Collectors will accept and purchase 3rd Party Transformers products for different reasons, maybe to fill gaps in high profile lines like Masterpiece, or just for the ingenuity of unique figures they appreciate. Other enthusiasts will not touch unofficial products that are guilty of intellectual property theft that they believe are harmful to the continued success official product. This week we’ve asked a number of collectors whether they think Hasbro and Takara have an active strategy in place to go after 3rd Party companies, or at least making progress in winning over some of their customers. This is a question that has been discussed more with the recent Hasbro and Takara Tomy Transformers reveals, reveals that seem to have struck at the heart of what direction most 3P companies had been going in.
3rd Party products appeal to me for one key reason, they allow me to own Transformers characters of a particular philosophy/aesthetic that are currently unobtainable to me either for reasons of price (Carry instead of MP-9 for example) or because they do not exist yet (Masterpiece Perceptor and Dinobots), and the short-term gaps they fill have brought some fulfilment to me in my collecting. On occasion, I already own the version I most treasure of a character (G1 Greatshot, G1 Mirage), but a 3rd Party re-imagining gives me a chance to enjoy those characters again with different qualities and pay tribute to it in the shape of more plastic & die cast. I realise that with much of what I have obtained from 3P companies, the official releases will one day cover those bases, and seeing Masterpiece Laserwave, Hot Rodimus and Ramjet reveals all in the space of a month shows some serious intent from Takara Tomy to add to the Masterpiece line. Hasbro’s Titans Return reveals have also shown collectors that Headmasters are very much on the radar for the official lines too. Combiner Wars certainly gave a lot of folks cheaper and more accessible, enjoyable combiners than some 3P companies had managed.
But, does anyone actually believe that Hasbro and Takara Tomy have sat down and mapped out the future of their releases to interfere with the sales of 3rd Party companies? Was MP Laserwave brought forward to combat FansToys’ Quakewave reissue? Was MP Hot Rodimus revealed to challenge DX9 Carry? Headmasters in Titans Return versus MakeToys Re-Master Headmasters? MP Ramjet and show-accurate Thundercracker a shot at iGear’s now expensive jets? Is it a coincidence that the most recent reveals have seemingly coincided with some of the most expensive 3rd Party products on the second hand market?
Transformers collector Matt Dennett’s response to the question that makes up this article’s title is as follows:
“I’ve had this conversation recently with other collectors, centered mostly around Masterpiece releases, my stance has always been it’s the other way around: third party companies are going after planned/perceived Takara releases and/or trying to beat Takara to the punch. Although there are numerous third party products that are hands down phenomenal, official products still have the upper hand and the hearts of collectors (that’s not ALWAYS the case, but it’s a majority). That is to say collectors are more likely to buy Masterpiece Shockwave over FansToys Quakewave.
“I think it’s no secret there are conversations between a lot of third party companies and potential ‘insiders’ who can get the slightest advanced notice of what Takara could be planning. Even less speculative is that it’s rather easy to see what Takara wants to do with the Masterpiece line in particular. Takara hasn’t gotten to an Inferno figure yet? Let’s beat them to the punch. Takara just released a Masterpiece Ultra Magnus figure, let’s make a Galvatron to go with it. We see this trend happening all the time! If anything, I will admit that third party companies probably HAVE shown Takara and Hasbro (possibly more so with Hasbro) that there is a collector segment for Transformers. Adults are ready and willing to spend hundreds of dollars on figures of ‘high end’ nature. There is no slight meant to third party products, I collect them still, but third party products are still somewhat of gap fillers until an official representation is released, whereas Takara / Hasbro are still very much in the drivers seat“.
Morgan Evans, owner of online Transformers retailer Masterforce.co.uk believes that are some official eyes on unofficial product, evidenced to some degree by the Hasbro UK fan survey that named a great of 3rd Party companies and showed some significant knowledge, but that it is being used more for market research than for ammunition.
“Hasbro and Takara are very aware of the third party companies and for the most part have been very tolerant of them with only a couple of Cease and Desists issued and the banning of 3P from Botcon. While neither company have staff monitoring everything that happens in the third party market or the fandom, they do use consultants who are very much involved and feed information back to them. I don’t think Hasbro or Takara are actively stamping out the others because they could simply cut off their own product to retailers who sell 3P, but perhaps they are now using the 3P market to gauge fan interest. If a large number of people are spending $500 on Warbotron’s version of Bruticus then logically a much larger number will buy a $90 one from Hasbro“.
Writer and 3rd Party contributor Sid Beckett/CZ Hazard goes into great depth to answer the question, and a lot of what he says agrees with Morgan’s analysis.
“Are Hasbro and Takara going after 3P companies/releases? I’d say no, because that risks alienating their core consumer base, risks pissing off and criminalising one of their main customer bases (re-sellers), and it could create quite a negative backlash from the fan community who are – seemingly – very invested in the 3rd party scene, whether at the level of cool garage custom kits to fully fledged figures competing directly with HasTak product. Instead, they are being much cleverer about it: they are competing. This is better for the fans because not only does it give us more choice, but it means a better quality product and – in my opinion most importantly – they ARE listening to their audience. Finally”.
Sid goes on to explain how the significance of the fan community has dawned on the official creators of the brand:
“I was at BotCon 5 or 6 years back and the Hasbro team literally said to all of us in attendance ‘you’re only about 10% of our audience…’, way to shrug off you hardcore audience. 90% of Coca-Cola is consumed by 10% of their fan base. These core users can be a major asset to any company, and even smaller companies realise that 10% can mean the difference profit and loss. However, on the flipside of that, the tired adage ‘the customer is always right’ is false. If they’d given us G1 redux at a collectors’ quality level in 2002 instead of Armada, we all would have packed up and gone home. HasTak changed the scale of MP10 not ‘to do it better’ but to move the goal-posts and change your collection. It worked, with a huge section of the fanbase dumping CHUG. With 3P on the scene, HasTak realise they can’t get away with controlling the goal-posts, and they’ve had to take control of the ball again. And heck, they’ve done a great job! They’ve essentially used 3P as free market research to figure out exactly what the market can bear, and how much disposable income we all have floating around to ‘invest’ into this stuff“. There’s that opinion again, that the official companies are using the success of 3P product to assess the market.
“Suddenly, that 10% fringe of the market is being exploited to its fullest, making it very hard for anyone to consider being a completist. This in turn means 3rd parties have to be more competitive too. If HasTak wanted to have shut down the 3P companies, they could have done so five years ago, to attempt to do so now would be trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and as we know from fairy-tales of old, the genie can turn nasty when you try and put it back in the bottle. Competition is good for Transformers and good for HasTak, and good for 3P companies (if they play the game wisely) and good for the fans. But all of these feuds, real or imagined, have always served to heighten the engagement and excitement of the supporters of the brands. In conclusion: I don’t believe 3P have anything to worry about from Hasbro or Takara, I think the wounds that eventually kill the 3P market will be self-inflicted; a result of too much money invested for too little return in an increasingly fragmented marketplace“.
The verdict seems to be that Hasbro and Takara Tomy are not taking any direct action to shut down 3rd Party companies, and instead of intercepting key popular releases, they are actually using the free market research generated by those companies to inform some of their own output, which is ultimately benefiting the fandom.
Many kind thanks to Matt Dennett, Morgan Evans and Sid Beckett for valuable contributions.
All the best Maz