And so it all comes to a close. Now you know the different reasons why companies make blind box toys and the ways in which stores sell them. You can see that there’s a spectrum of reaction to BBs–from fun to frustration–on the part of fans and artists. There are people who thought we shouldn’t have opened the curtain on closed boxes. Even though we disagreed, I hope you were still able to take something useful from the story. Blindsided wouldn’t have been possible without the following people: Greta (because even editors need editors), Jason and Rich for supporting toy journalism, Cafe Leila for keeping me caffeinated, Whitney Kerr for getting into it with me at Wondercon, David Horvath for sending emails across continents, all the companies, artists, fans, stores and bloggers who went on the record for the story and my Mom, who always reads ToyCyte.
At this point, you should be well-acquainted with my stance on blind box toys. When it comes to this topic, I don’t like surprises. I like compromises. It’s possible to please casual fans and serious collectors and still make money. Maybe we don’t all agree on everything, but I think we know one company artists won’t be working with anytime soon. As Huck Gee said: “Keep it simple, don’t be greedy, have fun.” When companies take care of their artists and fans, we notice. And so does karma. A certain toy made it all the way to the White House. Coincidence? I think not. But enough about what I think.
Here are some final thoughts from the biggest mouths in toy blogging:
In many ways, blind boxes (and certainly their equivalent in the East, Gashapon / capsule toys) are an entry point for folks who considering dipping their foot into the addictive (ignorance is bliss) world of collecting toys – in this instance, specifically vinyl toys. It is a low(er) cost effective way of owning a piece of plastic without bursting the bank. The collectors (both old-timers and newly minted) and even retailers (that I know of personally) may deride the existence of blind boxes, as perhaps cheating money out of collectors’ pockets, but in the end game, no one is forcing anyone – outright – to buy them. A “culture” isn’t built on passion alone, as commerce plays a hand, most times heavy.
Fugly toys? Bad production standards? Do. Not. Buy. Simple. Don’t know what exactly it is in the box you’re buying, and still you’re plonking down coin to “try your luck”? Who shall the finger point to. Frankly, I point to myself freely, and I, along with every other collector who bitch about it, perhaps did not get what they had hoped for, or wanted in the first place, innit?
Come crunch time, when you have a US$8 blind box in one hand, and a US$60 window-box-displayed larger vinyl figure in the other, which one can you afford? If indeed you’d like to walk away with a little (or big) treat for yourselves? I know I’d end up with a blind boxed toy, because – for me, when the addiction hits, I’d rather have something, than nothing at all. But as anything, the decision is up to me. (The I go home and blog about what I want but cannot afford LOL).
Collecting toys should be fun, but are “surprises” all they’re cracked up to be in this day and age? Only if you’re the one receiving them, and not the one to foot the bill, IMHO.
I should probably start by saying, that whether the economic situation is good or bad, I believe there is always a hint of excitement when opening blind-boxes–that is until you get the same darn figure 5 times in a row and you realize you’ve spent $50 and have gotten the same pulls you got last time. Therefore, does my current economic situation keep me away from them? I’d say, not more than I’ve kept myself away from them already.
The good thing about blind boxes is that most of them are priced under $10, and therefore, if I’m in need of a ‘fix’ I can turn to blind boxes to provide that for me. The bad thing about blind boxes, in my personal experience, is the annoyance of the ratios that force me to be stuck with a crappy design 10 times in a row–and the worst part, I can’t sell it off, because everyone else is trying to get rid of theirs too. I rarely dabble in the blind box world anymore, because it’s frustrating to get stuck with a product I didn’t want, but am forced to keep. If I’m lucky–I hope a shop happens to have an open box available online and I shell out a couple more dollars for a figure that I wanted to own. This probably isn’t going to change anytime soon, and though I’ll probably be bummed out about not getting specific designs (whether they be chases or not), I’d rather suck it up then spend unwisely.
I believe that the whole blind box phenomenon is the “Gateway drug” if you will into collecting vinyl in the first place. The majority of collectors got their start just by opening one blind box and then from there on being hooked. I know for me I was at a Graphic Design Conference in San Diego, and there was a vendor section After browsing all the books on typography and misc other design material, there was a table that had an open box of Azteca Series Dunnys…I bought one after seeing some examples of what I might get, and the rest is history, I was hooked. Later on that day I, at that time a 25 year old, 280 6′1″ ex college football player, was sitting in my truck frantically opening the 15 or so blind boxes of series one Mongers…haha can you imagine what that looked like?
As time went on…I started to really find out what really sparked my interest, helping me focus my collection, and not just buying uncertainty. I have had a lot of conversations with fellow designer toy lovers, some that are true collectors, and others who are just into it for the fun of opening the blind box. If I see a series of something that I like, I wait until it has been released and then go on message boards and buy the whole set (excluding the chases). I bought the whole French series of Dunnys for $110 shipped…that is a crazy good deal especially if you think about a case being around $175, and you are not guaranteed a whole set. I find myself still, even though I know what I want, really wanting to buy a case and having that almost euphoric moment of opening blind boxes and maybe, just maybe finding that rare chase.
There are means to getting what you want as a collector, you just have to be patient and not get sucked into the blind box phenomenon. It is cool with me that companies are doing this, if people are still buying them, and having a good time doing it, then more power to them…to be honest, it is a lot of fun still! Even in this economic crunch. Look for the deals…be smart about it!
What do I think of vinyl toy blind boxes?
I hate them. Theoretically, it’s fun to open a blind box and be surprised by what’s inside, but that’s only true when there’s a very good chance of the toy being good. The sellers of baseball cards understand this and make sure every pack has something special in it. That’s not remotely true of blind box toys. Typically, only a third of the toys in any particular set are desirable (and that estimate is probably generous), and it’s too expensive to buy several boxes in the hope of getting the toy I want. Peskimo’s BambooZoo is the only set I can think of in recent memory where I actually liked the vast majority of the toys. On the rare occasion I buy a blind box toy, I’m left feeling angry because I simply loathe what I just paid $8 for. Lately, the only time I buy a blind box Dunny is when I have a toy customizing project in mind and won’t be too disappointed to get a figure I don’t like. When there’s a figure I really want, I’ll pay a few bucks extra to buy it from a store that sells opened blind boxes.
Robby “Brownkidd” Weiss of Albotas
I think that if it wasn’t for blind boxes, the toy scene wouldn’t be as big as it is. It’s the thrill of the chase that turns spending money on something into a fun experience. Sure, it’s a clever marketing ploy, but it’s one that works. I think a big part of why the blind box concept exists is because if the toy companies let you pick which figure in a series you could get, they’d have too many leftovers of the less popular figures and they wouldn’t be able to cover their expenses. To use the Series 4 Dunnys as an example, if they weren’t blind boxed, everyone would buy the Huck Gees and Kidrobot would be left with a warehouse full of 10 Car Pileups. Besides, you can always buy that rare chase for crazy after-market prices. If you’re the type who wants to spend money on toys and know what you’re getting beforehand, that’s what 7″ figures are for (but even they have chases).
Colette Bennett of Tomopop
Blind boxes are one of those things that I have a very mixed relationship with. When I was a kid, I was addicted to those quarter machines at the grocery that dispensed crappy toys in plastic capsules, and I feel like blind boxes are an extension of that same urge–I like to gamble on what I might get, and it’s always a thrill when you get the one you really want. As a marketing scheme, it works, but people enjoy the gamble and seem to benefit from it in the end, so I don’t mind even if it is aimed to get me to spend more. After all, I can always say no.
On the other hand, sometimes a series will only have a single figure I like, and it’s hard to get your hands on just that one without resorting to eBay or trading forums. It gets the job done, but some people seem annoyed that they just can’t walk into a store and buy the one they want in the first place. As of late, the problem (for me) seems to be that I like complete blind box sets less than I used to. In the case of Kathie Olivas’ Scavengers sets, I bought over and over without even a hint of reserve because I knew every figure in the set was a winner no matter what I got. In the end, I’d like to see less blind boxed sets, but created with more effort. One can’t help but feel like the vinyl market is flooded these days, but are we seeing the same quality we saw three or four years ago when vinyl wasn’t as popular as it is now?
I have a love / hate relationship with blind boxing. Since I’m not a bounty or game hunter, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to feeling victorious over a capture, even if said capture has nothing to do with my actual skill with a bolo and / or harpoon. I’ll usually take whatever toy karma wants to hand me that day. It’s rare that I enter into blind box purchasing (for designer toys, wargaming pieces, or otherwise) with a single-minded drive to get one particular figure, and I’ll also embrace discovering new artists or learn to appreciate the unexpected. Years of incomplete sets of Heroclix, and rare pieces at insane prices, have taught me otherwise.
It’s when the distribution is so uneven that I get triple and quadruple figures that I give up. I’m not a completist, so getting a fair cross-section of anything from a given assortment is pretty exciting. I can even turn multiples into custom figures happily–but only if they lend themselves towards customization. I’m not into packaging and shipping and hunting down trades–though I did make a killing on trading out a few rare Series 5 Dunnys for bunches of commons to use in customs on the Kidrobot forums, and I’d do it again.
I just want to see even distribution. I can appreciate a chase figure or two, but when I open up four Early Cuylers in a row and don’t get a Mooninite, I stop buying that series. A case should equal an almost complete set, and I shouldn’t get so many freakin’ doubles. It’s not like I live in an area where I can be social and trade ‘em to my local shop. I live in the forest–so the social aspect is completely lost on the likes of me.
Blind Boxes are a necessary evil. Being a huge baseball card collector as a kid, it had the same type of appeal to me–minus the rock hard stick of bubble gum. It’s all about the mystery and anticipation of opening up a package that you just spent $5 or $10 on and seeing if it’s the figure you wanted. It’s not? Well then trade it with a friend or sell it on eBay to fund your toy addiction.
And that’s why I believe blind boxes are evil. Most of the time, you have various ratios for the figures. Some are more difficult to pull than others. And if you have OCD like myself, you’re a completest. So you either have to pay the eBay premium or keep buying more blind boxes until you have the set.
It’s a great strategy to sell more products. People might buy three or four blind boxes to get the one figure they really want. Although, if the majority of the line isn’t well done and appealing to collectors, blind boxing might be a detriment. Those same collectors might have been willing to pay a little bit more to get the one figure in the line that they really wanted.
[Editor’s Note: Kirkland is the OG blind box blogging crusader. He wrote a story called Making Moolah from Mini-Figures way back in November of 2005. Required reading. Kirkland was also one of the only people to send in photos of his personal collection, and once I saw them, I had to send cease and desist letters to everyone else. In the words of MC Hammer, U Can’t Touch This. (Unless he invites you over, and maybe you wear some gloves.) But seriously, let these final thoughts sink in and then stare at some amazing photos.]
While I certainly get that blind boxes are a proven business model not unlike gambling, it doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Of course I would rather buy just the ones that I want, but I do see that it takes some of the fun away of the “surprise”. Even though I dislike blind box toys, I have to admit getting that rush of excitement as I open the box hoping it’s a colorway or variant that I want. Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m disappointed. Such is life.
As far as how this relates to the current economy and all that, on the one hand, disposable income is nearly gone. Most people shouldn’t be spending money on toys let alone blind box ones. Yet, like booze, blind box toys may be viewed as a momentary escape from the fact that the economy sucks.
[You’ve been reading a 5-part investigative series I originally wrote for ToyCyte over the course of a week in March of 2009. It’s being reprinted here in its entirety, including reader comments.]