

The kiosks appear to be an effort to attract older, tech-savvy kids who have outgrown McDonald's playgrounds.

SET UP IN 'SHOWPLACE' SITES

Test locations are said to include outlets in Los Angeles, Houston and McDonald's hometown, Oak Brook, Ill. Large "showplace" restaurants are being targeted first.

McDonald's likely will outsource the content, possibly to software vendors. It's unclear whether there will be advertising on the screens.

McDonald's declined to discuss the project.

The kiosks come as archrival Burger King Corp. plans to add Virtual Fun Centers with interactive educational games to its restaurants as part of a sweeping overhaul of the chain's facilities announced last spring.

The BK games are targeted to specific age groups-kids ages 6 to 10 and ages 3 to 5. BK said kids spent an average of 6.5 minutes playing the games in test units.

Mitchell Speiser, an analyst with Lehman Bros., said the McDonald's project sounds like a good idea.

GOING BEYOND TOYS, TIE-INS

"Entering the new millennium, there are high-tech ways to attract kids with things other than toys and movie tie-ins," he said.

McDonald's introduced the idea of playing in a restaurant in 1971 in California. PlayLands provided a respite for parents and kids and gave kids another reason to drag the family to McDonald's. Twenty years later, the playgrounds moved indoors as PlayPlaces.

One executive with a multi-unit McDonald's franchise in the South said the kiosks make the most sense for indoor PlayPlaces. He said he would not want to give up the lucrative real estate of a restaurant table for a game. Putting

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