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Could Collectible Masks Return? An Analysis

Posted by Lyichir , Jul 06 2014 · 255 views

Bionicle
One suggestion I've seen a lot regarding a potential Bionicle return is the return of mask packs. I would normally be quick to dismiss such a notion given the utter failure of the original collectibles packs. But given some thought, and comparison with modern Lego lines, I think a similar product might actually have the potential for success.

The original Bionicle mask packs were a failure largely because they didn't offer much play potential on their own. A mask is just a mask (albeit usually with a head piece and axle to go with it). There is no play potential without an accompanying Bionicle set. Later series of Collectibles tried to fix this by offering ammunition for some sort of launcher, along with the launcher itself (to allow for independent play). But these were far less attractive than the masks, due to the fact that they were largely interchangeable. They lacked the distinctiveness of differently-shaped masks.

Lego has had more success with blind-packaged products since then with the Collectible Minifigures, which offer a clear advantage in that they are each a complete product. Even if you have nothing but a Minifigure (no other Lego), they are still a poseable figure with personality and charm.

So perhaps by including a figure of some sort, you could make a diverse range of collectibles a success! Matoran are the obvious option—while they were completely underpopulated in previous Bionicle waves, perhaps by randomizing them you could allow for as much diversity as shown in media like the Mata Nui Online Game.

Unfortunately, that introduces another issue. How many Matoran would people be willing to buy? If they're all the same build, just in different colors and with different masks, they'd be far less appealing than the diverse waves of Collectible Minifigures. And Matoran would be a building toy by any definition, which would prevent them, legally, from having any differences in part count, limiting the potential for diversity. The Minifigures, on the other hand, qualify only as figures, even though they require minor assembly. For those wondering, this is the same reason why individual Star Wars minifigures can't be sold—they would occupy the same legal definition as action figures, and the trademark for Star Wars action figures is held exclusively by Hasbro.

So something's got to give. The first option I considered was to include some sort of accessory. But that wouldn't be enough, I think, to make Matoran appealing despite being recolors—especially if they were randomized. Moreover, any substitute for mask packs would have to include at least 30 varieties: six shapes in five colors (omitting the six "natural" masks of your given Toa team). And to make distribution fair, all thirty-six would have to be included in a given shipment, which would be nigh impossible given that a Matoran-sized blindbag would inevitably occupy more space than a Minifigure bag. Then it hit me—what if randomization itself wasn't necessary?

Collectible Minifigures, after all, are not the only impulse-sized sets that could replace the mask packs. Enter the Mixels. This year, there are three waves of nine Mixels each—27 sets in all. Each one is distinct, having a unique appearance and personality. And they can do this because they're not blindbagged figures, but rather individually marked building sets. 27 sets is much closer to the 30 mask varieties you'd need. Perhaps the Mixels business model would be a better one than the CMFs.

So what I ended up with isn't mask packs, but the end result is similar. With three waves of 10 Matoran-sized figures, you could both create a full range of masks over the course of a year, and as a bonus, create a diverse population for your Toa to protect. Online, each Matoran could include a bio to help flesh out the world, and you wouldn't even have to guess to get the mask of your choice in the color of your choice.

——————


The reason I'm not posting this in any of the existing topics about a Bionicle return is that it's both unlikely, and not fleshed out enough to be practical. Realistically, we'd see more than six new masks in a year—after all, we'd be likely to see villain sets as well, and in fact if the sets follow release patterns from the past nine years, the villain sets will likely be interspersed with the hero sets. The release schedule I've proposed is buggy as well—the second series of sets would end up having to include mask shapes and colors from the summer wave of "canister" sets before that wave is even released, which could easily harm the sales of those characters who were in a sense, "pre-empted" by small, impulse sets. I certainly don't see this happening if the theme comes back next year.

So why post it at all? Because I put a lot of work into brainstorming it. And because, even if only hypothetically, it shows that a diverse range of masks (and with it, a more robust variety of cheaply-priced Matoran) may be more practical than I might have previously considered.

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Obsessionist
Jul 06 2014 09:04 PM

I understand the limitations of this, but YES PLEASE.

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I'm going to buy them all...:P Especially if they are made of CCBS...ten waves of figures with the same-sized torso. Glorious. Lots of Mocing parts in predictable colors. Sold!

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A return of collectible masks would be awesome, as they offer a lot of variety in colors, and I missed all of them from Bionicle, and now they cost an arm and a leg on Bricklink. D:

~B~
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Is there evidence saying that the first collectible mask packs failed? Clearly over time the appeal of random collectibles like krana, kraata, and Kanoka waned, but from my experience the original mask packs sold and were widely available. I could see that the cost to produce could've been more than sales, making them non profitable, but all the same, I thought they hit the collectability sweet spot back then.

As for Mixel Bionicle Matoran... well, it's an interesting concept. Honestly, I would love the idea of similarly constructed characters but all in different colors (see McToran) but I don't know if that would fly. Then again, that still does a good job at describing the Agori, so maybe...

:music:
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Is there evidence saying that the first collectible mask packs failed? Clearly over time the appeal of random collectibles like krana, kraata, and Kanoka waned, but from my experience the original mask packs sold and were widely available. I could see that the cost to produce could've been more than sales, making them non profitable, but all the same, I thought they hit the collectability sweet spot back then.

As for Mixel Bionicle Matoran... well, it's an interesting concept. Honestly, I would love the idea of similarly constructed characters but all in different colors (see McToran) but I don't know if that would fly. Then again, that still does a good job at describing the Agori, so maybe...

:music:

The main problem I see with that is that the kind of "clone sets" that were typical during BIONICLE's run just don't fly these days. People can whine all they like about Hero Factory builds feeling repetitive but frankly they lack perspective if they think today's constraction sets are anywhere near as repetitive as many BIONICLE sets were.

I would absolutely love for new BIONICLE sets to include at least a few Matoran or other small figures at the $5 price point. The Matoran were a big part of what made BIONICLE what it was, after all. And it's entirely possible to build a reasonably-sized Matoran using the CCBS using 25 pieces or less. But it's unclear to me just how many Matoran models the market could realistically support, or how much diversity in builds would be possible with Matoran at that scale. The most diverse Matoran sets we ever got were the Voya Nui Matoran, and they looked so unnatural that a storyline excuse had to be written to explain their weirdness.

When you have bigger sets based on the same skeleton, it's easy to add diversity because there are both plenty of connection points and plenty of room in the budget to attach different armor and accessories to that skeleton. When dealing with a $5 set, though, connection points are fewer in number and the budget can't support a whole lot of elaborate armor and accessories. It's a challenge, but I hope it's a challenge that the LEGO Group is prepared to confront in some way.
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Kind of funny how the mask packs "failed" when they came out, but now everyone wants them back. :P

 

If only they'd just re-release the original stuff. I would pay to fill the holes in my collection.

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Kind of funny how the mask packs "failed" when they came out, but now everyone wants them back. :P

 

If only they'd just re-release the original stuff. I would pay to fill the holes in my collection.

Unfortunately, the people who would pay to fill holes in their collection are limited to the people who 1) have a collection and 2) have holes in it which they seek to fill. The former eliminates new buyers (one of the main targets for impulse-priced sets) and the latter eliminates the casual fans who don't need every mask, as well as the hardcore fans who already have every mask (rereleases in general tend to run into these problems, which is why Lego rarely does them).

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I understand the reasons why they don't do it. But I do disagree with your opinion that new buyers would be eliminated, as the current kids in the targeted age range wouldn't have been around back then to buy the original sets.

 

(My statement also engulfs all early sets in general, not just mask packs)

 

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I understand the reasons why they don't do it. But I do disagree with your opinion that new buyers would be eliminated, as the current kids in the targeted age range wouldn't have been around back then to buy the original sets.

(My statement also engulfs all early sets in general, not just mask packs)


It's true that new buyers wouldn't necessarily be eliminated. But there would still likely be fewer new buyers than there were originally if you did a straight rerelease. Why? Because the mask packs would no longer be the only way to obtain the masks. When the original mask packs were released, for instance, there were two ways to obtain the masks: buy the mask packs yourself, or buy the masks individually from people who themselves had gotten them from the mask packs.

If you rereleased the old mask packs, there would be even less incentive to buy the mask packs, because they would be interchangeable with the originals. Unlike before, the contents of the new mask packs would already be available even before any of the new packs have been bought—and the rerelease of those masks would only decrease the price of these secondhand copies. All the other disincentives to buy the mask packs (such as the randomness of what you get) would still apply as well. So essentially you'd end up selling a fraction of the quantity of the original release. There's a reason Lego generally avoids rereleasing old sets.

Well, multiple reasons. Keep in mind that the old masks would also be largely incompatible with recent heads (yes, the mask packs did come with heads—albeit poorly designed ones with a semi-permanent connection to the eyestalk, that themselves would not be compatible with any masks from the past few years, either). On top of that, various colors of the original masks (particularly the old grays and old brown, but also various eye colors) are no longer produced, although I suppose it's slightly up-in-the-air whether the inauthenticity of these would be a pro (because the old masks and eyestalks would now be available in brand new colors) or a con (since the new masks would be inconsistent for older fans like yourself who seek to complete their collections). And of course each and every one of the old mask molds would have to be redesigned and reproduced—meaning that there would be essentially no cost advantage over creating a brand new set of masks.

(NOTE: I accidentally edited your post with my remarks instead of replying to it, which I honestly didn't even know I had the power to do in this blog. In any case, I've edited your post back to what it was originally and posted my comments here instead)
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