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Illuminatus

Collectible Surplus = Acceptable Surplus?

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It recently dawned on me that there's a very obvious discrepancy with the way collectibles were distributed and advertised in the first few years of BIONICLE. The truth is, I've always felt there was something off but never managed to put my finger on it until just now. That's what happens when you're bad at math but your mild obsessiveness gets the better of you.
 
So check this out. Of all the collectibles (and subsequently projectiles) released by LEGO as a BIONICLE accessory, 5 types were packed in conjunction with another type—a total of 3 packs with 2 types of collectibles in them. Those were namely:
 

  • 8559/8569 Kanohi (Silver and Gold) and Krana
  • 8597/8598 Kanohi Nuva and Krana
  • 8599/8600 Kanohi Nuva (Silver/Protodermic) and Krana-Kal

 
At first, that seems normal enough, until you consider the total number of collectibles available through each pack (not counting rares or misprints; just the advertised ones) and the ratio between them, which is as follows:
 

  • 8559/8569 12 Kanohi and 96 Krana (1:8)
  • 8597/8598 36 Kanohi Nuva and 96 Krana (3:8)
  • 8599/8600 6 Kanohi Nuva and 48 Krana-Kal (1:8)

 

It's common sense that you won't get all of the collectibles right away and you will most definitely have a huge surplus—but that's the entire sales pitch, so it's fine. The problem comes from the unequal surplus resulting from the ratio between the two types of collectibles. Basically, to get every collectible from each type of pack you would need to buy a hypothetical bare minimum of:

 

  • 8559/8569 32 packs (with a minimal surplus of 52 Kanohi)
  • 8597/8598 32 pack (with a minimal surplus of 28 Kanohi Nuva)
  • 8599/8600 16 packs (with a minimal surplus of 26 Kanohi Nuva)

 

Hold on, does that sound right? 52 Kanohi!? That sounds like an awfully huge surplus just in theory, let alone in practice. Now this might just be me, but it seems like common sense that if you offer your consumers a product that they know will result in a reasonable amount of surplus, depending on how determined they are to obtain a full collection, that's absolutely fine, as long as the ratio is 1:1.

 

The way I see it, there are three criteria by which any surplus can be deemed "okay":

 

  • If the total number of obtainable collectibles is divisible by the minimal number of necessary packs (e.g. 36 packs of 8525/8530 Kanohi to obtain a full collection of 72 Kanohi; not considering the 6 types of eye pieces as collectibles).
  • If the ratio between different collectible items is exactly 1:1.
  • If the complete list of available collectibles is openly displayed on the packaging, or at the very least advertised inside.

 

Collectibles are a gamble and that's entirely fine because you have your consumer's unspoken consent that they won't get a full set of anything from the first attempt, but they can at least feel free to try. Getting them, however, to (knowingly or otherwise) consent to a huge surplus by design is pretty darn questionable.

 

Take the very first instances of collectibles like BIONICLE's, namely the 8508 Slizer/Throwbots disks (proto Kanoka) and the 8515 RoboRiders wheels. The former had a total of 48 disks in packs of 5 (minimal surplus of 2; no big deal), while the latter had a total of 128 wheels in packs of 4 (no surplus). Neither had a full (or at least comprehensive and not in any way misleading) list of every collectible, available inside or on the actual packaging.

 

All in all the only exemplary pack of collectibles were the original Kanohi, as they covered all three of the criteria above. Unless of course you count the 14 misprints, which were a mistake; the infected Hau, which wasn't advertised; or the Vahi, which was suggested on the packaging but ultimately never included. But I consider all of those deviations not necessarily in violation of any of the criteria.

 

And what was the deal with the Kanoka anyway? Was there ever a complete list of all the disks you could get anywhere? Never mind the surplus (I don't think there was one). The Rhotuka were also fine, I think; there wasn't much to them. Everything from then on was all projectiles.

 

Tell me what you guys think? Am I making any sense? I'd love to start a discussion out of this.

Edited by Illuminatus
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In my opinion, this sort of marketing strategy is not unique to TLG. Rather, the degree to which such a strategy can succeed has a lot to do with the intrinsic value of the item being offered. I haven't actually done the math, but I suspect that a pack of baseball cards offers similar odds. If a person is willing to pay for a surplus at all, I don't think that the size of the surplus really factors in.


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Collectibles are a gamble and that's entirely fine because you have your consumer's unspoken consent that they won't get a full set of anything from the first attempt, but they can at least feel free to try. Getting them, however, to (knowingly or otherwise) consent to a huge surplus by design is pretty darn questionable.

Seems a bit contradictory.  Having "a huge surplus by design" is kind of the point of blind bag(/box) collectibles.  The justification is that you can trade them with other people, which is how anyone who doesn't want to sink tons of money into gambling on chance is going to achieve it.  You can "try" to get them all in one go, but you won't, and since it's almost all luck-based there's nothing to "try" that isn't probably illegal.

 

Also, don't the first two packs balance out better than that?  Given that they both have Krana you don't have to buy all of one, you can buy some of each.

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It seems to me that this might have been a deliberate decision? It gives kids buying collectible packs both a small, somewhat easy goal and a larger, more difficult goal to shoot for. Having more milestones to feel accomplished about between your first pack and a complete collection seems like a good strategy to keep people collecting.

 

This also ignores that Krana, non-silver Kanohi Nuva, and Krana-Kal were all available in other sets, and in the case of Krana those were sets it made sense to buy multiples of if you were so inclined. What the gold and silver masks lacked in rarity they made up in exclusivity to the packs that contained them.

 

And of course, all of these collectibles are still LEGO pieces — their collectability isn't the limit of their value. Plenty of MOCists have found ways to take advantage of having multiples of the same mask. Getting duplicates isn't in any way meant to feel punitive.

 

I'm not saying that collectible packs never felt like a cash grab — the Kraata in particular were fairly limited in their usefulness, story relevance, and play value, but took a stupid number of packs to get a full set, and had few milestones short of a full collection to swing for. But I wouldn't call these uneven distributions disingenuous.

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Fair points raised, especially about the Krana being in both collectible packs for 2002. That would move the odds at 1:2 if you ignore the two different shades of purple Krana.

 

Okay, speaking of all the collectibles that were available in sets as well as collectible packs: the deal with the Bohrok, Bohrok Va and Bohrok-Kal seemed pretty fair, as you could get one from eight possible collectibles in any one set that you buy—you weren't locked to a particular collectible, and that feels somehow reasonable, right? In contrast to what felt like a disproportionate amount of "default" Kanohi you would get in a 2001 pack—am I the only one that hated getting a "red Hau"? I hate having to resort to anecdotal evidence, but I can almost recall the exact Kanohi I got from each pack back in 2001 and 2002 and there was an awfully large number of "default" Kanohi.

 

First ever pack I got had a green Miru and a brown Pakari. The green Miru was an immediate letdown, but I assumed that had just been my luck. All the rest of the packs my parents subsequently got me (five more) contained a trans-black Kaukau, a blue Kakama, a white Hau, an orange Komau, a light-blue Ruru, a tan Matatu and a dark gray Mahiki; the rest wеre a bummer: a brown Kakama, a lime Mahiki and a light-blue Rau.

 

I mean come on. I got four default masks. That's two packs out of six that were a complete waste. What are the odds even? The default masks comprised about 17% of all masks and I got 33% default masks from a total of six different packs. Talk about rotten luck. Now this could just be my bad math again, but I'm fairly certain other people have also complained about the abundance of default masks.

 

Side note, four extra masks I got as a compliment from a young shop assistant who seemed sympathetic with my disappointment that the packs were all sold out; she took out a stash that was meant for display and gave me a misprint red Ruru, a misprint white Matatu, a blue Akaku and a black Hau. Two misprints and two non-defaults! What's funnier is, I could've picked a sky-blue Kaukau but thought it was boring.

 

Speaking of misprints, seeing them sold online in my country all the time and remembering how many of those my friends had, I honestly feel like they were very abundant. Abundant enough not to warrant the prices they're going for right now, anyway.

 

Otherwise, I totally agree about the milestone concept, so I'll concede the entire ratio I talked about isn't really as peculiar as I thought was, all things considered. And to be clear, I was never implying LEGO were being disingenuous; more like irresponsible in their calculations.


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