EDITORIAL – The Light FX Figures: What Disney Infinity Did Right And What They Did Wrong

light-fx

The Disney Infinity Light FX figures have been both a point of excitement and controversy since their announcement back at D23 Expo this past August.

For those who are unaware, Disney Infinity released a special set of six Star Wars figures that have their light sabers light up when placed on a Disney Infinity base. The figures were initially announced during the Disney Interactive presentation at the 2015 D23 Expo on Sunday, August 16th, 2015. Two weeks before the game officially launched in North america.

At the time of the announcement, we knew there would be six characters coming: Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Kanan, Obi-Wan, and Yoda. But did not know any kind of official price point or release date besides coming “this holiday”.

We eventually learned that these figures would be retail exclusives, releasing in stages on December 1st, and retail for only $1 more at a price of $14.99.

So now that we got the core information out of the way, let’s take a deeper look at how the figures work and the history behind them.

HISTORY & MECHANICS

If you’re releasing a Star Wars set of figures, it would be the obvious choice to have them light up, no? Well apparently that wasn’t always the case.

John Vignocchi said in an interview with Giant Bomb that he pushed the concept of the figures lightning up with the leadership team during the initial planning stages of Disney Infinity 3.0. Saying “”Everyone is going think we’re complete idiots if we put out a line of Star Wars figures and the light sabers don’t light up”. Which, I think all us would say… that’s pretty true. But it wasn’t until the team presented the game to retailers at Destination Playstation in February, when the retailers asked if they had any figures that had their light sabers light up, that it seemed the ball really started rolling.

The team was struggling getting the figures to work properly while still being a safe toy for consumers to have around (especially around little kids). When talking to a member of the development team, they told me they were having an issue of the toy passing the “drop test”. So that if/when the figure fell to the ground, it would stay together and not create a hazard. Obviously the last thing Disney Infinity wants is these broken off light sabers with pointing shards stabbing kids. That would not be a fun issue to deal with. So I’m glad the team took safety as a top priority.

Eventually the Disney Infinity team at Avalanche Studios enlisted the help of the Disney Imagineers to take a closer look at the project. Thanks to the help of the brilliant minds in the Imagineer department, we have our Light FX figures.

As far as the actual figures go themselves, they are powered by “disney magic” as the team likes to say. The figures include a new black “base” ontop of the regular clear plastic base you see on all the regular bases. The black plastic piece houses a circuit board, which includes a capacitor, and soldered wires that run through the figures up to the light saber where the colored LED is stored. So whenever you place the figure on a powered NFC base (AKA: your Disney Infinity base for the game), it gives enough conductive charging energy to make the light sabers glow. So as you’ve probably heard or seen, this can work on any powered NFC base (your phone, a credit card terminal, or yes even the Skylanders Portal).

Take a closer look at the design of the figures in my unboxing video where I take one apart:

The light on them is incredibly strong. They look really great, whether you are in a lit up room or playing in the dark.

The only problem with the way Disney designed these figures is they couldn’t get enough power (or perhaps get the wires in there safely) to light up two light sabers. Looking at the results, the team just wasn’t satisfied or felt any two light saber characters would be able to be up to the same quality as their one light saber counterparts. This is why we don’t have a Light FX figure for Darth Maul or Ahsoka. You may be able to draw the same conclusion regarding Kylo Ren as well, though his design is a bit more complicated as well.

As far as Ezra? Your guess is as good as mine.

WHAT DISNEY DID RIGHT & WRONG

So let me be clear with my bias, opinion, and feelings regarding the Light FX figures upfront, so you can get a clearer picture into my mindset.

I love the Light FX figures. LOVE them. I’ll also buy any Disney Infinity figure they would ever make. That’s just a fact. But that doesn’t mean I can’t critique or offer what I would do differently regarding the release of these figures. But they also did many things right regarding the figures release. So let’s check it all out.

Quality

Disney did an excellent job with the quality of these figures. They are a bit modified from their normal molds, but not hugely noticeable. They still feel and look great. The actual light emitting from the figures is phenomenal. I had high expectations, and was still super impressed with how bright they are.

The closest comparison to the quality would obviously have to be the LighCore figures that Skylanders releases (though they haven’t released one since Swap Force). I think it’s not even really a close race. The Light FX figures do a great job (but again to be fair, they have a larger area available to glow compared to the Skylanders eyes, mouth, etc.).

Obviously the major glare is still the lack of Darth Maul, Ahsoka, etc. But I trust Disney in this, and if they honestly say they wouldn’t be on the same quality, I support them in their decision to not release them.

Retailer Exclusives

I’m a fan of retailer exclusives, always have and always will.

I enjoy the ‘thrill of the hunt’ for items at different retailers. I enjoy being “forced” to go to a retailer I never go unless it’s an emergency (hello Walmart!). But I also know I’m in a special situation where I have all the major retailers within 12 miles of me. So I have easy access to the stores, so it doesn’t bother me compared to someone whose closest Best Buy or Toys ‘R’ Us could be hours away.

But with the release of these special, limited edition figures… it makes a lot of sense.

Think about it, by the end of 2015 there will be 34 figures total released (8 of which are inside Play Sets and Starter Packs). So 24 individually released Disney Infinity 3.0 figures. Obviously next year we are getting several more, and there are still many 1.0 and 2.0 figures floating around that players may wish to purchase.

Take a virtual tour to your local Disney Infinity section, think about the size of it. Unless your Toys ‘R’ Us or many Best Buy’s. Unfortunately stores don’t have a a major section to devote to these as in years past (Especially now that LEGO Dimensions, amiibo, Anki OVERDRIVE, and heck even Disney’s own PlayMation are all taking away what used to be Disney Infinity shelf space).

One of Disney Infinity’s main selling points is availability. For the most part, you never have to worry about not being able to get a certain figure or character. But with 24 individually released, from a majority of the stores I’ve been to, you can easily go into a retailer and not have a figure or two or three not on the shelf. It may not be due to them not having stock, but you can only fit so many on the shelf.

So to ask retailers to fit an additional six (many of which are repeat, and also obviously cost $1 more so they’d have to have their own “pegs”) would honestly be asking a lot. And would ruin one of the things that makes Disney Infinity a great game to get into.

Obviously you could make an argument that all retailers have online stores, and you could order it from them. But if you’re going that far, then might as well make it retailer exclusive.

Retailers love having exclusives. Plus when they make something exclusive, they tend to make a big deal out of it. Whether it be in their weekly ad with a large “Our exclusive!” banner, pushing the figure on social media, or doing what many of you have seen in Walmart with their endcap marketing flyer showing they have an exclusive Disney Infinity figure. Retailers pay money to have that exclusive, so obviously they want to get a return on that investment.

As a fan of Disney Infinity, seeing retailers going an extra mile to promote something Disney Infinity related, it makes me excited. It gets more people involved with the game.

Price

This is actually a really hard point to discuss. It comes down to a couple of questions… what is the point of the figures? Who are they marketed to? Target to collectors? To Fans?

Charging only $1 extra for the new Light FX figures is a great deal for the consumer. Think about how much went into the redesign of the figure. Obviously there are the tangible pieces like the technology that is in the figure itself. But also think about the engineering involved, marketing, the actual re-manufacturing, etc. There is a lot of costs involved that you would think worth more than $1 markup. Obviously some of that costs was made back up in the exclusive agreements with retailers as well.

But to be honest… I’m disappointed with the price.

They were all along marketed as a “collectors” item. So if they are a “collectors item” it would have been great to get something extra beyond just the figure. All we got extra was a sticker on the box labeling it as a Light FX figure.

Check out the Skylander’s Eon Elite figures that come in this special packaging. You get the figure (the newer versions even offer a “remold”, which we’ll get to that in a second), special clear plastic base with a 3D background, and receive some in game bonuses as well.

Many of you have told me that you felt the Light FX releases were a ‘Disney Cash Grab’ (which I can’t disagree with enough), but to combat that. I do wish they would have marked it up to $19.99 and threw in some extra “flair” with it to make it feel extra special. Instead of just a ‘light saber’ extra.

In-Game Extras

The Light FX figures only offer one different, in game, from their standard counter parts… it unlocks a special light saber display under the Hall of Heroes statue.

Now let me first say, I’m glad it does something. If it didn’t do anything at all, that’d be a major let down.

But I know for many people, there was some hope it would do more.

The problem is, they have to be careful what all they do with it, as these seems to be a strong resistance in the Disney Infinity community to anything “exclusive” or unavailable to the wider audience.

Obviously Disney didn’t want to make them required for the Ultimate Unlock (which makes complete sense), nor did they want to make any extra statues in Hall of Heroes or the collection screen, for the same reason as stated above.

But again, for many fans, having to “re-purchase” the figures (at “least” two since two of them are locked in a play set) to only receive a cosmetic change on a statue. For $14.99, you can help but feel or wish that more could have been done.

Communication & Release

This is where I had the biggest problem with the release of the Light FX figures. Communication and the handling of the release.

The announcement was before the release date, so some fans knew they were coming at some point. But for a wide majority of the audience, there is no way they knew they were coming. Nothing on the website (they recently added that if you go to a single figure page, there is now a light FX icon… but not for the three months leading up to it), no flyers in the Starter Pack, nothing on the packaging, etc.

Yes, resources are going to be limited and you aren’t going to plaster the information all over the place, but still at least some word to fans would have been useful. But let’s be honest, there are still a large percentage of Disney Infinity fans who wouldn’t know about it until they went into the stores this week. Obviously nothing you could do about that even if Disney tried.

Some fans wanted to skip having to purchase some of the figures again since they knew they were coming in the Light FX form… but how long were they going to have to wait? We knew “holiday”, but that still isn’t assurance in many fans minds. Fans who didn’t want to have to double buy figures had to wait for 3+ months for any “official” word.

We first got a hint that the Light FX figures were going to be exclusive on September 10th, but not until October 12th did that really get more clearer. And again that was from retailer listings, which aren’t always the most reliable. Even at that stage, it never said they were truly exclusive, it was just odd that those retailers only had one figure available on their website. November 3rd and November 8th gave us some more clear idea what to expect with the figure releases. Remember back too when GameStop charged $17.99 for their exclusive for a day? Thankfully now it’s “on sale” for $14.99. Yeesh.

It took all the way until December 1st to get the “official” word that Luke Skywalker was exclusive to Walmart. In the grand scheme of things, was it really that major of a deal? Of course not. But again, for fans looking to drop another nearly $90 on figures they technically already had, some clearer information would have been wonderful to have.

I know that with any retailer exclusive (whether Disney Infinity or not) the common practice is to let the retailer make the announcement (you see that a lot with amiibo figures, Nintendo isn’t the one doing the actual announcing of retailer exclusives very often). But the problem was… there weren’t any.

When you hear the words “limited” or “single production” being thrown around with the figures, it creates a sort of panic among the base. Especially after many people have had bad experiences with the “amiibo craze”. They’re afraid it’s going to sell out instantly (a couple of the figures disappeared for pre-order before they were even out. As I’m writing this, Walmart and Amazon are both “temporarily” out of stock).

This was just for the North American release, speak to the fans over in the UK, and they didn’t even have a hard confirmation that they would be released over seas until recently.

On November 30th, it seemed we had everything set. 6 retailers were going to have 6 different figures released on 3 separate days.

December 1st: Obi Wan, Yoda, and Anakin — “The Twilight of the Republic Set”

December 8th: Kanan — The “rebels set”

December 15th: Darth Vader — The “Rise Against The Empire set”

So logic would point that Luke would fall in line on the 15th since it’d flow nicely, right?

Wrong.

Walmart placed a pre-order up on December 1st (finally) that said the figure would release on the 7th? Thankfully they corrected the typo the next day… but it now sets a release on the 8th? Again, not the biggest deal in the world, but just seems illogical compared to the release frame with the previous figures.

But let’s see what Disney had to say about the release.

Nothing in the press release / official statement besides that they said they “introduced” a new set of figures.

How about social media?

DisneyInfinityAvailableNow

“AVAILABLE NOW”. Oh boy.

But again, any consumer who looks to buy the figures online will see the release dates and everything will be fine. Because at least there are register locks in place to keep the figures from selling.

Wrong again.

For whatever reason, although there were register locks in place on and after December 1st for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, they seemed to have been taken off. I started receiving reports from people in the community who were able to purchase Luke and Darth Vader, with no problems what-so-ever at the register.

Some reports even saying store management received word from corporate that they are not allowed to sell them (especially since corporate is the one in charge of register locks), even though Toys ‘R’ Us still has it listed as 12/15 release on their website.

So now, on the “second” release day, many stores are already sold through part of their allotment, which may or may not get restocked once it’s sold through.

ROUND-UP AND FINAL THOUGHTS

As you can hopefully tell by this editorial, I care deeply about the subject. I really like these Light FX figures, and I was hoping that these would be a sort of “gateway” into the world of ‘variations’ of Disney Infinity figures.

Unfortunately the release of these Light FX figures had so many issues with it. Which is shocking coming from the Disney Infinity team. The team has incredible people up and down the “chain of command”, so it is just bizarre to see how this was handled.

The Toys-To-Life genre is getting full, fast. It’s going to become more competitive than ever, it’s almost at a ‘equilibrium’ state right now and can sustain the four main franchises. But I can easily see one or two of them having to pull out, or the entire genre collapsing like the great Guitar Hero / Rock Band collapse several years ago.

Disney Infinity has the resources, history of characters (aka the deep bench), personnel, and (most importantly) the community to sustain it for a long time.

But for a game that, let’s all be open and honest here, has a lot of confusion involved with it from an outsider, the confusion of the Light FX figures release is not something that is welcoming.

Again, I give full thanks to the Disney Infinity team for making an incredible product like this. I just really wish it was handled better.

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