Q&A For September 26, 2005

 

1. am i the only one who feels hasbro kinda dropped the ball as far as christmas shopping goes? in a movie year no less. how can they claim they were taken by suprise by the sucsess of the line. its the last star wars movie ever. dont you think kids are gonna want a star wars christmas. why such a crappy selection? the battle packs and evolution sets are a nice touch but is this enough? no new vehicles? crappy repaints and holo figures? the holiday vader is a big old slap in the face. who evers idea that was should be fired. looks like something someone did on their lunch break in the back alley, before the big presentation. it also seems like hasbro is cleaning house. drop the 12" line, unleashed are on "hiatus", expand into more kid friendly toys ala galactic heroes, force batlters, jedi force... do you think there is a chance the 3 3/4" line might go on "hiatus" while they explore other options? or release far fewer figures? as exclusives? and focus on kids more and to hell with the whinney collectors. we havent really heard anything beyond the first wave of figures next year. could we see a repeat of the OTC line with a few new sculpts in a sea of repacks?
--Stanley

Before I get to the real point, let me pose a question: Since August of 1995, Hasbro has been cranking out a fairly steady stream of action figures from six movies, numerous comics, novels, games, and concept art books. Is it really such a bad thing if, after this amazing year of about 100+ figures, Hasbro reduced the load on us poor collectors? I liked 2004 because it was fairly easy going. 21 Saga figures, 7 brand new OTC figures, a few Ultras, 12 Vintage OTC figures, a couple of exclusives, and a healthy smattering of OTC redeco figures. (Depending on how you count. Some people think Bespin Luke is a new figure, some people think that X-wing Luke minus the buckteeth was a new figure, others see Chewie with a bowcaster as a new figure. I leave this up to you.) My point is this: From 1978 to 1985, you got, at best, 12 new figures or so a year and lots and lots of repackages, and the line was HEALTHY. I think that's the future of Star Wars-- keep figures kids and newbies want in circulation, and make a bunch of new stuff to keep the hardcores like you and me around. There's a lot of people that want a Darth Vader that don't have one because they can't find the right one-- the 500th Vader for $15-$20 ain't it, and the Evolutions set, while awesome, is not $5.99.

To continue my pre-answer tangent, as a kid, I really wanted the basic, original Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. (I wasn't exactly capable of being a fan in 1977. So I missed it when they were common.) I was positively elated when, around 1983, JC Penny offered them in the catalog. If I didn't get these figures, I'd be pretty irate-- they were important to my being a young fan and turning into the raving lunatic whose column you follow once a week. In short, rehashes and recards are needed to make new fans. While things are available on eBay, your barrier to entering the hobby needs to be low-- not every fan needs an Ephant Mon, but absolutely ever fan needs access to Lukes and Chewbaccas and Vaders. But yeah, OK, let's get moving here. What did you want to know again? Oh yeah, Holiday '05 is crap.

Looking over the rest of the assortments for 2005-- and yes, I've looked them over twice to be sure-- it's not exactly a stellar mix. Holo figures and repaints, I can see-- they're bright, attention grabbing, and in the past holographic figures have had an air of "oooh, fancy" to them which could help them in pegs. Hasbro has yet to sell a basic non-exclusive figure that's a spirit/holograph except for that super-cool OTC Obi-Wan Kenobi and TPM Darth Sidious, and that did well enough. So there's potential in repaints. But what's missing?

As I write this, I just saw a new shipment (presold out, of course) of Republic Gunships from ROTS at the EE warehouses. They're shipping, but obviously not in big enough numbers yet. One of you guys wrote in stating that "it's the best vehicle since the vintage days" and I'm liable to more or less agree in the bang-for-the-buck factor. ($30? Heck yeah.) Now that Hasbro released a Gunship alongside a reasonable quantity of Clones (white ones and pilots), it's a shame there aren't enough for you all to get as many as you'd like-- but keep searching Froogle (look it up) and you'll see some surprises. Also sign up for every email notice system and haunt Amazon. You'll get 'em.

The fact that Q4 is mostly exclusives with a questionable smattering of old product is what worries me. Core characters are far and few between. I can live with no new figures aimed at me, the crazy collector, but the fact that it may be superbly tricky to get kids a Darth Vader or Obi-Wan Kenobi is troublesome. People are still very interested in Star Wars, and for all I know, we're in the midst of a "starve the line to health" or some such. Not having any figures in 1977, probably the biggest fumble ever in the entire line, didn't exactly kill things. I'm curious to see how everything turns out given the product selection of the upcoming season, and I hope we see lots and lots of happy kids with the items they really want-- electronic lightsabers. (Seriously.)

2. About the Sith Vs. Jedi Battlepack, as this seems to be the only Battlepack thus far that has any new-sculpt figures, do you think the Asajj Ventress, Obi-Wan and Anakin might have originally been created as part of a planned new wave of Clone Wars action figures? I ask because it seems clear that these three figures are based on their appearances in the Clone Wars cartoon.
--Will

It's been widely speculated but as of yet, I'm not sure. Since just this past week two new Clone Wars multipacks, one with a Commander Cody, were announced, I'd say we're getting our new animated Clone Wars toys after all. Pictures and some sort of formal announcement would be nice from Hasbro, I have to admit I'm none too pleased that the "official announcement" of these items is them showing up in a Target warehouse and someone snaps a photo for us.

3. What's the story with the exclusive (I think it was Toys R Us) Wedge X-Wing that was supposed to be coming this fall? It was reported as an October release by at least one of the big collector sites back in April, but then since then it's gone quiet. Normally we would have seen prototypes, etc. by now, but given that to my knowledge nothing has been shown on this one, I'm now wondering if it was just wishful thinking... Given that a couple of the other items on the list have changed (Exclusive Anaking Hologram that is now a Darth Sidious Hologram).... Seems like the report might have been premature?
--Pcotcher

Like many products that were never actually confirmed or visually seen by anyone, I'm chalking this up as "rumor." It's possible Hasbro considered it and axed it, but let me assure you, the list of products Hasbro considers and axes in a year would make you drop a load in your shorts. It's nothing short of mind-blowing, these things they have prototyped and never release. Lots of bad information gets around too, and fans-- myself included-- sometimes assume if something is reported enough, it comes true. And other times, Hasbro never bothers to announce a product. (Big Wing TIE, anyone?) So it's not to say these things will never happen, but in this case, I flat out asked Hasbro and was told it ain't in production and was not planned. Sure, it's possible it was on the drawing board, but so was Gargan.

4. How exactly do companies and Hasbro work out exclusives. I'm especially curious because I can't for the life of me figure out how Kmart, friggen KMART, got the Jedi Temple Assault battle pack. Do these companies bid on exclusives Hasbro already plans on releasing? Do they work on ideas together? Surely Hasbro must realize by now how crazy people are over clones, that being said when they decided to give Kmart this particular Battle Pack they must have realized that most fans, collectors, and Kids would never see it. So why not give it to TRU which seems to have (for the most part) tons of their exclusives? In short how does Kmart get a great Battle Pack and TRU get a crummy one? Is it ass kissing, payoff's, under the table deals, or just poor judgement?
--Barbara

It's a hard thing to figure. Sometimes Hasbro says "here's an exclusive" and a company goes "ah yes, thank you!" Other times a company asks. And in these cases, I have no idea what's what. Last year with the Cantina sets, Kmart's exclusives sat in most areas, and these were pretty damned good exclusives. A Cantina playset? Blue Snaggletooth? The super-cool but miscolored Kitik Keed'kak? Dem's quality figures. Not everybody gets a new mold.

Making any Clone an exclusive makes people crazy, but you know, that's life. The market will hopefully allow fans to get what they want, as the speculators divest themselves of their scalp stashes over time, and as Hasbro says "oh, we can make money by doing a recard of this one."

That said, I think Target's are a result of a massive corporate hanky-panky. I have no evidence, but seeing their massive direct mail campaign, their logo on the Celebration III hotel key cards, and so much more, you know something's up.

5. Is there any chance that at some point in the next 15 years Hasbro will build that bad-ass fighter thingie Grievous landed on Utapau with? Since Obi-Wan ganked it, you would think that it had some marketability. And if not that, will Hasbro release a version of Grievous that looks something like the hulking, creepy bad-ass in the movie instead of the exploding twerp we've seen so far?
--William

15 years is a long time. I never expected Hasbro to retool the Darth Vader's TIE Fighter, but we got that in 1997. They revised the Slave I with an all-new sculpt, too-- I would never have guessed. And they gave us the friggin' Skyhopper. So I say yes, there's potential, just keep asking Hasbro for it, making a fuss for it, blogging for it, posting on forums for it, and constaintly making sure Hasbro knows we want one. I want one.

6. I am a huge fan of the EE Clone Packs, but I was wondering if Hasbro had any way of making different damage patterns on the clones, kinda like 5 variations of battle marks. Having 7 or 8 SA Clones from ROTS with the same damage looks off just a bit. So besides grabbing some paint and sandpaper what are the chances of getting some army building sets with character.
--Russell

As far as I know, there are no plans to tweak the battle damage on any Revenge of the Sith figure. Which is a shame, but hey, we can always add our own, no?

The EE Clone Packs that you've seen are over and done with. I'll repeat that: what you see in the system now is it. EE just got in their last shipment and it was surprisingly fast in going with presales, and this is the first time they've had color clones as "in stock" for more than a few minutes. So if you want them, what's up now is it. I'm not allowed to divulge numbers, but anyone waiting for a sale is going to be in for a surprise.

Battle Damage is a tricky thing. I know the damage on the EE clones wasn't at all what I had in mind, and while some people loved it, I thought it looked a little funky. Of course, while most people think the damage on the Evolutions AOTC Clone is funky, I love it. Going forward, Hasbro is aware of the power of the "running change," though, so it's possible more variety may be on the way. Of course, if you have sandpaper handy, there's no harm in a little do-it-yourselfing.

7. What's the deal with the 501st trooper coming out later this year? I was psyched when I heard it was based on the super-articulated trooper. Then I hear it might be the bow legged tank driver? That's not good.
--Scott

As my good pal Johnny Rotten once said, "This is what you want/this is what you get." It's the AT-TE Gunner, for better or for worse. If they fixed his arms so they don't fall apart, I'm all smiles. Otherwise, I want to know when I can get that much better Super-Articulated on Hasbro showed us at Comic Con. Hopefully it was a gaffe and coming in 2006.

8. I was a huge fan of the accessory packs when they came out all those yeas ago for the episode 1 figures. Being a diorama builder my question is this; Will Hasbro ever make a accessory pack with just blaster rifles and the one that a lot of the clones are sporting these days? Hasbro please do this for a builder in need of a lot of blaster rifles!!
--DirtyBones

Well, as I've said before, the Clone #6 provides fans with a rifle and a pistol-- that's one more gun than the figure needs, and about as close as you're likely to see of this sort of thing any time soon.

The second wave of the Saga accessory packs were never released, and the first wave was clearanced out despite being packed with some pretty damned good army builders. And that Hoth Rebel. The Episode I first wave was legendary in its over production. If you don't believe me, ask Philip Wise about his stash of Tatooine droids. (I'm impressed, to say the least.) The second wave was ridiculously hard to find and I consider myself fortunate to have mine.

I think Hasbro would be well-served to put out a Clone Adventure set with mutliple troopers and extra accessories if for no reason other than to milk the Clone trend a little further. I mean, imagine a pack of figures based on the #6, #41, AT-TE Gunner, and maybe one of the 3-pack molds in a big set with extra guns with the whole thing repainted as various squads. There ya go, accessories made simple. I hope Hasbro takes the initiative and cranks out some mad crazy gift sets in large numbers, but hey, all we have to do is ask-- and keep asking. Hasbro keeps telling me when I relay your concerns that fans need to keep asking and they'll do their best. We got word that Unleashed Wave 3 may well ship next Summer, so hey, your voices are being heard! Just keep bellowing.

9. OK, not really a question, but a comment on your Holiday Vader rant. THIS was the straw that broke many a completist collector's backs. The OTC repaints were the beginning, but the repaints in many cases (Gamorean, jawa's Tusken, greedo, etc) made the figure look better. Then came the atrocious Battle Packs. some total repacks, some repaints, now head swaps....I will try to get the clone variations but that is it. Then the over priced exclusives....Oh My God. I have been a completist since i was 6. I had to have all the figures, even then (unfortunatley I quit collecting about the mid 80's right at POTF time.) When the line started back up again in 1995 I had to have them all, carded at first, then I switched to loose (and only carded versions of Maul, Boba Fett, Yoda and Vader....now just all unique loose and carded Yoda and Vaders...I have even tracked down 4 of the 6 European Pit droid pack-in's, Qui-gon on Eopie, all pack-ins, etc etc.....until now. The Overpriced Exclusive clones and The Holiday Vader figure broke me of that, and in 2006 my collecting will fall off sharply because I finally decided to speak to hasbro with my wallet....most of the last 10 year run has been fun.
--Dan

Why did I post this, you ask? Well, despite it not being a question, it reflects a massive amount of email received in the past week and change. Fans are none too pleased, and I have to say I hope enough of us are going "I'm not going to buy this" or "I am going to buy this" to appropriately voice your interest in the item. I have yet to buy one and frankly if it never sees production, I won't miss it. Then again, it's so awful I want one. But seeing as I and many of you already bought a red-tinged Vader in 2005, we're fast approaching overkill.

I just don't want to see more of this. G.I. Joe fans have had to put up with two-packs and repaints since about 2000 to get one of every character they want. And if you want to do troop building? Forget about it. I don't want to see things go this way so well, vote with your dollars kids. While repaints are necessary for getting a large number of product out in a year-- and you're a filthy liar if you think there wasn't enough product this year-- do we really need TWO red Darth Vaders within a few months of one another?

10. I read your comments on the perceived lack of high end vehicles and playsets for ROTS with some interest (Thanks for a great column).

Like the previous writer, I too was hooked on action figures as soon as I received the Millennium Falcon for Christmas when I was a little kid. What sealed the deal even more was the Deathstar playset, with the trash compactor filled with sponge blocks....great memories...

Your comment about the competition that action figures face from video games and the like got me thinking; why not package action figures with "higher end" products like the plethora of SW video games and videos in order to build the fan/consumer base?

It seems like this cross marketing is done for a whole lot of other entertainment products (a la: upcoming release of Battlefront II packaged with ROTS DVD) but not with SW action figures.

Technically I guess there have been a few cross marketed products that I have seen. However, none of what I have seen strikes me as something that would get a kid interested in action figures who isn't already interested, and collecting already! No kid buys the ROTS cups that come with Action figures purely for the cups do they?
--James

The first fundamental hurdle is that toys are very 20th Century and video games are very 21st Century. No matter how you pack anything, the allure of a video game is high to kids and parents. My parents were elated when I became a fan of video games-- they took up less space, after all. Considering the amount of time a kid will play with a game versus a toy and all of that, games are a good product and the best option for many older kids.

While I think there's a lot of good in packing toys with games, you have to be careful about it. Playmates made a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine game with an exclusive head-swap Sisko. Fans were not pleased. Mattel had THREE exclusive Batman figures (including a popular Batgirl) exclusive with Batman games-- one for Xbox, one for PS2, one for GameCube. I assure you, smiles were not abundant. Although packing a toy with a game is a smart move-- just as long as it's quite literally nothing special. A Darth Vader figure AND a game for $50 is a killer product, and Best Buy sold numerous Unleashed figures packed with games. And it was a great success.

Cross marketing has benefits, but people buying those cups are probably not kids. What parent would pay $13 for a cup and figure when they could get a generic SW cup for $4 and a figure for $5? These are for the collectors, and we are stupid for buying them.

Some fans won't buy toys because they can't get what they want. This is why I keep banging out the "for crying out loud, make more Vaders!" comments all the time. If fans can't get what they want, they'll leave. Star Wars is a success now, and it's Hasbro's success or failure to grow in the future. Bundling attractive figures with games could result in some problems, but turning toys into games could be nice. Imagine a Death Star Playset with a USB cable you could connect to your PC (and on my Mac) and "control" various action features through a little "Death Star" game/application on my desktop. Now THAT'S something I could see real $200 value in.

FIN

So now everybody has seen the Transformers Star Wars toys. "Why," you ask? Well, it's hard to say the true purpose of the toy. My guess is one of two things: one, like the Playskool figures, these are aimed at the millions of children who buy toys and not the roughly 10,000 or so remaining die-hard one-of-everything Star Wars collectors. Guess two: these are here to grab your attention. "Star Wars is forever" but Transformers are now, and diversifying collector dollars is a smart move-- but that's just my marketing-induced paranoia talking. Either way, I think they look amusing for what they're supposed to be and as toys, kids might like them. Although I think I personally would rather have vehicles that can be driven by figures over vehicles that turn into figures.

For next time, just email me with your question and I'll put it in queue. (If you do not put "Q&A" in the subject line I cannot guarantee it will get through due to the high volume of spam these accounts get.)

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