Q&A: Big Lines, Star Wars Droids, and Off-Topic Fun

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 19, 2016

1. In the time between Force Friday and Thanksgiving last year, we already had three different toolings for BB-8 at 3.75” scale and two different versions at 6”. You often write of the 18-month lead time needed to get movie toys out. Even without considering the production secrecy with The Force Awakens, surely Hasbro didn’t really have sufficient time to do TFA toys. I wonder if the tight schedule led Hasbro to send BB-8 to production before they could settle on refined versions of the figures. Another issue is that in every case, BB-8 is packed as an accessory to other figures, when with less secrecy about the movie during development, he might have been made with really cool features and his own accessories.

Do you think we will ever see BB-8 as a standalone figure with fun accessories in either the 3.75” or 6” lines? Is there any real hope for anything new for BB-8 in these lines or has Hasbro already expended their sculpting and tooling resources for this character in the haste of getting product out on a short lead time?

You may be in error - there were two 3 3/4-inch toolings and 1 6-inch tooling from Hasbro. There were some deco variants in there, and I don't count the running change of the hole for a foot peg as new tooling so much as a correction. It wasn't a different product.

There are many reasons to do different versions - sometimes you just want more product out there. The giant steel tools can only crank out so much stuff at a time, so doubling up lets you get out twice as many Finns or Batmans or Bumblebees or whatever.

I guess I don't see a problem with BB-8 as an accessory. The 12-inch version was sold individually - if you could find one - as well as in a 3-pack. I don't doubt that using him as an accessory wasn't intentional - when we had no idea Rey was the movie's hero, seeing BB-8 packaged with her seemed like a smart move to encourage more people to buy her in the days before the film. Now, it seems it would've been wiser to have done that with Finn. A lot of us - including licensors - were kept in the dark as to some details of the movie, so some of these things happen. (See also: crazy Batman gargoyle demon.)

I've been prodding some people at Hasbro to release BB-8 as a standalone with awesome accessories - for example, a rectangular radar dish with 8 holes so you could plug it on any of the previous versions of Kenner and Hasbro Millennium Falcon toys, but they didn't seem to keen on that. (I still think 3D printer people should do that.)

For the next movie, maybe we'll see single BB-8s, but I think he's a pretty good accessory. He's small. It's like when Hasbro sold us a $20-$25 6-inch scale Yoda, or R2-D2 - it's fundamentally not a good deal and is probably something that only appeals to collectors who keep their goods in the boxes.



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2. Not a Star Wars question but I was wondering if you knew if [Funko]/Super 7 are planning to release any figures from Aliens beyond the Queen/Ripley/Power loader pack? I'm assuming we'll see these items at ComicCon but was wondering if you had any additional info about any Colonial Marines or anything else from the movie.

Right now, only Funko would release them directly and no plans have been confirmed for more of these. It's a gorgeous set, take a look.

Aliens ReAction 3 3/4-inch Retro Action Figure 3-Pack

I know the suggestion was made, and interest has been expressed, but I also know talk of Aliens merch started before the original Alien toys were actually manufactured. It might be a while, as Funko releases on their own schedules and rarely - rarely - uses Comic-Con as a place to show new specific products. For them, it's a fan retail event to buy stuff and to knock everyone's socks off with the sold-out Funko Fun Days event. (Seriously, it's the most insane thing I've ever been to as a toy collector/fan. You've never seen anything like it outside a Steve Jobs Apple announcement, only this is far more crazed.)




3. Hi Adam. You had an answer in [a recent] Q&A column that intrigued me.

In some years - 2006 and 2007 come to mind - Hasbro really overdid it. With all the multipacks and exclusives, we had years with over 300 new and rerelease (old toy, new package) figures in circulation. That's downright nutty. I mean, I was able to do the math and realize I could keep Figure of the Day reviews solvent for several years because of how much new stuff was being pumped out. That's just not healthy.

I recall 2006-07 as a high point in the history of the modern line, from standpoints of variety, quality and distribution. Collectors seemed thrilled with the selection and articulation, and army-building was big then, so I gotta believe Hasbro’s bottom line liked it too. But the last sentence in your answer caught my eye. Please expand upon your statement that having 300-plus "new" figures a year as being unhealthy.

I post a lot of opinions. This is one of them.

There are many reasons why having a line that big - unless it's a final push before the license evaporates or becomes worthless, which is I think how they were operating on some level - is bad news.

I would say The Onion summed it up best in their headline: "Model-Train Hobby Becomes Model-Train Habit." "There's too much of a good thing" is also possible. It is my belief that there is a point where the relationship between the quantity of collectibles and the level of enjoyment starts to become inversely proportional.

For starters, I would argue that those two years offered a lot of great stuff to long-time fans while decimating the myth (and largely burying the marketing line) that it was possible to "collect them all." Hasbro stopped even trying to show collectors everything in their marketing efforts, and if anyone say they genuinely enjoy each and every last release from 2006-2008, you don't have every release from 2007-2008. Getting new releases at an average clip of one new figure a day is kind of insane, it prevents enjoyment in favor of consumption. In 1995 when we all got a new figure, we'd scrutinize it to ridiculous levels which resulted in extreme variation literacy amongst collectors of that era. (That ended around 1999, around the time the new modern line eclipsed the size of the vintage lines.)

If you're just looking at main line, basic carded figures you've got a lot of awesomeness in 2006, 2007, and 2008. That's true. I would daresay the main lines for all 3 years of basic, 6x9-inch carded figures are some of the best Hasbro ever did. But the 300ish-per-year totals come from the countless multi-packs on top of the single figures. This is where it starts to sting a bit - we got a lot of awesome things (purple clone troopers!) but we were also required to army-build (purple clone troopers) to get even one, or multi-packs would require you buy some duplicate figures (Order 66, Droid Factory).

With 300 figures a year, people don't even know what they own. I have spoken to many collectors who are completists but aren't aware of some of the things that came out - and they own. That's not good. Some figures got underproduced because they had to move on to the next wave, and some of those figures - which we were promised additional runs and never saw like Darth Revan and Darth Malak - got squeezed out and ignored. Hasbro didn't even get a fraction out of its investment in making some of these figures because they had so much other stuff on the shelf competing for your dollars.

For kids, it also means they can't possibly collect them all, but due to Hasbro's marketing they don't even know what exists. (Weak or no pack-in booklets, no cardbacks full of products.) It's not great for Hasbro because they're dumping millions into R&D, packaging, and fighting themselves for shelf space while collectors opine about distribution problems (take off your rose colored glasses, EVERY year is a year where we complain about distribution problems). Hasbro can only sell so much product - 50 or 500, there are only so many items a single person can buy and most kids don't buy hundreds of figures per year. Most collectors don't buy everything. They can't, and this was the era that cured many of true completism.

The product itself - particularly the mainline carded basic figures and many (most?) of the exclusives - were exquisite in 2006-2007. But we also got a lot of repacked figures with minimal changes (existing figure has new stand or different accessory), Battle Packs, Saga Legends, and poor attention paid to which figure included which movie logo's display base. Obviously no year is completely perfect, but things were moving a little too quickly.

Quantity of product can be a problem. Hasbro has changed a lot - as has Disney, and the toy business - and it's important to remember why some of these lines are really big some times. Hasbro, for example, owned (and maybe still owns) over 50% of the board game business in the USA retail space. They did this by diversifying their offerings and commanding more and more of the shelf space at retail. They also used this with toys - best illustrated by Star Wars, we had "Collection 1", "Collection 2," and "Collection 3" assortments. In the parlance of Target speak, each is a unique DPCI - a different assortment SKU, or a different product. So each assortment gets its own pegs, and that means the store is putting more emphasis on that brand. Hasbro used Star Wars and expanded it to stake out a lot of real estate at toy stores by expanding Evolutions, Battle Packs, Comic Packs, Tin collections, basic figures, Saga Legends, exclusives, Galactic Heroes, Transformers, Titanium, Titanium Ultra, Titanium figures, vehicles, Unleashed Battle Packs, coin binders, and whatever else I forgot to type out from that era. It's not about servicing the collector, or the kid - it's by using a brand to offer a kind of product for every possible consumer, which is an interesting strategy to push the big brands in favor and lesser brands - and your competition - to the sidelines.

Today we're seeing a variation on that - they're still doing lots and lots of products, but Hasbro's bandwidth and shelf space is being divided among more brands. Transformers is blowing up in a big (and I daresay unhealthy) way with several $100 boxed sets in addition to a robust mainline product, exclusives, and amazing items from Japan spread over several different storylines. Marvel can't keep up with Marvel. Hasbro has so many licenses and brands that other brands - G.I. Joe - are no longer as important. (Hasbro is doing what makes sense for them right now - if they say there's no mainstream interest in G.I. Joe right now, well, I can't say the tea leaves I read disagree with them. It'd be nice if I could buy Cobra dudes at Walmart but that is not the world of 2016, but maybe if/when we get another movie.)

...I'd also like to point out that this is the era Hasbro really got into Clone Troopers. I was able to do Figure of the Day for one month straight with nothing but recent Clone Troopers - and I wasn't close to running out - to prove the point that it was getting excessive, and some of you readers wrote in annoyed that I put all the clones together in the article because it got boring. To which I say - yes, yes it was.

I generally think how The Force Awakens cranked out stuff was pretty good. I'd have liked more vehicles and fewer repacks/repaints, plus I'd have been thrilled if the line lasted longer than roughly 6 months before going quiet. Roughly 36 single carded figures ain't bad, but 50 would probably be perfect (if spread out over about a year.)

Obviously, not all figures are made for everybody, and most people who buy Star Wars products of any strain are not all-in, completists/hoarders with storage spaces or McMansions to fill. The line, in and of itself as a stand-alone thing, is superb. In the greater context of the 21 years of the modern line's run it's just bonkers, though, and smaller lines almost always mean better distribution. I'm not necessarily saying you want to go back to 20 carded 3 3/4-inch figures per year, but I assume even the least motivated fan would find most if not all of their figures eventually if they did.




Obviously, everybody doesn't have this problem - some people just buy whatever and skip whatever, and bless their hearts. Me, I still live in a bubble where I'd like to see people rewarded for buying - or skipping - a piece without regret. Hasbro could reissue a rare figure until the market says "we're full, thanks" and I don't mind one bit. Variations/running changes happen, and that's fine. Is it really necessary to swap Han's head when the Endor Trenchcoat figure is repackaged? A new head is one thing, but a swap? But, again, that's me - Hasbro runs the line, it's still successful, it's still their business, and no matter what any of us say - including me - it's going to do just fine until people get sick of the movies. (And then, if the 2006 and 2007 lines were any indication, it's still going to be just fine for at least one or two more years.) I just have the way I look at things, and it seems to me you inspire more loyalty with a tight, diverse offering minimizing figures (and gift sets) that are (say it with me) just different enough to make you mad.

Oh, I'm old. I'm not saying I want the good old days again, but I will say I kind of miss the notion that you could have one Darth Vader figure for a few years. I like Finn, but we got multiple Finn-in-jacket 3 3/4-inch figures last year and they don't really look all that much different. I love variety, but I need actual variety - not a new accessory or snow on boots, or a retooled hand without a magnet, which is what we saw a lot in 2006 and 2007. If you want to make a new figure, make a new figure. If you want to rerelease an existing and popular figure, do so. Why go through the trouble to just sorta change it?

At least 20 of the figures in 2006 alone in the main line assortment were barely changed (new accessory or a minor tweak) and when it comes to the many battle packs, gift sets, exclusives, and so on, there's a ton of duplicate figures (I hate to use the word) "forced" on fans who want one of everybody. You can't have a C-3PX without rebuying several other figures. Swapped heads, deco tweaks, new cloaks make for different figures, but why not just repackage the old ones in a new box? The two flavors of Jedi Training on Dagobah - one of which has a wholly different Spirit Vader - is sort of the problem. This is the very definition of "just different enough to make you mad" when you realize that to get one of every new release, you may have bought dozens upon dozens of duplicate figures.

Oh - and amazingly, it turns out G.I. Joe is not as dead as previously reported. Fun Publications re-upped at Hasbro - apparently this was a recent decision, as they are not renewing with Transformers. This is good for the fans of that brand, while not necessarily anything fantastic for its health. Life support is better than the plug being pulled in this case, and the club will probably have some nifty new toys.


Given the rumors (which I haven't heard confirmed but as a suspicious Aloysius I believe without confirmaiton) about Matty Collector, it's certainly not the greatest time for legacy 1980s boy action toy properties. Unless you've got a movie on the horizon, at least. At least I've got Titans Return, which I am looking forward to more than pretty much anything save for tying with whatever else Mel, Gary, and Matt are doing for Outer Space Men. I still loves me some Star Wars, but without the weeks - months - of anticipation from leaks or announcements, I gotta say I'm a lot less excited. I'd like some sneak previews, or a mail-in, or whatever.

RIP Anton Yelchin - he's popped up in a lot of genre movies and hadn't yet graced a galaxy far, far away - but he has spent time with Skynet and beyond the Final Frontier.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.