There was a time in my early days of collecting where I relinquished the idea of tainting my Transformers collection with unofficial 3rd party scum. It’s funny how things change though, as once I had my first taste of this “scum”, I couldn’t stop getting them. For some reason 3rd party Transformers seem to be a touchy subject among ‘bot collectors lately. While many diehard Hasbro fans seem to think these “unofficial” toys are the bane of collecting, others such as myself welcome these companies and products with open arms (and wallets). It seems like in the past year or so, we’ve seen an explosion of new products and companies at an unprecedented rate, which is awesome to see considering how much risk there is that comes with bringing a new product.
Enough of my blabbering though, I’ll get on to the real reasons I believe that our beloved 3rd party companies and toys are here to stay.
Quality and Design
Probably the biggest of the very few negatives that accompany these unofficial Transformers is the price. While the prices may often be large, they’re also usually followed by some great quality in both the plastic and the design. What makes these toys great is how much thought is put into them; the whole process from start to finish is like a carefully constructed masterpiece. I’ve been fortunate enough to get an inside look at a couple of the design processes for some companies, and they absolutely blew my mind.
These guys aren’t just ripping designs from the internet and printing them via something similar to Shapeways, absolutely not. There are multiple design steps involved in getting the quality as high as possible for the buyer. Getting 3d mockups, wax and resin prototypes, quality control, all of these are just a few parts of the design process for your average 3rd party company.
Not only is the quality of the plastic of concern, but the overall quality in terms of mechanisms and transformations is also something these companies pride themselves with. When I think of high quality 3rd party toys lately, I immediately think of Fansproject’s Steel Core and Mastermind Creations’s Screecher. Not only are both of these great in terms of the feel and build of the plastic, but they each feature distinctive gimmicks that just aren’t possible for retail toys to have. That’s where the biggest advantage of 3rd party toys come in. Sure, not all toys by these companies are original characters, but they recreate our favorite characters in such a kickass way that really brings out the character. Some how a 12 inch tall Devastator just seems more appropriate than a 5 inch tall one.
If you’re reading this article and don’t have much experience with 3rd party Transformers, I don’t want you to get the impression that all of these companies are as high quality as I’m making them out to be. Every company has the occasional problem, but the ones that are excellent bounce back from those problems and make them right. There are of course the companies that are known to have universally great quality, but there are still some turds and outliers that can make a bad name for 3rd parties.
I cannot stress this point enough. In the world of unofficial Transformers there can be a lot of questions that need to be asked, and when a company is readily available for communication, that goes a very long way to influencing a purchase. Most seem to be fond of Facebook as their communication tool, which can do wonders for company to fan communication.
Now when I say “Fan Interaction”, I don’t just mean responding to emails in a timely manner, I’m also talking about when a company responds to their fan’s wants. Something that comes to mind just recently deals with Planet X’s Project Genesis. When the colored prototype pictures surfaced about a week ago, there was mixed reaction with how bright the colors were. Some, including myself, were hoping for less of a G1 scheme and more of a War for Cybertron one for Omega Supreme. Instead of just ignoring the fan recommendations, Planet X brought it upon themselves to do something about it. Mastermind Creations also took some fan advice recently in including another piece of train track with the rest of the Eliminators, Stormer and Warper.
This type of fan interaction is really what makes collecting these products extremely fun. It really seems like it’s a joint effort between the companies and the fans to bring the best product possible to the table, not just the one that makes the most money.
When I approached Headrobots very early on in thedaytimeninja.com’s lifespan about doing an interview, I honestly expected them to ignore or deny my request, especially when the website was hardly 3 months old. When Headrobots not only agreed to do it, but also asked if they could use the interview to tease some never before seen products, I was absolutely amazed. Tell me that isn’t a group of awesome dudes. The guys at Mastermind Creations have also been very gracious in approaching me for interviews and articles.
And how could I not talk about the recently successful Kickstarter project, Transforming Collections, by friend of the site Philip Reed, of battlegrip. A freaking book about 3rd party Transformers? Not only does the book consist of pictures and general information, many companies were eager to help out in the project providing material. That’s when you know you’ve got a strong community and company relationship.
Creativity and Ingenuity
Like I said before, while all 3rd party Transformers aren’t 100% original designs, they’re all mostly interpretations of obscure characters that we might not get otherwise. But there’s no cheating here; these companies are completely responsible for the physical design from conception to production.
I’m not just talking about creativity in the sense of drawing a mockup on paper, but in the sense of bringing something to life and creating a character. It’s great to see some of these companies really striving to bring the products to life in their own universe via comics and media, which is something Hasbro’s Transformers have seem to fall short of most of the time.
While I personally am a very big supporter of original 3rd party designs such as Fansproject’s Steel Core, it’s still great to see a company’s rendition of a popular character that hasn’t seen too many great toys (I’m looking at you, Predaking and Menasor!) Not only do these toys provide an awesome version of an already existing character, they show how awesome these companies can be by often blowing the Hasbro and Takara versions out of the water.
These companies aren’t established corporations raking in millions of dollars a year. These companies are small groups of hard working individuals who wish to bring the latest and greatest designs and toys into the hands of collectors.
That’s what I love. When I purchase something by a well-respected 3rd party company I’m not getting a toy that skimps on plastic or functionality so the company can make a quick buck, I’m getting a work of art. Something that’s taken these companies months and months to design and bring to fruition. Something that’s going to be the highlight of my collection. Something that I’ll always consider to be one of the best pieces that I own.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the 3rd party shelf is my favorite compared to the others. With everyone else out there who is in the same boat, I think it’s a monument to the excellence and craftsmanship that these toys have. This why these companies aren’t going anywhere.
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