This year at SDCC, I was given the opportunity to interview Jon Warden, Brand Manager for Hasbro’s Transformers lines. e shed some light on what they’ve done, where they’re going, and gives us a peek inside the process of making some of my very favorite toys.
JW Hello! i’m Jon Warden, Hasbro, I work on Premier class, Generations, and Masterpiece. And I worked on the diorama.
AFI Hello, thanks for speaking with me today! Can you tell me something about these new Allspark Tech toys?
JW It’s a line of transformers actions figures that, using the Allspark, putting it inside the chest of the figure will bring it to life. In the case of the starter pack, which is Optimus and the Allspark, the Allspark is actually charged via USB cable, and has an included rechargeable lithium ion battery. You put the Allspark in Optimus Prime’s chest, and there’s a signature Allspark boot up sound, and he says “I AM OPTIMUS PRIME”. After he does that, as kids play with him, he’ll make sound effects and say signature phrases. When you transform him, you’ll know, because when he’s in truck mode, he’ll make car sounds. When you’re done playing with Optimus and building your collection, you take the cube out and put it in other figures, and the cube will know which figure you’re playing with. In the case of Barricade, the light will change to a Decepticon color. The cube will then say all of his phrases.
AFI Are they all movie based?
JW They’re all movie based. We wanted to go with a movie theme for these. But they’re super-fun, all new play pattern for us, very tech-feel for Transformers, so we wanted to make them feel more like real robots!
AFI …And they’re fun! I love Transformers Generations and Masterpiece; as elaborate as I can get, really. But I love that these exist for kids. That they can transform them on their own, and play with them without getting frustrated. And that’s what gets them into the Transformers mythos, and they graduate up to Generations. The hope is that twenty years from now, I can still buy Transformers because the brand is still going, with new fans.
JW That’s absolutely true. One of the most awesome things about Transformers is that it’s constantly refreshing itself and evolving. So we have new fans coming in just like in the beginning with G1, Beast Wars, then the Armada series. The nature of Transformers is to change, just like the Transformers themselves. It’s really exciting to be part of something that’s evolving. We need those kids to keep the tradition going, right?
AFI I love it. Speaking of Beast Wars, I understand Optimus Primal is one of the characters for Power of the Primes.
JW That’s absolutely true. Fans voted him last year into the Hall of Honor as the bearer of the Matrix of Leadership. So we’re going to be creating a leader class Optimus Primal, and fans who just saw the Rodimus Prime that we debuted, we really bring to light the idea of evolving. So we start with Hot Rod, and he’s able to “evolve up” to Rodimus Prime. So we’ve got this incredible Rodimus Prime truck that you can remove the front part of the truck off, and transform him into a deluxe class Hot Rod. Then the back of the trailer transformers into his legs and arms, and he can evolve up to a leader class Rodimus Prime.
AFI Sort of like Ultra Magnus style?
JW Exactly. I can’t say too much about Optimus Primal, but let’s just say he will be in the same assortment, and have the same feature.
AFI And instead of evolving from the Titan Masters, they’re now the Matrix?
JW Well, no, not exactly. The Power of the Primes revolves around small Transformers that are known as the Prime Masters. The Prime Masters contain the power of the spark of each of the twelve Transformers Gods. The thirteenth is the bearer of the Matrix of Leadership.
AFI The original Thirteen?
JW Yes. In the beginning, Primus split his spark among the twelve Transformers gods, so each one of those prime masters represents an aspect of the Transformers’ world, culture, and power. Those powers are captured inside of the Prime Masters, The Prime Masters, offered in the $4.99 assortment, transform into a small spark, and that small spark is able to play with each toy assortment, deluxe, voyager, and leader class. On the deluxe and voyager, they fit onto armor. On the leader class, they can fit inside the Matrix of Leadership. So you’re actually remove the center spark from the Matrix of Leadership, and replace it with a Prime Master. When designing Rodimus Prime, the guys at Takara Tomy, specifically Hasui-San, really worked together to make this thing incredibly masterful. When you get this thing in your hands, you’ll realize what an amazing feat of engineering it really is.
AFI It looks amazing. I’m a fan at heart, and that’s the Rodimus Prime I’ve been wanting forever.
JW Absolutely, they nailed it.
AFI There’s always a compromise, either you get Hot Rod, or you get Rodimus, but that’s the one that got it right.
JW Thank you so much. You know, that’s the wonderful thing about coming to San Diego Comic-Con. You have a chance to actually meet one on one with fans like yourself. We’re able to get really awesome feedback of what people want for the future. Last year, we heard that people want Rodimus Prime. So I encourage fans to come to San Diego Comic-Con, or Hascon, and talk to us and let us know what you want in the Transformers line, and we’ll work as hard as we can.
AFI I just want to throw this out there – I’m a huge fan of Big Convoy!
JW I like Big Convoy too. Very, very cool. Love it
AFI Man, when those came out, I imported every single one. I mean come on, Magmatron? Awesome. Beast Wars Neo was my Jam!
JW Hearing stuff like that, we consider these things when we consider our strategy. What are the things people are looking for? What is trending? Even what’s trending outside of Transformers. What do we want to do to actually take our brand in new directions while also being true to what it is.
AFI So you’re tuned in?
JW We’re tuned into the business. Toy design is fashion, so we are paying attention to what’s been happening, what has happened, and what’s going to happen.
AFI I mean, look at what’s on display here. Who thought five years ago I’d be looking at a US toy of Overlord?
JW I know right? And five years ago, that wasn’t really our initiative. As things change, and as we survey the environment, we understand what needs to be made. It’s not what we want to make, it’s what we need to make. And that’s why that line is here. It’s a beautiful thing, I would say.
AFI From my perspective, I can’t wait to own a modern Overlord. But kids don’t know who he is, they just know that he’s a cool toy.
JW You nailed it. That’s exactly what we try to do. Honestly, with just about every single toy across the board, is we try to create not only something that’s awesome for the fans, but we really go back to the spark of what that toy was in the first place, what made him cool, and offer it up to a new generation of young fans. We’ve seen so many kids walking up to this dragon behind you, Overlord in the case, even Trypticon over there, and saying “Wow, what is that space dinosaur that turns into a city?’ That’s amazing. And the fact of the matter is, some of those original 80’s and 90’s toys, there’s some amazing toy concepts hidden in there. We don’t just stop by looking backwards. We’re constantly pushing and looking to the future for the next big thing. With the way we can mold now, the way we can sculpt now, 30 years ago it was just done by hand.
AFI You could have never gotten the detail on Trypticon you have now, for example.
JW Correct. What we’re able to do now is to give these guys a refreshing look, and to go forward. We can hearken back to dad’s Transformers, but when kids today get their new transformer, it’s this beautiful, awesome representation of the character their parents loved. What are Transformers going to look like 20 years from now?
AFI They’ll transform themselves!
AFI but to your point, you look at Trypticon, and he’s instantly recognizable, G1-wise. Like you said, detailed to the extreme. Was there a conscious decision not to offer a Trypticon exclusive this year? There’s always been a large Transformer figure exclusive for the past few years.
JW Absolutely. We are constantly looking for what fans are asking and saying. When we looked at San Diego Comic-Con this year, we knew that we wanted to do something that was able to be carried around the convention center, and we also didn’t want to create frustration among the fan community by having too many variations of the same figure out there. That’s why we partnered with Takara Tomy to create one awesome global version. The Takara version is exactly the same as Hasbro’s and it’s exciting to have one singular message. We have him on display here, and so many people have asked us – even little kids – asking where can I get one?
AFI I read last night that he showed up yesterday at Toys R Us!
JW Oh that’s awesome!
AFI I have to ask you about Trypticon’s hips issue that I’ve read about , if you don’t mind…
JW Sure, no that’s fine. We can speak directly to the hips issue. We have been reading online about some fans complaints. I can say that Hasbro’s engineering and QA (Quality Assurance) have looked at that throughout the development of the toy, and they have never identified this as an issue. Regardless, I flagged that and communicated that internally to a few people to look at. We’re looking at if it’s an issue or not, trying to identify if it’s really an issue, or an isolated incident. Maybe it’s part of the production run? We will address it accordingly if it’s an issue. Right now, we have no reason to believe it’s a big issue. It appears to be a small number of isolated incidents. It’s one of those things that we test like crazy throughout the toy making process. We literally have a meeting every Thursday trying to rip the toys apart. We transform things, we try to play with them as hard as we can to identify issues. We don’t just design the toys, we play with them hard to make sure they’re good for kids and the fans. It’s a lot of work.
AFI Thank you guys so much for what you do, for your time, and for the opportunity, I had a blast!
JW Enjoy San Diego Comic-Con man!
Thanks so much to the folks at Hasbro for giving me this awesome opportunity. I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves for 2018!
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