Wednesday, March 26, 2014

FEATURE: The Future of GI Joe?

This year marks GI Joe's 50th Anniversary. But for fans of the line, Hasbro isn't giving much cause for celebration.

GI Woes
As reported at Battlegrip, Hasbro's GI Joe design team has been disbanded. Production of the third GI Joe movie has been pushed back to... well, we don't really know when. And what little Hasbro is offering collectors to celebrate the 50th Anniversary will be a Toys R Us-exclusive re-packaging of a few ''classic'' vehicles and figures.

Some Re-Issued Figures, Yesterday

Now whilst it's easy to play Armchair Toy Company Director of Operations, it seems to me that Hasbro has overlooked what could have been not only a great time to celebrate the line but also introduce new fans to the world of GI Joe, thus safeguarding the brand's future. And whilst I know nobody at Hasbro is ever going to see this (and it may be somewhat egotistical to pen an article that presumes to offer some kind of GI Joe bailout plan) I think Hasbro is passing up a huge opportunity by failing to exploit not only the brand but a whole bunch of resources they could very easily use to reinvigorate the line whilst boosting the profile of another.

I am of course, talking about...

GI Joe Kre-Os
Now I know you're going to say, ''but Hasbro has already produced a line of GI Joe-themed Kre-Os'' and you'd be right. In fact, aside from the minimal effort fan-appeasing re-issues we're getting later this year, right now the only GI Joes Hasbro is releasing are in Kre-O form. And whilst we'd all love to see more 3 3/4'' figures and vehicles, it becomes clear why they've gone down the Kre-O route when you know a little more about the line and its (rather brief) history.

The main reason is simply down to cost. Think about how many unique parts the average GI Joe vehicle has and how much it costs to design, prototype and then cast each one. You can't really blame Hasbro for re-issuing the same vehicles and figure bucks over the years, as they need to recoup the costs of the initial molding. But with construction toys the company can reverse engineer the original toy's design and recreate it using generic pieces. Even when a vehicle requires specific or one-off pieces that can't be emulated using other parts the cost of producing these unique elements can be offset by using standard parts elsewhere.

Take the Firebat, one of the GI Joe line's smaller vehicles. Its construction requires a specific fuselage, unique wings and its own canopy cover (and that's before we even get into details like engines and weapons or assembly pieces such as screws.) But a building brick system allows the designers to recreate the same vehicle using a mixture of unique and shared parts, all of which can - with planing - later be recycled and re-purposed to create other vehicles. Or playsets. Or whatever else the designer chooses to do with them. And, because there's few-to-no vehicle-specific parts that need to be cast, these vehicles and playsets can be produced at a fraction of the cost of creating a unique, one-shot toy.
The size of these smaller sets also plays a part, as creating them requires fewer resources, they're cheaper to ship and shelves can hold more of them, meaning Hasbro has more product to sell, even if the price point is lower.

From a financial standpoint then, it makes perfect sense.

Then there's the demographic of the construction toy market, which isn't so narrow as that of a specific action figure line. Kids who don't know who GI Joe is still buy the Kre-O toys because they're compatible with the Transformers Kre-Os they already own. Or even the LEGO sets they got for Christmas. AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) are equally likely to ''dabble'' if only to see what the fuss is about or, in the case of Joe fans, because they want the classic figures and vehicles. Factor in the lower price point and the audience grows even wider. Put simply, construction toys are big right now and it's no surprise to see that LEGO has overtaken Hasbro to become the Number 2 Toy Manufacturer in the world. Nor is it surprising to see Hasbro making a play for that same market share.

But there's also one other important factor.

The Origins of Kre-O
It's not uncommon for toy manufacturers to re-distribute existing brands under new names. The Micronauts were Mego's exercise in rebranding the Japanese line Microman for the Western audience and the Transformers were originally created when Hasbro combined two pre-existing toy lines to create a new one. And the Kre-O toys are no exception, being based originally upon a line of construction bricks created by South Korea's Oxford Toys.
It makes sense for a company to use pre-existing product. Not only has each piece already gone through the rigorous - and expensive - process of design, prototyping and production but there's also a large catalog of products to mine. For the original creators, it's a way to receive an additional outlet for their products (even if they don't get the same recognition for themselves or their brand) and it means they can then reinvest the profits from this licensing venture into their own company. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement.

In Hasbro's case, licensing the pre-existing bricks and re-branding them as Battleship, Transformers, Dungeons & Dragons and GI Joe gives the company a quick and relatively cheap way to enter the construction toy market with a significant number of figures and playsets from Day One. (Mattel's solution was simply to buy Mega Brands. I doubt we'll see Hasbro doing the same thing with Oxford but you never know.)

In other words, Hasbro has managed to skip a huge chunk of the prototyping and production stage of development and produce a number of toys very quickly. And even with the licensing agreement (and royalty payments), it's a much cheaper method of producing not just one toy line but a brand that can support a number of sub-brands.
New Line, Same Buck
LEGO has used this same principle of creative recycling and re-purposing for decades, which explains the company's dominance of the market and it's very clear why Hasbro would want to emulate their success. And by creating the Kre-O line Hasbro has taken a step closer to doing just that.

GI Joe Meets Dungeons & Dragons
For me, the two most exciting lines Hasbro has released under the Kre-O banner are the GI Joe and Dungeons & Dragons toys. Anybody who knows me - or if you've ever given more than a passing glance to That Figures - will know how much I love my GI Joes. And I wouldn't be a proper geek if I hadn't at least dabbled in D&D.

Hasbro has done a great job of building the Kre-O GI Joe line over the last year or so, introducing blind-bagged figures of everybody's favorite Joes and recreating iconic vehicles and playsets in brick form. And whilst the recently introduced Dungeons & Dragons line is a little too ''generic fantasy battle'' to really do the brand justice right now, there's the scope to develop a pretty neat line based on the concept.

But for me the most interesting - and most important when it comes to this discussion - part of the Dungeons & Dragons Kre-O line-up is the 'Warrior'' Kreon figures.
Retailing at around $4 - about $1 more than the blind-bag ''Army Builder'' figures - each of these Warriors comes with their own unique card art and packaging, plus a few additional accessories to make the expense truly worth it. (It could even be argued that removing the guess work of buying blind-bag figures also justifies the extra Dollar but that's a discussion for another time.)

Or, to look at it another way, they're a range of carded action figures - just in a new scale. So if Hasbro can do this for their new Dungeons & Dragons line of Kre-Os, then...

Why isn't Hasbro creating a line of 50th Anniversary carded Kreons in the same vein as the 25th Anniversary 3 3/4'' figures?

Think about it for a moment:
  • It's the 50th Anniversary of GI Joe but Hasbro won't be producing any new 3 3/4'' toys.
  • Hasbro has enjoyed success with the Kre-O GI Joe line.
  • Hasbro is keen to increase its share in the growing construction toy market.
  • Hasbro already has a number of generic bucks, bricks and pieces at their disposal.
  • Hasbro also has a back catalog of over 50 GI Joe characters in Kre-O form.
  • Hasbro has ''proof of concept'' right there with the D&D carded figures.
Don't all those pieces just seem to fall into place?

GI Joe: 50th Anniversary Kre-O Figures
It's such a simple idea that I'm struggling to see why Hasbro hasn't considered it.

I mean, it makes perfect sense: Hasbro produces a line of single carded Kreon figures by way of  homage to the line's 50th Anniversary, complete with ''vintage'' artwork and designed to celebrate the line's heritage. GI Joe fans buy them and this bolsters the sales of the Kre-O brand and broadening their construction toy brand's audience. In turn, Kre-O and construction set collectors see the GI Joe single card figures as the ''next new thing,'' buy them and in turn discover what GI Joe is all about, thus giving the brand a new lease of life and a new fanbase. If that's not positive synergy then I don't know what is.

If you're still not convinced, then think about this: would we be here celebrating GI Joe's 50th Anniversary if the line hadn't made the transition from 12'' action figure to the 3 3/4'' scale toys we know and love today? I doubt it. Without a doubt, the Kreon is the next stage of GI Joe's evolution.

And with the line's 50th Anniversary upon us, is there a better time for Hasbro to do this than now? And most importantly, do it in a way that celebrates and embraces the line's heritage whilst introducing it to a new audience?

I guess we'll see in 50 years.


  1. Sad day in the Joe world for sure i just don't know what Hasbro is thinking.

    1. I don't get it either. I guess somebody in the upper ranks just doesn't like GI Joe.

  2. Maybe NBC Community's upcoming GI Jeff episode (april 4th?) will get things going again?

    On the Kre-O thing, I like them because they are small and easy to pack down, which is great in my over packed Museum.

    1. I've a feeling the majority of people who watch GI Jeff will probably go, ''Oh yeah, I remember that cartoon. They used to make toys of it, too'' and that will be about as far as it goes for them. It's sad that a completely unaffiliated TV show is giving a better tribute to the line's 50th Anniversary than Hasbro are themselves...

      And yeah, having a line you can actually find at retail is a refreshing change!

    2. I really wish Hasbro would/could combine the GI Joe and Transformer Universes into a single show. Maybe have the stories separated for most episodes, and then combine the two worlds for big events. They play so well off each other. Would make a great toy line.

    3. I thought it would be cool to combine all the Kre-O brands into a Saturday morning cartoon anthology show ala The Banana Splits or DC Nation.

  3. Honestly, brick based toys are the thing currently.

    And just look at that Firebat and Wolverine, they're perfect.

    But GI Joe as an action figure... I think it's days are nearly over.

    However,Kre-o's problem is that they're a Target store thing entirely now.

    1. I really don't want to be the ''death of the line!!!!'' guy but it seems obvious Hasbro doesn't really want to do any more 3 3/4'' GI Joe figures, so rather than see it that way I prefer to embrace the idea of the Kre-O GI Joe line being the same kind of evolution as the 12'' to 3 3/4'' was back in the 80s. When you see it that way it makes a lot of sense and doesn't feel quite so terminal.

      From what I've seen, aren't the GI Joe (and D&D) Kre-os Toys R Us exclusives? I've seen a few smaller Transformers sets (i.e. blind-bags) at Target but that's it.


      Sadly this happened.

    3. I'm not really surprised. I think TRU is pretty much Kre-O Central now, given the GI Joe and D&D sets are already exclusives there. It's a shame but at least - to their credit - TRU seems to be doing a good job stocking the sets.


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