This week: Battle Pack analysis-- is that a new figure I see? How do store exclusives work? Well, I'll tell you what I think I can get away with. And vintage numbering? Well... OK. All this and more await you, so read on!
1. What's new in the "Search for Luke Skywalker" Battle Pack?
Obviously the Taun-Taun, but is either figure unique?
The Han Solo from that Target-exclusive set is new, as he was slightly redesigned to fit on the Tauntaun's back. The Hoth trooper appears to be recycled, but I can't be certain until I see it up close.
2. I have a few questions regarding the new Vintage Bastila Shan action figure. One, why do you think Hasbro slapped a 'Character Debut, never before offered as a figure' sticker on her bubble? If anything, shouldn't it have a Fan's Choice Poll Winner sticker(I'd rather it not have any sticker myself) There are plenty of other characters in the Vintage line that have never been offered as a figure before, and they didn't get this sticker. Two, I don't ever recall there being an actress hired to protray Bastila Shan in any medium. Who is the model/actress used for Bastila's likeness on the cardback? Three, I would have preferred a Knights of the Old Republic logo on this figure instead of the generic Expanded Universe logo. Why do you think Hasbro chose to use this logo instead of the more visually appealing KOTOR one.
"Character debut" is something Hasbro has done in the past but has ignored in recent years-- Basically, Tarkin got it in 1997 and I guess that's more or less it. (Well, some had "NEW" on them here and there but this is pretty uncommon.) It's also pretty damning as to how repetitive the line has been as of late if a figure is worth calling out as a new character at this point. It might mean more to fans than "Fan's Choice," which could be polarizing. I can't argue with "NEW!" It's a fact. "Fan's Choice" requires some degree of explaining-- most people who buy Star Wars may not be aware such a poll exists and may be left wondering who chose it, and why, because they didn't pick it. (An extra sticker would have been nice though, to maintain consistency with previous winners.)
So why no KOTOR logo? Most likely branding-- "Expanded Universe" is recognizable, and also very vague and encompassing. KOTOR as a logo may indicate to some confused glue-huffing fan that an entire line of figures from the game is on the way, which obviously you want to avoid. I'm quite surprised we didn't even see a Clone Wars logo for "Fordo" a couple of months ago, and I find the EU logo to be a little dull. It's clean, it's nice, it fits in with Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, but I'd love to Hasbro do something different-- even a different color, like blue, would stand out. And for anyone who was here in 2007, making some figures as part of a uniquely colored subline really does seem to help sales!
As to who is the inspiration for the art of Bastila? No idea. I showed the cardback to a few people and was immediately asked when Jennifer Connelly was in Star Wars. As such I'd say it's possible that she served as a model for the art, indirectly, as numerous other famous faces have in the various comic book series (particularly Dark Horse's Star Wars: Union) over the years.
3. My question (and if you've answered this before, sorry): How do "Store Exclusives" come about? Does Hasbro have a bunch of concepts ready to go, and then offer them to the first retailer that comes along looking for an exclusive, or does a company like Wal-Mart say, "We'd like to offer a Jabba the Hutt playset", and Hasbro whips one up? The former seems more likely, but I was just curious as to what degree retailers are tuned in to what fans want, and how much input they have (if any) into the concepts.
I'm not sure how much of it is a trade secret, so I'll tell you that in my job as a guy who works at a toy store who requests exclusives as part of my living, it's a little of each. Some items I've requested-- the Astromech sets of 2006, for example, were about 80% exactly what I wrote in a proposal. Sometimes a company will say "Would you like this?" and sometimes the customer will say "Yes, yes we would!" The Expanded Universe comic pack wave was sort of like this-- the item was already designed, it just needed a home. This almost happened with Wave 2 of the Star Trek movie line as a shared exclusive, and I'd wager that Wal-Mart hasn't asked for the TIE Bomber as an exclusive three times over as a specific choice.
As I do not work at Target, Toys R Us, and Wal-Mart, I don't know how they do things-- I do know they're given proposals but I don't know if they ever say "can you change this?" or "how about this instead?" Most people in the toy business seem to be concerned with achieving certain price points, a $10 exclusive for Easter may be more what they want than a specific kind of item with a specific kind of character. I don't know if any fans at those chains have requested specific items as of yet, but it's not like any of them write thousands of figure reviews or Q&A columns, either. Having said that, I'd expect that Target's frequent request for red clone troopers comes from the company, but for all I know it's Hasbro being proactive on this sort of thing.
4. So my wife has been collecting some of the Monster High dolls. She's not a crazy collector of toys, just a few here and there, but it is an area where out interests overlap so that's cool. Which is really funny because she has referred to some of the larger figures in my collection as dolls and we get a fun debate going about the difference between action figures and dolls. Anyway it got me to thinking about Hasbros old 12 inch line and even a lot of the Sideshow figs and other companies to take a stab at these. While the body is usually the same and the head sculpt varies for each figure, there are a ton of pieces of clothese and armor and such. In general what are the manufacturing and development costs like? I never thought about it as I have pretty much always been into the 3 3/4 scale figs. I know these tend to come at a premium (I'd rather buy a ton of small figs and ships than one big figure). Had Hasbro amped up the larger figs with the detail Sideshow puts into them would you think the cost would be the same or more? I always chalked up the high prices for sideshow cause they aren't a massive beast Hasbro is thus their development and distribution costs more and the end product is more expensive.
There are a ton of factors beyond raw size when it comes to figuring out costs, not the least of which is level of detail on accessories and deco, combined with edition sizes. Sometimes it makes sense to charge more for some items just because you can-- it helps subsidize less-popular or more expensive characters.
I would equate 12-inch figures to cars. Some people want a $13,000 car. Some people want a $40,000 car. Functionally they may be similar-- and in terms of everyday use, the cheaper one sometimes has minor advantages, like spring-loaded mechanisms in toys or a smaller frame for parking a Smart Car. It really boils down to what a company makes and how they want to market it, with various bells and whistles adding to the costs.
With Medicom and Sideshow, they're making a luxury product-- and they have extra pieces, and you're paying for those. I'm not at liberty to give you specific numbers, and it's tough to say what Hasbro would charge for better large figures or if it would even matter. If Hasbro pumped out a "Hasbro Signature" 12-inch Boba Fett, they could in theory charge more if they wanted to and felt that they should. And even if they didn't, it's possible the retailers could charge more because they felt it appropriate. Since Sideshow has a direct-to-consumer business model, that may alter their prices as well, possibly higher (as they're a monopoly over that sort of thing) or lower (as they can pass the savings along to you.)
Kenner and Hasbro made cheaper 12-inch figures for a reason-- in order to sell what they (as companies) felt necessary for the product to be a success, they needed to make a cheaper item. Hasbro is, quite rarely, in the "collectible" business-- most of their stuff is meant to be sold to a mass audience, with many of their 12-inch figures in the range of 20,000-30,000 pieces while Sideshow is content to sell things closer to 1,000 pieces at times.
I know that's a vague answer, but I've seen companies do this sort of thing in every direction. It really depends on the company culture, management, and given that they're businesses, what you're willing to pay for something. Also, Monster High dolls share a fair amount of parts and are much simpler toys than action figures. I could go on about this-- and sometimes do-- but the fact that we ask for a lot of articulation does alter what it costs to develop a figure. A simple Barbie is about a foot tall and six bucks, while a basic Star Wars figure is about $9... and even before the prices shot up, it was still $6 or $7.
5. By now you have surely seen the recently list of Vintage numbering provided by Hasbro (reproduced below). This list contradicts the Hasbro presentation from Comic Con.
For example, the first four figures in the list are part of teh Wal-Mart exclusive wave. But the SDCC presentation showed six figures in that wave including Ric Olie and G8-R3. No one gives crap about canceling Ric Olie but I am a fan of astromechs. Where’s the G8-R3? Do you have information on this?
I don't have any information on this yet-- and until Hasbro solicits cases, which sometimes include the VC number, we won't know unless someone finds it and literally sends us a picture. Things are subject to change... and typos could mean that what they meant to do and what the packaging says are two different things.
Also, I'm not exactly certain that Wal-Mart's figures will be on vintage cardbacks. Hasbro should have more to say about it in two or three weeks.
Could I use this space for something somewhat self-serving? Sure, why not. Never stopped me before. This week it doesn't have much to do with Star Wars.
If you weren't previously aware, I work at Entertainment Earth for my day job, and I spend my nights doing Q&A, FOTD, 16bit.com, and other toy-related functions. At work I do a lot of merchandising, I manage most of the exclusive products, and I do some of the marketing and consulting-- and right now I'm working on Venture Bros. 3 3/4-inch action figures after being involved with the development. I'm wasting your valuable time with it here because some of you are fans of the show and I don't know where else you would necessarily hear about this line. The scenario here is similar to one fans have brought up for other lines: the pre-orders are up to see if there's enough interest to continue production and put these out for 2012. If the interest is there, there will be figures. If not? Well, that'll be it.
I'm also still going through the Star Wars Blu-Rays, which is always interesting, and in spots bizarre, to watch. I've gotten through most of the extras (probably won't ever watch the 501st doc or the clipfest of spoofs), and as I write this I'm almost done watching The Phantom Menace. I have to say it has aged slightly better than I expected, the transfer isn't ideal but the movie is better than the lot of you would have me remember. It's still clunky in spots-- the pod race goes on forever, and Jar Jar as a character was given a second chance on TV with The Clone Wars and I'd say that version seems just a little bit better. It's bizarre that the cartoon character is less cartoony than the movie character.
Still not sure how it's going to do in 3D next year... but Lion King just spent two weeks at #1 in theaters so clearly there's an interest for this kind of thing.
Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with Q&A in the subject line.