The Variant Discussion
This is an idea I pitched at E3 2014...I have to say that this one was very well received. Will it be implemented, who knows. It is just as likely as it is unlikely. However, I felt it was worth sharing with the Skylander Community as it would help alleviate one of the frustrations dedicated players/collectors face.
So, one of the most common comments, or messages I have received over the years centers around variants. Not necessarily who will be one, how they are selected, or what a good price for them is, but rather something like this, "1ofWiisdom, I have been checking my local stores daily for weeks in hopes of finding _____ Variant and I never found it. I saw other people find it...I tried this last year for ____ Variant. What am I doing wrong? What can I never find any Variants?"
Well, this one is kind of sad to answer. A lot of people remain totally oblivious to how a retail store works. It isn't just happy-go-lucky employees who gleefully stock items they have zero interest in for you to purchase. There are people that work in retail because it is all they can find, they have to (ie high school, college, parents, or someone else who needs the flexible hours a big chain can offer), they want to (ie I am going to start stocking at this store, then work my way up to Assistant Manager, and then eventually open my own chain/franchise), and those who have ulterior motives. You need to be aware of those with ulterior motives.
Not everyone at Toys'R'Us, Target, Best Buy, GameStop, or Walmart is there due to scheduling, it being close to home, or because they aspire to learn the company from the ground-up. Some select their place of employment based on "incentives" and I am not talking stock options, insurance benefits, or 401k. Some people are very well aware of what is collectible, what is hot, what is rare, and what they can sell it for...
Most people with this mind set will do just as you...They come in on weekends, after work, or when they run errands and comb the shelves looking for the rare toy, chase diecast, or in this case, Variant Skylander. In a perfect situation the person who spends the most time in pursuit, would usually wind up the benefactor. The variable here is the employee faction.
Whereas Activision, Matel, or whatever company is cranking out something special with a nod towards their "serious collectors" all of that can halt when the product is intercepted BEFORE it gets to the end user. For a lot of you that report to me how you "try really hard" to find these Variants it has nothing to do with your timing, dedication, or luck...but everything to do with what goes on behind the scenes.
Now, I want to be clear, not all employees do this, and some stores likely have management/ownership in place to prevent this from happening. Others, however, are part of the problem...
You might know the exact time UPS, FedEx, and the Tuesday/Friday trucks hit your local Toys'R'Us. You might be the first person in-line for the big Wave 2 release, and you still may NEVER find a variant. If you haven't already picked up on it, here is what is happening...
We will say Chopper is selected for a Blue Metallic Variant (this is totally theoretical and only for example purposes...plus I find it highly unlikely he'd get a Blue Metallic Variant). Instead of the employee walking the box/boxes over the display the night before, or morning of and one-by-one pulling the Skylanders from the box and shelving them, someone will notice the difference...They will see 5 Choppers that all look alike and 1 that is Blue Metallic. This one gets held back, bought by the employee, and probably 99% of the time hocked on ebay where someone pays ridiculous money for what they should have given $9.99 for...
Another, and more likely example, involves an employee monitoring ebay, fan sites, and forums and learning of Blue Metallic Chopper, GITD Funny Bone, or Crimson Head Rush and then specifically checking the boxes for these characters. Whether they are 1 per Case, 3 per case, or totally at random they will make a point to check EVERYTHING before it hits the shelves. They also involve other employees to help with this (ie to cover their off day etc). This means you have a near ZERO Percent chance of ever finding a variant at that store.
I see people online report this, I see employees brag about it, and I see ebay accounts of pirates who pillage quantities of these things to sell for their personal, financial gain. That is not what the parent company intends, and it is not beneficial to the fan base.
I know, for a fact, this happens locally. There is a very well known lady who works at Walmart for the sole purpose of nabbing "hot toys/items" and then selling them online. She is known at Target, GameStop, and Toys'R'Us. It is people like her that make the "Limit 1 Per Customer" signs a thing of reality. She will use her kids, grandkids, and I'm sure any other friends to go in and buy up the stock to get around these rules. Most stores are even aware of her husband and kids. You should hear the stories I heard about her and the Nintendo Wii at launch back in 2006. She has been doing this for AT LEAST that long and will continue to do so until people quit paying crazy money for what she pirates.
I was also very disappointed in my local TRU when I was invited to their back room by electronics (apparently that happens when you reserve a Nintendo Wii U and they think they "accidentally" sold it) and saw a shopping kart FULL OF SKYLANDER VARIANTS. For those of you that got the Stone Zook and Stone Whirlwind on launch and wonder why I didn't...that would be why. GameStop is known for pulling variants out at their distribution center...They use to randomly ship them, and still might, but they tend to just pack them in some crazy expensive fan bundle.
Basically, what I am getting at is the very stores that should be putting these items out on the shelf, for you and I are holding them back and then pirating them on ebay. Again, not what is intended by the manufacturer, but it is what is going on...
So, how can we combat this? What can be done to make it more likely variants wind up in the hands of the end users who are intended to land them? I had two ideas for helping this become the norm...
First, variants could be more subtle. Instead of a cool, translucent green Rip Tide, why not slightly tweak his armor from gold to silver, or make the sword fish a different color? This would not stick out as well, but would still likely be learned and abducted by employees.
My second suggestion, and what was very well received goes like this...That Blue Metallic Chopper I described above? He isn't Blue Metallic anymore...he looks just like the other 5 Choppers in the box. Nothing flashy, fancy, or out of the ordinary...just 6 identical Choppers ready to be shelved.
However, when you get home with that Chopper you just bought, you place it on the portal and Wham-O! "Special Chopper" appears when you boot up the game! The employee didn't know, scalpers don't know, people pillaging the shelves for a "different looking" Skylander don't know, and ultimately YOU didn't know until you got home and put him on the portal. I realize employees could stick them all on the Portal or something, but that is a bit tougher to validate than simply slicing a box open and leaving it in the break room to buy and sell after your shift.
Is it perfect? No. Does it take away a cool looking variant form? Yes. But they would be just as collectible given the end circumstances. I know this would open the doors for people online to sell a regular Chopper advertised as a "Special Chopper," but the auction sites help hold people accountable AND as I've said for 3 years now, you have no business paying $100s for something that cost someone $10. I know it is your money and you can do with it what you want, but no one intends for the variants to turn into someone high dollar thrill ride. It is supposed to be players running in to look for a certain character and happening to see a varaint. That planned joy has all but been eliminated by the greed of employees and lack of managerial oversight (or plain and simple corruption). For those who argue the "value" would be hurt with identical paint jobs, I would suggest making them in lesser runs...The concept was brought about, just as with all toys/collectibles, to be a nod for the diehards..Those who comb the shelves hoping to get lucky, and this would help keep that option open.
In my mind, it is a far better option than simply continuing on and letting corrupt managers, greedy employees, and maniacal ebay pirates the luxury of easily intercepting variants and making ridiculous money off of them.
Let me know what you think of this idea, and if you have any of your own. How many Variants have you found locally, in the store, as intended? Do you pay big bucks for rare figures on eBay? Do you know of your local stores "puling" variants before they even hit the shelves?