OPINION: Kre-O - A Sound Foundation For A Major Toy Line - PART 1
The World Loves Brick-Based Play Experiences...
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The verdict has arrived. If there was any question before 2014, there is no longer. The world loves brick-based play experiences. Just ask LEGO. Between the privately-owned brand’s journey from near bankruptcy in early 2000’s to their extraordinary debut full-length feature in 2014, The LEGO Group has proven that they are not only one of the world’s foremost toys but foremost brands. Period. They’ve also shown the other big guns in the toy industry how popular (and profitable) interlocking building systems can be.
Hasbro has known this for some time. I recall their attempt to fill the void as LEGO's popularity was fading 10 years ago with Hasbro's own Built-To-Rule (“BTR”) line, which hoped to capitalize on the company’s already-popular brands. BTR combined their highly popular 3 ¾” scale figures with buildable vehicles (and one can only imagine what they might have created for Star Wars had they been allowed to do so). But Built-To-Rule was short lived and rightly so. I was actually in one demographic for whom they were reaching - persons who wanted a “blended” play experience that used the pleasure of building and creating in conjunction with collecting a favorite property. The issue with this approach was the fact that if I wanted to combine G.I. Joe and LEGO, I could... with G.I. Joes and LEGO elements (as seen in the below builds I did one afternoon in 2013).
And while Transformers was also part of the Built-To-Rule plan, one will note that the line changed the property at its core by virtue of the play pattern. BTR buyers were not really getting Transformers as much as they were getting “Rebuild-o-Bots”, since the whole idea was to build the “vehicle mode” then take it apart to build the “robot mode”. When you can’t actually transform the toy, it ceases to truly be a Transformer; rather, it’s a brick-built robot or a brick-built truck - or something you could already do with LEGO. After its forgettable three-year run, BTR became another in the long list of LEGO-imitators (remember Playmates Intellibricks? I know you don’t, they were only around for 15 months over 10 years ago).
With the BTR experiment a distant memory for a handful of children and a subset of geeks, Hasbro re-entered the building fray in 2011 with Kre-O, their trademarked imprint on South Korea’s Oxford building-brick toy system. The pairing of the toy companies seemed to be as mutually beneficial as any in recent memory. Oxford had the piece patents, designers, and manufacturing infrastructure to produce a humble yet quality brick-based toy; Hasbro had the branding, conceptualization, and the distribution chain to make those toys more widely available in a variety of licenses. It was a win-win.
Or win-win-win, as some might say, for Hasbro and Oxford are not the only victors in this recent success. Yes, the rumors are true. Hasbro’s latest step into the building block market seems to have found some footing (albeit rocky footing), due to not only brand recognition but also quality product.
Be assured. While I have been a long-time, Hasbro Fan (as archived here and other corners of the internet), my recent fandom has been almost entirely LEGO based. As an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO), I was skeptical of Kre-O. But I was glad to have been proven wrong and made a believer. Kre-O is a very strong, versatile play system that offers fans of building block toys not only a wide-array of new elements but also features and concepts. And collectors of bricks should not dismiss them. A vast majority of Kre-O and LEGO parts are compatible, with Kre-O offering strong “clutch power” (the ability of the bricks to retain their hold despite wear, tear, weight, and disruptions) at a price comparable with builds of the same size and complexity as LEGO. If ever there was a new brick line that deserved a shot, it’s this one.
Granted, like other lines, Kre-O had some ups-and-downs. Inasmuch as G.I. Joe has had success at Toys"R"Us and Transformers continues to show itself a cemented brand in the current zeitgeist, Hasbro has made some missteps with the concept. The CityVille Invasion line (which, thankfully, will continue in 2014) seems to have been lost in the shuffle, and the latest two film-based properties, Battleship and Star Trek, were shelf-warmers. To their credit, however, this is not Hasbro’s fault entirely. Battleship was sunk by an unsuccessful film, and the Trek reboots aren’t really for Kre-O’s demographic. Frankly, Into Darkness was entirely adult-oriented and reliant on prior knowledge from the fanbase to be appreciated fully. An 8-year-old probably found the film serviceable at best, but not enough to warrant buying a transporter set with Scotty.
That being said, I believe in Kre-O, and I want it to succeed. Next Month, I’ll share a list of things I believe Hasbro can do to continue Kre-O’s ongoing success, not only in the immediate future, but for years to come. Remember, good toys mean everyone wins. Companies make money; collectors get new product to chase. People get employed, and children get to play.
And who doesn’t want that?