Events: Toy Fair 2016 Hasbro Brand Preview Round Table Interview

in 2016, Interviews

Events
2016 Entertainment Brand Preview: Round Table Interview

In years past I have had the fortune of sitting down with members of the "Transformers" team for a brief interview during Toy Fair. This was usually one on one. This year the format was changed to a round table group interview with the "Transformers" product manager John Warden. This means a few things:

  • The audio was difficult to hear in my recording at times because the way we were seated meant John Warden had to move constantly from person to person. Please forgive any transcription errors that may come up (I've done my best to make sure it's as accurate as possible).
  • In the interests of propriety I am not using the Q&A transcripts of other web sites. I've made notes below based on them but if you want the full content please visit other sites such as Allspark, ASM, Seibertron.com, TFW2005 and Unicron.com to see their parts of the interview.

The dialog was rather conversational in style at times, so I have trimmed down some of my own banter to get to the point of the questions.

Can you address how in the last 4 years or so (4 to 5 years) there has been an increased use of hollow parts, inner forearms and so on? This is one criticism I see constantly.
This is a consequence of two things. We want to make sure the height and the mass still stay the same across the the Deluxe Class. Mainly because when you look at Deluxe, which is one of our best selling assortments, or Voyager which has a similar kind of appeal, arguably Leader, you want to make sure that if you look at figures from several years ago they're similar heights. As a long term collector you know, going back to 2002 and Deluxe back then was almost like a Voyager Scale. In the past five years or so we've been trying to...put an end to that so we can keep the height on shelf because we know on shelf presence is really important to a lot of our collectors...and having a shelf of the 1986 characters or the G1 crew from launch. It worked really well for Combiner Wars because it was a modular system. With Titans Return we had a similar thing but you are right, there are some more voids, some more hollow parts. The reason why is that...although we are trying to maintain height, the costs of labor and production continue to be increased as well as the cost of general retail inflation so in order to keep the value for our consumer we sort of have to continue to try to find ways around it to the point now where I feel like where I feel some of the hollow parts...I mean, I've seen customizers scratch build guys fill them in with putty or something like that. I think there's definitely something on the horizon where we're going to have to look at changing the scope or value of what a Deluxe needs for sure.

Can you address fans have had the sheer number of redecos and retools used for "Combiner Wars"? What led to that? And will we see that level of redeco/retools in "Titans Return"?
That's also a really good question. I spoke to it earlier to the previous interview group. When we were launching "Combiner Wars" it was actually a very different time in Transformers. The system was largely unproven and we were actually trying to sell...we were coming off the Thrilling 30 and people that fans were, you know, there was a niche group of an audience. What wound up happening was when we built that line we had to try to...I planned the entire line out in advance and I had to figure out 'Ok, I'm going to reuse these, I only have this much tooling to do this many items', I was trying to spread things out to get the most robust line possible, not only for fans but because I believed that many generations were going to enjoy it too. Fathers and sons, moms and daughters, dads and daughters, there would be people playing together. And it turns out that actually seems to be happening! When you go to the toy store nowadays you don't see a lot of "Combiner Wars" stuff and I think it's because we have attracted an entire new generation of young Transformers fans. I find that really exciting.

Now that that's happened with Titans Return I feel like we've got an opportunity now with so much great attention that "Generations" has gotten to create a line that where we have different economies in place. We're going to be able to shift things around and look at things. I still create my line or our line, the product line with a team of very talented people to have a scope of almost a year plus. And when we do that together, we are able to look at all the costs, do all the shakes, checks and balances. One of the things I really brought to the table for "Titans Return" was the suggestion, I saw a lot of people saying online and social media that the line did have a lot of redecos and repaints. So although we I tried my best to make sure they were sensible redecos and repaints that were character focused and made sense appropriate within the Transformers universe, I totally get it. For "Titans Return" we are going to try our best to keep as many new or partially new retools as we can because we're actually entering a different era of Transformers right? '87 had a lot of big Transformers so we're trying to reconcile that going forward.

20th Anniversary Beast Wars...is there anything planned for this year beyond the Optimus Primal that has already been revealed?
Not for this year. I can say this and candidly to other fans that don't approach me, the Beast Wars universe began in 1996 but it continued arguably into the early 2000's and I think there's opportunities in the future to reconnect with that. I feel like even in the coming years that those bridges can be made even stronger as our fan base changes, as our fans that remember that have a nostalgic connection they want to share that with their kids, their family and they want to add that to their collection. There's no reason we would ever write off that era or any other...Armada, Energon, 2007 movie, there's no reason why we would never look at any other part of the Transformers universe.

I've heard the term "The tool is worn out" before. How do you tell when that limit has been reached?
It's a number of factors, I'm not an engineer, I'm a product designer but I lean engineering in what I do. The mold condition has to do with a lot of things. A lot of of it has to do with where it is in the world. India has different conditions than like a tool in China versus a tool in Vietnam where a lot of the production is done now and how it's stored. Some of those tools were stored in a way where some of them developed rust over the years and things like that so it's a case by case basis. The molds, when they have to be reused they literally have to crack them open, some of them are two tons, they crack them open, they look inside, they have to be proper lubricated and...that's an expensive things to do. So sometimes when tools are retired or they fall into disrepair it is a consequence of that era being overlooked. It's also that there are so many tools that we almost have to do CSI to find them. So they're still out there for sure and there's certainly fan demand for like say "Beast Wars" retools or something that would warrant us having a long hard look at it but sometimes they just fall apart. Sometimes there's a leak in the roof and no one knew about it you know.

Is it harder now to do a manufacturing run of something in China with manufacturing moving out of China?
A logistics question like that would be difficult for me to answer based on the fact that we're dealing with different countries and there are laws and things like that. But I can say it gets complicated when you're moving tools around. Moving tools is an expensive venture. Like I was explaining they are very heavy so it's not as easy as picking up a TV and moving it. It's like picking up my Volvo I sold off five years ago and moving it. It's not an easy thing to do. They're solid blocks of steal and like you said some of them rust.

We were told, maybe three teams ago going way back, that G1 Fort Max doesn't pass the drop test anymore and that's why he never got reissued during 'Robots in Disguise'. What challenge did you face when had to design Titan Metroplex and this guy to make sure they do pass the safety tests despite all the size and bulk.
Drop mostly...only pertains to a flying toy which Fortress Maximus is not. It's a ship he turns into...as you can tell by the aircraft ramps. For that reason he did not have to withstand the height and drop tests. But that being said the toys that we make now are made to withstand many tests because we don't just make them for fans we make them for kids too.

Notes based on questions from other sites (in chronological order from the session):

  • The theme for Platinum Edition in 2016 is the 1986 animated movie.
  • Hasbro is aware Nautica is a fan favorite character and would love a toy of her.
  • Replacements for "lost heads" for the Titan Masters won't be available, but you can just buy one of the small packs with only a head and vehicle or beast to replace it.
  • The Titan Masters have to be removed to transform to vehicle mode.
  • Some design elements of the Soundwave head are in the Titan Master and the rest is on the helmet attached to the figure itself.
  • Hasbro does not dictate everything IDW Publishing does. They meet with IDW to present them their toy plans and they work together to collaborate. Example: Chromedome will not be a Titan Master/Headmaster in the comics.
  • Once "Titans Return" begins, it doesn't mean there may not be Combiners in the future.
  • Deluxe Class figures only have the Titan Master becoming the head, larger figures have a helmet piece to give the head more mass. You can see Galvatron's head transformation gimmick here from last year's pre-NYCC event.
  • John loves Overlord but cannot comment on an Overlord toy.
  • No plans for an IDW Publishing based Cyclonus with broken horn at this time. It is "on the radar".
  • While some manufacturing is moving to India, Warden did not confirm Transformers manufacturing is moving there.
  • Old 80's GI Joe tools were stored in India (current whereabouts uncertain).
  • There was no official confirmation of a fan convention for next year. Hasbro declined to make further statement on the matter at this time.
  • Warden's first Transformers design was Whirl followed by Roadbuster.
  • No comments on quantities manufactured for each figure.
  • Platinum Edition prices are partly affected by additional deco, premium packaging and molds being more expensive to make.
  • No comments on potential new "Star Wars Transformers" toys.
  • No comment on Scrounge, Computron or Liokaiser (though we expressed interest should they be real!).
  • John loves Micromasters. Blaster's city mode has elements of the Micromaster fire station.