By Harry McCracken | Sunday, August 10, 2008 at 12:17 am
This I know: A brand has definitively jumped the shark when it’s turned into a slot machine. It’s happened to That Girl and Blondie (the comic strip, not the band) and poor Dean Martin, who isn’t around to give a yay or nay to gambling devices based on his likeness. It’s even happened with the increasingly shopworn Star Wars brand. But I’m in Las Vegas at the moment and was just plain dumbstruck to see penny slot machines inspired by…eBay. Here’s a photo of one from Flickr user Rightonbro:
Yup, the world’s favorite auction site is helping casinos separate customers from their cash. Why any major Web site would lend its name to slots, I’m not entirely sure. Money? Crossmarketing potential? Slot machines are so inherently cheesy that neither opportunity seems remotely worth it. With eBay, though, the implied message is particularly weird: “Hey, using eBay is like gambling, and gambling is like using eBay!” You’d think the very last thing it would want to be associated with is risky financial transactions that may involve the loss of all of one’s money with no recourse to get it back.
Of course, we’re talking about a penny slot machine, so it would be tough to lose one’s shirt. Actually, in the interest of research, I tried the eBay game at the Riviera hotel here–and even though I couldn’t really figure out what was going on, I won enough dough to pay for my dinner.
I may be slightly richer, but the whole idea of eBay slot machines strikes me as baffling, sad evidence that the company isn’t sufficiently protective of its own persona. I take it sort of personally, since I’ve been an eBay users for ten years; I think of it less as a large corporation and more as one of my favorite hangouts on the Web. That in itself strikes me as evidence that the eBay name should be treated with great sensitivity.
I haven’t found any evidence that anyone at eBay has commented on any of this; IGT, the company that manufactured the machines, claims they tap into the community feel of the auction site. Well, maybe, kinda-sorta–there’s a jackpot round that everybody playing a particular bank of eBay slots participates in–but for the most part the eBay connection simply consists of the images on the video slots’ virtual dials depicting some goods one might buy on eBay, such as camcorders and clothing. Not very imaginative; no deep ties to the things that make eBay eBay.
My friend Tony noted that a really good eBay slot machine would automatically deposit winnings in one’s PayPal account. Me, I wonder if the famously faddish gaming industry will introduce slot machines based on any other notable Web sites. I’m virtually positive that Google wouldn’t be interested in licensing itself for such purposes, or at least I sure hope it wouldn’t be. But if there were such a thing as a Google slot machine, it would bring new meaning to the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button…