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Member Since 05 Dec 2014
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The 1701 controversy two decades later

13 April 2019 - 01:19 PM



Time heals some wounds, but time also offers a bit of perspective. Do the 1701 figures still seem like a controversial move today, was the controversy overblown, or were they a misstep that contributed to the demise of the Star Trek figure line?


Even with the mere announcement of the two 1701 limited figures there was an immediate backlash that Playmates was a little taken aback by, with collectors and even toy magazine editors blowing a gasket and making a big show about stopping collecting, berating the manufacturer, all while ignoring the fact that two years prior Playmates offered a mail-away Sisko figure that nobody bothered to get. Even Red Data and Thomas Riker didn't get this kind of a reaction. It's worth recalling that the Sisko figure had somehow evaded the wrath of everyone who had a horse in the race and those who did not.


In retrospect a lot of this sentiment aimed at the 1701 figures appears to have been stoked by Trek fan clubs, and those who occasionally bought trek figures but turned into strict completists with the flick of a switch and suddenly wanted to "speak to the manager."


Part of this was the scalping and general toy climate at the time, especially in 1996 when sci-fi was all there seemingly was, and the feeling that the action figure bubble would last forever. The absence of eBay in 1996 also made the market itself reliant upon these big collectible shops that advertised in Toy Fare, Lee's and Tomart's.


As such, it appears that at the time the demand could not really dictate the price and you yourself could not buy and sell stuff before a global audience. So a lot of things, like various foreign figures, almost did not exist for all intents and purposes, and it was frequently a situation of paying a "ransom" to one of these stores that advertised in a magazine or simply not obtaining what you wanted.




Playmates got all the bad press for the Picard/Tasha/Barclay trio (and later released the 3-pack to atone for it), but other toymakers also churned out fairly limited stuff -- perhaps to a smaller audience -- and somehow avoided the bad press. The 1701 figures were also, perhaps shortsightedly, blamed for the deterioration of the popularity of the line, but I suspect that at most it was one of like 10 factors that contributed to the decline in the line's popularity. On that point, I suspect that the switch to generic backer cards for multiple lines, the switch to a larger format for First Contact figures dealt just as much damage, along with some other blunders.


Twenty years later, after the bottom had fallen out of most of the line, everyone who really wanted a Tapestry Picard can get one, sometimes for as low as $200.


How could Playmates have approached this differently? Here are some options to consider:


1. The 1701 thing was okay as it was
2. Release Tapestry Picard in normal quantity, but then do 1,701 units in a unique package, Theater Luke-style.
3. Produce a 10,000 unit run of Tapestry Picard, as with the Huntsville figures
4. Produce 17,001 Tapestry Picards
5. A limited run of 5,000 units through The Communicator magazine but not in stores
6. Produce Tapestry Picard & Tasha separately in regular quantity, but then release a two-pack with both at 1,701 units.
7. The 1701 figures should not have been made in a limited manner of any sort
8. This ruined collecting for a lot of people

What do you think about the 1701 figures?


Did switch to larger format 'First Contact' figures hurt or help?

13 April 2019 - 12:50 PM



The Trek line rolled into 1996 with a little bit of structural damage. The TNG lineup was pretty much done after the 1995 release that finally produced Tasha and made some amends for the Generations figures. The Movies lineup was kind of abandoned before they produced the whole crew in Wrath of Khan uniforms, but all of a sudden we were getting a ton of TOS figures ahead of the 30 years of Star Trek. The DS9 lineup seemed to be doing okay, but a lot of figures remained unproduced. The Generations figures were either heavily scalped for original cast members, while the rest sat on store shelves for another year. So the property produced some mixed results.


To get some "excitement" back in the line Playmates switched to a larger six-inch format, which also permitted them to produce some better head sculpts. No figures were underproduced as chase figures, and there was nothing particularly exciting about the packaging, which was a little darker and more boring than it could have been.   


The alternative, as some magazines pointed out at the time, was "rehashing" the same head sculpts in new but kind of generic bodies. The upside, as I see it, is that this could have been done very cheaply in terms of investment and development time, and that it could have allowed Playmates to spend the money elsewhere. For example: a Borg cube with lots of Micro Machine-sized ships like Akira, Sabre, Steamrunner, Norway & Enterprise-E. I suspect that they also could have made like 5 different Borg figures instead of one, along with Lt. Hawk, Zefram in flight suit, another version of TNG Locutus from the flashback, Admiral Hayes, Riker in 21st gen clothes, Shelby for no reason, etc. They could have also done an Enterprise-E bridge, which would have been pricey and a headache for stores, but it could have been a TRU exclusive or something like that.




One legacy of the First Contact figures is that the other six-inch figures, which were produced alongside the four-inch ones, that didn't really amount to a big lineup and were kind of ignored at retail, just like the larger Space Talk figures.


On the other hand, an argument could be made that the later lines like DST went in the direction of a bigger format, being targeted at collectors, and offered collector pricing and greater detail. The FC figures didn't offer a ton more detail, but they were following some industry trends anyway. Now we have so many size formats for Star Wars figures split along pricing, collectability and detail lines that it's kind of a figure for every wallet. Did Playmates preview this abundance of size formats, but was it too far ahead of its time?


Another legacy is that Playmates later (hahah!) went back and produced Picard, Riker, Data and Troi from First Contact for Target stores (but not Geordi), which was kind of waving the white flag at collectors who, predictably, didn't like the larger format. That's about as close to the admission of the First Contact line having been a dud that we could get. One upside of these new uniform sculpts that wasn't taken advantage of in any way is that they could have been used to produce a whole lineup of updated DS9 figures in the smaller format, for almost no money.


What do you think about the move to the six-inch format, with the benefit of over 20 years of hindsight? Did it help the line, did it hurt it, or did it not make a difference?




Magazine advertisements

12 March 2019 - 02:42 PM

Here's one from 1993 advertising the second series of figures. Note the heavy emphasis here on TOS characters in the top row. Curiously enough, Scotty and McCoy were two of the most under-purchased figures on store shelves, by a huge margin. Were those overproduced?


Playmates tended to underproduce the weird aliens, so Dathon and Vorgon were certainly produced in smaller numbers, but Lore was not. K'Ehleyr seemed to be harder to find, which often happened with female figures as a matter of course.





Galoob Bootlegs

11 March 2019 - 08:35 AM

Galoob's line did have a few bootleg attempts including this Enterprise-D, about 5.7 inches in length, along with some wacky-looking alien figures that, unfortunately, do not look like the Ferengi.


Released in South Korea by Tae Yang with promises for a phaser and tricorder unremoved from the card, which has a plain gray reverse side with no text or graphics whatsoever.





Media Articles

08 July 2018 - 05:36 PM

"Toy Scalpers Buy Scarce Items, Then Resell Them at a Profit"

Here's a classic and very nostalgic article from 1996 from The Wall Street Journal of all places, about a scalper from the 1990s & his adventures with Trek figures, including Tapestry Picard.


I remember when this article first ran & I was pretty amazed by the scope of just one person's work and the amount of cash that it generated. (Also, it tended to explain why I was not seeing The Good Stuff on shelves). 


Also, this is a pretty cool window into the action figure craze of the late 1990s, one that was somewhat moderated by eBay starting in the early 2000s. On one hand scalpers received a worldwide selling platform, but on the other hand action figure bubble deflated quite a bit.