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— Gail Simone

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July 21, 2017

The curious case of Batman ’66 slot machines (WCBR’s editorial position regarding product placement on our site)


Something curious happened to the World Comic Book Review in late 2016.

Below is an email exchange we have had with Thomas, an employee of Media Top. Our commentary appears between each email.

**

Name: Thomas

Email: [A Gmail account]

Website:

Comment: Hello,

I am writing on behalf of Media Top online agency.

We would like to commission an article from you. It will be published on your website and you will receive a fixed fee for your work.

The content of the article should be true to the spirit of your website.

If you are interested, let me know as soon as possible and I will give you more details about exactly what we are after.

I hope this is of interest to you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks,
Thomas

**

World Comic Book Review does not publish reviews solicited in exchange for payment. And so, this was our response:

**

Hi Thomas

Thanks for the email.

Sorry, we do not accept commissioned reviews.

I’m happy to review the work otherwise.

Thanks
Dave

Dave Stewart
Editor
World Comic Book Review

**

Thomas wrote again, however, wanting to impress upon us that he was not seeking to influence the angle of the review.

**

Hi Dave

We are looking to publish a Batman comic review, I know you told me you do not accept commissioned reviews and I think that might be because you don’t want your opinion to be influenced.

That is perfectly acceptable, which is why I would like to tell you two things about this collaboration:

1. You will be able to choose the comic, from all the comics that exist but we only request that it should be a Batman comic.

2. We do not care what you write about the comic, and we do not want to influence your review in any way. We would only need you to make a connection between Batman and our client and place a mention to our client, that’s all. For example, you could do an introduction about the character itself (Batman) and in this introduction make the connection, and then move on to the review and you will be able to say whatever you want about it.

Please let me know if that would be something you could consider.

Thanks.

Best regards,

Thomas

Media Top

**

A media company wanted us to write a review of a Batman comic – indeed, any Batman comic, and the review could be good or bad. The point instead was to have Thomas’ client’s name adjacent to the word “Batman”.

This sounded like a search engine optimisation strategy. Search engine results have a magic piece of real estate – the top third of the first page of a search enquiry result. This is where most consumer activity occurs. When a business wants to improve its prominence in a Google search, so as to get into that top third of the first page, it can essentially game Google’s algorithms in various ways. One of these ways is to create an apparent connection between the business’ brand and a popular word, or a brand owned by a third party.

Our immediate assumption was that Thomas’ client was an independent comic book publisher – but not DC Comics – and that this publisher was seeking to create an association between its comic and DC Comics’ Batman character property, so as to trick Google into lifting the independent comic book publisher’s website in Google searches for the word “Batman”.

DC Comics might not like that as the tactic essentially trades off the goodwill of its Batman character. And so we wrote again, asking for more information:

**

Hi Thomas

Thanks for the response.

I confess I am a little confused. I assume that your client is not DC Comics, but instead either a writer for DC Comics, or a third party seeking to utilise the Batman goodwill for the purposes of search engine optimisation.

As I understand it you wish us to review a Batman comic but in that review mention your client. Would you be able to tell me the name of your client and the purpose of this exercise before we make a decision on this?

Thanks

Dave

Dave Stewart
Editor
World Comic Book Review

**

Thomas was happy to explain.

**

Hi Dave,

Our client is Mansion, owner of websites such as Casino.com or SlotsHeaven.com.

These websites have recently launched video games based on the Batman character, so we would like to somehow mention that inside the article.

For example, you could talk about Batman’s popularity and say how he inspired so many games including the recently released Batman slots.

Please let me know your thoughts on this.

Best regards,

Thomas
Media Top

**

So, an online provider of gaming services wanted to call attention to the fact that it was offering online Batman-branded slot machines.

But did Mansion have the right to use the Batman brand in respect of online gaming? That seemed odd given Batman is a character which appeals to children as well as adults. Batman merchandising, for example, over the years has included toys, lunch boxes and school bags.

**

Thanks Thomas.

In order to facilitate this, would you send to me a copy of Mansion’s license from DC? I don’t wish to be an ancillary infringer of DC’s rights in the Batman property and I want to be sure that we would be doing the right thing by DC in assisting Mansion.

I should say I’m an intellectual property lawyer which is why I am so cautious.

Once I am certain that assisting Mansion will not violate DC’s rights, I’m happy to write the article. I don’t see any harm in assisting Mansion in this way.

For your information the site has about 4000 visitors a month most of whom are in the Asia-Pacific region.

Thanks

Dave

Dave Stewart
Editor
World Comic Book Review

**

Thomas then explained what was happening in detail. As it turns out, Mansion own a website called Casino.com and are in partnership with a company called Playtech. Playtech have done a deal with DC Comics’ parent company Warner Brothers to offer Batman-themed games on the Casino.com website.

**

Hi Dave,

Thank you for your question, I would like to explain this as far as I know because this is not my expertise.

Mansion has a contract with Playtech (software provider), and Playtech is the company that acquires the rights to produce Marvel and DC (among others, for example, Ace Ventura or The Gladiator) games.

If you go to www.Casino.com/uk/(brand owned by Mansion) you will see that all the games featured there are developed by Playtech, including Batman & Catwoman Cash and Batman & The Joker Jewels (DC games).

From Playtech’s official website (about the contract with Warner):

Playtech partners with Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DC Entertainment to launch two slot games based on Batman Classic TV Series

Playtech signs multi-year branded games deal with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to license DC Comics content

From Playtech’s official website (about the partnership with Mansion):

Mansion wins first Playtech Award

I hope that helps, let me know if you have other inquiries.

Best regards,

Thomas
Media Top

**

Thomas seems pleasant enough and is no doubt just doing his job.

That job involves paying money to comic book-related websites to assist in the promotion of casino products.

A Google search of “Batman” and “Playtech” reveals many references to the commercial relationship between Playtech, Mansion and DC Comics, on many gaming sites.

It seems as if some comic book websites might have decided to assist Mansion and Playtech. At http://thebatmanuniverse.net a Google search finds this metadata buried in the site:

http://thebatmanuniverse.net/image/General/News/Batman%20Slot%20Machine/

More prominent is this very neutral article at leading comic book review website, Comicbook.com:

Adam West Attends Launch of Batman 66 Slot Machine

But as Thomas noted, the articles do not need to have a particular editorial direction in order to assist in search engine optimisation: the story can be neutral, positive or negative. Google’ algorithms will detect a link irrespective of tone.

This review site is not intended to be a soapbox by which we can preach about irresponsible gambling being a scourge on society. But it is very disappointing that DC Comics decided to allow one of its major character properties to be used in casinos and in online gaming environments, especially when some of the characters are primarily orientated towards children. We have now written the article Mansion’s agency has asked for – this comment contains references to both “Batman” as well as to Media Top’s client. But clearly, Media Top and its client had no editorial influence over the slant of this article.

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