View Full Version : 2004-2014---10 years of franchise

2014-08-31, 03:44 PM
It was pointed out somewhat recently that I've been in this community for a tad over 10 years. You *could* stretch it to 11 if you include some time where I was going completely solo, before I even had broadband to look up at websites and watch episodes when I wanted to.

What has dawned on me is how much this franchise has changed in just a span of 10 yeas [for better or worse, is really up to each fan to decide] and how much the fandom and the expectations have changed. Bear with me as we go through a 10 year journey over various aspects of the fandom, from toy volume, engineering and build, licensing, collector lines, other media, comic books and external parties.

Toy volume
2004. The Armada line was in its "death throes" and the Energon line was around wave 1 or so. The franchise had just undergone its first complexity reset in years---it moved from the overly engineered, realistic moulds of Car Robots/RID to a much simpler, more robust philosophy with integrated gimmicks of Armada. Energon/Superlink is a continuation of that theme, with different gimmicks depending on the faction---combining for Autobots, and powerup modes for Decepticons.

The one thing that has changed considerably since 2004 is the sheer volume of toys and options on the shelves. If back then you wanted Starscream, you had one option per show/line and that was it. It was satisfyingly rare to find a character in more than one sizeclass. The only exception to that was Optimus Prime, but strangely enough, the affordable options came at the tail end of the line instead of at the beginning.

Also of note was the number of toylines running concurrently. It was usually a main line with an accompanying cartoon and on *rare* occurrences, a second, more collector-oriented line running at a much slower pace next to it. Furthermore, despite having a much lower number of fans back then, the collector lines were sold in regular retail instead of being exclusives to one chain.

Engineering and build

From 2004 until today, it had been an upward slope until around 2010/11, and then just going down since then. While in 2002/3, the Armada toyline went back to more simplistic roots than RID before it, the toys were bigger. Chunkier, bulkier. By the time Cybertron [2005-6] came around, practically all toys voyager sized and up had electronics and full on ratchet joints everywhere.

There was also a very clear sense of progression from each line to the next. Using Armada as a starting point, some toys were awkward on purpose to accommodate their gimmick. Jetfire [Armada] made no effort to hide the fact that it splits apart a million ways to become immobile legs for Optimus Prime. Armada Starscream was unapologetic in that it carried 70% of the jet mode, vertically, on his back, for the flip out cannons and the soundchip.

Energon got a tad better in that regard, at least with the Decepticons, as the figures got some flip out panels or extra joints that did not really interfere with either mode. The Autobots were less fortunate, as deluxes and voyagers has to be quad-changers, with the legs of the robot mode usually acting either as legs of the combined mode -or- huge arms for combined modes.

What started from these 2 lines onwards, though, was the line-wide compatibility. All figures had the same peg holes all over, meaning that everybody could hold anybody's weapon or minicon. What's further surprising is that this carried over for 3 consecutive lines and around 3 years [Armada to Cybertron]/

Shifting the focus slightly to collector lines, the Binaltech line at the time impressed the fandom with its build quality and materials. For the same price as a current MP car, they had anything from 30-70% of their materials being die-cast metal, fully painted car exterior, licensed products, featuring amazing instruction booklets and [paper] display stands, very poseable and still be 30% bigger than current masterpiece cars.

Unfortunately, a fixed [and a large, at that] scale and much more limited car options at the time meant the line would have a slow end as it run out of car characters, the repaints were getting somewhat ridiculous and it proved to be too expensive to maintain.

The rise in quality and complexity kept progressing, with the zenith being more or less generally agreed to be the tail end of the ROTF/HFTD line and the 2010 Generations line.

That was the point where figures were nicely thick, robust, well detailed and painted, and fantastically engineered, despite what your mileage on their aesthetics was. This was -immediately- obvious on the 3rd movie line, DOTM. Same size-class cars were no longer size-compatible, what was a very generous use of silver paint was reduced to plain plastic [looking at you, ROTF Sideswipe and DOTM Sideswipe] and the lines once again had a unified gimmick---in that case, mechtech weapons, which took out around 30% of a toy's mass in favour of spring loaded weapons that just plugged on various ports on the toy.

At around that point, Hasbro also more or less gave up on the bigger size classes used for villains, or as time went on, used at all. With DOTM, we had 3 leader figures, all 3 of which were Autobots, and 2 of which had already over 10 iterations in other size classes across both previous movies.

2015 will feature the -first- Megatron figure used as something bigger than voyager-sized figures since 2008/9!

Sadly, this appears to be a recurring and permanent theme as the figures -still- grow smaller, simpler and less engineered, 5 years after the initial downsizing. Leader class figures did away with the soundbox at all, yet grew even smaller despite carrying the same price as they had while still having electronics.


This is the one factor where the franchise has been in upswing about and thankfully just keeps getting better and better. Circa 2000, Hasbro and Takara had to tiptoe around known brands [Mercedes, Dodge and Lamborghini] for their car robot triplets by moulding things differently. -Some- well known models surfaced during Cybertron, but were few and far between.

The Binaltech line suffered greatly as many car brands declined licensing products. Pretty much the only character which kept his vehicle brand from G1 to Binaltech was Tracks, with others ending up with nonsense cars in regards to what they were ["Lambor" being a Dodge Viper being the prime example].

The first movie was still experimenting on that, with only GM and some subsidiaries granting licenses. As the movies went on to all become blockbuster hits, more and more car companies opened up to the idea of having their products showcased like that. Nissan, VW, Lamborghini, Western Star, Fiat and region-specific companies [ie Alternity Starscream's Oorochi car mode] all chimed in.

What's notable is that Binaltech Bumblebee went over the drawing stage but was repeatedly declined [as well as Jazz, which got to the test shot stage] because the figures had instruments of war [aka guns] on them, and other PR issues. 10 years later, a Volkswagen Masterpiece Bumblebee, fully licensed, is being released in November. Wheeljack is coming out, with all sorts of racing livery and the stamp of Lancia Stratos, in around 20 days from the writing of this article.

We can safely, at this point, state that the days of rounded up or misshapen car parts, or amalgamations of vehicles, are past us, and like it or not, we have Michael Bay to thank for that.

Collector Lines

Another thing that has fruitfully grown since 2014 is the prevalence of collector lines on the market, and the attention collectors get. While from Armada [2003] to more or less Animated [2008-9], we got a few odd calls here and there, a few "bones" thrown our way if you will, it never really hit it the way it has now until 2009 onwards.

Homages in that period were usually in the form of name drops [ie minicons called Shockwave], basic throwbacks [ie a green Helicopter named Springer, a red repaint of a sports car with flames on called Hot Rod], the 2006 filler line Classics proved to hasbro that fans really thirst for proper homages and updates.

Since then, all iterations of these classic updates [Classics, Henkei, Universe, Generations 1.0] were used as filler lines in-between movies, or rarely, concurrently from the main line.

In this span we've gotten videogame cybertronian figures, proper triple changers, repaints and retools done right, comic book cameos and even proper comic book tie ins.

And if this was not enough, there is a proper high-end collector line running alongside these; Masterpiece. While arguably a downsized and tamed Binaltech iteration nowadays, Masterpiece goes a long way to going full on retro-looking robot modes, homaging toys, comics and cartoon likeness, coupling that with realistic and licensed vehicle modes of the 80ies. Since a very successful, commercially, reboot in 2012, the Masterpiece line has become more of a unified line spread among its own sizeclasses rather than a collection of leader-type characters released in a random time frame.

That's not to say that there aren't any drawbacks in this "utopia".

The erstwhile "downsizing" and oversimplification of figures has affected collector lines as well. Almost all figures end up being lighter and smaller than their size-class counterparts from years ago. Just the other day I put my FOC Jazz [a cybertronian-styled video-game inspired mould of 2012, deluxe class] next to my United Blurr [a realistic approach to re-imagining Blurr, of 2010, deluxe class] and to my surprise, Jazz was much lighter, parts were much thinner, lacked a lot of paint, was 30% smaller and was even less articulated than Blurr.

Unfortunately it seems that is is a trend of the years to come, as Hasbro tried [unsuccessfully] to simply upscale legends class figures and pass them off as voyagers and deluxes. The showcased 2015 are nothing to write home about.

Thankfully, the MP line is staying true to its roots with at least keeping size and complexity consistent between releases, from 2012 to 2015.

And lastly, because it is not said enough, compared to other collector lines of franchises, transformers is thankfully the cheapest there is.

Other media

Since the movies, and definitely since 2004, the franchise has gone up a scale in this matter as well. We've had 2 good videogames in a row [WFC-FOC], following some rather mediocre movie games and a good but so under the radar Armada game it hurt.

Hasbro is cashing in on this as toys are made for tie-ins, especially to the 2 cybertronian games, the second of which gave us the first 5-limb unique combiner since the late 80ies.

The comic books strangely enough continue to flourish, even if their sales reportedly ain't. MTMTE has been such a huge hit with the fandom, it has managed in just over 30 months to completely outclass its sister title, and pretty much anything that came before it.

When Dreamwave got the title, they chose to do their own spin on the then current show [Armada and Energon], while doing a g1 cartoon contunuity G1 series [which neatly served as a gap between S2 and the movie], as well as the first proper prequel to the war.

When IDW got the license, they chose to do their own spin on the G1 universe, which ended up being the most popular take in the franchise, even if it went by 4 or 5 different writers before it became what is is today.

What fans were begging for since 2004 has finally materialized, with true comic/toy tie-ins, although in the transition it is the comic themselves that suffered as in many cases they had to shoe-in a completely unrelated character to the story/era as well.

Thankfully, the series has its longest running titles [and 2 of them, no less] since IDW has acquired the rights. If all comes to fruition as James Roberts has said, S2 of MTMTE will end at around issue 56, which means that [fingers crossed], around 3 seasons in, each book will be running longer than Marvel US did.

Furthermore, with the eventual decline of toy sales [in general, not just limited to transformers], Hasbro seems keen to promote comic books and the otherwise "pee in your G1 purist faces" stance the current stories have taken, which is always a plus in my book.

External factors, aka 3rd parties

Another point to consider [very briefly, as this is a beast of its own] is the existence of 3rd party products to the frame. What started off as very non-intrusive and minimal [ie a Unicron display stand, an add on kit here and there] has kicked off in just under 7 years into a colossus producing add on kits, standalone figures or entirely new designs.

While this is just a bubble that will burst in a few years time, it is a competition to Hasbro, as they change their plans and try to compete with other companies for a slice of their own baked pie.

-------Any thoughts on the above? What's your take on the evolution of the franchise in these 10 years? How do you think it will play on in the next 10 years time? Will the franchise go on another uphill in quality and production in lines, or are we doomed in a downward limbo from official mass produced items?

2014-08-31, 07:34 PM
That's a good summary of the last ten years of the franchise. Not much to disagree on really. Except to say I feel that collectors have been pretty well served by Hasbro and Takara since 1999 when the Reissues of the original toys started. They started off as super-limited Takara exclusives, before the 'year zero' for Collectors of 2002 when a sustained reissue series started on both hemispheres.

If I'm honest, I miss having a regular series of reissues like the Book-Box series. Mould availability notwithstanding, the Generations/ Masterpiece lines have pretty much replaced the originals in the hearts and minds of a lot of collectors, so I can't see Takara or Hasbro placing any stock with any further re-releases of older toys. Re-imagining for the collector market seems to be the way Hasbro/Takara are heading and quite right too.

The simplification and decline of the toy line is something I do find disappointing. Its played a big part in my own cooling of excitement in any mainstream retail releases. The Prime line had some superbly engineered and designed toys (I've actually kept these in favour of all my Movie and Animated toys they're such a good composite of those two disparate takes), yet they were smaller and less well finished than previous toylines, and in terms of the larger toys, hobbled with horrible Mech-Tech weapons. Prime to me feels like the end of the road for my interest in mainline retail figures. The AoE toys are unappealing and cheap looking (it says volumes that the only figures I've had any interest in this line are the Walmart/Asda exclusives which feature reuses of moulds I've enjoyed in older toylines!).

I suspect the ultimate eventuality of Transformers is that the toyline will simply cease to be and there'll just be a string of high ticket items aimed at adult collectors and that this too will probably end once we're all in our dotage, if not before. There is a marked generational shift with the kids growing up now having less of an attachment to physical things, having as they do, a greater involvement with technology from a very young age that anyone born before 1990 ever had. Idiotic as it seems to me to give a toddler a 500 iPad to 'play' with, this is how society is developing. With 3D printers hovering on the horizon we are just a few steps away from people not needing to buy products but just being able to cook up whatever they need at home. In this sort of environment, its hard to see how toys will continue to exist.

The vast improvement of the comics has really cheered me up. These were such an important part of my enjoyment of Transformers growing up and it was a shame IDW just made an epic mess of what they had. Thankfully, in John Barber, the comics have a firm editorial hand on them (even if that hand is a bit too continuity focused for my liking) and a writer in James Roberts whom is breathing new life into the comics in the same way Simon Furman had. The artwork is generally of a very high standard too and recently the colouring has seen a huge improvement - its nowhere Dreamwave levels, but at least on a par with more mainstream books. I do wish IDW would knock the variant covers thing on the head though. This isn't the 1990s you know!

I would like to see a really great, new TV show that does what Beast Wars did and brings something new and fresh to the table. Prime was extremely well prodiced and enjoyable, but unimaginative and in Seasons 2 & 3 just resulted in a load of tedious quests.

The films will continue until the general public have decided they've had enough, which'll probably come in the next few years, but I think that'll be something that'll sporadically come back to cinemas as and when. And hopefully with a new Director - not that I mind Michael Bay - but it would be interesting to see what a fresh pair of eyes can bring to the movie-verse.

The big deal for me has been the explosion in online fandom and making the decision in 2008 to get involved in interacting with other fans. I've only been on this forum for a couple of years, but its the one I enjoy the most for its debate and thoughtfulness and for everyone here just being generally awesome and lovely. And I have Cliffjumper to thank for that, having discovered his Counter-X site through the recommendations of a guy I bought some Gobots off, he recommended this site.

Ryan F
2014-09-02, 09:16 PM
For me the main change through the years has been toy availability, which in a way goes hand-in-hand with the decline of the action figure market.

Ten years ago my town had a decently-sized Woolworths, a Toymaster, and an excellent selection in Tesco as well. Knightdramon was comparing Alternators to MPs above - to me the main difference was that I could go into Woolies and pick up an Alt Shockwave or Hound or whatever, but these days the only way to get anything decent is by shopping online.

Even with the latest movie, if I want a mainline Deluxe or Voyager I have to either take a train to Ipswich TRU or go online. The only toys left in town are a small selection in Tesco, which consists entirely of kid-friendly one-step-changers and the like.

I think the simplification of the toys is partially down to rising prices of plastic and manufacturing, but also as a reaction to some of the more complex movie toys. ROTF Prime may be a fan favourite, but negative reviews on the Argos website suggested it was a bit TOO complex for six-year-olds. Voyager Mixmaster, Leader Sentinel Prime and even Human Alliance BB were all figures I can imagine frustrating the hell out of Joe Public.

That said, there is still the occasional gem to be found. The TF:Prime Wheeljack and Vehicon moulds were great fun, innovative without being complex. Generations Springer, Mechtech Skyhammer and Evasion Mode Prime are also firm favourites.

The very best toys may only be available from online vendors these days, but great figures still occasionally turn up at retail, too!