At 832 words, this round may have the largest Hasbro answer ever, and it's found in Hasbro's answers to SSG questions for May 22nd, 2009. Thanks again to Hasbro for the answers, to all the folks who sent in questions and especially those who voted on them.
Hasbro Q&A for the week of May 22nd
SSG: In Q&As lately, there have been some disturbing answers that subtly point to problems with the future of the Star Wars collecting hobby. Repeated mentions of Hasbro's iteration of Force FX sabers underperforming at market, then the cancellation of Titanium Series, and now the bad news about the TLC basic figure line culminating in a whole wave of figures getting pushed into exclusives. Force FX not thriving might have something to do with the fact that there is a focus on re-releasing existing designs, or perhaps the lack of marketing and "event" releases. Titanium Series has suffered unbelievable amounts of repaints and price increases, and zero marketing. TLC basic figures have seen heavy production of collector-oriented figures like Yarna and Breha Organa (despite even collectors knowing these should have been hard to find rather than abundant), and miserable pacing with just 3 waves of new figures between July '08 and May '09. Hasbro generally has a poor track record of nurturing collector markets when it comes to lines not centered around the 3.75" theme. Doesn't it seem as if that part of the issue is management decisions, overly lofty expectations, even (in the case of Force FX & Titaniums) Hasbro desired profit margins which can't match the lines' business models established by previous licensees, leading to these lines stumbling and thus their collecting markets waning?
Hasbro: First off, things are not so doom-and-gloom when it comes to FX and 3-3/4", and in fact we are very excited about what we are bringing out and believe fans will be delighted as well. We discussed the current situation on each with candor, because we want to fans to understand what is happening in each case. In the case of FX, things are taking longer for a reason. The majority of the business, year after year, was built around the core sabers. New products introductions were a relatively small part of it, since the main consumer for these sabers is not the core collector but a more casual fan, with majority of the business being done in book stores and specially channels (not conventions or the Internet as some might think). These channels and this type of discretionary purchase were hit hard last year, with some going out of business. Combined with an excess of the Master Replicas sabers still in the market last year, it meant a longer than expected ramp up. The good news is that will be behind us as we head towards fall, and new sabers will be on the way, with more new styles coming in 2010 and 2011. In the case of the 3-3/4" collector-figures, there will be fewer of those coming in the basic figure lineup for the near-term and we feel that collectors deserve to know that as well as out commitment to ensuring that the figures will come out even if they are not in the basic lineup. The situation is basically like this: following EpIII, we had reached a new plateau in figure collecting, with a lot of re-engaged fans coming on board through The Saga Collection and 30th Anniversary lines and helping keep Star Wars basic figure sales at very high levels. During the last three years we released a fixed amount of each purely collector-targeted figure - figures like the Mustafar lava worker, any Cantina alien, Umpass-stay, most McQuarrie figures, etc. The releases of these collector-targeted figures would be the lowest quantity of any figure in the line, determined to be a quantity of each figure that would satisfy the core (completist) collector base. This quantity was reliable and consistent and the figures would always sell-through with time. Last Fall, however, we saw a change. There was an overall reduction of collector dollars in the action figure collecting hobby to which Star Wars was not immune, and we saw this on a more granular level in the sell-through of purely collector-target figures. While the hero figures (Obi-Wans, Anakins, Lukes, Vaders, troopers, etc) continued to do very well, the collector figures really started to struggle compared to all past years. This resulted in a need to recalibrate our release levels for these figures, since without that recalibration the normal releases we would make on purely collector figures would now be too large for the current collector market to bear, pegs would really start to back up, and the whole Legacy/Droid Factory figure flow would grind to a halt - in short, a disaster, unless corrective measures were taken. Therefore, we pulled back on the amount of each we release. Since this resulted in a significant impact on the financials of the overall basic figure lineup, as collector-targeted figures cost more than others given their almost 100% new tooling yet smaller production runs, we had readjust future waves because we could not construct them the same way with as many purely collector-targeted figures we as have been delivering. We made this to known to fans because they deserve to know, as it will have an impact on how future basic figure waves will be affected. It is far from a gloomy outlook, as collector-targeted figures are still vital to maintain that emotional core of the line and we have many great ones coming, but instead a short-term (we hope) adjustment to make sure that the basic figure program is going strong. We will also still look to our exclusives lineup to augment the basic figures and comic packs with new and exciting figures drawn from the films and EU, which are great avenues for new and interesting ideas since they stand apart from the basic figure lineup. We certainly don't want to feel the fans who have stuck with us feel like we are letting them down - to everyone who is reading this we say "thank you!" and can't wait to showcase some of the things we are working on for this Fall and beyond at Comic Con We also hope that the fans who were on the sidelines last Fall due to the economic conditions will be able to come back over time; this is a fantastic hobby to which we are deeply committed and earning fan enthusiasm and loyalty is something that promise to work hard to earn.
SSG: Last time we asked about Titanium Series capital ships, the 3 examples we used got blasted out of the sky. But there are popular capital ships, from the Acclamator (which you already said "no" about) to the Malevolence to the Rebel Medical Frigate to the Interdictor and more, which are deserving of Titanium Series releases, many of which are recognizable to a general audience and have no other toy outlets. With Titanium Series now facing a finite and already set-in-stone future, are there new capital ships planned for release in the line? If not, what was the thinking behind not choosing them?
Hasbro: It's not always a question of recognizability, but a question of what makes the best-looking vehicle. Not all vehicles are created equal, we track weekly sales of all different ships in the line to assess which types fans are selecting at retail. The capital ships, unfortunately, are not the most popular ships in the Titanium line which remain the more aggressive fighter-classes, droid ships, gunship, and the like.
SSG: The gauzy material used to make black capes and other soft goods is intolerable. The material is always cut too large, never hangs right, and is translucent. Darth Vader especially has a real miserable time of it, looking more like he's wearing a black chiffon number than his menacing duds. And not one figure using it can avoid it flaring out, poor Garindan looks like he's flying away. We've seen better materials used at this scale, even by you (the second Darth Maul figure comes to mind), so it's past time to reassess new materials for these purposes. If nothing else, getting sharper and better-looking cape designs will sell more Vaders to collectors and kids who already have an army of them. So, what say you on this matter, why are you still using the gauzy black cloth, and are you willing to look into better materials and better sewing for them?
Hasbro: Thank you for you positive and insightful feedback. Fabric cloaks or capes at the 4" scale have always presented difficulties. There are several issues that have to be balanced and they are not always within our direct control. Firstly, fabric is purchased by our vendors for the open market, unless they have some still on hand from other items. So, they have to buy what is available and making special orders from fabric manufacturers increases costs and delays the manufacturing schedule. Secondly, fabric that is less "sheer" has a higher thread count. That is why it is more opaque but this comes at a higher cost and thicker fabric also tends to not drape as well on the small figures. So, draping vs. opacity has to be evaluated. Finally, the largest cost to fabric pieces is due to the labor that is required to cut and sew the pieces. The hemming of edges greatly increases the cost, adds thickness, and tends to cause the fabric to hang poorly. We tend to use a polyester tricot material because it can be heat cut which keeps the edges from fraying and eliminates the need to sew hems. I for one do not envy the vendors who create these tiny pieces of Star Wars apparel and think they do an outstanding job. But, we are always striving to improve in every area.
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And our questions at CollectionStation.com:
- Without any collector/fan website input, what would Hasbro's Star Wars product offering look like? The fans, kids, collectors, etc. obviously have some influence, but from your perspective, how much? In light of the Organas, Yarna, Moff Jerjerrod, the Sarlacc set, and Lars Homestead set all shelfwarming, would Hasbro make those sorts of things if you didn't have a vocal collector base constantly nagging you in Q&A which obviously influences stuff like Yarna and the Spacetrooper and Willrow Hood? Is the collector base being more of a squeaky wheel getting too much grease, and if you weren't hearing that squeaking, what would the line be like?
- Although Titanium Series has done an ok job releasing vehicles from the Clone Wars, there's only been a loose smattering despite the series' meteoric rise in popularity. Still to be made from the Clone Wars includes the Tri-Droid, Pirate Tank, the Malevolence, the Trident, Pod Hunter/Separatist Boarding Ship, Escape Pod, Hyena Bomber Droid, Weequay pirate saucers, CK-6 Freeco swoop bike, as well as existing movie vehicles which are in the Clone Wars not yet done as Titaniums, like the STAP, Acclamator, Munificent-class Banking Clan Frigate, Padme's Naboo H-type Yacht, and LAAT/c carrier. So the Clone Wars is already a rich source of material that has only been somewhat mined in Titaniums. Are there any more Clone Wars vehicles due out before the line's end (besides the Y-wing which we already know about)? Why wasn't there a greater focus on Clone Wars vehicles in the line when it was becoming apparent the line was facing doom?
- On the recent Jawa with WED Droid set, the Jawa comes with a small tin can-like piece that has 2 posts sticking out of it. Although there has been much speculation as to what this accessory is, no consensus has been reached. Also, the small accessory doesn't seem to have a dedicated storage spot on the figure's outfit unlike all the previous Jawa accessories, it has a sideways peg but the only peghole found on the Jawa is being used for the ion gun's power pack. So, what exactly is this accessory representing, and where does it fit on the Jawa? Or is it supposed to attach to the WED Droid instead?