It’s expected now that pop culture franchises are accompanied by a swathe of spin-off merchandise and related products attached to the brand. Whether it’s books, comics, toys, video games – you name it, you can find it. However, in many cases these licensed products take an interesting turn as they themselves spawn their own spin off products. And Transformers, as you would expect, has been no stranger to them.
With Transformers though, it would seem that the merchandise has evolved and developed something of a life of its own and even influenced the shows that spawned them…
In most cases with Transformers, you would expect products to stem from a few core sources. Generic licenses based on our favourite characters immediately spring to mind. Beyond that most products either stem from the TV shows, movies or are (less likely) linked to the comics. Naturally, toys are the most common products on the market but with a finite number of characters per series, innovative ways need to be found to part us from our money.
What Do We Buy?
Traditionally where Transformers has been concerned, we’d watch the current show and then want whatever toy we’ve seen in stores based on our favourite characters. As the initial waves of figures have exhausted those, size and colour variants have been introduced along with extra non-show figures, hoping to capitalise on our series loyalty. Younger audiences are targeted with the spin-off merchandise, that most adult collectors won’t admit to buying (although most of us will still own at least a few of in our collections!).
Regardless, all of these are self-contained purchases and have a limited lifespan. Once the current show goes off air, the toys, merchandise and everything else quickly disappear from high street stores. Apart from dedicated fans, no-one takes an interest in buying older items and that product line ceases to be viable.
There’s a reason why G1 has remained so popular almost 35 years after the Transformers brand was first introduced to the world. While Transformers as a whole continued to reinvent itself every few years to ensure that were new iterations of all the core characters for the toy market, the original line remained in the background. Many who grew up with G1 either didn’t warm to the newer lines or simply preferred the original – it was their Transformers.
It was evident that there was still a market for merchandise and while there may not have been a deluge at first it did happen. DVDs, continued comics from Dreamwave then IDW, video games, new toys including the reissued anniversary ranges. It was playing to both the nostalgia of the older fans and those who were discovering G1 for the first time. G1 was going through a rebirth in a way that no-one expected.
Born Again Franchises
It has to be said that it’s nothing new in geek culture seeing any franchise reborn or getting a new lease of life. Doctor Who all but disappeared from our screens at the end of the 1980s apart from the Paul McGann TV movie but has since become a global hit again not just in terms of television audiences but merchandise again since the reboot. More importantly, it regenerated (sorry!) interest in the classic episodes, very much in the same way that G1 has endured.
Taking a sideways look towards video games, and I’m often reminded of Street Fighter. While the games themselves always did well, the live action movie… well… didn’t. A critical and box office flop it continued the trend set by video game to movie adaptations at the time. However, it did something unusual for the entire Street Fighter franchise though extending it further. Not only did it trigger a range of movie related merchandise and action figures, but spawned it’s own video game.
Other video games have been known to return time after time in a new guise as well. TellTale Game’s The Walking Dead returned as a successful pinball table for Zen Pinball 2. In contrast, TellTale themselves adapted the Borderlands series into one of their own style of story telling games. Classic 80s arcade games never seem to die and are continually reinvented and even casual PC and console games seem to be reinvented in new and original ways as we found with Fishin Frenzy Slot adding a novel twist to the old PC favourite.
This Time It’s War
Probably the biggest we’ve seen in recent years in this respect for Transformers has been the Transformers: War For Cybertron video game and the subsequent games in the series. Set in a pre-G1 era, not only have all of the games been immensely successful in their own rights but the links to G1 through the storyline and voice actors has helped engage fans in a way previous games have failed to right since the first Transformers game was released in 1985.
What has made this series unique is that it’s appeal extended beyond the game itself. For the first time ever, toys were released by Hasbro based on a licensed product. The Generations toy line was spearheaded by new versions of most of our favourite characters as seen in the game. Significantly, the toys proved to be a hit amongst fans of the game and general Transformers fans thanks to the design and quality.
It Never Ends…
Despite each Transformers series having a typical lifespan of just three seasons, everything always seems to keep coming back to the classic 1984 designs and G1. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we’re celebrating any of the “special” anniversary years or not, or any significant events in Transformers history G1 seems to endure. The original series may have only lasted for four seasons in the West and one animated movie, but it refused to die. The UK comic ran for almost a decade after the franchise made its debut, merchandise is still being made to satisfy fans. Even this year’s Bumblebee movie is taking us back once more to that golden era with its 1980s setting firmly planted in G1 lore.
Maybe G1 is that one Transformers era that will be with us forever afterall…?