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Bumblemus Prime
2014-08-25, 03:46 PM
Hi guys,

A lot of you know me from Transfans. For those who don't, hello! I am Bumblemus. I write for Bleeding Cool sometimes, and I am working on the definitive work on the exploding third-party Transformers industry. (I also write MTMTE-inspired fanfic over on Transfans (http://transfans.co.uk/community/viewforum.php?f=3) once in a while.)

If you've ever bought a third-party toy, interacted with the companies, or just have an opinion as a collector, please let me know here! I'm particularly interested in having these questions answered:

- What makes a third-party worth the price to you?

- If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?

- Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget

Any other thoughts on this crazy new industry! This is hopefully going to be a big momma, and quality, article.

Thanks, TFArchive.

Knightdramon
2014-08-25, 04:47 PM
Neat.

My take on your questions.

- What makes a third-party worth the price to you?

The engineering and general feel. Seeing as I also collect high end Macross figures, which average in the 200 USD per figure prices, the -average- 80-100 USD per figure on select third party items doesn't hurt as much.

On my [so far only MMC] Talon figure, I got him on a whim because he was below retail and in hand at AA. His engineering is between Cybertron and TFTM levels, but his very solid feel, imposing posture, unified colour scheme make the 60 pounds I paid for him feel well-spent, and put me on the bandwagon for MMC in general.

- If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?

I don't. 3rd party figures is one of the three branches my hobby takes me [Transformers, Macross, select 3rd party figures]/

- Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)

The bubble will burst, but not in a way fans think or talk about. It won't be hasbro that deals with the 3rd party companies, it will be other 3rd party companies. The Devastator wars, the Predacons war and now the Dinobot wars, all serve to thin out the market. Sooner than later some 3rd party companies will continue to put out full-on figures, while others will be reduced to just creating kits [articulated hands, missiles] for others. With the way competition and reveals happen, as well as the long time that passes from reveal to release, some companies lose their target audience to another company that just happened to be half a year forward on their schedule.

Giga power still has only shown -one- MP dino, versus FT who has shown 3 and released one of them, then fansproject came out of the blue and has like 2 releases in the span of 2 months.

Add this up [2 defensor gestalts, one of which is still in test shot stage, while the other is 2/5ths already out] with the occasional hasbro competition, and some companies might just fold before they release a single thing.

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget

Not terribly so. Unlike hasbro's cheap offerings, where you buy a voyager and just shop around for a legends or two 'cause they cost like 5 pounds each, you can't go crazy shopping on 3rd party products unless you have no regard for your cash or do not need other essentials.

Seeing as the only other toys that interest me, at the moment, are the 3 upcoming takara MP figures [until end of 2014, and two of them are very cheap for high end collectibles], the next macross figure I need comes out in 2015, I can certainly indulge in 1 MMC figure per month out of my pocket money.

If you stick to a company and catch up to their release schedule, with the way these things come out, you don't need to worry about budgeting that much.

If you collect random figures, generations, MPs, hasbro MPs, other toylines, and just about whatever tickles your fancy out of 3rd party products, then that's just a whole different story.

Should you squint and see between the cracks, there's clear boundaries that you can discern and make it so your purchases cannot overlap [ie you won't buy a 200 USD MP style figure, only for takara to release it for 80 USD half a year later].

For this reason I've kept clear of any 3rd party attempt at a G1 Bruticus, and I am holding off FT's great Shockwave. MP style Dinobots? Won't happen from takara. MP style predacons? Not nearly important or popular enough, so if I feel the need to fill my void in my collection [if such a thing ever exists in the first place], I can just go ahead and commit to them from whichever company I want.

Will possibly follow this up later with more comments ;)

Denyer
2014-08-25, 06:44 PM
I am working on the definitive work on the exploding third-party Transformers industry
Hopefully this doesn't come off as dismissive, but do you have a lot of personal contacts with the backers, factories and designers? I imagine fluency in Chinese would also be helpful. Whilst a few of the designers have gone public (some are known to be based in the UK) this doesn't largely seem to be a Western phenomenon.

And sorry, gave up trying to make the answers fit neatly under each heading.

I've bought more third party stuff recently than official, but there's still official stuff I have an interest in because Hasbro's taking a lead from current fiction such as MTMTE and I'm interested in characters as much or more than engineering. Provided the quality and designs are okay, something like a Generations Roadbuster will satisfy as much as a third party product if it fits into a display (which it does with "voyager" Sandstorm, Springer, and Fansproject Riftshot/Recoiler and Assaulter). Similarly, Fansproject homages to Headmasters or the Unique Toys Soundmixer, Mech Ideas Apex/Geminus/Gauntlet go quite nicely with a roughly "deluxe" size class display of Lost Lighters and LSOTW characters.

I don't seem to buy huge numbers of toys by the standards of "collectors" in the fandom, and am by no means completist. People who try to be will be and generally always have been gnawingly unhappy on some level. Only a small percentage of items really take my fancy, and I've been lucky enough to be able to grab them whilst they're around. Spending two or three times the cost of a regular figure is acceptable, and if you're able to without jeopardising anything important, enjoy. All this will pass.

As for why to choose third party stuff... it's generally but by no means always decent quality and can pander to collectors more effectively. The producers don't have to worry about mass appeal or brick and mortar retailers, child safety regulations or gimmicks, vehicle design licenses, etc. and are working at price points that allow for better finishes than retail toys, use of die cast and so on and so forth. They obviously still have a mark-up, but we don't know much about production runs or the scale of overseas markets.

Which segues into the possibility of official producers cracking down... I don't doubt that Hasbro/TakaraTomy could apply pressure to retailers, but they'd need to go up against the legal and regulatory environments of China and other producing countries. Who I get the strong impression are also the primary market for this stuff, so what we see in the West in terms of imports may simply be the tip of a respectably larger iceberg. And of course whilst designs may be copyright there's more legal flex with original designs that just have similar likenesses.

It's certainly the case that higher end official releases and third party producers are all going after broadly the same collectors, and that'll inevitably have some kind of "bubble" effect. Announcement of a Masterpiece Soundwave would make some third parties halt or backburner a Soundwave homage, and TakaraTomy may do the same with a Shockwave due to Quakewave or the FansToys Dinobot homages. But producers on both sides of the fence who provide quality, value for money, customer service and understand business are likely to prosper in the window of 80s fans having disposable income, if production costs don't rise beyond what's viable.

I think Hasbro can afford to just get on with their main business. TakaraTomy may be a bit more affected, but they have a fair number of relatively well-known characters to get through, larger production runs and get their products into relatively accessible collectibles outlets.

What will really **** toy and collectibles companies (and a lot of others besides) will be if high quality and relatively affordable 3D printing and scanning tech that makes equivalent finished products easy to achieve becomes widely available. We're not there yet, but signs are good that we may be eventually.

Bumblemus Prime
2014-08-26, 02:30 AM
Excellent replies. No, sadly, Denyer, I don't speak Chinese and I don't have contacts on the manufacturing end. I hope to get some replies back from Keith's Fantasy Club soon, which is in Singapore and agreed to be interviewed. It's a series of articles, with as much detail as I can gather.

Denyer
2014-08-26, 09:41 PM
Assuming you're already ferreting around on other forums, but;

http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/transformers-3rd-party-discussion/998212-kfc-rebranding-toys-xpress-new-logo-fans-choice.html
http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/transformers-toy-discussion/373385-uk-toy-discussion-2418.html#post11516589

http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/transformers-3rd-party-discussion/998902-any-insight-whole-3rd-party-tf-process-start-finish.html
http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/transformers-3rd-party-discussion/999731-if-not-3rd-parties-i-wouldnt-collecting-transformers-anymore.html

The last linked post is pretty much my angle on Dramon's comment about official stuff being cheap, relatively speaking. AoE voyagers are currently twenty five quid in UK TRUs and deluxes fifteen, yet they look like pound shop toys due to primary colours with few paint apps. The size classes have noticeably shrunk over the last few years. The plastic is actually better quality than it looks, but the figures feel like extremely poor value for the money. Thankfully it seems to be the aesthetic of one line.

KO territory?

http://www.hasbro.com/en_GB/shop/details.cfm?R=49E6C2D7-5056-9047-F591-EF21A38EE384:en_GB

Seriously, Happy Meal toys look better than the Dino Sparkers.

Bumblemus Prime
2014-08-27, 12:02 AM
Thanks, mate. I've been around the TF boards for a while, but never seen this stuff. I suppose I should do a con one of these days.

Clay
2014-08-27, 08:56 PM
Will respond to these questions more thoroughly tonight after class, but in the meantime consider this article I wrote for the site about a year ago: Scratch That Itch. (http://www.tfarchive.com/fandom/features/thirtieth-anniversary/?s=countdown-10-the-rise-of-the-third-party-transformer) In the time since then, some of the predictions have started to manifest: some third party companies ceasing operation, stiffer competition of like products, etc.

Bumblemus Prime
2014-08-28, 02:55 AM
Thanks, Clay. I've read your article before and enjoyed it. I am really trying to find someone who can speak to the production end, but getting no bites back. Going to need to send another round of interview requests.

Clay
2014-08-29, 05:41 AM
- What makes a third-party worth the price to you?

A combination of the increase in cost and decrease in variety of official products. The past few years (since DOTM, maybe?) have seen an increased shift towards a smaller number of characters spread out over a larger number of product brackets, with AOE being the high water mark so far. I also regard the third party stuff as largely making the stuff I want as a collector anyway (new, more detailed, and articulate versions of characters that I know) versus what Hasbro has to do keep the brand fresh in the mind of the much more general pool of customers.

As for the cost, they're about the same as importing a short-run or store exclusive version of a Takara figure of the same size, so I don't regard them as wholly unreasonable. I view them as niche products which don't necessarily have the widespread appeal to justify the production numbers to drive unit costs down, but that I just happen to be in that niche, and so it goes.

- If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?

Don't think that'll happen for me, but most of what I buy now is probably third party stuff (or at least it is by dollar amount). A lot of that is due to Hasbro scaling back offerings and generally distributing things poorly.

- Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)

Yes, but not from any doings of Hasbro. The third party stuff is inherently derivative. Whereas Hasbro can keep refreshing the look of the brand every year or so, the third party stuff seems (more or less) set on making new versions of G1 stuff with a few original designs here and there. That puts a cap on what they can market, and would seem to predict the end of the fad. However, the more real and immediate scenario of a burst-bubble is the overlap of products. At the time that I wrote my article, we had two Devastators and two Predakings. Within a week of that going on the site, we had a third Predaking. And now we have, what, eight or nine different groups making Dinobots? Groups like TFC and Fansproject, who have had several releases prior to their duplicitous Predaking and Dinobots, probably can survive, but a number of these groups (three or four now?) have had the luck of their debut product being wholly similar to something that another group is doing (dinobots). This strikes me as the biggest obstacle to the niche market... buyer confusion and fatigue.

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget

They eat most of it, definitely. Most prominent in my collection are the combiners. I've completed Hercules (Devastator), Uranos (Superion), and Intimidator (Menasor) so far. However, these were all fairly easy to accommodate since the release cycles were so spread out (about a year for each), and because they didn't overlap. Right now I'm keeping up with Warbotron (Bruticus) and Feral Rex (Predaking), and collecting two sets simultaneously is proving to be more challenging from a budget viewpoint. After I complete these two, I'll probably engage a new strategy of waiting for an entire group to be released and then pick them off at leisure, but that's a reflection more of abundance of product choice than other factors.

But as far as any great financial burdens born? Nah, not really... as Denyer basically said, these things exist because there's a market that wants them that can also afford them. I certainly don't have enough money to buy every single third party product, but I can pick the ones I want and get by just fine. And again, not being to find the stuff Hasbro makes also influences this...

Any other thoughts on this crazy new industry! This is hopefully going to be a big momma, and quality, article.

Yep, but you already read them. :)

Thanks, Clay. I've read your article before and enjoyed it. I am really trying to find someone who can speak to the production end, but getting no bites back. Going to need to send another round of interview requests.

Hmm. You might try Mastermind Creations? If you skim through their facebook timeline (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mastermind-Creations/134216339973092?sk=timeline), they seem quite open and gregarious to fan reaction. They comment on people's video reviews and custom work from their own molds, so they might be open to discussion about production.

Tripredacus
2014-08-29, 06:16 PM
- What makes a third-party worth the price to you?

I only have a few toys in the collectively adopted "third party" category*. I haven't paid a whole lot for any of them, I'd say maybe $30 at the most each. They have been from the secondary market (buy from someone on a forum) or on discount from an online retailer. What makes them potentially worth it is that their designs are appealing, especially if there is no equal offering from Hasbro in the Masterpeice or Classics lines.

* = I consider the 3rd party TFs to be KOs and do not differentiate a third-party offering from any other bootleg toy.

- If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?

N/A

- Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)

I do see that some inroads have been made by these companies in the official convention. Even so much so that photos have should displays at Botcon, which was something that surprised me. In the end, I would prefer if Hasbro or Tomy were to absorb some of these companies and offer a high-end line for collectors. This model works well in Japan for other franchises. I think the reason why there is no real collector level from Hasbro is because they don't think it is worth it. Obviously the third-party companies are making money but then again they seem to do it for less financial reasons than the publicly traded Hasbro.

Then I would also be afraid of Hasbro doing something similar because they already fail at the Collector's Club. They offer (sometimes) interesting products but the prices are way too high. What I would want is if Hasbro could make something similar to the 3rd-party offerings at a more affordable price point and greater availability.

I believe the reasons why Hasbro hasn't taken down any of these companies so far (at least publicly) is because most seem to be operating in areas outside of their control. Whether that is a country where they have no presence or their home country has complex licensing laws.

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget

I don't have a toy budget. Third-party releases pretty much all fall within a "wishlist" category for me. They are nice to look at but I have no priority to purchase them.

Ryan F
2014-09-02, 10:09 PM
- What makes a third-party worth the price to you?

I'm not really one who buys toys just to fill holes in my collection. I get figures if I like the look of them, not who they're supposed to represent or what else they scale with.

For example, I don't really have much of a classics collection, and I was never that much of a fan of the G1 equivalents, but I collect FP's Headmasters just because I think they're darn good toys.

I have no bias towards any one manufacturer or style, my tastes are mostly based on aesthetics and the quality of the transformation.

I like to actually play with my figures, so I look for a combination of ingenuity and 'fun-ness'. I've already mentioned the FP Headmasters, but another good example would be Fans Toys Scoria (Slag). The way the back dino-legs fold away is insanely clever.

- If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?

The vast majority of my TF purchases are 3rd party and Masterpiece, mostly because the main-line, mass-release figures aren't that great anymore (though there are a few exceptions).

- Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)

I'm going to go against the majority here and predict that Third Party will continue to grow and grow. It's a cash cow, it must be. All you need is a good designer, a bit of capital, and a cheap Chinese factory and it's like a licence to print money.

These companies can't get the figures out quick enough; Warbotron have two combiners on the go simultaneously. Last year FP was putting out Stunticons, Headmasters, Glacialbots and Core figures. Maketoys have Throttlebots, Headmasters etc.

Because of the long lead-times, you do often get the situation where multiple companies are competing against each other with similar toys, yet they still find a market. All three sets of Predacons are getting completed; no-one fell by the wayside and gave up halfway through. TFC and Maketoys both had good success after putting out competing Devastators.

If you put out good product, and build up a good fanbase, you will thrive, it seems.

The main problem, I think, is when these companies bring out genuinely crummy figures. I don't want to insult anyone who owns these pieces, but Daca Toys Kronos, BTS Sonicron and a lot of the KFC output are all examples of figures where there were quite a few quality problems.

Mud sticks in this fandom; Daca Toys will never make another figure and KFC have changed their name, one of the reasons being to show customers that they have turned over a new leaf.

TFC and Fans Toys have survived QC nightmares only by recognising these problems exist, and repairing customer goodwill by being proactive in offering replacement parts. Compare this with KFC (who left emails unanswered and deleted constructive criticism from their Facebook page) and Daca (whose director/chief designer spent more time making barbs at Fans Toys than responding to customer complaints).

If you make good product, you'll be okay.

(As a result of certain toys' issues, I have a rule that I will only buy from a new company after having seen video reviews and positive customer feedback)

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget

If it wasn't for 3rd parties, I'd probably just stick to MPs anyway, given that mainline Transformers tend not to impress me these days. I buy less Hasbro stuff because it doesn't appeal to me, nothing to do with the rise of 3P. Third Parties are a complement to my regular buying habits, not a substitute.

Denyer
2014-09-06, 09:49 PM
Customer care is definitely important -- even though I'm not going for a set of Feralcons the fact that MMC have been packing in upgrade parts in subsequent releases to fix issues folk have had with figures is a nice touch.

Had a headlamp missing with a Salmoore recently and between UniqueToys and Alan at Omegalock got a part sent through, so top marks to both.

"Upgrade" releases can similarly be a source of ill-will if not handled properly; what FansToys did with Quakewave and what Perfect Effect are doing with Warden, making the new parts available as a separate kit, is the better case scenario. Of course, that's impossible with a full recolour such as Maniaking, so clear communication and giving buyers options ahead of time helps a lot. It would've been nice to make the Grimlock feet risers that came with the redhead Scoria purchasable separately, for instance (although no regrets for going with that deco, personally).

Denyer
2014-09-07, 02:55 PM
Ballpark production estimate on Hexatron + modified versions to come;

http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/transformers-toy-discussion/373385-uk-toy-discussion-2460.html#post11570594

Commander Shockwav
2014-09-08, 03:01 AM
Hi guys,

A lot of you know me from Transfans. For those who don't, hello! I am Bumblemus. I write for Bleeding Cool sometimes, and I am working on the definitive work on the exploding third-party Transformers industry. (I also write MTMTE-inspired fanfic over on Transfans (http://transfans.co.uk/community/viewforum.php?f=3) once in a while.)

If you've ever bought a third-party toy, interacted with the companies, or just have an opinion as a collector, please let me know here! I'm particularly interested in having these questions answered:

- What makes a third-party worth the price to you?

- If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?

- Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget

Any other thoughts on this crazy new industry! This is hopefully going to be a big momma, and quality, article.

Thanks, TFArchive.

What makes a third-party worth the price to you?
Well, third-party companies tend to give greater attention to niche fan desires. They also seem to put more of an effort into the project with more attention to detail. Third-party companies are likely made of "fans first" creators, so the love is there.

If you exclusively collect third-parties, why?
I don't collect exclusively third-party products.

Do you think the bubble will burst? Why or why not? (Potential reasons to burst include more legal pressure from Hasbro)
I think the bubble might eventually burst as companies like Hasbro put their collective financial influence to use in putting pressure on the lawmakers to protect their interest. It really depends on how much they are losing to third-party companies and whether it's worth the no doubt drawn out court battles that would ensue.

- Tell me a bit about how third-parties have impacted your toy budget
I don't really buy much other stuff, so I usually have plenty to spend on these overpriced items.

Tetsuro
2014-09-08, 06:20 AM
Ballpark production estimate on Hexatron + modified versions to come;

http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/transformers-toy-discussion/373385-uk-toy-discussion-2460.html#post11570594
I wonder what'd be the best place to buy him. Can't imagine it costing more than the reissue Sixshot.

Knightdramon
2014-09-08, 07:00 PM
It actually costs less. Available at bbts for now, but probably other sites shortly thereafter.