Galactic Hunter.com's Star Wars Q&A with Adam Pawlus
July 12, 2010
1. So I'm super excited about the [Entertainment Earth exclusive] comic packs. Do you happen to know if they'll be on Legacy packaging or Vintage?
Everything I have been shown would have me say Legacy, unless they change it at the last minute.
2. I was wondering if you've heard any news about Hasbro releasing a new line of figures, beasts, or vehicles to tie in with the release of Force Unleashed II this October. It seems that the figures from the original game sold quite well here in Southern California and their secondary market prices are still above their retail price on Ebay. Hasbro wouldn't let an opportunity to make more money off this property slip away, would they?
Hasbro has been screwed on video game figures at launch more than once-- the problem here is largely Lucasarts and not Hasbro, though. Shadows of the Empire figures in 1996 came out a solid 5 months before the game, but around the same time as the comic and novel. Hasbro's February 2008 The Force Unleashed figures were originally supposed to be out in 2007, and the game made it out in September of 2008. So what we've learned here is that Hasbro should not bother to coordinate toys to video games, as they seem to do just fine regardless of the proximity to the game launch. Actually, it seems they do better after the game has been out for a while and people know just what the heck it is. So, your question.
Hasbro has indeed made mention of their desire to do figures based on this property but have not specified when. It wouldn't shock me to see another abortion of an exclusive launch with GameStop, which still pisses me off to the point where I, a video gamer, now no longer shop at the store. (And those of you who know me know that you pretty much can't get me to stop going to your store for any reason whatsoever.) If Hasbro has anything planned, they're presently claiming they don't. It still would not surprise me to see one or more exclusive products, but I'm personally stunned Hasbro doesn't have some repacks from the previous game as a shared exclusive of "Saga Legends" (I know the claim is that they're for kids) ready to go. After two years an individually carded Starkiller seems like a solid ida.
3. Adam -- Is [$9.99] the MSRP for Vintage?
If so, Hasbro is completely shooting themselves in the foot.
Not the way to get cash-strapped collectors back into the line.
Big mistake by Big H if this is the case.
Depending on who you ask at Hasbro and when, they don't set SRPs. There are prices that tend to be pretty standard against 4 of the former top 5, but now it seems Target, Toys "R" Us, and Wal-Mart have only limited parity when it comes to pricing and the stores do what they damn well please.
Toys "R" Us has it at a surprising $9.99 for reasons not fully known-- I believe it's a company making the most out of an early availability and the knowledge that collectors will likely shell out for the first 1-2 waves without asking many questions. Target's computers have it at $7.99. I have not yet personally verified Kmart or Wal-Mart pricing, but odds are it won't be $9.99. Toys "R" Us has, on occasion, priced popular items higher by $1 or $2 in many toy lines simply because they can. Seasonally, in some stores, they also charge a premium for the entire LEGO product line. (Heck, they do right now-- the Indiana Jones Cairo Ambush set, $10.99 at most stores, is $14.99 there.)
This is not uncommon. It came as a surprise, but retailers all kept Star Wars prices high during Power of the Jedi for the most part. So if you don't like it (and you shouldn't), shop around or shop online. $100 + shipping for a case online ain't bad compared to $110 + tax locally for just 11 new figures.
Fact of the matter is that fans are chumps. Like I said last week, we all paid $13 for "Lava reflection" repaints of iffy figures that were $5.24. $5.24! For fewer accessories and orange paint! Don't think that the clamshell drove up the price, because it didn't-- this is Hasbro and their retailers saying "they will absolutely pay more if we make it look fancy," which is basically the thesis for the 2004, 2006, and 2007 vintage figure lines. If Toys "R" Us makes it stick here, that's good for their bottom line but bad for us-- and much worse for us if Target and Wal-Mart follow suit. (And Kmart, well, they charge more for everything anyway so I expect it to be $9.50ish anyway.)
4. I have looked for information about copyright and licensing rights, but am unable to decipher what I'm interested in knowing. If you have an idea for creating something "Star Wars", where is the line drawn between copyright infringement and being able to create and sell something with ties to a specific franchise? My best example is the Ultarama and Pride displays. Do you know if a license was needed for either of these? (I've asked and gotten no response) I'm assuming the Pride one did but the Ultarama did not. I'm looking at producing something Star Wars fans might be interested in... but not necessarily other franchises (Marvel, Pirates, Potter, etc.). I'm not a big business looking to mass produce in the thousands... does this even matter? Any help would be appreciated.
The short answer: for God's sakes, don't infringe on any trademarks. Also, I am not a lawyer, so consult actual counsel before doing anything. From what I can tell you can say things like "compatible with" or "plays with," as many companies have over the years, but if you use, for example, stills from the movies or the Star Wars logo, expect a lawsuit or at the very least a Cease-and-Desist letter. It's also possible that you might be considered too small a gnat to swat, but when it comes to going to court, do you really want to take a risk? Now for the long part.
I'm not sure there's a specific line in the sand but you can definitely use the Supreme Court ruling on obscenity as a good mark-- "I know it when I see it." You can get away with quite a bit, though. (I am not a lawyer. I am not a legal expert. I work in the toy business and see a lot of this, so what you're seeing is based on what I've seen sold around the world from my limited experience.)
Toys have a long history of "works with" products. Mattel had a line of space toys called Major Matt Mason, and another company named Colorforms made compatible aliens called The Outer Space Men. Hasbro's 3 3/4-inch G.I. Joe line had a competitor line called The Corps, which if you saw it you could tell was pretty much a direct rip-off of its construction. More recently, companies in Asia have cranked out high-end add-on kits for Transformers, including add-on weapons and armor and, more recently, complete figures at nearly $100 a pop. Let's look at Warbot Defender as an example. It's essentially an update of the 1980s "Springer" toy. If they don't use the name "Transformers" on the box or call it "Springer," you can essentially make a robot toy that has a similar feel to Springer without stepping on too many toes legally-- you can't trademark helicopters, cars, robots, or the colors green and yellow. It's clearly meant to be compatible with Transformers if you're a fan, but otherwise it's just some weird robot thing. Since they don't use Autobot symbols or Hasbro's copyrights, and the head and construction of the toy seems to be just different enough (as I like to say) to make Hasbro mad. I don't know if it's close enough for a court to rule against them, but it seems that it isn't since these keep coming. (Hasbro's official stance on these is a little cryptic, but they've recently said something to the effect of "We'll probably come out with something better and much cheaper in a few months" at this year's Botcon.)
Another example-- as this is common in Transformers-- are a US group of fans at Unicron.com making accessory packs. I've never heard so much as a rumbling about these because I believe I heard Hasbro say that if it's just a gun or a stand or something, they really don't have a problem with it. This is the area I would suggest staying in-- don't make a Bettie-Bot or the Tonnika girls.
This is as grey an area as you can get, but to date Hasbro has taken no obvious visible action against these "compatible products" which are clearly a knock against their intellectual property, but may be just different enough (with packaging that doesn't call any of their trademarks into question) to be just fine. So let's look at your example-- Ultarama. This was absolutely not a licensed item, and doesn't need to be. As a display stand with pegs designed to be compatible with dozens of lines of toys over the past 33 years and does not use "Star Wars" trademarks as a big part of their selling point, it's fine. It's just a slab of weird looking grey plastic with holes, pegs, pillars, and cardboard-- none of the elements of the product are uniquely Star Wars.
On the other hand, Pride Displays did have a license, and it was clearly replicating Kenner and Palitoy products. More importantly, Pride pursued the license and wanted it as part of their marketing-- they wanted the original Kenner-style box on retail store shelves, they wanted to use vintage Kenner figures in their packaging. There's always an advantage to working with rather than against your potential sue-happy enemies, but if they made the product in a different box, dropped the licensed Star Wars images and text, and called it "Space Station Desert Diorama" or something, would it have been an issue? (Possibly.)
I would say the real question is what is it you're looking to do? If you want to make accessories (like little guns) or dioramas that are generic enough that you can't possibly sue over, like a snow drift for Hoth or even a "Tree Village" playset, just don't step on the trademarks. A funeral pyre, a hat, anything you can point to and make something sized for action figures (or anything) that isn't necessarily ONLY from the movies, you can probably safely do. How you're going to market it is more important than what you make in some cases, though, so you may want to consult an attorney. If you decide to do a pile of sticks and plastic flames as "Space Hero Funeral" playset and sell it online in a brown box, but show a Darth Vader figure laying in the flames on your web site, you've probably got nothing to worry about.
If you want to make action figures based on the characters, I'd stay far, far away from that if I were you. With most of the unofficial-but-compatible Transformers high-end collector products (excepting iGear's recent seemingly total knock-offs of Hasbro designs and molds), there are enough significant changes in the fan-made products that you could probably make a case that the obscure character you remade was something new and original. There's no mistaking a Cantina alien for much else. You can't trademark a snow cave if you wanted to do a big MicroCollection-esque Wampa playset scaled to 3 3/4-inch action figures, but if you have a Tauntaun skull in it, you might be asking for trouble.
5. Are the new Vintage figures 6"x9" ? Or are they the same as the 2009 dimensions?
The new 2010 Vintage figures are indeed 6-inches by 9-inches, like the 1978-1995 products and the 1995-2008 products. However, the Saga Legends and Clone Wars lines are the new smaller size as debuted in 2009 with the Red Clone Wars/Black Legacy/Orange Saga Legends product lines.
I got a new AT-AT in the mail next week. It's too big for my normal photo areas, so... here's a pic I posted on Twitpic.
Comic-Con is just days away! Are you excited? I'm not sure if I am-- mostly because Hasbro spilled the beans about their big announcements, then the big announcements got leaked fully packaged, and then Hasbro refuses to talk about them. So odds are the Slave I and Jabba will be our big huge special items for the year, which are pretty cool, but I gotta wonder what-- if anything else-- is on deck. I'm hearing a lot of buzz about rejected exclusives in Hasbro's own Q&A, plus so much of the 2009 Wal-Mart exclusive offering ended up at Big Lots or Ross or whatever that I'm not optimistic that they're going to be as eager for as many new wares this year. Which is fine-- Hasbro is going to squeeze like 40+ figures between August and January, and at an average cost of $7.50 a whack you're looking at $300 before taxes, unforeseen mark-ups, or TRU overcharging.
So here's hoping the exclusive tally is lower this year. Prior to the "relaunch," all we got in 2010 was the Expanded Universe Legacy wave, 3 waves of Clone Wars, a smattering of Galactic Heroes, 2 exclusive Comic Packs, 2 exclusive Force Unleashed packs, and... am I forgetting anything? Was that really it? Pretty dull for 6 months worth of new stuff in a collector's line.
Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with "Q&A" somewhere in the subject line and hopefully I'll get to yours in the next column!
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