Monday, March 1, 2010

Who wants the Watchmen?

Wizkids recently announced the release of a Watchmen Heroclix collectors set, which begs the question, who wants the Watchmen?

The answer, of course, is fans, collectors, and perhaps the ever present power gamer looking to exploit the game dial of an uber-powerful Dr. Manhattan.

So why did the Watchmen announcement come as something of a surprise to the Heroclix community?

Before Neca took the reigns, when Heroclix flew under Topps' banner, it was publicly stated, in more than one Q&A chatroom and forum thread that the powers that be would never authorize a Watchmen set. Reasons were always murky - some speculated licensing rights were an issue, while others questioned the marketability of a product that promoted some seriously screwed up people masquerading as heroes. In a game that was remarkably kid friendly, upselling a set full of murderers, rapists, and psychotic malcontents (with leather fetishes no less) as a mainstream product was a gamble big corporate wasn't willing to take.

Heroclix fans then took it upon themselves to "Dial H for Hero" and create their own custom heroclix figures and dials. Modifying existing sculpts was the easy part - determining how to translate the heroes power set to a clix dial caused some real online arguments. Many felt most of the Crime Busters deserved to be Bystander Tokens, and a strong argument could be made as such considering the overall lack of action in the Watchmen series itself. Sure, there's moments punctuated by some fighting, but no one in that universe has any "real" powers outside of Dr. Manhattan.

Regardless, the 2009 Watchmen movie certainly helped move the property into the mainstream spotlight, and renewed interest in the intellectual property, something Neca is attempting to capitalize on. Will they succeed? Early rumblings put the 25 figure set into a $99 MSRP bracket (giant blue Manhattan sold seperately), a point which has caused outrage among many fans used to buying blind boosters.

I personally find the $99 price tag refreshing - it's a "one and done" purchase that guarantees a complete set from an initial outlay of cash. No more buying blind boosters in hopes of the one rare you need. No bazillion copies of the common Captain Carnage. No outrage over chase figures. Chase Rohrschach in civilian identity won't be fetching >$100 on ebay.

Is it an expensive set? Of course this all depends on level of want, and income. Some argue the $4 per figure price tag is too high, compared to the current ratio in "grab bag" boosters (~$12 for 5 random figures). I suspect fans will buy this set regardless, and I don't think a lot of extra product will sit on shelves (the way Icons, Universe, and Indy boosters seem to have this problem). I'm all in favor of promoting less waste.

Because the set has a limited appeal compared to the more mainstream characters offered in DC & Marvel random packs I expect Neca may be hedging their bets with Watchmen, and I don't blame them a bit. The cost of production, and licensing fees likely isn't cheap for a one time product, and I expect a smaller print run overall, so I'm not appalled as most are by the sticker shock.

Likewise, this isn't a set meant to be picked up by a newcomer to the game - it's rightfully geared towards adults at specialty stores. This isn't a stepping stone for new players. Children won't be persuading parents to buy Watchmen boosters at Target with a $99 price tag.

But Mom, it's got SOOOPER HEROES!

Imagine the awkward conversations between parent and child about the "nekkid blue guy" the kid pulled out of the department store booster pack. The angry phone calls to Neca. The Senate committee to investigate the corruption of our youth. Perhaps the price point is worth circumventing that headache as well. I don't take it as a serious threat, but it is no doubt a point to consider in a society bent on frivolous litigation.

The promotional ads for the original comic series ran with the tag "Who Watches the Watchmen?" a nod to the question put to Socrates in Plato's The Republic, regarding the use of ultimate power. For the Heroclix set, a better question might be:

Who wants the Watchmen... for $99?

No comments: