Q&A: More Vintage, Spoil Your Kids, Beastly Things, and the Disease of High Price Points

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 29, 2012

So what are the chances of a Sith-centric Vintage wave before the break? Wow, none. Sorry dude. How best to spoil a kid with vehicles and figures this Holiday Season? Sure, let's answer that. All this and a lengthy tirade about what may be the wrong direction for the toy biz, and naturally, that's the direction we're going. Read on for more, and ask a question for next week!

1. What would be the possibility of Hasbro planning to go out with a Sith inspired wave for the vintage line before the "hiatus". Some hard-to-find figures already released, with a high standard of concept art on Vintage card: Darth Talon, Asajj Ventress, Darth Revan, Dark Woman, Jarael, Armoured Savage Oppress, Darth Nihlus.

Zero possibility. Unless Hasbro pushes back the hiatus, what's done is pretty much done-- wave 6 is shipping, wave 7 should make it this year, and after that? That's it. It's done for now, although Hasbro did say they were resting it with the intent of bringing it back again some day.

As far as I've been able to determine, Hasbro says it takes about 18 months to get a product from concept to market, although it seems that 12 is a bit closer to the mark, and repackaged and/or repainted items can make it out in as little as seven or eight months, pending approvals and everything.

To take it one step further: what you're asking for flat-out isn't going to happen, probably ever. That much Expanded Universe, with a mix of repacks, animated-style figures, and (I assume) a new sculpt or two, is not viable from where Hasbro sits. If they put out a wave with that many female characters and bad guys-- Jarael and Dark Woman are hardly Sith characters-- it's retail poison. You're going to need to mix a wave up with (frankly) recognizable characters, of which you have none for most fans. Generally Hasbro's assortments start to suffer when they leave out the token Darth Vader or other familiar figure, as we've seen this year.


2. For Christmas, my mom wants to get my nephew (he's 5) the CW Delta Starfighters he doesn't have.

He has Obi-Wan's and Anakin's vehicles and their astromechs . . . so we're getting him the Rise of Boba Fett set from TRU, Ahsoka's fighter and R7-A7, and R7-D4.

What is the best (most easily poseable / fits the best in the cockpit) Plo Koon, CW-style figure for piloting that vehicle?

If you didn't already buy these items-- I assume you might be hitting up the secondary market-- I'd do some research with the kid first. I hear a lot of people plonk down big bucks on things the kid more or less didn't necessarily care about, because kids (much like adult collectors) will almost always say "yes" when asked if they want a figure, toy, or character because everybody always loves to get new toys. Having said that.

If money is no object, the best Plo Koon "pilot" is the one packaged with Plo Koon's Speeder Bike. It's relatively cheap, has cloth lower robes, plus has a bonus speeder bike with it. It may be on clearance at a closeout store near you, or you may be able to get one cheap in a lot, on eBay, or at a weird store that usually doesn't do much toy business. What I'm getting at is don't pay $20 for it unless you have to.


3. I was just wondering if Hasbro said anything at SDCC about any type of mass U.S. release for the Naboo Fighter? I have noticed that I couldn't find one on ebay and I haven't really seen anybody reporting these found anywhere. Are these still coming out?

Like many items, this item isn't meant to be elusive or an exclusive. Stores are so choked up with old stock of this assortment that they aren't ordering new ones. I assume "mass U.S. release" is code for "big box store," and Walmart, Target, Kmart, Toys R Us, and the rest don't necessarily distinguish wave 1 from wave 2. They see a VEHICLE ASSORTMENT and when VEHICLE ASSORTMENT runs low, they order more VEHICLE ASSORTMENT. If each store has a sufficient quantity of VEHICLE ASSORTMENT, that's it-- no more until it sells down. This assortment is out. I got one. It's real. (It's OK.)

I've started seeing the 2 new Battle Packs (Bespin, Naboo) at Target so these items do make the rounds as stores request them. The wave 1 for vehicles this year was just unfortunate, I could speculate all day on why it bombed but it doesn't matter. What matters is that it's still out there, and until it goes away (or it gets dumped) it could be a while before the Naboo Fighter hits mass retailers. Until then, online is your main option. Like it or not, we're in an era where toys are getting iffy distribution across the board-- not just Hasbro, not just Star Wars-- so you might have to broaden your horizons, like pick up a Yellow Pages and check every last store that might have a toy aisle with your fingers crossed.

4. Did Hasbro have any comments at SDCC on the deluxe [vehicle with figure] line's performance at retail? Is it continuing and if so any chance of the Y-Wing Scout Bomber being re-released? I would definitely be a fan of seeing these in vintage, mini-rig style boxes down the road.

Hasbro showed 0 non-exclusive vehicles and 0 non-exclusive Battle Packs. Unless they're saving that for Celebration VI, I would do the math and assume very few to no new vehicles are coming, and I wouldn't hold your breath on a Y-Wing Scout rerelease-- while people did have a hard time finding it, I saw (and continue to see) them around here and there so I'd keep hunting if I were you. Particularly at places that do a lot of business of rejects and overstock.


5. Kudos to Hasbro on keeping most of the new stuff under wraps until SDCC, after a couple lackluster years at the show this latest display got me more interested in other aspects of the line again. What are your thoughts on seeing Jocasta Nu produced? We could probably use this as the benchmark example of "never say never", especially after the number of times they Hasbro said "never" about her in their Q&A's.

Jocasta Nu and her release is clearly just a way to provoke an argument in fan circles. I don't care what figure it is-- $25 retail is a recipe for failure. I sincerely hope Brian's Toys doesn't get stuck with them, but look at the last few exclusives sold at StarWarsShop.com, Diamond/Previews, and Entertainment Earth-- they stuck around for a while, some showed up on extreme closeout, and in the case of the StarWarsShop.com ones, they hung around for years.

I want a Jocasta Nu, and I think if they slapped her on a Vintage card (particularly in a final wave) she'd do OK. I realize some of you mock her, but in a rare, non-snarky moment: is she any less ridiculous than Willrow Hood, BoShek, or most of the new characters we get these days? Throw her in a gift set at Target with Obi-Wan and some random Jedi library patron, and she could probably still be $25 and a more attractive product. $25 for one figure-- the very notion of a "deluxe" figure in this day and age is preposterous unless there's some fancy-pants accessory like an escape pod or a chunk of a cave-- it's going to be a struggle. I'll be preordering one, mostly to support the line and because Mrs. Q&A is a librarian (who dislikes Star Wars, but whatever, it's for me.)

If it works, it has the dubious benefit of setting a precedent that this kind of product has a place in the marketplace. We're seeing all toy lines creep up in price while quality dips this year, the notion that fans are willing to pay $25 for a single figure could mean rough times ahead for us all.

Beyond her, well, I don't know. Some stuff leaked, quite a bit in fact, and I don't really know if the 2013 preview has me at all excited about the prospects of the future. I know we basically have to accept Attack of the Clones as our marketing overlord, but The Phantom Menace proved that the marketplace may not necessarily accept this kind of product offering. I have a feeling we may be in for another rough retail year, but exclusives-- like always as of late-- should be fine, which is good because that's where the creamy center is this time around. I actually am struggling to recall an exclusive (that was not dumped at Ross) that was tough to get, so in most respects we should be OK this year? I think?



High prices are largely speculated to be the cause of death for this aspect of the hobby, and I don't doubt it. If you look at our brother collecting hobbies-- trading cards and comic books-- both had a very interesting trajectory which was highlighted quite nicely by Super 7's Frank Supiot. Frank likes old stuff, and his company handed out an actual trading card waxpack with a waxy wrapper and crappy 1980s-style cardboard trading cards to promote his company's brands and licenses at Comic-Con this year. His fetishistic attention to detail and blistering enthusiasm over the quality of this item struck a chord to me: they really don't make them like this any more. Even low-end collectibles like comics and cards now seem to only come in a "prestige" format.

Collectible items from childhood usually became collectible (as in, expensive) by accident. Comic books were 30 cents, on newsprint, and tended to be pretty popular. Today, comic books are usually $3 or $4, printed on some heavier stock with cardboard covers in some cases, and are priced out of the impulse price point for a kid. Trading cards used to be crappy things you got with even worse gum, printed cheaply, with one side being sort of glossy and the other being a rotten, cheap cardboard stock material. They, too, were dirt cheap and because of this, were widely purchased and collected by huge numbers of people. Today trading cards and comic books are largely in the realm of nerds (even sports nerds) with kids being less interested in the non-sports stuff. There's still a market, but it's not what it was. and it's certainly not cheap.

Character-based toys may be going the same way. You'll disagree, I'm sure, but price points don't lie. Hasbro's $10 Transformers assortment is now $15, reduced in size, and with fewer rivets and screws. G.I. Joe has gone from being a $2 or $3 product purchased by hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to a $10 product purchased by no one, because there's nothing new to get half the time, because Arctic Destro is still rotting in stores.

This isn't necessarily limited to toys, cards, and comics-- look at film. Blockbuster movies are getting super expensive and ticket prices are skyrocketing, 3D is taking the place of lenticular covers or holograms, Meanwhile, video games has an interesting schism where a chunk of the market is sticking to the old ways-- expensive $20-$60 software sold to an increasingly hardcore, almost "collector" audience-- and a large number of downloadable apps under $10 which seem, in many cases, to be doing pretty well. I'm not saying the $50 or $60 game is dead, but does a kid need New Super Mario Bros. 2 when they can get Angry Birds for close to free?

Price point matters, and toy companies know it. Hasbro is introducing a $3 blind-bagged Transformers Kreon figure this year, in addition to cheap Fighter Pods and other low-cost blind bagged items you'll no doubt hear about very soon. Mattel continues to do fairly well with its core brands, and the classic $1-or-so Hot Wheels car is doing pretty well. Its prestigious collector-target action figure lines, on the other hand, are struggling as labor and materials demand a $20 figure now be $25, and collectors don't seem to be wanting to have any part of it as a result. (This is, of course, a shame. The bulk of Mattel's collector figure output is quite good, especially when you compare the $20 Draego-Man to the $10 Grand Moff Tarkin.) Of course, Mattel also did the unthinkable and brought out a $6 Batman assortment-- proving, amazingly, that it can still be done.

So what am I getting at? Hasbro needs to keep looking at how to get costs down. $10 is a lot for an impulse buy, but cutting articulation to make an affordable figure may be a good idea. Perhaps re-introducing the lower-grade card stock used on many 1990 Kenner figures could be smart, too. There's no way Hasbro will continue its $10 14-jointed figures for long, costs will catch up and cost us deco, accessories, or other features while kids and collectors realize there are cheaper thrills to be had. I mean, I can buy lots of interesting toys from the 1990s for pennies now.

We really are in the midst of the golden age of collectible toy action figures. For oldsters, this is it. I'll go as far as to say from 1999 to about now, things have been good, and they may have hit something of a peak around 2010... but it'll be a few years before we know for sure. With Mattel's Masters of the Universe line on the bubble, it's certainly unfortunate to see that Matty, as America's arguably best collector-only male action toy segment, may fade away while similarly priced (and generally more expensive) Revoltech and Figma flourish in Japan. Granted, there are many possible reasons for this, but it seems the $20-$45 collector price point may not have much life left in the USA and the very notion of a $5-$10 action figure may be a thing of the distant past. Unless, of course, you're Matt Doughty, who just had an amazing lauch of the super-cool Armorvor figure last night. (It sold out in under 40 minutes.)

I've got my eye on a new generation of neat, cheap toys right now including LEGO Blind Bagged figures, Hasbro's Bot Shots, October Toys' OMFG, and especially the bizarre and confusing story of Jakks Pacific's MUSCLE-like Slug Zombies. Not only are they all very collectible, but they're cheap and squarely aimed at kids. Remember kids? We were kids once, that's why we're here collecting today: there was cheap stuff we could afford or convince our parents to buy us. Here's to many more years of taking toys away from children.

--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.