Last week we asked the hypothetical question of what Transformers collectors would buy if, one by one, the layers of luxurious and then basic product were peeled away like an onion and discontinued, leaving no new toy lines. This week we ask a very real question and take a few contributions. The question is, are 3rd party Transformers the biggest luxury we have as Transformers toy collectors?
The question itself will have different meanings to different collectors. Some will see the term ‘luxury’ as equating to expensive, and may see the discussion as one pertaining to value for money when compared pound for pound with official product. For me, my understanding is more about how spoiled we are as a fandom that so many products are aimed specifically at us, without the need for a global underlying brand, media or mainstream retail-based big picture to keep in mind. Of course all of that exists within the world of official Transformers, so Hasbro and TakaraTomy carry the burden there while 3rd party companies reap certain benefits off the back of it. That is not to diminish from their achievements, quality, resourcefulness and ingenuity, though. They create products for niche interests without having to compromise to make them appealing to a wider customer base, and sometimes we don’t have to compromise in our desire for them – well, unless you want to talk about the general shift towards cartoon-aesthetic Masterpiece style figures. This is why I placed 3rd party products as the outermost layer of the onion in last week’s article. The first and most luxurious layer to go.
For Ben Parfitt, the question brings up the subject of collectors wholesale boycotting the phenomenon, as well as the financial aspect of luxury. Ben says “‘Luxury’ is quite a weighted word so the answer to that question depends wholly on how you interpret it. Certainly I think we’re incredibly lucky to have the 3rd party scene. Look at the choice we have now as collectors. It’s beyond the wildest dreams of anyone who was around when the 3rd party scene first started to emerge.
“I must admit I continue to be baffled by those who dismiss 3rd party on grounds of copyright, however. Whose enjoyment of something as wonderful and joyous as transforming robot derives from intellectual property law? I often suspect that those throwing about terms such as ‘counterfeits’ and ‘fakes’ are perhaps in fact in reality trying to justify their financial inability to buy into 3rd party. I completely understand collectors who do not collect 3rd party due to concerns about space or expense, of course, as we all have to know our limits and it’s a brutally expensive and expansive rabbit hole to fall down. But it saddens me when this manifests in such mindless criticism.
“Certainly the situation has changed recently when you look at TakaraTomy prices, which are on the way up. Not that 3rd parties haven’t done the same, although certainly some companies have chosen to compete on price – just look at the prices for the upcoming Zeta Combaticons, or X-Transbots’ carbots. Suddenly it’s TakaraTomy that’s beginning to emit an air of luxury – which is not a criticism, incidentally. I maintain that TakaraTomy remains the best in the business, and I’ll pay a premium for that (albeit with a tiny moan here and there).”
So Ben also feels that TakaraTomy might actually qualify as a similar level of luxury, although some quarters of the community may show a great deal more entitlement towards the Masterpiece line than they do towards the 3rd party scene, which as I have already said, feels to me like the bigger luxury. I can’t think of many other fandoms who have such a huge 3rd party influence and slice of the pie with fans of a recognisable IP.
Kit Tang says “If ‘luxury’ is defined as an ‘inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain’ then 3P used to be exactly that. Or at least, some of it did. The more ‘desired’ items would sell out almost immediately and no second runs usually meant if you didn’t jump on the wagon early, then you were out of luck.
“However, with TakaraTomy’s new(ish) approach I’ve found the 3P bubble… well it hasn’t burst (like I’ve always said it would) but it’s definitely not as buoyant as it used to be. The moment TakTom leak a blurry silhouette (or for utter devastation; make an actual announcement) of a character, the 3P version is toast. Sunstreaker is announced and the second hand market was suddenly flooded with cheap Sunsurges. This puts paid to Sunsurge being ‘desired’, ‘expensive’ or ‘difficult to obtain’.
“And remember, 3P no longer sells out immediately after release either, Spinout has always floundered for example and some smaller releases simply don’t sell (buy Black Hawk Down!). So, 3rd party figures used to be our biggest luxury… at least until TakTom decided to up their Masterpiece game in terms of output (and cost)”.
Kit also sees Masterpiece – in its current guise – as an equally luxurious aspect of the hobby, if not moreso. I would still argue that a high end representation of the core brand’s history is quite an expected part of the offered range, but I also agree that we are lucky to have it. The price of Masterpiece toys gives weight to this feeling among some collectors, too.
Here’s Mike Murray to give his take on the question: “I think that 3rd party toys are absolutely the biggest luxury we have as toy collectors, although my experience of collecting through the ‘dark ages’ of the late 90s through early 2000s makes me very aware that we are lucky to have a relatively well-distributed line of detailed, articulated, collector-aimed figures (the Generations line, Combiner Wars, Titans Return, etc). What makes 3P toys such a luxury in my mind is the sheer breadth of choice they offer, ranging from articulation or cosmetic enhancements for the already high-end Masterpiece line, to characters that are ‘missing’ from your collection of official toys at any number of popular scales or size classes, or even figures of specific versions of popular characters.
“While the now-defunct Collector’s Club/BotCon exclusives filled these niches in some ways, the ability to do it without the constraints of repainting existing figures, child safety concerns or a retail figure budget has led to intricate figures with some unique and memorable transformations. I was a fairly slow adopter of 3p figures (vs add-on sets) but I am very happy with what I own, even as some figures finally get official Has/Tak competition I’m of a mind to keep the 3P ones on display.”
I think we can agree that the existence of companies catering solely for Transformers collectors at various scales and aesthetics, as well as their ability to incorporate characters that may never see release officially, makes them a luxury. Whether they are the biggest luxury we have or not depends on how much importance you place on the kind of stuff they offer and your goals as a collector. Masterpiece Transformers seem to give them a real run for money when it comes to the perception of luxury and what we have available to us. Maybe it’s too crude or unfair to see 3P products as the unnecessary icing on top of the market that we’d all ignore if the desired official substance was there all along, or guaranteed to come along one day. There is a belief that a certain degree of the excellent official product we’ve enjoyed over the last few years is down to the fact that Hasbro and TakaraTomy wanted to take action. Actions aimed at reducing or eliminating the competition from 3P companies by ensuring that collectors were spending their disposable budget on official product as opposed to unofficial. Maybe that’s the biggest luxury of all that 3rd parties have afforded us as Transformers collectors; competition.
Many kind and gracious thanks to Ben Parfitt, Kit Tang and Mike Murray for their contributions this week!
All the best