So let's talk about vehicles, and get a little less optimistic for 2012 in that department. Why isn't Hasbro better exploiting TV series based on its core properties for new toys? A fine question. And why hasn't Hasbro given us a Marvel Legends-ish line yet? Would someone please tell me, because I'd like to know in this week's Q&A!
1. Any insight in to future case assortments for Class II vehicles? Any chance we'll actually see a Mandalorian Assault Transport vehicle at retail? I know you can/could buy these online, but I'm not sure I've heard of someone getting this at local retail.
I get that Hasbro is trying to milk old molds and repaints for fat cash, but the newer vehicles have been incredibly scarce. Along with the never seen Mandalorian Assault Transport, I don't think I saw the Republic Cannon more than once or twice at retail. I'm not sure why they don't put the newer vehicles in more case assortments.
In your infinite toy wisdom, can you explain?
The last few months basically shows that when it comes to midsize vehicles, either we can't see the big picture or Hasbro's asleep at the wheel. The Vintage Class II vehicles are straight repacks, more or less dooming it to package completists and kids who missed the figures only. The new Phantom Menace vehicles are a mix of vehicles that are cheaper to buy on eBay, and two of them-- Sebulba's Pod Racer and Anakin's Pod Racer-- do not have compatible pilot figures available anywhere this year. Sebulba is only in a hard-to-find exclusive which basically has yet to be properly distributed, and no Anakin was sold to fit the cockpit. In short, Hasbro has successfully set the stage to kill this assortment by Q3 2012 if it wants to.
With that in mind, I don't know if Hasbro plans on repacking scarce vehicles or not. A Vintage repack of the Mandalorian Assault Transport makes a lot of sense-- it would look awesome-- but I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I have absolutely no data in my hands right now indicating when (or if) future waves of Class II vehicles after the Naboo Fighter will ship.
We may be in the midst of a line shrink, much like we saw in 2003, with fewer SKUs available and some stores not carrying the full line. Walmart is already jettisoning a number of new-for-2012 assortments, so we might be looking at mini vehicles and basic figures in a hsort period of time. Hasbro is aware of the distribution problem, and all I can say for now is that when it comes to the Mando Transport, it's online, Canada, or bust. Multilingual packaging is quite common on eBay, and a reissue of the ship would undoubtedly be at least $25 before tax. With that in mind, if you can get one for $35-$40 on eBay, now may be a good time to do that. (It's a neat vehicle. It's not awesome, but it's fun and I wouldn't feel like a dunce springing $40 for it, if it comes to that.)
2. Why in the world does Hasbro not realize that shows like The Clone Wars and shows like their own GI Joe Renegades have opened up the proverbial flood gates on options for "new character" creation? Endless lists of new figures can and should be made from this show. They have done a good job thus far but what is there bases for the figure choices that they want to sell or feel are profitable? The reason I ask is Hasbro seems to have creatively tapped out (your line from last week's Q&A) based on collector choices yet they still say kids are their number one buyer? What is the deal here? Can you help me understand why they wont make some of these newer characters from the clone wars either as real style or animated figures? I wont list any because there's just too many to count....
The Hasbro of 2012 is not the Hasbro of 1999, or 1984. Today's Hasbro fancies itself a media company and is increasingly obsessed with things like ratings for TV properties and, as always, suits seem to be dictating things in the line that aren't obvious to us from the outside. (This is my diplomatic way of saying "Derryl knows the score, someone must be undermining him or something.") So let's tackle this one by one.
Why no Renegades? G.I. Joe's new cartoon was pretty much stillborn and the figure line as a whole is having intense problems, with some characters like a new Storm Shadow being impossible to find (I want one and have never seen it) while others like the new Kwinn and Data Viper were canceled after Hasbro showed them to fans at one or more toy conventions. So that whole brand is a clusterfudge and right now, all we can do is hope the movie line is a rip-roaring success that is so hot, Hasbro has to get some of its unreleased figures and/or unreleased Renegades figures out in a hurry as line figure. (Spoiler alert: this will not happen.)
So new characters or no, it doesn't matter. Hasbro decided the show is dead and is moving on to the movie, and even "classic" stuff is suffering.
With The Clone Wars, again, the ratings are low and Hasbro (and Lucasfilm) are shifting their energies to the 3D movie reissues right now. Seeing the clearances and massive amounts of buy-one-get-one-half-off deals in the last couple of weeks, my guess is this didn't work. (I don't blame them for backing the movie, but well, look at it.) The animated line is packed with awesome new characters but Hasbro is hell-bent on not giving them the most sensible distribution, with some characters that should be poor sellers (Darth Sidious) getting the same awful distribution as clones that kids and collectors may actually recognize and ask for (Commander Bly). We've seen precious few figures given a second lease on life, with Aayla Secura and Hondo Ohnaka being two "rare" figures getting reissues in the last couple of years. Heck, if you look at the first two waves of 2012, pretty much everything is a new version of an existing character, with the only figure making its animated toy debut is Boss-- and this makes his third figure, although his first-ever non-exclusive release.
So I guess my answer is this: Hasbro isn't interested in exploiting the figures it made to the fullest extent possible, and most likely one of the suits say "Jedi and clones sell, so just focus on the big winners," missing the point of a diverse line being what draws in fans, collectors, and (hopefully) a returning collector generation after they grow up and get jobs. With this line Hasbro has left a lot of money on the table, and while I don't know the reasons for this (or if I do, I don't fully understand what it is I'm seeing and neither do any other collectors) all I can say is that it seems we're seeing the line handled in such a way that the armchair quarterback toy fans like me and you and the rest could see this as being a problem a year in advance. Like when they announced a new Malakili in 2009... what were they thinking? We don't know. But we do know the line is going to suffer a bit as a result, as this "only 19 figures, old or new" business is showing-- at this rate we're going to be done for the year before school lets out for summer.
The upside is a smaller selection of figures usually means better distribution. If you look at the three waves of Clone Wars at the online shops which sell by the case, you'll note that Cody, Anakin, and the ROTS-style clone got carried forward to wave 2, and the new entries from wave 2 (Boss, Rex, and Obi-Wan) actually are being brought back for wave 3. Assuming Hasbro holds to its 19 carded figure tally, there should be one more wave of basic figures with 2 "new" (possibly repackaged) figures.
So with that in mind, I guess what I'm saying is yes, the TV shows are basically massive treasure troves of fantastic newness, but that doesn't even matter because Hasbro can't quite seem to handle the lines in a manner that you or me or even worse, the average kid can handle. If we can't find stuff, kids can't find stuff, and if kids can't find stuff, they have no reason to pay any attention to the line. If I were a parent right now, I'd probably look at Clone Wars and say "No, don't get any of these, these are just like the figures we bought you last year." Clones and newly-sculpted Jedi of existing characters in existing outfits is not an enticing purchase, particularly when Hasbro could have (and should have) saved money just reissuing the 2010 Anakin and Obi-Wan again. (Even though, yes, the new sculpts look like they're pretty good.)
...all the doom and gloom aside, this is normal for the toy business. Hasbro has made it difficult to get several items from its Transformers, Iron Man 2, and Indiana Jones lines recently (yes, even more difficult than Star Wars) and Mattel's treatment of Masters of the Universe from 2002-2004 is textbook toy frustration. Generally, if a brand can survive these things it should come out for the better, although I'd say Transformers has been flailing since early 2011 as new product goes and the He-Man relaunch of 2002 really never got "better" during its all-too-brief run.
3. Adam, not sure if you have already touched on this but I am wondering if there is any differences (paint, parts, etc.) between the just released pod racer vehicles and the ones from the original Phantom Menace toys 10+ years ago. Also if you would also hit on the differences in the soon to be released Naboo fighter and the old one.
The Naboo Fighter is the only complete new mold, but the AAT is a heavily modified version of the original. (With some new tooling that renders one of the included stickers worthless.) The Sebulba Pod Racer has new labels and is more vibrantly colored, while Anakin's Pod Racer is brighter as well, and certain elements are molded in color rather than painted silver. You can definitely tell the difference if you put them side-by-side.
If you want figures which can actually fit in the Pod Racers, you'll need to buy the 1999 originals anyway-- the pack-in Anakin and Sebulba were designed with the vehicles in mind. Hasbro's 2012 selections for the characters do not fit without a lot of cramming, Sebulba in particular is too large and Anakin's hands don't fit on the controls. If you get either vehicle and figure from 1999, they'll fit just fine. Oh, and they're like half the asking price of the new ones. Nicely done, Hasbro.
The 2012 Naboo Fighter is a completely new mold-- so it has an astromech socket, and I believe is slightly longer than the original.
4. I'm cool with the release of the MTT. I would have preferred animated Battel Droids but I'm good with it. Also would have rather had a Sith Infiltrator on the big scale as this is the year of Darth Maul, a Sandcrawler (really why not ...we are gettign the MTT) or another Clone vehicle but this is what we have. Do you know of any whispers of a big one for 2013? You may not be able to say what it is even if you have heard the slightest thing, but can you at least say you have heard there is something on tap? No doubt it would have to be in development right now if there is. Just hoping if the MTT does tank, Hasbro doesn't think the big vehicles are then off the table. They could just re-release the AT-TE since it is in AOTC (assuming it does arrive in 3-D) or Slave-1 or both. Well there's always another Republic Gunship to be made too.
Well, you can be cool with it, but what I don't get is why so many of you have been writing into me saying "Well we got our first-ever MTT, so Hasbro has got to make a new Sandcrawler!" Where is this leap coming from, particularly when the existing Sandcrawler mold could probably be reused again?
As to 2013? No whispers. Hasbro may be working on it right now, given most big ticket items could be in development for as long as (or longer than) 18 months before they hit stores. We really don't know how Hasbro defines success, or if it even matters with big-ticket items. For all we know these exist solely as a marketing icon to drive attention to the brand and to grab shelf space, propping up Star Wars as another Big Deal for a few more years.
I really really really doubt we'll get another Sandcrawler in the next few years. Hasbro's vehicle tooling library is packed with vehicles which, frankly, they can still exploit-- for the next 4 years alone we've got the AT-TE, Turbo Tank, and Millennium Falcon followed with another grab at the AT-AT. Hasbro may not need or want to do something new, and to be honest, I kind of hope they don't. Of course, if they do, my money is on-- as you mention-- a new Republic Gunship before anything else, that mold is golden and eBay prices seem to be high still.
5. You said that you weren't sure of the future of action figures considering the costs were rising while the price of video games is continually dropping, making them more and more an alternative for those hard fought kiddy allowance dollars. I wondered in the light of that what you thought of Skylanders.
They seem to have created something very popular with a foot in both the action figure and video game camps.
Given that Star Wars is popular as both action figures and video games, and that Hasbro likes to pull inspiration from other companies' hit new thing (Squinkies vs Fighter Pods, etc) do you think Skylanders might point to a possible future for Star Wars?
Maybe even something they could do in compatible scale to the existing 3 3/4" line?
It will only happen if Hasbro and Lucasarts, the Lucas software division, play nice. I'm actually more surprised LEGO hasn't done this with the Kinect or iSight, integrating toys kids own into the game if they hold it in front of the camera. It's easy and (other than the long development times for games and toys) it's doable, but man I bet it'd be pricey.
With Skylanders, Activision pretty much runs the show-- they distribute the games and figures, and have the marketing muscle to do this with (more or less) an existing IP with Spyro. There's no reason this couldn't be done with anything, but you really do need to do it in a way that appeals to millions of kids, not tens-to-hundred of thousands of collectors. Oh, and Skylanders are really expensive. You need to buy a game system ($$$), a game package with a device to read the figures ($$), and then new, non-articulated figures ($) to play the game. It's a fad product, it might be a productive fad that lasts 3-5 years, but it's difficult to maintain long-term focus with kids (and their parents) buying and staying in a single brand.
So yes, to answer your question? Sure, this could be done, and Hasbro might even do this in a lower-budget way involving an ARG with a webcam, but Skylanders has a big chunk of software with one of the biggest publishers in the world behind it. The real question is, is it possible that something like this could make Star Wars action figures cool for kids again? I kind of doubt it. I don't get why they didn't do something with Kinect Xbox tying in with Hasbro lightsabers-- the possibilities are endless, Hasbro and Lucas' software teams just aren't going down that road right now.
There really aren't many competitors to Skylanders in the game+toy space right now, but my guess is there will be in the next year. Hasbro does like to follow trends (see: Furry Frenzies [Zhu Zhu Pets], Bot Shots [Bakugan], Kre-O [LEGO], Fighter Pods [Squinkies], and a few aborted attempts in the vehicle space) and odds are after the success of Skylanders in the last few months, they're working on one or more toy lines similar to it right now. That we may never ever hear about, because, well, most of what goes on at these companies doesn't necessarily see production. When you get right down to it, the success of Skylanders can be tied to engaging the young boy market-- this isn't really college kids or older collectors, but the same group that, over the years, has given life to Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and other great properties. Nearly every toy company is working on some sort of iPad integration with its brands (games/movies/etc.) and you'll be seeing these in stores over the next few months. And on clearance racks in or by January. To date (as far as I know) Hasbro hasn't whispered about any Star Wars toys to integrate with any current software platform.
How is the new Republic Attack Dropship? A mix of "excellent" and "whoops." I've never seen Hasbro pack so many play features into a ship this small; the ability to "drop" two figures into battle with adjoining backpacks with big guns was incredibly clever. It can convert into a sort of "landing" mode and a "fighter" mode, it has firing rockets, and it can stand up nicely. Its main fault is figure compatibility, as the canopy is incredibly tight for the included figure and the backpack guns are a little awkward for figures to grasp. As a toy, it does more than most vehicles at twice the price, although since no kid will ever find it, they aren't going to have to worry about that part.
And yeah, at this point I think I'm going to start actively lobbying for a "larger format" figure from Hasbro. I'd like to see if they can out-Matty Mattel in terms of a quality larger action figure, and-- at this point-- I think a new scale, a genuine fresh start may be just the thing to pull in lapse fans and rejigger the system. I mean, I love my 3 3/4-inch babies. I really do. But while I had no problem displaying 100 of them, 2,000 gets tricky. But man, I'd love to see if Hasbro could take the slow approach and crank out something like 150-200 really good 6-7-inch-scale figures. Darth Vader should be able to pal around with Skeletor, the Joker, and Dr. Doom.
At this point, unless there's a licensing (or royalty-eats-the-profit-margins) reason I'm going to guess that Hasbro probably is going to see a point where the price for 3 3/4-inch figures gets high enough where a quality ("quality" means "minimum of 16 points of articulation per") larger figure line may end up being a really good idea, particularly if fans seem really warm to the idea.
This is where you come in.
Do you think this is a good idea? Write in the comments. Post in the forums of your choosing. Write a blog post on your web site, compose an editorial. Oh, and if you hate it? Do the same thing. As of right now I can't imagine being remotely excited for Attack of the Clones 3D product next January-ish. Oh boy, obligatory Clone repaints and if we're lucky, more vehicle reissues? I can't say I'm particularly excited over more of the same, and after seeing what we got for The Phantom Menace the new-to-old ratio wasn't so hot. So Hasbro, if you're reading, why not kick off with a swell 7-inch scale line? Kick off wave 1 with a mix of Attack of the Clones figures like Anakin, Jango, Dooku, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and follow it up with Ahsoka and a few Clone Wars characters in "real" style for wave 2. (And then wait.) I'm game now. I don't think I'd be happy to see another two years of figures with higher prices and reduced articulation-- there shouldn't be an inverse relationship here.
So how about it, Hasbro? For this year, you're giving us Amp'd and Fighter Pods, and while I don't want to sound ungrateful, well, c'mon. How about it?
Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.