Q&A: Star Wars Single Market, 6-Inch Action, and The Lost Droid Factory

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 22, 2016

1. Do you believe the real reason hasbro's droid factory 2.0 being cancelled was because Disney since they want the format to remain park exclusive? I just don't really buy the idea of too costly but yet we have the same exact figures being released in "black series"..

It was cost. We didn't get the exact same figures as The Black Series - those droid parts aren't free. We got 25% of another whole figure in each Droid Factory package, and while that is probably cheaper than making another whole carded figure in terms of development/packaging/approvals/etc., it's still not nothing. Little bonus items are usually incorporated in toys as a way to offset the ever-increasing prices. Changes to packaging may be done for the same reason - Marvel Legends made the transition from carded figures to fancy box a few years ago, and the price went up right along with it. Kenner in the 1990s usually cushioned price increases with a gimmick like Freeze Frame Action Slides or CommTech Chips, which don't cost nothing - but you can't keep figures at $5 forever. Each droid part was probably a dollar, give or take, probably on the higher end and we'd just come off of $10-$12 Vintage figures without much in the way of accessories or gimmicks. (Vintage packaging is the greatest scam collectors love - the packaging materials cost is reduced, there's less waste, and there's no pack-in or cool big accessory by design - and we always pay a higher price for them. We're suckers for old graphic design.)

The plan to return to Droid Factory was in place right around the time the original line ended for Vintage - but a lot can change in a few years. I work in the toy business by day, and let me tell you, since 2010 we saw a lot of price increases across the board at numerous manufacturers. The Gentle Giant busts that used to be $50 are now closer to $100-$120. In 2002 a deluxe $10 Transformers toy included a bonus sidekick figure and cool gimmicky weapons - now they're $15 and have been gutted. (They're still fun, of course.) Masters of the Universe Classics started at $20 in 2008 and is now about $28. For being fundamentally the same figure over and over again, that's a significant increase over a short period of time. You can place a lot of the blame on rising material and labor costs, mostly because China has developed a growing middle class and we're very much relying on them to do our dirty work in this area. Toy companies are moving to other countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, and some put more emphasis on cost-cutting than others. Mattel puts a lot of stock into keeping that $1 retail price point on Hot Wheels.

There are aspects of the Disney droid deal I do not understand. I've been told by Hasbro people that they're not Hasbro products - despite being marked as such early on for the first few waves. For all I know it's a tooling issue, or a sublicense, or some OEM thing. I really don't know for sure what the full story is as owenership, the license, and so on goes - for all I know Disney gave themselves the rights to make whatever they want for theme park merch.



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2. Hey Adam, why no carded Force Awakens C3P0, R2 D2, or Chewbacca? Hasbro said a a Force Awakens Luke was coming at the New York toy show. Will he be mixed in with the September Rogue One Collection?

I have a feeling this column may be fast approaching its end point as speculation on unreleased stuff goes, because if I know I can't say and most of the time I don't know. Old Man Luke, we were told at Toy Fair, is coming - but it wasn't specified when, how, or in which movie line. At one point Episode 8 was due in May 2017, so it's possible they just planned on holding him for that. This is just speculation - we do not know. We don't know if he'll show up at SDCC either. We really have no idea. I hope he's coming, but I haven't seen or heard any confirmations beyond, well, that one confirmation.

As to individually carded figures, heck if I know. Hasbro is trying to spread around characters in multiple formats for reasons I don't know - having major characters in non-single-figure assortments helps to sell those to big retailers. If you go to a big store customer and say "Hey Mr. Target, if you want R2-D2 and C-3PO at your store the only place you can get them is in these 2-packs!" that can be a way to get them to actually buy more of the product line. Similarly, that's why you put Batman or Kylo Ren or whoever in multiple size classes - variety helps push stuff.

It's sort of a strange strategy, but hear me out. Stores devote shelf real estate to a SKU, but generally can't be convinced devote massive chunks of land to 3 3/4-inch basic figures. So what do you do? You sell two different assortments of 3 3/4-inch figures. And then you do deluxe figures with masks. And then 2-packs. And maybe Battle Packs. Hasbro deployed this strategy in other lines since the 1990s (remember Collections 1, 2, and 3?) to success. It lets stores offer a lot of the same kind of thing while also diversifying their portfolio - it's really quite clever. This is one of the reasons you want to offer a lot of different products as a manufacturer - can you convince Target to devote an entire aisle to just 10 Nerf guns? Probably not. But dozens? You betcha.




3. Did you think the 6" [The Black Series action figure] line would catch on like it has? I recall thinking that I'd still focus on the 3 3/4 line and would dabble in the 6ers. Then, the 3 3/4 line became full of 'been there, done that' figures as well as daunting to obtain. The 6 inch line managed to become my toy of choice

Actually, yeah - if you read (I'm too lazy) my columns from 2013 and 2014, I was predicting that Hasbro would probably see an upswing on the 6-inch for collectors (both because if increasing prices on the smaller side and it would effectively be a new entry point/reboot for lapsed fans) and it would survive alongside cheaper, simplified 3 3/4-inch figures. Because Hasbro is greedy (and maybe royalties) we instead got simplified 3 3/4-inch figures with unnecessary bonus weapons and packaging that's probably too fancy for its purpose, but I'd say I basically got this one right. There's a reason 3 3/4-inch super-articulated was dying out - it just wasn't doing anything new or interesting. (Sorry man, it's true. But today with new movies? There's renewed possibility for success.)

Much like Marvel Legends it's probably going to remain a figure-line and not get much more love with vehicles or things above a $25 price point ($30, no doubt, soon) but that's life. I have no doubt there are some remarkable things we heard rumblings about - or didn't - that will make the rumor mills down the road, but for now, we're probably going to stick with basic figures that don't do much. If they keep it at a slow drip, this can probably last for another decade... if the fans are willing to put up with the snail's pace relative to other years. The dollars are decent, but the rapid succession of waves followed by jack and squat really ticks me off - not just in Star Wars, but all lines. If I don't get a wave each quarter, I feel like I'm being yanked around.




My mailbag is empty! Send in questions if you have any.

Another week, another uneventful hunt - we're now seeing evidence of what appears to be a 6-inch Astromech droid 3-pack (great idea, if you ask me) showing up overseas. Is it for SDCC, Toys R Us, Toys R Us at SDCC? I have no idea. I wasn't able to get any intel, nor was I able to find Walmart's new Han Solo/Leia/Phasma wave from The Force Awakens 3 3/4-inch The Black Series assortments. It has been, to say the least, an uneventful time for Star Wars and I don't doubt this is all by design. With Marvel, we saw merchandise under Disney come out in a big burst, and then basically go away - as opposed to come out in a big burst, and then get another burst for home video, and then go away. It's sort of frustrating because as fans, we love deep cuts. Rey and Finn are good, but we want the aliens. We want the robots. Not having First Order Lady Officer as a toy troubles us, even if we don't know her name. This is incompatible with the annual movie release window - we have long attention spans. I mean, we waited 20 years for Grand Moff Tarkin. We're still waiting for a few aliens from that movie... and I guess maybe Willard. Did you know Willard's actor was actually credited pretty highly - before the big crawl of credits - in the original cut of the movie? His name is Eddie Byrne, and you have no idea who he is. It's true! And still no figure after 39 years. (Granted, nobody was asking either.) That's democracy for you.

There still seems to be an abundance of The Force Awakens stuff out there, which will now go through the ceremonial clearance sale so the stores can start to empty out and start fresh for the next movie in, presumably, September again. As such, feel free to start checking for markdowns, or filling in the gaps before things start to evaporate. I've seen quite a few of the latest The Black Series figures lately, but surprisingly Admiral Ackbar's new 3 3/4-inch figure is in short supply. Go figure.

--Adam Pawlus

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