With LEGO dipping its toes into the collectible figure market in June, its just recognizing the potential this type of endeavor might have. Another firm, however, has been playing in this territory for nearly 10 years...Kubrick.
Kubrick (it's name and logo an homage to director Stanley Kubrick) is a line of collectible figures produced by Japanese toy company MediCom Toy Inc. With more than a resemblance to LEGO minifigures, Kubrick was started by Tatsuhiko Akashi, founder and president of MediCom, with an unnamed former LEGO employee.
Kubrick come in three sizes (6 cm, 24 cm, and 60 cm tall) and have appeared in a variety of themes from Star Wars to Nightmare Before Christmas, and even to figures based on Andy Worhol and breakfast cereal mascots. The first Kubrick figures released in 2000 were from the popular Neon Genesis Evangelion series of manga and anime.
The majority of Kubrick 6 cm (100%) figures are sold in 'blind boxes'. The buyer has no idea regarding the contents of the package until it is bought and opened. In addition to this randomization, 'chase' figures are dropped in for additional appeal. 'Chase' figures are extremely hard to find, adding to the appeal for die-hard collectors.
So what can LEGO learn from Kubrick's experience?
News to date has suggested that the collectible minifigures to launch in June will be sold in blind polybags. The obvious concern is, "can't you just feel the polybag to determine which figure is inside?" Reports form various the various toy fairs this year, suggest that it would be very difficult to do so.
There is also a question if all 16 minifigures have an equal chance of being bought from a case. To date, there has been no mention of uncommon or rare figures to boost the collectability. The idea of 'chase' figures would also be intriguing, say a chrome variant.
I believe LEGO has also attempted offering 'figs' in various scales. Who wouldn't want a nearly 2 foot LEGO Batman or C3PO for the den! Midifigs? Maxifigs?!
Finally, there is one area that I think could be a missed opportunity for TLG regarding the collectible minifigures, controlling distribution. When I first heard about the collectible minifigure series, I was under the impression that they would be a LEGO Store or Shop at Home exclusive. All news reports I've seen so far suggest that they will be sold everywhere. That is not to say that they still won't be difficult to obtain, but it seems to diminish the collectible nature of the product. Here's hoping they will have an early launch in LEGO Stores in the same way some sets do prior to arriving at big-box retailers.
Recognize that I'm an AFOL (which according to the LEGO 2009 annual report, only accounts for 5% of TLG sales) who owns a BrickLink store specializing in selling minifigures (drop that percentage again), and is within driving distance of a LEGO store (less than 1%?). Of course I want them to be hard to get!
Regardless of my rantings, I hope you can find something to enjoy from Kubrick or other collective figure products.
(Picture from ToyStop.net)