Wednesday, January 12, 2011

R.I.P. D&D Minis 2003-2010

Well it's January and that means that Wizards of the Coast has to dump an under-supported and product line. The D&D line of pre-painted miniatures has officially been given the pink slip. Posted today on WotC's website--buried innocuously under the fifth heading "D&D RPG Product Release Updates":
Despite the best laid plans, sometimes we make changes to the D&D product release schedule. Usually this happens well before we’ve communicated our plans, but sometimes we must make changes to schedules that have already been announced. That happens to be the case we have here.

We have made the decision to depart from pre-painted plastic miniatures sets. Lords of Madness stands as the final release under that model. We will continue to release special collector’s sets (such as the Beholder Collector’s Set we released last fall), as well as make use of plastic figures in other product offerings. Check out the Wrath of Ashardalon board game next month for the latest example of this. Moving forward, we will continue to explore more options for players to represent characters and monsters on the tabletop, including Monster Vault and other D&D products that feature monster and character tokens.
I'm not at all surprised, as Wizards had already begun cutting back on releases and switching to cardstock tokens in all of their boxed 4E products (i.e., Gamma World, Monster Vault, etc.). While these were fine for boxed sets, the loss of the pre-painted minis is disappointing as Wizards was by far the largest producer of this cheap option for minis.

In addition, last fall, Wizard's parent company Hasbro (under the Milton Bradley moniker), stopped production on Heroscape, their constructable, miniature battles board game. The big "H" was watching sales dwindle after they dumped the original time/reality-hopping theme in favor of the almighty D&D. A stunted release of Heroscape under a Marvel Superheroes license led no where as well.

So what's the reason behind the poor sales for all these plastic minis and mini-related games? It's hard to be sure but I'd bet that poor shelf visibility and feeble marketing support are at least partially to blame. Wizards/Hasbro also seems to saturate the market with these products (and yet provide substandard marketing!) and then bail completely, much like the Star Wars RPG debacle in January of last year (Ah! It IS a tradition!).

I myself have bought bunches of the little guys (and some Heroscape stuff too for the scenery), which has been a lot of fun--and affordable for those of us who don't have time/cash to paint and prepare metal minis. While this might be a boon for companies like Reaper and their Legendary Encounters pre-paints, they're not running anywhere near the quantities or variety that WotC had. So there is no real heir-apparent.

Here's hoping the void is eventually filled. And frankly, at this point, I'd be happy to give my hard earned geek bucks to someone else. In the meanwhile, remainder stock will no doubt slowly dwindle from FLGS shelves...


Arkhein said...

From what I understand, Reaper (Hobby-Q now) outsources their plastic mini production like WotC does, so it could be as simple as lopping off one head and stitching another on the body. The body being the the plants that produce the minis in China, that is.

WotC is sure to take their molds, though, and the big cost in plastic mini production is the molds. Maybe Hasbro would sell them to Reaper on the cheap? :)

- Ark

Jay said...

That's a possibility, though Reaper has some great figs too, so I'd almost like to see some of those become painted minis.

I think the bigger issue is distribution. Reaper is fairly well known, but it's tough to compare to the second largest toy company in the world. Time will tell, I suppose!

Anonymous said...

Reaper has just reorganized under the name "Hobby-Q". To be more retail friendly (no more skull logo). And what is just a small part of one of hasbro's subsidiaries could be big money for a small company like Reaper... sorry - "Hobby-Q" (Reaper is now a Brand of Hobby-Q)...

Arkhein said...

@Jay - yeah, distribution can be a big problem. I like a short distance fromt he Reaper Foundry, so I their distribution line to me is really nice. If they could export that to the rest of the planet, it would be great.

@rorschachhamster - Reaper's reorg under the name Hobby-Q makes good sense for what they want to do with the company, and they are still keeping the name Reaper for their metal minis and renaming their Legendary Encounters plastic line to the nice name Asylum. But I swear, the name Hobby-Q oozes so much Uncool, it's incredible. I am torn between calling the company now Reaper-Q, or the Artists Formerly Known As Reaper. ;)

- Ark

Jay said...

I agree, Hobby-Q is teh lameness. According to the message on their website they were courting museums and other family friendly sellers so bland probably scored high in "focus groups".