Over the weekend, Hisstank.com, one of the best sources for information about the 3 3/4″ “Real American Hero” version of GI Joe reported that they’d confirmed that Hasbro had granted a license to another toy company, JazWares, for GI Joe, presumably the RAH incarnation. ”
They don’t claim to have any details as to what the license entails, but they did do a follow-up report showing that JazWares has GI Joe listed among the many licensed properties that they’ll be showing in a couple of weeks at The International Toy Fair in Nuremburg.
This has generated quite a bit of speculation among the online toy press, and I don’t want to miss out on all the fun, so I’m going to jump in with even more.
First, a little background is in order: Hasbro is one of the world’s largest toymakers. After decades of major success with their own toys, along with many mergers and acquistions, Hasbro currently owns the rights to several of the most recognizable toy brands in the world, including GI Joe, which has been one of their most lucrative original creations since the introduction of the original 12″ figure back in 1964.
Hasbro has gotten so big that they tend to only focus their energies on toy lines that bring in massive amounts of money, like the toys they make under license from Disney, Marvel and Star Wars, and their own Transformers line.
However, Hasbro owns so many properties that still have name value that they license out some of what they consider their less-valuable lines to other, smaller toy companies. That way, Hasbro acts much like Disney does with their properties—all they do is collect an upfront fee and royalties, but they don’t have to risk any of their own money developing, manufacturing and distributing the toys.
In recent years Hasbro has farmed out the rights to toys and brands that they own like Tonka (which is switching from Funrise to Basic Fun this year), Micro Machines (coming soon from Wicked Cool Toys), Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toy (sold by K’Nex) and several others.
Internationally, Hasbro has leased out the rights to Action Man, the UK version of the original GI Joe, first to Alan Hall for 40th Anniversary sets, and more recently to Art + Science for well-made 50th Anniversary sets, and more disappointing mass-market figures (reviewed here).
It’s not unheard of for Hasbro license out major brands to other toymakers, but there are some other facts that are casting doubt on just exactly what form the deal with JazWares will take.
JazWares currently makes most of the action figures based on the videogame, Fortnite. At the moment, this is about as close as you can get to printing money. Last month JazWares unveiled a new line of Fortnite figures in the 3 3/4″ scale that Hasbro used for the Real American Hero GI Joe line beginning in 1982 (seen left).
JazWares is cash-rich and has been buying up other toy companies. Just a few months ago they bought Wicked Cool Toys. Wicked Cool Toys had already licensed Micro Machines from Hasbro. Suddenly, JazWares found themselves working hand-in-hand with Hasbro. JazWares was already sub-licensing Fortnite to Hasbro’s Nerf division and producing Nerf accessories, plus JazWares makes Peppa Pig toys, a property which Hasbro just acquired last month in a deal that also gave the venerable toy company ownership of Death Row Records, the infamous rap label.
So we know that the two companies have a good working relationship, and that Hasbro may be more open than ever to thinking outside the box.
This is where the speculation gets a little iffy. The deal between Hasbro and JazWares could simply be for GI Joe vehicles to show up as Micro Machines. Or it could be a deal for role-play toys or something else. JazWares makes Domez, a line of blind-bag collectible mini-figures, and they make Ro Blox and Rocket League collectibles, so those are also possible places where a GI Joe license might fit in. They might even find a way to insert GI Joe into their Fortnite line, although I think that’s pretty unlikely.
It is worth noting that a lot of GI Joe collectors have been snapping up Fortnite sets like the one below to add to their collections.
The big rumor and wishful thinking on the part of many collectors is that JazWares will produce a full line of 3 3/4″ GI Joe action figures, vehicles and accessories. They’ve shown that they’re capable of doing this with Fortnite, and since Hasbro has shown no interest in doing anything with GI Joe since they just had a disastrous time with the last GI Joe movie in 2013 it seems at least palusible that Hasbro might be willing to farm out such a line.
This would make all the sense in the world. That movie was yanked from distribution at the last minute so that it could retroactively be turned into a 3-D film. Unfortunately Hasbro had already shipped toys to retailers, and with no movie in theaters, sales were abysmal. The following year Hasbro released a smattering of toys to mark GI Joe’s 50th Anniversary, but since then it’s been all quiet on the Joe front at mass market retail. The time is ripe for Hasbro to simply lease out GI Joe to a company that could treat it as more of a priority.
Except for one thing.
Paramount has a new GI Joe movie coming out later this year. It’s a solo movie, starring Snake-Eyes, the most popular figure in the RAH line, but it is a GI Joe movie coming out from a major studio, and you have to believe that Hasbro is contractually obligated to support it with a full line of toys, including action figures. (I think the image at right is from a previous GI Joe movie, but the character wears a black suit and facemask, so you at least get the idea)
Snake-Eyes, due out in October, is a prequel, telling the story of the mute Ninja before he joined the GI Joe team. I can’t see Hasbro passing up the chance to make figures from this movie that would be compatible, size-wise, with their Marvel Legends or Star Wars Black Series action figures. I’d expect 12″ figures, too.
However, it’s possible that Hasbro will cherry-pick the most popular action figure sizes for themselves, while letting JazWares produce a 3 3/4″ line, which will make the collectors happy, and give Hasbro an additional revenue stream.
It’s also possible that Hasbro will focus on the movie-based figures, while letting JazWares develop an “evergreen” line of Real American Hero GI Joes (maybe without Snake Eyes), to run as an adjunct to their own line.
Again, this seems like a win-win for Hasbro and for collectors. Hasbro would reap the benefits of the movie publicity for their line, while collectors would get something more akin to the toys they grew up with. Plus it’d simplify the book-keeping a little, since, although Hasbro owns GI Joe outright, they have agreed to pay Paramount a royalty fee for toys based on the movies they make based on Hasbro properties.
Licensing the non-movie toys to another company might lessen the confusion a bit.
And it’s also worth pointing out that someone at JazWares has an obvious affection for the RAH Joes. This new line of Fortnite Figures is practically a valentine to the Joe Team.
Of course, this could also be a case of Hasbro granting JazWares the license for GI Joe outside of North America, possibly marketing the “evergreen” line overseas that Hasbro has been rumored to be developing for months, while Hasbro handles the US distribution. Stranger things have happened.
And it might turn out to be disappointing, like a line of blind-bag Domez toys based on the Snake-Eyes movie.
Rumors like this will start flying like crazy as we approach Toy Fair season. We won’t know all the details until the big show in New York next month.
Until then, speculating is half the battle!