I think I am over due for a blog post about Hasbro, however something occurred today that has thrown me over the edge. I absolutely feel that it is necessary to write something on this topic now. I also hope to touch on as many points as I possibly can, as to help drive my point home that there is something wrong with how Hasbro has handled the Star Wars franchise recently.
To introduce my views on this topic, I should mention that I am familiar with the line to an extensive amount. I have collected 3 3/4 in. Star Wars figures since I was about five years old, however I did take a break during the past few years. After auditioning for Episode 7 my interest in the line had been rekindled, as I also introduced my girlfriend to the films. I got back into collecting, and looked into what had happened in the few years I was absent. Oddly enough during my hiatus, it seemed the golden age of collecting had occurred. However, there was a new record on the player, and it seemed to be scratched to Hell and back.
Hasbro has always had its minor issues, but then again most companies do. However the prevalence of problems should never be as apparent in so many ways as they are with Hasbro. Recently consumers have noted they have been displeased in a variety of ways, from the figures themselves, all the way to how the products have been distributed. Unfortunately I absolutely have to agree with them. Fans on several forums (such as YakFace) have been quite outspoken with their views. There is a problem, and Hasbro is either unaware, or does not care to fix these issues.
The problem that has prompted this post is something that occurred today. I picked up a Black Series figure from Target in Edwardsville, IL. I haven’t bought a new figure for at least five months, so this was a big event for me. The only issue is that the card and bubble were excessively damaged, and there were only two *new* figures on the pegs. The other older figures have been there for months. The inclusion of two new figures can be attributed to a new store procedure. Target has started to split up cases between stores. They no longer send out solid cases of twelve figures any more. Instead of relying on a good mix from the manufacture, Target must now take distribution into their own hands, and split the cases themselves.
This presents two issues, both of which hurt the 3 3/4 inch line. The first being that the products are easily damaged in transit, and that consumers will not be able to purchase as many items in the toy isle. The variety to shop from is simply not there. There are two or three other figures in the wave that Target received that I would still like to purchase, however there is a zero percent chance of them arriving on local shelves now. Furthermore, what *has* recently been on the pegs in the past year are figures that no one wants, which oddly enough, still ship to stores under Hasbro’s supervision. Whether it is a distribution or availability issue, either way it is going to hurt the appeal of the product when it shows up on store shelves.
This brings me to my next point, poor initial distribution, which threatens to harm the line as well. In the first wave of figures that shipped, there were several characters that were poor choices (I’m looking at you X-Wing Pilot Biggs). Not only were they characters with no consumer demand, but they were also carry forwards in just about every case that was distributed. Not only were they peg warming during the first case that hit stores, but they were included in every case after that. In a short amount of time all that was available became limited to one or two characters that were moving slowly from the shelves (if at all). The figures no one wanted had essentially clogged the pegs for any future releases, and even then in-demand figures we not carried forward, and were single packed in a case.
Additionally, if there were any different character on the shelves to purchase, then their packaging had probably fallen apart. Many plastic bubbles had come off the figures’ cards because of poor quality manufacturing. The adhesive used wasn’t strong enough, so just about every action figure isle became scattered with open Star Wars packages, or cards hung on the pegs mismatched with their merchandise stapled back onto them (many in a Frankenstein’s Monster-Esq. way). For me this honestly generated a tacky image for the line.
An even further problem is that many times these figures that have been haphazardly put back together actually share the pegs with figures that have been there for years. These products have seriously not sold since they shipped in 2012. Almost every store I can visit within a two hours driving distance stocks a mixture of products from several different lines, none of which have ever been clearanced out or sent back to Hasbro to make way for new products to be stocked. This further complicates the problem of smooth distribution, as many stores seemingly have a plentiful stock of Star Wars figures.
Another issue with the figures themselves is that Hasbro apparently recently switched production plants in China, so the vast majority of action figures had horrible paint applications. Many items I have seen first hand were either missing huge sections of paint (Like the 41st Clone Trooper), or had wonky eye syndrome (like gluing googly eyes to anything and everything). Overall, consumers were forced to cherry pick what figures looked the best, and because distribution was so bad, this became increasingly difficult. Quality control is not what it used to be for the line, and it definitely shows.
An entirely different issue which has also arisen is the inner-franchise competition of Hasbro’s six-inch Black Series, an entirely new scale of figures, as well as the Saga Legends/Mission Series figures, which feature only five points of articulation. The later obviously limits playability for kids, and posability for collectors (or anyone else). Likewise the quality of figures are nowhere near what had once existed, and they too have horrible paint applications. By offering these two lines alongside the Black Series, it really limits how much merchandise can be on the store shelf, and given the cheaper alternative of the SL/MS series, parents are more likely to drop five dollars for a figure, as oppose to the $10+ that the Black Series demands.
In addition to these two collections of figures, Hasbro has also introduced another gimic line, titled Star Wars Command, which is essentially an expensive version of galactic army men. Though they are a more inexpensive option for children, they take up over half of the Star Wars section, and are therefore another liability to the Black Series’ strength as a collection. I have no doubt they will follow in the footsteps of other “side lines” Hasbro has produced, such as the miniature Unleashed figures, Star Wars Angry Birds, as well as the Fighter Pods. The clearance isle is imminent.
If you’re wondering what else Hasbro can make that few people are asking for, then you may have guessed gigantic static vehicles (though I’ve heard big vehicles aren’t child friendly/don’t sell well to collectors). This year the big H has also produced a large X-Wing that isn’t to scale for any of their available lines, as well as a Millennium Falcon that doesn’t do anything. In the past Hasbro has made the argument that childrens’ play patterns have changed over the years, but I don’t think it has devolved into doing nothing with their toys. I don’t think these were good choices to produce, especially when there is such a demand for playsets or other large vehicles such as Jabba’s Sail Barge.
On the topic of vehicles, Hasbro has also downsized the molds they use for their starships. Now Imperial walkers and anything else that is large from the Star Wars universe is produced at a fraction of the size it should be (or even has been in the past). This so-called Hero Vehicles line is anything but something that stands for a positive company goal. Not only are the toys sized smaller than ever before, they have also risen in price by around five dollars. Though I’m sure most collectors would pay a premium price for more properly scaled vehicles. In fact, I think most were probably hopeful that this dream would eventually come true, however with the new trend of tiny proportioned vehicles, this seems highly unlikely.
By taking all of these factors into consideration, I don’t believe the Star Wars line seems too healthy. That is to say in comparison of how it used to be, especially between 2007 and 2012. As mentioned before, that seemed to have been the best time to have been collecting the line, as not only were figures of extremely good quality, but they were also of characters that had been long in demand. Distribution was not a major issue, and the line was seen with a positive view.
By taking this once bright past into consideration, and looking at the current state of things, I don’t think many collectors have smiles on their faces. These people are not only displeased with the products on the shelves (or lack thereof), but they also have an intense hatred for what Hasbro has done to their once appreciated line. These fans no longer have the desire to help carry what shows up at retail, as many have now turned to purchasing their figures online, and only in a limited amount.
Personally, I think this may be one of the worst times that Hasbro has handled their line. The company has been producing figures from Star Wars since the late 1970’s, and by now they should have enough information or know-how to accomplish the task of pleasing their fans, especially when they can easily access a great amount of commentary on dozens, if not hundreds of online forums. I understand the limitations they face, and that they must keep other consumer groups in mind, as well as their bottom dollar. However it it is always strange to compare how the license was handled in the past to how Hasbro has recently dealt with the line. I can only hope that with the advent of a new television show, and the new movies produced by Disney that Hasbro will be able to change their game, and drive home a better quality product that is distributed well. However, I’m not holding my breath.