Shockingly enough, all three of the Transformers exclusives on Hasbro Toy Shop which debuted at San Diego Comic Con this summer are still available to purchase as of this writing. While this batch isn't the first to see one piece stick around for a little while after activation, it's probably the first time the whole assortment has stayed accessible and obtainable even for those not riding their mobile devices at work hoping to beat store crashes. So what made this year different? Keep reading!
First we need to look backward. As noted, most years see something among the exclusives stick around longer than most, and perhaps most infamous for that is the Knights of Unicron set, the larger and more expensive offering from 2014. Very much a passion product for the people involved in making it, it was a remarkable piece of merchandise, but ultimately perhaps too ambitious. In delivering a very immersive package with a lot of "secondary" features in addition to the set of toys, it wound up requiring a very high price tag for something that honestly was quite a narrow focus piece. It didn't come as much surprise when it was the longest lasting straggler after the exclusives went up on HTS last year. Meanwhile its batch-mates, a Kreon book box and the pop-up Ark Dinobots set went considerably more quickly. So, the general sense would be to look at last year's sets and decide that Knights of Unicron "failed" because it didn't sell right away. It was an interesting thing to try, but for the factors involved with it, it just didn't hit its target. We're still sort of early in the process for this year's batch, but should we take their continued presence to mean that this year was a flop? I really don't think so.
Knights of Unicron is far from the first set to be a slow mover. A couple exclusives during Transformers Prime hung in there quite a while just for some easy examples. SDCC exclusives are an interesting thing, because as much as they need to appeal to us, the major, dedicated fanbase, they also have to hold some appeal for the more casual fan that may be attending SDCC itself. Products based on the current "main line" may not be the best way to try to hit that goal, since it might not carry a great deal of interest to someone not deeply immersed in current Transformers media, even though we as fans may appreciate what they have to offer. At a glance, "Classics"-style products seem to do really well, because they appeal more easily to all manner of fans. And this year seems to be playing to that trend the best that it can. Everything involved is a "Classic" kind of product, even the Kreons. But by that logic, all of these should have been gone within minutes, shouldn't they? So why are they still here?
If you ask anyone who's tried in years past to get an exclusive off HTS, only to find it out of stock before they can get through check out what went wrong, by and large they'll first respond with profanity, but then they'll say that "they didn't make enough sets". It might be expressed as that too many sold at the show, or something else, but it comes down to the same idea: Lacking inventory to meet the entire demand of the people who couldn't make SDCC. Now, there's the other side where the sets that sell slowly get accused of having too many
produced, but that's more the nature of fandom where it's literally impossible to win. But the observation that some sets aren't made in enough numbers so that everyone who wants them is one that seems like it has actual merit. It's a little more complicated than that, since it would also require accurately predicting which of the sets will be most desired, when the hope and intent of the people making these toys is that everyone will want all of them equally. In theory, if every year, every set was desired to the same degree that the best selling set was, everything would run out of stock immediately, and the underproduction argument carries more weight. I think that may have been addressed this year.
We have three sets which ought to carry a solid across the board appeal, which ought to mean a fast sellout. But since that hasn't happened, we need to look at what might contribute to that. The most optimistic answer is a greater production run for all of it. To make sure every fan that wants one of any toy offered this year has the chance, they went for higher numbers. Hopefully if that's true, it's a practice that not only gets brought back in subsequent years so the concept of SDCC exclusives being impossible to get falls away from the fandom's consciousness, but even expands in to other Hasbro properties with exclusives that can be easily predicted as having high demand. But again, this is the answer that carries the most positive spin. It's not the only answer, though.
Demand may simply be low for what was offered. Kre-O fans LOVE their Kreons, and this year's set is a great dollar value for the number of Kreons and parts included, all in an attractive package. But Kre-O is not a strong brand in the US, and while the diehards will be outspoken for a long time, there may not be force of numbers to get the sets sold through quickly like there might have been just last year. Combiner Hunters is a nice looking set, with three molds in interesting new decos with special accessories and even a bit of remolding to facilitate it. And the "story pitch" to it, three Autobots as a unit fighting combiners with monster-size weapons is actually really cool. But there's one consistent complaint I hear, and it's the price. And I tend to agree. I dig what the set is trying to do, but at $75, it feels like it's about $15 too high for what's there. Finally there's Devastator. Devastator should have been the big star of this exclusive set, but a lot ended up turning against it. It had a solid draw with the alternate face sculpt, but at Tokyo Toy Show two weeks before SDCC, Unite Warriors Devastator was revealed to have a head that could be both
styles. The chrome was something of a turn off in general for a range of people, even though SDCC Devastator had more paint work otherwise. But the biggest nail of all wound up being that it wasn't the first release.
Devastator was supposed to have a retail street date of August 1st, and I believe that was more about making sure the SDCC edition was the first one that anyone would have the chance to buy, to strengthen its sales. But not everyone respected that street date, and retail Devastator was available in some places before SDCC started. Knowing that the regular version would be available in the very near future likely hurt the interest some people would otherwise have had in the convention exclusive version. In an odd move, Devastator wound up being the more reasonably priced exclusive, in comparison to the cost of the retail equivalents. At only $30 above the normal SRP, it would only be a small drop in the bucket for someone already prepared to put down $150 on the normal set. Had things stayed as planned, Devastator would have had everything going for it to be a huge seller this year.
So, we're left with probably our first year since HTS and Transformers SDCC exclusives have been a thing where the whole bunch has stayed in stock constantly since being activated. While I attribute a lot to reduced demand, I also believe that a production increase probably took place, and between these two factors nothing Transformers has sold through yet. The question we can't answer right now is how it will affect next year. If we're lucky, apparently slow sales this year won't make increased inventory numbers look like a bad idea to try again, because in a set that has less working against it, it would be the best thing to happen. But paired with what we can pretty reasonably infer as being lower than usual demand on everything, it might have been less than ideal timing to give this a try.
Hasbro was kind enough to provide us with samples of this year's exclusives for review, and you can check out all of our coverage through the links below!