Q&A: Vehicles, Exclusive Arrivals, and No Foolin' Around

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, April 1, 2012

The last Walmart exclusives are showing up at brick-and-mortar! (Better late than never!) So let's look at other exclusives too, talk about the future of the MTT which I really do hope does well, then we can examine who else might make neat Star Wars toys should Hasbro decide to go in another direction some day. Read on!

1. Just wondering if Hasbro ever tests new carded figures on pegs? The "Movie Heroes" line, with Darth Maul, easily falls off when they're flipped to the side to search for figures near the backs of the pegs. The J-hooks don't appear big enough to hold the card on the peg when moved to the side, and most of the stores I see them in, there's usually a pile on the shelf below.br> --Chris

I know for a fact that they do, but some things are difficult to tell in isolation. For example, Hasbro's test space may allocate an extra inch or two to a row of figures, which would let you actually see the figures. Target may cram the figures closer together or have longer pegs, or what have you, but yes-- Hasbro does mock stuff up and test it out. (I can't guarantee 100% of the figures are tested, but I know some/most are as new packaging styles are introduced, just like the toys are tested for a variety of reasons.)

The good/bad/good thing about this is that is also highlights a dubious benefit of the vintage cardback, specifically not being able to be easily removed from the peg. This added security has a cost, specifically it requiring we "damage" the figure by punching it to get it on-shelf in the first place. It's also a huge pain in the neck to pull six figures off a peg to get the one you want in the back. I'm spoiled by the days of wonder that were the late 1990s.


2. I have a question about the uncoming Vintage figure preorders. I have notice that e-tailers have these listed as wave 2, revision 2, as well as wave 4. Due in May. Out of the wave with Darth Malgus (first shown at NYCC), he and the Imperial Navy Officer are not shown on this current preorder. According to Hasbro's presentation at the NYCC, The "3rd" wave of the 2012 was to be Darth Malgus, Imperial Navy Officer, Darth Vader (Ep. 4), Luke (Hoth), and Anakin (clone Wars) realistic. These were slated for an April release. Now, is "wave 3", or wave 2, revision 1 still unannounced, has it been overlooked, or did Darth Malgus and the Imperial Navy Commander get pushed back? [excised for space] Also, on sort of the same note, according to the NYTF presentation, It looks as if they plan to release new Vintage figures every month (the last wave is slated to be released in August), suggesting there may still be yet more Vintage goodness for 2012 yet to see. [excised for space] If Hasbro is planning to stop the Vintage for 2013, I am personally all for them going out with a bang. What's your take?

We don't know when (or if) Hasbro is ending Vintage officially yet, but since its June-ish 2010 launch it has been one of the longer-running line looks at roughly 20 months and counting. If Hasbro releases everything they say they will, it will mean we'll basically have the same style cardbacks for over two years, and I think the last time that happened was... um... hmm. Geez, it might've been Power of the Jedi, which ran from roughly summer 2000 to early 2002.

As far as you waves go, a bunch of new preorders have since gone up and you can see the waves as they're listed on your favorite retailer. Remember all dates-- Hasbro's the retailers, whatever I make up to make it look like I know what I'm doing-- are subject to change. Hasbro's are usually +/- a month unless it's a "launch," as in, with one of those street dates Walmart will ignore. I can tell you right now (I wrote this in March, so give me credit for that) these new guys aren't going to show up until some point in April, my money is on late April, but we'll know for sure when they actually show up. Anything in August, short of an exclusive, I wouldn't put a lot of faith in just yet. (As in, it might be September. If G.I. Joe or The Avengers catch fire, that could mean a lot of weird things happen in the back half of the year.)

History tells us lines don't go out with a bang. Few if any toy collectors will look at a series and say "Let me tell you man, that final series? Amazing. It got such great distribution and everything looked awesome!" We'll be lucky if everything looks good, and let's face it-- the way "last waves" usually go, do you really want them to be amazing? I'd be thrilled if the final wave of Vintage was just a bunch of repacks, just so that way fewer fans would be as panicky about getting what they want. (Sorry to you carded folk.)


3. If exclusives continue to educate us that figure packs will often show up cheaper at discounters, or -only- show up at discounters, doesn't that take some of the shine off the whole idea of exclusives in the first place? I mean, Mom and Pop won't always know that an item is only available at one store; they're doing a kid a favor by buying them whatever is available that fits whatever their son or daughter is into.

Exclusives are, I believe, best sought out by collectors who know about them in advance and plan shopping trips around their arrivals. And then, the store hopes, pick up toilet paper, mac & cheese, and other things the store makes more money on. But if I can get the same item at TJ Max for half the price, I can wait.

After seeing the recent fallout of exclusives, it seems that the very concept of this kind of product is nearing the end of its lifespan. So why even bother doing it? Publicity, and inventory. Some exclusive items are done just to guarantee a store has quantity of something to sell at a hot time-- look at Walmart's many exclusives, some of which are just basic products in different packaging, Target and Toys R Us have done this as well. It's just a way to guarantee that if you go to their store at a certain time, you will indeed be able to purchase something. Another reason is raw publicity, in the sense that some media publications actually do write up Comic-Con exclusives and they may make the news on deep cable or the USA Today's web site. That's important, and as publicity goes, relatively cheap. You can pay for an ad, or you can make something cool that makes the news for free, and then sell that thing for a profit. Another reason is, or was in the 1990s, a "thank you" for supporting the line. "We appreciate your business. Here is a 12-inch figure. Enjoy!"

It is rare that an exclusive developed for an account show up exclusively at clearance stores, but it does happen. The Clone Wars Geonosis DVD 2-packs are a rare example of this happening with Star Wars, but it's not uncommon for Walmart's last few units to be sold elsewhere (even at a Toys R Us a few years ago), nor is it uncommon for a Toys R Us exclusive to show up at another account (the 2006 TRU Dagobah X-Wing wound up at Entertainment Earth, for example.) With G.I. Joe, stuff got dumped at Ross a lot lately, but, again this is uncommon. For now.

"The shine" you speak of may be ultimately unimportant if the business end of it is working. I assume it is, but we saw Target drop its Naboo set (which has yet to be spoken of or leaked via Asian eBay sellers) and it really does feel we're suffering a drought of exclusive product right now. So who knows? I'd wager we'll see fewer exclusives, and given that exclusive product is increasingly more common than Vintage product, this worries me.


4. The MTT... that's gonna hurt retail, imho. I've 'waited for clearance' before, and it's a waiting game not always successful. But this one, yeah...I see potentially the entire target audience for this plaything waiting it out. Re-popping the Royal Starship (assuming the molds are still viable) and including a damn sitting Queen (doesn't even need to stand up) would have been a bit more prudent, methinks.

Based on the necessary minimum run quantities for a factory, the Queen's Royal Starship would probably also be a questionable release. Hasbro's selections of vehicles this year-- particularly since neither Pod Racer has an appropriate pilot figure which fits well on the market-- are probably going to mean the new ones, like the just-shipped Naboo Fighter, are going to remain hard to get and this might even be used as an excuse to pull back on vehicles in 2013. Much like how we got maybe, what was it, 5 vehicles and a playset in 2002?

I'm not sure that there's a good answer for what Hasbro should've done. They made the right move to impress their buyers-- but at retail? It's going to be very interesting to see what they show at Toy Fair 2013. (I'm putting my money on AT-TE refresh.) I'm going out on a limb and assuming we're going to see significantly fewer vehicles in the next 18 months compared to the previous 18 months, the "vintage" vehicle line was just a bad, bad idea. No new vehicles? Not even one? Wow. Of course it'll tank!


5. If Star Wars would start all over again, not in any particular format what attributions and considerations would you make for the line if you were in the driver seat. Since 1993 we have seen everything tried for Star Wars with only the 4" line truly surviving the trends. I ask this of you not only as a Star Wars fan but also a toy fan. Personally I would love a Playmobil approach, with less focus on the story of Star Wars but more of a "galaxy building" notion.

Oh, you do have good taste.

I would personally love two new lines. One, Playmobil-- 100% of those figures have working hands, can stand, and nearly all of them can sit in vehicles as appropriate. The toys are durable, and since they're stylized there's no real concern about things like face sculpts for better authenticity. The Luke Playmobil would've made in 1983 wouldn't be as good as the one they would've made in 2012, but it would've been quite similar and most important of all, compatible. So as toys go, I'd love to see them do something-- but honestly, LEGO's kinda already doing it. And my space/finances/things I already skipped prevent me from getting a complete LEGO collection, but really? They're doing a fine job. But Playmobil figures are real, honest-to-goodness toys that always can sit in vehicles, hold their accessories, and stand unassisted. Kenner and Hasbro have not been able to deliver on those features consistently since about 1985... some do, some don't.

I'd love to see the Hasbro 3 3/4-inch collector format either be put on break, or given a deadline. Do everything you can in a year, and then try something else. At this point a Masters of the Universe Classics/DC Universe Classics/Marvel Legends approach would be interesting and a great way to give people a fresh start-- a real new beginning at which you can grab new collectors and fans. A new entry point and something new for collectors could really pump some life into a line which seems to be boldly going nowhere and is alienating fans who just can't find figures due to 12-piece assortments with less than 50% new product per case. I don't relish the notion of $15-$20 for a 6-inch figure, but if Hasbro (or whoever) capped it at 12 or so a year? With few (or no) vehicles and few exclusives or variants, plus the odd build-a-figure? I could go for that.

I might take all this back of the new Battle Packs are as cool as they look. To me, I mean. I know you guys hate them because of the return of the T-Crotches and reduced articulation, but I think that's what might actually make them real toys again. And if I'm wrong? We totally need 6-7-inch scale figures. I love 3 3/4-inch, but at this point I don't think anyone can really comprehend just how many figures there are in this line unless you devote the bulk of your free time to it. I mean, if you just got your first few figures and want to make a hobby out of it? You've got a lot of homework to do.



On questions: I appreciate your submissions. I can't do this column without your participation. But! In case you were wondering, short questions are best-- particularly if I don't have to scan a page or two to find the question part. We may need to do a page for guest editorials or something-- heck, let me know if that's a thing that interests you-- but one of my big problems is being super-verbose. So it's not you, it's me too. On to brighter things!

So remember how the Walmart exclusive Royal Starship Droids and Mos Espa Race figure gift sets showed up online and sold out? Well, I ordered a set online about a week and a half ago and they still aren't here-- but I did see them at Walmart for the very first time over the weekend, at full, regular price. And another. And another. (CURSES!) So if you "missed" the online sale, consider yourself lucky-- there's a very good chance you'll get them in your hands from a local retail store before mine get delivered at this rate, so you're definitely in good shape if you didn't overpay for them on eBay yet. And obviously, the Astromechs are selling first.

As Star Wars goes, it's been a rough week. That and-- and again, you can trace what I'm doing by this-- it's kind of amazing how other companies like Mattel can stretch so much publicity and excitement out of a much smaller line. Right now it looks like Masters of the Universe is going to have, at best, about 23-26 figures this year, plus a couple of larger toys. That's it. And somehow they manage to juice each figure for a lot of excitement and publicity by slowly dripping out things like a figure announcement, followed by a bio, plus semi-regular updates on minor details like we used to get in the (discontinued?) HunterPR Q&A updates as well as word on things like accessories and reissues. With things like packaged shots, each figure is mined for at least 2-3 newsworthy things, and that's not even counting the release of the figure.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm looking at Star Wars between now and Comic-Con and it looks like, at best, we have about 3-4 waves of figures, maybe a couple of vehicles, and zero news. No exclusives, no surprises, and most likely no announcements. I'm sure it's an unfair comparison-- after all, Star Wars has over 2,000 figures over three decades and Masters has, counting generously, something like 150-200 I think, but I have to admire that Mattel's marketing team is making sure that the fanbase-- which is starved for new product-- doesn't get the chance to truly get bored. I fully admit the Star Wars collector is spoiled rotten (and I like it) but it's a little frustrating to think that there's probably zero news or surprise announcements that could possibly come up beyond hypothetical exclusives for Comic-Con (a second one, I mean) which aren't announced yet or something for Celebration VI, of which there's been nary a whisper.

Oh, and I got rejected for a Star Wars Celebration press badge last week. Delightful. Anyway! See you next mission.

--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.