Whether it be Captain America or Thor, Marvel characters are extremely popular with people of all ages. You only need to look at the success of the Marvel films in the cinema to realise that people love to get caught up in the worlds of Iron Man, Black Widow and the rest of the Avengers. That even expanded to the world of slots, with Marvel characters appearing on some.
That was until they were all pulled at pretty much the same time. The Marvel Universe was created by Stan Lee, amongst others, and the larger than life characters lent themselves perfectly to being used on slot machines. Why was the decision taken to remove them, therefore, and what were the games that it was decided should no longer be able to bear the Marvel name?
The Marvel-Themed Games That Were on Offer
If you head to an online casino now and look at the slots on offer then you’ll see plenty that feature characters from comic books. Take a closer look, however, and you’ll soon realise that most of the characters on offer are from DC Comics and no Marvel Comic characters appear on slot offerings; at least they don’t do so legally.
The likes of Batman, Superman and The Flash are all popular names for slot games to be based around, but they’re all from the DC Comics universe and not that of the MC Universe. That is in spite of the fact that the MCU and the Avengers are eminently more popular than the Justice League and other DC Comic creations.
The names that were on the Marvel list that could no longer be used on slot machines included the following:
- Captain America
- Fantastic 4
- Ghost Rider
- Iron Man
- Iron Man 2
- Iron Man 3
- The Incredible Hulk
That list isn’t exhaustive in terms of Marvel characters, but it certainly does draw attention to the most popular ones that could no longer be used as the central theme to slots games. Most of the slots were produced by the popular and well-known software developer PlayTech, who discontinued their Marvel-themed slots on the 21st of March in 2017.
The Marvel characters first made their way onto PlayTech driven slot games in 2009 when Iron Man and Incredible Hulk were sent out as test pilots. Their popularity proved to be such that thirteen more titles soon followed. This was largely because the American market is one of the biggest users of online slots, with comics being popular for users from the USA.
Why Marvel Slots Were So Popular
The obvious question when discussing this topic is why, exactly, Marvel slots were so popular with people in comparison to slots based around other themes or characters. The simple answer is that slots that offer depth to their play appeal to customers that want to be taken on a journey during their playing time. Games based on characters can therefore offer just that.
Whilst individual characters, such as Iron Man, Hulk or Thor, are able to promise in-depth stories all of their own, the key thing about Marvel is the way in which the universe is so intertwined. The Avengers could appear in each other’s games without it appearing strange or desperate, whilst the world of the X-Men has layers all of its own.
An X-Men themed slot could welcome Professor X, Jean Grey, Wolverine and so on into games to give them an added depth and sense of universe building. The characters could appear on the reels and with the plot of a slot game, offering top-notch graphics and sounds from the various films that people will have seen in the cinema.
PlayTech in particular was able to create multi-level progressive jackpots that used the characters and brought them to life when bonus games were being played. Bonus games often offered as many as twenty different squares, each of which could feature a character from the MCU to get punters gripped by the games that they were playing.
PlayTech wasn’t the only company able to offer Marvel-themed games, though. One of the first was Cryptologic, who gained exclusive rights to Marvel characters in 2005, creating games featuring the likes of Blade, Elektra, Captain America and the Fantastic Four. All characters that would later be used to such effect by PlayTech.
Why Marvel Slots Were Removed from Circulation
Though Marvel-themed slots weren’t removed from circulation until the end of March in 2017, the seed of their likely removal was planted much earlier. That’s because the Walt Disney Empire decided to buy Marvel Entertainment in 2009. The deal was worth a reported £2.5 billion, seeing Marvel’s characters join the world of Disney.
Disney, of course, is one of the most family-friendly companies around. The deal didn’t mean that Marvel would suddenly move away from the darker side that some of its comics like Daredevil and Ghost Rider occupied, but it did mean that the manner in which its characters were used would soon come under scrutiny from the powers that be.
One of the key things that both companies had in common was a tendency to offer third-party licensing agreements, which Disney would have to start investigating to make sure that there weren’t any that were deemed to be inappropriate for its target audience. At the time, Marvel had already been licensing its characters for use on slot machines.
Why The Ban Took So Long to Come Into Effect
It’s worth bearing in mind that Iron Man, the first comic book movie to feature one of the Avengers that would later become such a crucial part of Marvel’s growth, had only come out in 2008. Whilst it was always likely to spawn sequels and the later growth of the universe was hoped for, there was no guarantee that it was going to happen.
Disney couldn’t foresee the manner in which the MCU would become so universally popular, meaning that the licensing agreements that were put in place with various betting companies were entirely unremarkable at the time. It was only as the world of the Avengers grew and more and more films were released that the company began to rethink the strategy in place.
Disney has long held an anti-gambling stance, as evidenced by the fact that the company was opposed to the idea of casinos being opened in Florida. It came at a time when Florida’s economy was struggling and jobs were sorely needed, but Disney felt that the opening of two casinos would tarnish the image of the state it had made its home.
Almost as soon as Disney took over Marvel they confronted the issue of the slot licences, admitting that they would not be renewed when the various licences for slot machines expired. Obviously, that was not going to be a quick process, with many licence agreements made for years. Disney were happy to wait it out, but not lengthen the process.
When the company then also bought the rights for Star Wars in 2012 they confirmed that they would phase out slot machines using both franchises in the months and years to follow. It was all done to fit in with the company’s family friendly image. A spokesperson for the company confirmed as much saying:
Marvel discontinued plans to initiate or renew slot machine licensing arrangements as part of its integration with Disney…The handful of remaining licence agreements have expiration dates within the next few years.
Disney were perhaps taking their lead from the likes of JRR Tolkien’s estate. They chose to sue Warner Bros for using the Lord of the Rings saga on slot machines and other online games, putting forward a £50 million lawsuit in November of 2012 on the basis that they had done ‘irreparable harm’ to the writer’s reputation by using his work in that manner.
How It Affected the Online Casinos
The removal of Marvel’s name from online slots wasn’t a major problem for online casinos. The reality is that it’s far too big a business to be affected by a dozen or so slot games being removed from circulation. Instead it was players that were far more likely to be affected, given that many tend to find a game that they enjoy and stick with it.
PlayTech’s games were certainly popular, but not all online casinos offered them in the first place. This meant that the vast majority of sites wouldn’t have been affected in the slightest by Disney’s decision not to renew contracts for Marvel slots. Those that did offer PlayTech’s wares would likely just see an increase in play on other branded games.
PlayTech themselves were affected for a time, of course. They had spent decent money and used significant resources to ensure that the Marvel slots were amongst the best in the business and some of the top ones that they offered, so their removal from circulation meant that they needed to redouble their efforts to make other games just as successful.
Thankfully for PlayTech, the move to discontinue the use of Marvel slots wasn’t a bolt out of the blue. Instead, they had years’s worth of notice that they wouldn’t be able to carry on with the Marvel characters, so they built the games in such a manner that the framework could simply be swapped out to use with other characters relatively easily.
This meant that the playability of the games could continue to be a selling point, even if the characters that they were based around could not. The trickiest thing for PlayTech was to persuade players to give the newly themed games a go so that they could see that they were just as playable as when they were themed around Marvel characters.
The Crackdown That Could End Branded Games Full-Stop
Whilst they really weren’t to know it at the time, it’s possible that Disney got out of the branded slot machine business ahead of the curve. As the general feeling of negativity towards gambling has grown in the years since, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission chose to put new rules in place that would stop companies offering games that could appeal to young people.
Obviously one of the most obvious thing that a young person is likely to find appealing is a character or characters that they recognise. The decision to clamp down on games and other online activities that used characters children and young people would find appealing became a major one in 2018, with the Remote Gambling Association wanting to change the industry’s image.
It meant that the industry as a whole faced an uncertain future, with many branded slot games coming under fire. Companies like PlayTech decided to move away from using specific brands, instead creating their own characters and storylines for slots that the could tweak and change as the UKGC’s approach altered. Marvel was just the start of a changing landscape.