Five Reasons Why Hasbro’s “Star Wars Black” Will Fail

2017 Update: Check out Five Reasons Why Hasbro’s “Star Wars Black” Series Hasn’t Failed.

NOTE: This is a discussion about the 6-inch scale Star Wars “Black” action figure series. I am not at all covering their 3.75-inch scale “Black” line in this article.

With the official announcement on January 29 at USA Today (post here) the 6-inch Star Wars “Black” action figures have sparked excitement across the web. What looks like a great idea at first glance — and strikes me as something that should have been tackled long before now — may not actually have all that much of a chance at success. After some thinking through the new line, and reading opinions across the web, I’ve settled on one single strong opinion of my own:

Hasbro’s “Star Wars Black” series will fail.

(What is failure? See “Star Wars Black: Defining Failure” for one possible definition.)

I hope that I am wrong. I’d love to see the series reach a point that I can buy a 6-inch scale Blue Snaggletooth action figure, but I just can’t shake the feeling that five key points will take this new line down the road to cancellation.

1. Against Tradition

Since Kenner’s first Star Wars action figures reached stores in 1978 the most popular scale for Star Wars action figures has been 3.75-inch. For 35 years now all of us have handled, owned, played with, or otherwise interacted with 3.75-inch scale Star Wars action figures. That’s a lot of tradition to fight against, and even when the line was new Kenner struggled with introducing other scales to the line; the 12-inch scale Star Wars action figures of the seventies and the non-articulated Star Wars Micro Collection of the eighties. And even the diecast metal toys and Micro Machines Star Wars toys have never had the longevity of the 3.75-inch scale figures.

Sideshow Collectibles’ line of 12-inch scale Star Wars action figures (browse Sideshow’s site*) has done fairly well, but Sideshow Collectibles is a much smaller company than Hasbro and sells their toys for far more than Hasbro; Sideshow’s line is a real “Adult Collectible” and I don’t see Hasbro easily transitioning collectors to their new 6-inch scale line.

2. Limited Play Potential

Above is the promotional photo of the Luke Skywalker action figure in his X-Wing gear. At a scale that would work neatly with this Luke Skywalker action figure — and at the detail “adult” collectors will expect and appreciate — I cannot see Hasbro producing an X-Wing toy spaceship for less than $175 or $200. And that’s a lot of cash to sink into a single mass market (or any) toy. And where would you even place the thing once you had it?

And kids actually playing with a spaceship scaled for the line? Forget it. How would they carry it around? The 6-inch scale size is just too big for playable toys that rely on vehicles and creatures. Even a Dewback scaled for the upcoming Sandtrooper would be a massive piece of plastic.

3. Twenty Bucks!?!?!

Even though Hasbro is targeting their Star Wars “Black” 6-inch action figures at collectors the line has to perform at retail, which means that the $20 price tag on the toys automatically makes these look pricey in comparison to a lot of the action figures on the pegs in places like Target and Walmart. For survival at retail to happen the toys will need to sell at least as well as the weakest-selling toys around them, and between the lack of vehicles and the fact these don’t work with existing Star Wars toys I think parents won’t be able to get past that $20 price point and actually buy the toys.

4. Difficult to Find

But maybe the lack of parent buying the toys for children will be a good thing, because I fully expect the first wave or two of Star Wars “Black” action figures to have distribution problems. Yes, Darth Maul will be the peg warmer of wave one, but the other three action figures — especially the Sandtrooper — will be tough to find in stores for a while. This may seem to argue that the line is an automatic success, but if all Hasbro is reaching with the toys is the adult collectors then the positive of fast sell-through actually leads to the overwhelmingly negative — and line-killing — reason number five for why I feel Hasbro’s Star Wars “Black” will fail.

5. Oversaturation of the Market

It’s basically guaranteed to happen. Let us assume that waves one and two reach stores and blow through fast (except for Darth Maul and any other prequel figures; they’ll be too busy acting as peg warmers to go home with anyone) and fans are excited about the quality of the action figures. Hasbro, in an attempt to keep up with the overwhelming demand for their 6-inch scale Star Wars “Black” action figures, will start increasing the size of later waves. This is a great thing for Hasbro and collectors; Hasbro can make more money off of their expensive tooling and fans have an easier time finding the toys.

But this will not be a good thing in about two years and I expect the line to be dead within three years.

You see, with Star Wars “Black” the massive success it is (remember, I’m speculating and predicting the future here) everything works out so that as the next Star Wars movie hits theaters Hasbro starts delivering huge runs of 6-inch scale Star Wars action figures to the retail stores. Action figures, because of timing, of whatever new characters are in the new movie.

Action figures for “adult” collectors. Those very same “adult” collectors who have been skipping the prequel action figures because, well, because we’re old and cranky. Hey, I plan to skip Darth Maul so I’m right there with all of you.

So now we have tons of product on shelves targeted at adults. The line is still not great for kids, so now the new Star Wars movie must appeal to adult collectors in order to move all of that inventory. Some will move, sure, but chances are I and other adults will be less than satisfied with the Star Wars movie . . . and now stores have 6-inch scale Star Wars action figures clogging their shelves.

I Hope I Am Wrong

With any real luck I am very wrong and the issues I have outlined won’t cripple and destroy the 6-inch scale Star Wars “Black” action figure series. In a perfect world Hasbro resists temptation to increase production runs to the point that they oversaturate the market, but I think that perfect world also requires Star Wars fans of my own age to love the new movies.

And our history with Star Wars films — and even the Clone Wars animated series — suggests that far too many of us will dislike the new movies for our buying power to sustain an oversaturated action figure series that has limited appeal to children.

We’ll see what happens, but I expect to hear of the death of the Star Wars “Black” line in 2016.

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36 thoughts on “Five Reasons Why Hasbro’s “Star Wars Black” Will Fail

  1. I think it won’t fail just because it’s Star Wars and there are bound to be tons of people to spend money on these figures, but I agree with all your points. Even with increased detail, these are just too pricey and won’t be as fun without any vehicles.

    Even a Jabba the Hutt at this scale would be ginormous.

  2. Great post! I’ll have to disagree with you on some of your points, though…

    1) Against Tradition
    Although these aren’t in the traditional 3 3/4″ scale, I think that’s exactly why this line will perform well. Star Wars as a toy line has been floundering recently, and I think part of it is collector fatigue. After 2000+ post-vintage figures, does anybody really get excited about new Star Wars toys anymore? I remember my absolute elation with first few waves of POTF2 figures, but now, it’s like: “Hey look, yet another Darth Vader that looks exactly like the half-dozen Darth Vaders already in my collection.” Star Wars needs something to get collectors back in the game, and I think a bold move like this might be it.

    2) Limited Play Potential
    I see what you mean, but what a collector considers play potential is different from what a kid does. As long as an action figure has great articulation, most collectors are happy.

    It’s true that an X-Wing would be prohibitively expensive, but it seems like figures are the bread and butter of Star Wars so that’s probably not that much of an issue. That’s not to say that we won’t see vehicles or creatures… remember Hasbro’s 12″-scale Dewback a while back? Hopefully it would look better than that, but at least it’s a possibility.

    3) Twenty Bucks?!
    I agree that’s a difficult price to swallow. But we’ve been paying $10 for 3 3/4″ figures with few accessories, so I don’t see it as a deal breaker. (It might be a deal breaker with me, though. One Star Wars figure = 2 or 3 TMNT figures? That’s not a good ratio for Star Wars.)

    I totally agree with 4 (Difficult to Find) and 5 (Oversaturation of the Market). And to be clear, I might disagree with some of your points but I can see how they can all easily become reality and contribute to this line failing. But this line has generated the most buzz I’ve heard about a Star Wars line in quite a while, and that has to be a good thing for Hasbro. We’ll see!

    1. I did get excited about new Star Wars toys, until they vanished from the pegs because Hasbro, together with Target and Wal-mart, became absolutely clueless about distribution.

  3. I think the biggest issue will be price. Sure, these are aimed at the adult collector, and even if they are a smash hit with that demographic, there needs to be more appeal to keep the line going strong. That child demographic needs to be tapped as well. The 3 3/4″ line was cheap enough for both kids and adults to buy regularly. The bigger figures will almost exclusively keep this an adult only line, and that will just lead to poor sales.

  4. Great post, but I disagree with nearly all of it. I think you’re not taking into account that these aren’t made for kids. I was under the belief they specifically stated in the press release these were intended to be for adult collectors. Therefore, “Play ability”, cost and tradition issues are null and void because many adults will either start their collections WITH This line or simply add to an existing one.

  5. Well, one thing that seems to have slipped under the radar, too, is that Star Wars Black will ALSO have 3 3/4″ figures. Theories I’ve seen is that this was done in part because they need to rebrand the 3 3/4″ Vintage line in order to get stores to buy it again – there’s a LOT that’s pegwarming at present.

    However, I think those are getting a price bump, while the regular ones targeted at kids are holding the line pricewise but getting the posability cut that Iron Man 3 and Ultimate Spider-Man have.

    In terms of vehicles, I think they’re possible – just not as mass releases. However, if Hot Toys and similar companies have shown anything it’s that people are willing to shell out the requisite prices for accessories – I could see them instead licensing out the 6″ vehicles to a smaller company that will do smaller runs of the vehicles.

    What the line really is is creating the “these are for kids, these are for more serious collectors” distinction for Star Wars – something that’s never QUITE existed because they’ve tried to target everything at everyone.

    1. And I think Hasbro trying to target everyone with one line was okay at first when the figures were relatively simple. But since collectors demand expensive tooling, paint apps, and articulation, it’s getting to the point that they can’t have it both ways… they can’t make a collector-grade figure for a kid-friendly price.

      On a slightly related note, I’m looking forward to the Saga line. Even though collectors are blasting it, I dig its more toy-like designs. Even the 12″ figures look like cool toys.

  6. I thought Hasbro said they were squarely targeting collectors and NOT kids. I’m sure they won’t mind if kids go for them, but the packaging, detail of the sculpts and paint–it all screams collectors to me.

    Now, on price point I think you have something. The only 6″ series that can get away with that right now are the Masters of the Universe figs (and those are not found in stores unless it’s a special 2-pack at TRU). I’m not sure why they don’t go with the same prices as their already popular Marvel Legends line (around $15).

    Still, I think unless a figure “speaks” to me, I won’t be getting any of these. Of the first 4 the stormtrooper looks cool. I’ve got enough R2’s and Luke’s to fill a space cruiser!

  7. One thing you may want to talk about in a future post is how all the 3.75″ figs are going back to 5 points of articulation.

    THAT’S depressing!

  8. Great read man and honestly well thought out. When the line was announced I couldn’t have been more excited though. Up until this point I have been a Transformers only collector. With this announcement I decided to take the plunge and eventually collect these figures. So although I’m only one person/fan, the “Star Wars Black” managed to drag me in … 😉

  9. Great post Phil! You are some good points there for sure….only time will tell if you are Philstradmous or miss Cleo, but you make some damn fine points. In any case I will be mercilessly hunting down that sandtroope come launch!

  10. @Nathan – Adult Collectors. We’re fickle. We’re picky. We complain a lot. (I’m generalizing here, and lumping myself in with the rest.) I don’t see such a line succeeding for a company of Hasbro’s size if it has to depend solely on adult collectors.

    And if this were really targeted only at adult collectors why would Hasbro go through the safety testing headaches for the 4+ age grading we’ve seen on the package? I know Mattel printed “Adult Collector” on DC Universe Classics, but what age did they print on the package? (I’m not finding any quick pics online that answer the question. Was it 15+?)

  11. @stack32 – In Austin we’ve had lots of Star Wars figures on pegs. The vehicles are sometimes tough to find, but if you want Clone Wars or some Vintage they’re out there. The distribution problems seem to be regional issues.

  12. @Paul – I guess we’ll know how price is affecting things if we start seeing a lot of sales or clearance prices around Christmas time. The thing is, $20 is reasonable for what it costs to make these. It’s just that consumer expectations haven’t kept pace with manufacturing realities.

  13. @Aptkane – Thanks! And if you agreed then this discussion would get dull very fast! I return to the question of age grading on the package and Hasbro’s claims of “Adult Collectibles.” I would have thought that if these were targeted ONLY at adults they would have gone for a higher age grading.

    I suspect that Hasbro is hoping to sell these to kids and adults. After all, selling to more than one audience is a very good thing for anyone.

  14. @General Tekno – I haven’t had a good chance to read about the smaller 3.75-inch scale Star Wars Black line. Once NYTF is over and I’m back home I plan to dig into that. I’m especially interested in the new five points line Hasbro is releasing.

  15. @Jay – But Hasbro’s counting on those of us with these character to buy the figures again in the new scale.

    I thought Marvel Legends toys were $18? At least, I think that’s the price I saw the last time I looked at them in the store.

  16. @Matt – I’m right there with you and plan to buy some of these. My post isn’t about whether or not I like the look of the figures — I think they all look amazing — but whether or not I think the line has a chance at success. I’ve certainly loved enough things that have failed.

    And thank you. I had a good time putting this post together; it took a few days of writing and thinking and rewriting before it was finished.

  17. If these look as nice in hand as they do in pics, I think they may manage to have succeed. I do not collect Star Wars figures at any scale, and would never spend $80+ for the figures from Sideshow, but will be tempted to pick up a couple of these to put on display.

    As a comparison, I picked up the 2005 12″ Green Goblin from Toy Biz. Not sure what the list price was on that, but I didn’t spend more than $25 on it.

    The price point should draw in some folks who aren’t looking for something to play with, but don’t want to spend the kind of money that a display quality piece demands. Don’t know if that draw will be enough, but I can understand what the aim of the line.

  18. @Philip: I’d argue that although adult collectors are picky, they’re pretty predictable. Give them a good sculpt and load up on articulation, and they’re happy. Accessories are of secondary importance, and for many of them, vehicles aren’t important at all. Most collectors also don’t care at all about playsets, not to mention carrying cases. They will nit-pick a figure to death, but as long as it looks good and has the articulation they want, they’ll buy it.

    Of course, that’s a generalization. I certainly don’t fit into that description, but I think it’s safe to say that’s the way for the majority of collectors.

    There are plenty of mass-produced lines that are successful and collector-centric (DCUC, MOTUC, whatever), and I’d argue that Star Wars has been that way a few times in the past, just not officially. (Power of the Jedi comes to mind. FX-7, Porkins, BoShek, Dejarik Chewie… I can’t imagine that Hasbro was marketing that line for kids.)

    Some of the earlier DC Universe figures were for ages 4+:
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_c_MaBzzRV2A/SiqIdAEHrFI/AAAAAAAACJM/JLGL5JHWQ5g/s1600-h/drfatepackageback.jpg

    I couldn’t find the age restrictions on the images I have of DCUC packaging, though.

    According to Galactic Hunter, the 5-POA line will be called “Saga Legends”:
    http://www.galactichunter.com/gh/story/hasbro-toy-fair-2013-empire-strikes-black-series

    I’m interested to hear what you think of that line, too.

  19. I just don’t really agree with any point you’ve made here.

    I stopped buying the 3 3/4 line during Build a Droid when I got sick of looking but never finding most of the figures. These new 6″ however are another story. While I don’t plan on being a completist I will definitely be getting Luke and Maul, maybe R2.

    I hope this line never gets to a Blue Snaggletooth. Just great versions of major characters. I don’t need 1000 6″ Star Wars figures.

    19.99 seems just about right for these. That seems to be the standard price point for the different classics lines out there and these will clock in almost $10 cheaper then a subpar and heavy re use MOTUC figure.

  20. I think theses are totally awesome.
    I really want to see a Boba Fett and Han Solo, and Luke ROTJ

    But I am definitely going to get Luke in X-Wing gear and the Sandtrooper especially. I am sooo bored of the 4 inch figures and am glad to see a larger scale. I think 12 inches is too much, and 4 inches is too little, and has been overused, so this is perfect!!!
    I can’t wait until August though.

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