Q&A: Written Pre-Toy Fair, Tweaked At Toy Fair

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, February 18, 2018

This week in Q&A - 3 3/4-inch figures beyond and including Star Wars! The good news? They have a future. The bad news? Well, keep reading. Contract renewals may be happening now - but will Hasbro keep Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel in 2020? Also Solo. And a Sail Barge pitch.

And send in your questions for next week. Read on!

1. Hi! I am one who truly believes that Hasbro will chose not to renew its SW contract with Disney when the current license expires. It seemed apparent to me in last years sneak peak of the 2018 vintage line, where they announced a line that consists primarily of former, peg-warming, new media repacks on vintage cards. This, to me, is an obvious "cut your loses and cost effective" clue if I ever seen one. This passed week, I read this article. I'm sure by now you have as well. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-18/-star-wars-toy-sales-fall-in-2017-as-movie-tie-fatigue-sets-in

It discusses the SW toy industry and how it has really fallen off, especially when it comes to movie lines and the fatigue of it all.

In light of this article, what is your gut opinion on whether Hasbro will re-up when it comes to the SW license? How might they go about winding down the line? What about that vintage Yakface sculpt that is rumored to be out there and the countless other vintage adults that have yet to see the light of day?

This article seems to look for a simple solution and while it would be trite to say "they need to look at the big picture," there's a lot just simply not discussed here. There's little new to buy after launch - almost all of the vehicles are out on day one. Hasbro (and their PR team) have little to no active engagement on segments which interest collectors - we get PR information on Forces of Destiny and Micro Force, but the traditional vehicles and action figures get little to no attention after the launch burst. The company no longer presents a complete line to anybody - code names keep characters secret even from some of the licensees, and truly complete pictures of the toy line are criminally hard to come by. Hasbro makes no effort to explain the products to collectors or most fans - the in-store demo for Force Link is incapable of actually showing that the thing plays more than one voice chip. LEGO is making kits from a cartoon a lot of fans have never and will never see, which cuts your customer base considerably when you figure that it's dad who often wants to buy the set and nostalgia helps kick the purchase to a "yes."

I could go on. Heck, let's go on. Vehicle sales seem down a lot - anything over $30 is likely to have a problem. Assortments are packed strangely, with obscure characters with little visual appeal or movie presence getting produced in equal numbers to stars or the kinds of weird villains, aliens, and robots that drive fans to keep loving Star Wars. There's no real equivalent of Greedo or Walrus Man in this new generation. There are no larger than life beasts other than the Rathtars - and they're not very large. What's more, Hasbro has a product line that seems to be ignoring the previous stories and even fails to support the current Rebels TV show as no new toys were made with season 3 or 4 in mind. On the other side of the coin it seems that some of the collector segments are doing well - the helmets, the 6-inch figures. (At least from where I sit, 6-inch figures seem to be doing better than the 3 3/4-inch figures ever did for our customers at work, which I think I can say without suffering wrath.)

Hasbro is competing with Hasbro for its own product dollars - 12-inch, 6-inch, 6-Inch Black Series 6-inch, Black Series Centerpiece, Black Series 3 3/4-inch, traditional 3 3/4-inch, Galactic Heroes, Micro Force, and Forces of Destiny all had product in circulation since September - and that doesn't even take into account LEGO, Mattel's Hot Wheels, Japanese imports, Sideshow/Hot Toys, statues, busts, and other competing character products. Had the licensing program been a little more restrained, perhaps the product would seem more special.

Having been too young to really have a grasp on the days of the original trilogy, I assume from what I did see that it went from being the hottest ticket in town during the early days of scarcity to being a commodity that people were ready to be done with as the story wrapped up and Ewoks arrived. I assume that unless they have trust their licensees to develop products without being watched like a hawk, Lucasfilm may find it in their best interests to suspend movie production after Episode IX so it can reset and they can come roaring back in 10 years.

I can't lay all the blame on Hasbro. I've seen what they've done with some of their house brands, and they make some great moves. On the whole Transformers has resulted in a lot of really good toys that appeal to a wide mass audience with a small-but-loyal adult collector base and army of buzz marketers. What I see in Hasbro's 6-inch line makes a lot of sense, but Forces of Destiny didn't seem to make a significant impact and I'm baffled by so much new tooling being put in to multiple versions of pilot 3 3/4-inch Poe Dameron. I assume this has to be coming from a higher power. After all, I seem to recall Disney being the driving force behind Playmation - I have to believe they have a lot of control nowadays.

With all of that in mind, I think Hasbro will want to keep it unless Disney raises the guarantees and royalties to absurd levels. In a world with no more new movies (and a lax leash) I bet Hasbro would do well. Hasbro would be wise to prevent Star Wars from going to Mattel or another big toy company. There's simply too many toy makers to be successful, and some of those big electronic toys at Toys R Us since 2015 are never going away. I'm hesitant to blame any of the toy makers - Star Wars isn't Disney. You can't put Darth Vader on absolutely everything and expect it to sell in every format forever.



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2. Mattel picked up the Jurassic Park property from Hasbro. It appears the company is making figures in the 3.75 inch range. This follows hasbro's move to carry this brand
1) Have you seen any of the images or samples up close? If so how do they compare to the hasbro Star Wars offerings? Will Mattel remake figs from original/previous movies?
2) Without being critical of a supplier do you have a sense of Hasbro's focus in making toys (other than making money?) do they want to get out of the action figure business?
3) hasbro has made wonderful four inch figures from marvel movies in two packs for doctor strange, Thor, gotg vol 2. Will hasbro offer any such figures for black panther? Huge miss to make a couple of figures beautifully designed.
I ask about these figures primarily due to customizing options with Star Wars figs.

From what I've seen, they look a lot like Mattel action figures. Hasbro's last 3 3/4-inch offering was for Jurassic Park III, and I bought those on extreme clearance. About $1 per human was not a lot to ask, and about how good they seemed when compared to Star Wars figures of that era. Prototypes and final samples can look drastically different at the smaller size, so I reserve the right to judge 'em until I see them in my hands. I'm not trying to be a weasel here, I'm just remembering how things went with Star Wars. What they showed at Toy Fair is very good and I'll be posting coverage of them at 16bit.com shortly if not by now.

Focus changes from year to year - no matter what internal mantra they're chanting, it will change regardless of success. One year it might be high price points, and then it's low price points. It might be broadening the age group, or focusing on one or two core audiences. I'm really glad Hasbro is focusing more on toys than its entertainment offerings now, but I see no sign that they want to get out of the action figure business. They want people to buy their stuff - if it's successful, they make more. Usually. I don't know if Lucasfilm or Disney are putting any handcuffs on Star Wars-specific ambitions, but I can't deny that there's been a steep drop in "classic" (pre-Disney) characters since the Disney takeover.

At this time I have no insight in more Black Panther figures - if it's coming, I assume it might be as someone's exclusive. Or years down the road. 3 3/4-inch isn't as popular as 6-inch in Marvel... and seemingly Star Wars too.

The theme of your question seems to be "Are 3 3/4-inch figures dead?" and the answer is "no, but the format isn't doing itself many favors." Look at trading cards and comic books at the end of the 20th century - it was more adult-driven, with less kid support. With Pop! vinyl figures, LEGO, and other products, that one size is under siege from all sorts of competition - and that's not even counting video games. The marketplace has created too much competition within a single license for anything to be as successful as it was 20 years ago, The format had a great run in the 2000s - Jurassic Park III through Indiana Jones - and then started to taper off. Star Wars had new figures every 3-5 months in the 1990s and 2000s - now we can go 6 months with no new releases, if not longer. That's no way to hook a customer.




3. What did you think of the Solo teaser and how soon can we expect the toys? Personally, I think it looks very promising even if Alden didn't quite nail Ford but it looks like we could get some cool figures out of it and will be at least as as fun as R1 was which I did not expect from all the bad PR of late.

The teaser felt like a decent appetizer, showing us things I wanted to see like Lando and Chewbacca. Han Solo was also there. The movie looks interesting, but therein lies the rub - the trailers for The Phantom Menace were the greatest things ever. Everything we saw for that movie in 1998 - and a few months in to 1999 - was spectacular. Cool creatures, expertly-crafted teaser trailers, and endless streams of things that looked awesome with no indication as to what the story was. I can infer some Solo details but I really don't know if they're going after Kaiburr Crystals on Mimban or stealing maps to Hyperspace routes to give to the proto Rebels. Maybe it'll be good, but long-term franchise love is rarely sustained by brilliant plots. You have to love hanging out with the characters, which is great for things like the Marvel movies or Star Trek because you rarely have to deal with your favorite character's recasting. Fans hate change - and this movie has a lot of change in it.

The toys are set to launch for Wookiee Weekend, and as of my writing this the date has not been made public or officially said. (And it's moved once since I first heard it.) I can say it's February now and they'd be insane to release it in March and not tell anybody, so... more as I'm permitted.



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Holy Hell, what a weekend.

The single most important thing from Toy Fair - and indeed the weekend - is Haslab's Jabba's Sail Barge. I supported it before Hasbro announced the URL. (I guessed, there were 0 backers at the time. Maybe I'm first!) The rub is that they need to make 5,000 (or more), and it costs $500. You are not charged until the exploratory period ends in April, but you won't get it until 2019. This is what Matty Collector did for Castle Grayskull, and it worked out pretty well.

I saw it in person and it's gorgeous. I had some other conversations later about this toy - and how it could possibly change the direction of the figure line - and I would recommend you support it. If $500 seems like a lot of money (it is), think about it like this. Is it better than buying 50 Force Link figures? Is it better than 10 TIE Silencers? Cooler than 2 1/2 BB-8 Playsets? I saw this four-foot behemoth in person and I can assure you that it is indeed.

Look, if you don't have the space and money? I get it. It's 20% funded in 24 hours and my hunch is that the fandom won't put its collective money where it's mouth is, but I'm thrilled Hasbro let us see how it's doing. The Jedi Temple Archives petition - just a petition! did about 2,000 signatures if memory serves. If I were betting, I'd assume 3,000-4,000 people would buy one - but some might buy 2-3 because they can afford it, and want it to happen. (It's also being built-to-order, so if you waited and had a spare, it might be worth grabbing a second.)

I don't want to editorialize too much on if it will make it or not, but you can see my Sail Barge coverage here. If you're a long-time reader of this column, think about what you actually spend on toys in a year. Yes, this is one ridiculous purchase - but it's not like you had a lot of trilogy-era 3 3/4-inch stuff to buy since 2015. You might not have that many to buy next year either - this is the kind of toy you bought that Kithaba variant for, those Gamorreans for, and all those Nikto and Weequay dudes.

There are very few items that I would want as homes for my figures, but this is on the short list. It may not be big enough to carry Max Rebo's band inside thanks to the other fun play features, but at least it can fit a lot of other stuff. Just give it a thought - odds are you've spent more than $500 per year on this stuff. Wouldn't it be worth it to get a completely definitive version of at least one more original trilogy vehicle?

--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.


Sail barge

I’m a pretty dedicated Jabba collector, doing my best to nab every palace or sail barge related 3.75” release Hasbro has made over the years. I’ve had huge dioramas depicting every Jabba scene from the movies and have hungrily begged for an official sail barge for years. The amount of real estate I currently have dedicated to Star Wars in my tiny Nyc apt. is absurd and god bless my fiancée for putting up with it. And thanks to all of that, I am so bummed that I won’t be adding this to my collection... At half the size, I’d have gladly paid $500 and made it work in my life, but this current behemoth? I feel like it’s hasbro saying something like, “oh I’m sorry, you wanted a sail barge your whole life? F you, here’s your damn sail barge!” In a million years I’d have never imagined that if hasbro finally made the damn thing that it’d be any bigger than the BMF, and I’d have been FINE with that! But 4 feet?! Ugh... anyway, just venting, but also sharing the POV of someone for whom price isn’t the issue. It’s the overwhelming size of the thing that’s causing me to not back this version of something I’ve wanted since I was three.