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The 1701 controversy two decades later


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#1 Morgan

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Posted 13 April 2019 - 01:19 PM

tapestry2.jpg

 

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.

 

garber.jpg

 

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?
 

 



#2 s8film40

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Posted 13 April 2019 - 08:43 PM

I like your option 2 & 6. Since they made the box set though Im perfectly happy. I got the figures (and at a reasonable price) and thats all that matters to me.

#3 VulcanFanatic

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Posted 14 April 2019 - 06:11 AM

I like your option 2 & 6. Since they made the box set though Im perfectly happy. I got the figures (and at a reasonable price) and thats all that matters to me.

I agree. As a collector in that time period who frequented quite a few stores to keep up with the Playmate figure releases, having figures that were impossible to get ruined it for me. If they had released them all normally and then made a few special 1701 sets that were only comprised of recently released figures, no one would have complained about impossible to find figures and the collectors would have been happy with the 1701 sets as well. Also, back then , information wasn't instantaneous as it is today with social media, and many collectors relied on old information in magazines to find out what was going on with Playmates and may have missed out on stuff that you would pretty much know about away now with the internet and social media.

#4 s8film40

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Posted 14 April 2019 - 06:42 AM

I agree. As a collector in that time period who frequented quite a few stores to keep up with the Playmate figure releases, having figures that were impossible to get ruined it for me. If they had released them all normally and then made a few special 1701 sets that were only comprised of recently released figures, no one would have complained about impossible to find figures and the collectors would have been happy with the 1701 sets as well. Also, back then , information wasn't instantaneous as it is today with social media, and many collectors relied on old information in magazines to find out what was going on with Playmates and may have missed out on stuff that you would pretty much know about away now with the internet and social media.

Yeah It's almost hard to imagine collecting things without the internet now. I would always talk with fellow collectors in stores and that was mostly the extent of the knowledge that I could get. I did actually call Playmates every once in a while directly. They were surprisingly very open to sharing information. They just didn't usually openly offer up the info I might need to know for upcoming releases if I didn't ask the right questions.



#5 MisterPL

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Posted 16 April 2019 - 08:24 AM

Exclusivity killed the line for me.

 

It started with impossible-to-get convention exclusives and ended with Target figures. 

 

"Our goal was to build some excitement..." More like resentment. Pissing off the core consumer base is never a good idea.



#6 VorlonKosh

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Posted 16 April 2019 - 04:57 PM

I continued to collect all the figures, but it did take away alot of the excitement as I new I would probably never be able to complete the collection.  And realistically, $200 for a plastic figure is still way too much money.



#7 Gothneo

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Posted 17 April 2019 - 05:27 AM

Interestingly enough the concept of the "Chase" figure has pretty much died or faded into rarity itself. Even the idea of convention exclusives being hard to get is pretty much a thing of the past... thus it seems #7 has actually kinda won because most companies make enough Con exclusives to sell online afterwards and most people can get them for cost plus shipping. 

 

I think it might have been about the mid to late 2000's that collector  anger really made companies change to make exclusives some type of paint difference rather than a character exclusive.

 

 I can say from lines I've collected with limited or chase figures... in retrospect (after years), most I find I don't care so much about. In playmates case, these were the only version which to me goes right back to #7



#8 Damon1984

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Posted 17 April 2019 - 06:16 AM

If I had been a fan of the characters in these outfits, I would have been dissapointed as well. But I never got the impression that it was fans of, say, a Tapestry-Picard who got mad. It was completists. Not being a completist myself, and having a hard time wrapping my head around that mindset, I thought the controversy was a bit overblown. The switches to larger figures and the inclusion of very stupid articulations in their later figures, killed the line a lot more for me.



#9 Gothneo

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Posted 17 April 2019 - 03:30 PM

There were a couple lines I was a completist on... in the excitement of it all... but as I was saying... in retrospect I've often abandoned my completist tendencies after the fact. 



#10 Morgan

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 12:27 PM

If I had been a fan of the characters in these outfits, I would have been dissapointed as well. But I never got the impression that it was fans of, say, a Tapestry-Picard who got mad. It was completists. Not being a completist myself, and having a hard time wrapping my head around that mindset, I thought the controversy was a bit overblown. The switches to larger figures and the inclusion of very stupid articulations in their later figures, killed the line a lot more for me.

 

Yeah, that's the thing: there were plenty of collectors who were not completists, especially those who didn't bother to get the Sisko figure for next to nothing, but who got butthurt when the 1701 figures came out and suddenly acted like they were denied admission into college or something.

 

Another thing we kinda take for granted now is supply. If the 1701 Picards were released today, in 2019, and bought up by scalpers just like there were back then, there would be like 300 of them for sale on the internet any given day. Then supply would have driven the price down. Back then, if you picked up a copy of Tomart's and Lee's, there were like half a dozen shops offering half a dozen Picards. So it was take it or leave it, effectively -- pay the ransom or go find another. There was no eBay.

 

There's one other important factor here: It may not have been that the 1701-unit run was small in relation to completist and non-completist collectors, it's that the scalpers got most of these. It was the guys sitting in their Pontiac Grand Ams at 5:59am before the Wal-Mart opened and the guys slipping $50 bills to back room clerks that got to most of these. With them removed, I think it would have been a very different outcome -- each US state would have had an average of 34 Tapestry Picards. Adjusted for population/store number, it would obviously have been skewed to more populous states. It would have still been a Willy Wonka ticket type of thing, but it would have been more palatable.
 



#11 VulcanFanatic

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 03:20 PM

 
Yeah, that's the thing: there were plenty of collectors who were not completists, especially those who didn't bother to get the Sisko figure for next to nothing, but who got butthurt when the 1701 figures came out and suddenly acted like they were denied admission into college or something.
 
Another thing we kinda take for granted now is supply. If the 1701 Picards were released today, in 2019, and bought up by scalpers just like there were back then, there would be like 300 of them for sale on the internet any given day. Then supply would have driven the price down. Back then, if you picked up a copy of Tomart's and Lee's, there were like half a dozen shops offering half a dozen Picards. So it was take it or leave it, effectively -- pay the ransom or go find another. There was no eBay.
 
There's one other important factor here: It may not have been that the 1701-unit run was small in relation to completist and non-completist collectors, it's that the scalpers got most of these. It was the guys sitting in their Pontiac Grand Ams at 5:59am before the Wal-Mart opened and the guys slipping $50 bills to back room clerks that got to most of these. With them removed, I think it would have been a very different outcome -- each US state would have had an average of 34 Tapestry Picards. Adjusted for population/store number, it would obviously have been skewed to more populous states. It would have still been a Willy Wonka ticket type of thing, but it would have been more palatable.
 

Back in the 90's when I was collecting Playmates Star Trek figures, I don't recall having known about Mail away Sisko figure, it's was only years later that I found out about it. I was a completist with the Playmates line until those impossible to get figures came along.

#12 Morgan

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 04:04 PM

Yeah, the delay with getting info about the most basic stuff was tremendous. How was one supposed to know about stuff like Dathon with pog, why Red Data wasn't in stores (like, hello?) or which figures came with pogs and which did not?

 

Even if you kept up with all the magazines, the info was still getting to consumer at least a month and a half late, so by that time the rare stuff could be gone. Reading through action figure magazines now, the updates on Trek figures didn't appear in every issue, and the info given was often regurgitated from what Playmates told the magazine editors months or weeks ago. And Playmates didn't exactly dish out all the info -- the intel was pretty vague. They didn't go "oh, by the way, good luck with getting Vorgon with pog in a couple of months."



#13 Damon1984

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Posted 19 April 2019 - 04:12 PM

Same here, I learned about the Sisko figure years later. That might have been it. Not sure how known he was. It's funny though, because he really has a unique body sculpt. A tapestry Picard - even the Reg figure - is not that hard to repicate, if you are really wild about having one (loose).

 

A little anecdote: for years, the Kes figure was my white whale. I had all the other voyager figures - they could easily be found in pretty much every toy store. But for some reason, Kes never showed up. I saw her only once in a comic book store, but she was way overpriced, so I did not buy her. Only years later and thanks to the internet I found out, that Kes simply wasn't sold in my country. To this day, I have no idea why. It's baffling. All the other figures were.

 

I have no idea if that stopped local collectors. After all, she was main cast and a bit more important than Tapestry Picard & Co. Never heard complains though, and it did not stop me. I still don't own her, by the way. :D Thanks to ebay she is available now, but... whatever. She isn't that great of a figure anyway. :P



#14 Alex

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Posted 23 April 2019 - 12:17 AM

As someone who was collecting even back in the day, the 1701 debacle irked me, and I still sort of resent it as the straw that broke the camel's back. I'd have gone with option #6, maybe option #4 above, as I think that would have nipped this in the bud before it ever began to get out of control. Limited edition packaging would have been far less offensive than limited edition figures.

 

As for The Sisko's limited edition figure, I think the real reason there was no backlash can be summed up with my reaction to reading the first post in this thread: "There was a limited edition Sisko figure?" I'd have totally mailed away for that if I'd known at the time, but the simple fact is that this is the first I'm hearing of it. The 1701 figures were much more well publicized, which may have been to their detriment. There's another factor in play here though, which is that DS9 wasn't exactly popular in 1994. Remember, in its second season, DS9 was almost universally hated by the majority of Trek fans as "the un–Trek like series that Roddenberry would have never signed off on," and Sisko was still just a "Commander," rather than a Captain, and not nearly as beloved as he was about to become. I really went from watching DS9 because it was Trek to genuinely enjoying it with The Jem'Hadar, but that was the second season's finale if I remember correctly, and it was definitely after the Sisko figure would have been on anyone's long range sensors. Keeping that in mind, it's also worth pointing out that collectors were a bit more selective in the way they categorized things in 1996 than they are in 2019, at least when it comes to Trek. You were far more likely to find a TNG or a TOS collector than a "Star Trek" collector, and it was really only with VGR that the franchise as a whole began to have all–around collectors, primarily as it had given the franchise a fourth live–action installment, and DS9 was starting to actually have a bit of a following around the time of VGR's premiere as well.

 

Now let's look at the infamous 1701 figures: The ones that were actually released in the 1701 quantity were the Tapestry Picard and the Yesterday's Enterprise Natasha Yar. Unlike the Sisko figure that no one seemed to know about, these weren't just characters from a then–unpopular series, they were characters from the most popular Trek series, (at the time that was TNG,) and not only the most popular series at the time, but two of the show's most popular, fan–favorite episodes ever. The only way this could have been made into a bigger one–finger salute to collectors would have been if there was another figure produced in the 1701 quantity from The Best of Both Worlds or The Inner Light. These particular characters, combined with the well–publicized limited nature of this release effectively ensured that there was going to be a backlash. This was not helped by the fact that so few people had internet access as this point, (remember, eBay launched in 1996 if I'm remembering correctly,) and that one group that was likely to have said internet access was scalpers who knew how to get these figures into their hands before eventually getting them into yours.

 

Did the 1701 line single–handedly kill the Playmates Trek line? No, but it did somewhere between 50% to 75% of the damage. The First Contact Enterprise–E didn't help the ship line, and while Voyager was awesome, it was nearly impossible to find. (It still goes for stupid money and will continue to do so until DST releases one, hopefully after the "C" and the Reliant.) The figure line was killed with the addition of other forms of incompetence though. Much like the disappointing Enterprise–E, the figures from my favorite Trek film were a little stiff, lacking any joint articulation, and in the wrong scale to boot. I wanted First Contact figures, I just didn't want ones that couldn't be used with my Enterprise–D bridge playset or TNG figures. The Target exclusives were the final nail in the coffin for me. At the time there was no Target near me, (one was literally being built while the figures were available and the next closest one was two hours away in a densely populated state,) and by the time one opened, the figures were long gone.

 

I don't really like that DST still does exclusives for SDCC, especially not now that they're ships, which I care about even more than figures, but at least to their credit most of them are void of electronics and the rest are really unique repaints. (I'm not happy that I don't have the "cloaked" Klingon BoP, and I'm fuming that I was never able to get the gold 1701–A, as I thought I'd be the only person who wanted one, but at least they're not entirely unique ships that could torpedo the entire line.)

 

Gothneo, I'd like for "chase" figures to be dead, it seems like we're getting there, especially with Trek, but there still seem to be a few in other lines. I don't know how Hasbro will handled Power Rangers now that they have it, but one thing I hated with BanDai all the way up until the license went to Hasbro this year was the way they'd create "chase" figures unintentionally by severely short–packing certain characters, usually the female Rangers and any villain figures. (At least their convention exclusives tended to be extremely niche to the point where they wouldn't anger fans who couldn't attend, although that was done well enough by not having enough figures for a decent quantity of people to buy a complete team in one go.) I'd actually say it was early–mid 2000s anger from collectors that got toy companies to begin rethinking how they handled exclusives. The 1701 debacle was fresh enough in the minds of Play Along's Art Asylum that when they did exclusives, they tried to make them available in a quantity that wouldn't offend people, and DST seems to have continued that tradition. Other toy companies felt similar backlashes for similar missteps, and the same scalpers who flipped the 1701 figures had now found a global market through eBay, making their work even easier. The difference was that eBay opened that market up to non–scalpers as well, which meant that if you really wanted to help eliminate the traditional scalpers, you and a few friends could buy up exclusives like the traditional scalpers would and then just undercut them enough to drive their prices down until everyone was offering things at a reasonable price. Double or triple retail value is fairly common now, but you're not seeing 8-10 times the retail value the way you might have seen back in the day. (And I could make an argument for double or triple retail value being somewhat fair, with the existence of exclusives that appeal to the masses and not just a really niche group being the main problem.)

 

The bottom line is that the 1701 debacle didn't kill the Playmates line by itself, but it did enough damage that a few other stupid missteps like removing articulation, messing with the scale, and phoning in the Enterprise–E all sort of ensured that the line failed. It didn't help that Playmates got greedy either and yanked the license from Galoob for Micro Machines. I really loved those and back when Hasbro had a Trek license in 2012 I'd hoped they'd have made a comeback, which they didn't. (The Star Wars ones did though, so at least I still have those.) Once those were gone though and Playmates made it impossible for me to find figures that had any articulation without contorting myself into a pretzel to get them I didn't really stop wanting to collect so much as I ran out of stuff to collect that I could find. I think that kind of mistake is what killed the Playmates line, and that the 1701 figures were part of it.

 

Of course, in hindsight this doesn't seem too bad to me, because the stuff from Art Asylum/DST has really made me even happier with my collection, especially when it comes to the ships. We wouldn't have that if Playmates still had the license, especially if their 2009 offerings are any indication of what a modern Playmates toys line would look like. (At least they tried to do another bridge playset though, even if it didn't work out. I give them a lot of credit for that. The rest of the 2009 line, not so much.)



#15 Gothneo

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Posted 28 April 2019 - 08:04 AM

As collectors we can often be part of the problem. Most companies want to.. or should want to make enough product to meet demand. While the 1701 debacle is obviously a departure from that... even when there is enough product, many collectors succumb to the "Gotta have it now" mentality that can temporarily drive prices higher. My experience has been that very few items... long term will generate significant cash... as Alex points out... and long term... your lucky to get 1.5x or 2x of most items. So the question is what are the average prices of most of the 1701 figures today? do they really still command high prices? or are there really only a few items that command such good prices?



#16 Whirlygig

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 06:37 AM

In tangential news...Diamond Select are doing a limited-to-1,984 set of Slimed Ghostbusters for SDCC this year. That is the lowest run I remember seeing of anything since the Art Asylum Enterprise 1,701 figures, all of which reminded me of this thread and Playmates....

#17 MisterPL

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 11:53 AM

I noticed that, too. Hopefully they sell out fast. With the target market being specialty it's hard to tell.



#18 Morgan

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 01:13 PM

Yeah, DST figures are aimed at such a niche market these days, small runs like that will usually just about meet demand.

 

Remember the Theater Luke craze? They made 150,000 of those. The demand was nuts for a while. But small toymakers would make some convention exclusives in the low thousands & they would get ignored.






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