Monday, June 22, 2015

Questions Answered During Nerf HQ Hangout 2015

The season is upon us, Warriors -The smell of new blasters is in the air! That and we had another chance to sit down with NERF HQ to ask some burning questions about their products. We asked some pressing questions that have developed on the community and got to watch fellow bloggers and enthusiasts in action as well. You'll be seeing their coverage pop up as well, I'm sure. Blasterlabs, Foam From Above, Lord Draconical, Nerd Drop, Nerf Haven and Shining Foam all had good questions to throw out there during this exclusive Google Hangout with design, brand and marketing team members.

Every time we get together with the team at Nerf HQ, whether it's on Hangouts, in person at release parties, or just trading e-mails - you can tell that they all have an actual passion for what they do. There is a lot of fun in playing with these toys, but a lot of fun in making them too! We aren't allowed to share visuals and audio from the event, but if I could, I guarantee that I could pick out dozens of smiles for you from the entire panel (both HQ team members and NIC members).

There was a bit of an intro from Michael Ritchie, the VP of Global Brand Strategy and Marketing before we jumped into the questions. They confirm that they are working on blasters and product into at least 2017 right now. As you'll recall, we talked about how they plan and work ahead. They are adding finishing touches like TV commercials and physical product releases for 2015. They are meeting to finalize plans for Spring 2016 and the rest of that year. For 2017, they are pretty deep into handling some of the complexity of the blasters and lines already. Very excited about Modulus and all the ways you can customize it. They said that they've been working on the Rivals line for 3 to 4 years -experimenting with different types of projectiles. Zombie Strike continues to be a fan favorite for both kids and teens. It holds a special place for the Nerf team too. Being their first line of "theme"-based blasters, the team says they've been really excited to see it perform well. Doesn't sound like we'll see Zombie Strike die off any time soon.

Perhaps the most personally exciting news is word of a trip to Hasbro. Instead of the Manhattan trip that Nerf had been so awesome to bring us out to the last couple of years, we now get to go into the belly of the beast! That's right -in August we'll be taking a special trip out to Rhode Island to tour the facility with the team! I'm sure there will be a non-disclosure agreement of some kind that will apply to several things on the trip, but you know we'll bring you whatever we can back!!

Without further ado, let's get you to those questions and what we felt the takeaway from them was.

This is mostly verbatim though some paraphrasing does occur:

Nerd Drop asked about whether we might see Modulus accessories expand beyond just the Modulus line. Will we see them expand to other lines (such as Elite)?

Yes, we are planning to expand the Modulus with additional blasters and accessories. We will keep them in the Modulus line. They are, of course, going to be compatible with most other Nerf accessories and blasters.
Click Click BAMF: The Apollo and Zeus from RIVAL look to be streamlined -great accuracy and new ammo with no other bells and whistles. As you move forward, will they get anything additional, like accessories?

Streamlined is a good adjective. We were testing with kids in the 14+ category. We got back that they wanted something that was more streamlined or realistic. We've come up with a strong design language for it. There are a lot of different places we can take RIVAL next, nothing we can talk about right now, but definitely plans for a broader offering. We do expect the design of the RIVAL to stay similar to continue to appeal to the kids in that age bracket.

Blaster Labs asked Nerf what went wrong with the Elite "XD" blasters (based on after-market range and velocity testing). Is it just a marketing spin to reintroduce old blasters or was there something else intended with that?
The goal is to push ourselves to increase where possible -changes in the mechanism or whatever. Sometimes there's a time difference between when we get out packaging and blasters versus when we get our testing. We sometimes have to decide what to put on our packaging before we really get the data back. In a lot of previous cases we were selling ourselves short. 

Now with XD in many cases we didn't make a lot of internal changes. We are a little surprised to hear that things may have gone backwards. We have gone back to the team to see if that's true and what may have happened. That was definitely not the intent. The intent was to reconcile the testing and the packaging.

Is there a testing protocol you adhere to that you can share with us?

Maybe that is something we can get clearance to share with you when you visit. We go through rigorous testing during the development process. Product also gets testing by vendors, Hasbro Far East and legal/quality assurance so the idea that there would be a bogus claim would be difficult even if it was something we were trying to do.

Foam From Above asked what is the plan for RIVALS as far as foreign markets go due to restrictions on toy blasters. Is it even on the docket for foreign markets?

That is the next thing we are actually needing to figure out. We have to go country-by-country to figure out how our product lines up with their regulations. We have to go country by country to see how it lines up with regulations. It will end up looking like a staged rollout. The goal for first release will be in the US and a couple of other countries that we know we can release them in. We are probably expecting to release RIVALS in another 6 to 10 markets throughout 2016. Then we go broader from there.

Phil from Nerf Haven asked when the Nerf team work with play-testers, do they ever play in a competitive way -what rules and score-keeping might you use?

For the most part, we keep it open and let the kids play how they want to play when doing testing. We're more interested in what they think of the ergonomics, ease of use/how their using it. We keep things open rather than scripted. How does the product function and how do they play with it naturally?

In some of the global markets, they do want enter into structured play. We use some of the old Dart Tag tournament rules such as Last Man Standing and Capture the Flag. In some regions around the world playing with these kinds of toys is not intuitive. So in some markets, it takes education. Structure with eyewear is encouraged!

Shining Foam asked if we will ever see scopes that will actually magnify?

We would love to do that. There is a cost challenge. It's always price versus value. It's about finding a way to do it without bad optics. It's something that's always on our wish list.

As we move forward, we're going to push the boundaries with Modulus and RIVAL. It's where we can look at accessories as performance accessories rather than just something to put on your wall. It's something that we look at every season and we promise to continue to look at it and figure out what the market can bear.

Picture courtesy Foam From Above
Nerd Drop asked if there were any more plans for Combat Creatures -perhaps a Nerf Drone in the future?

We did see success with the Combat Creature. We especially saw success  where there may be sensitivity to blasters. We definitely think there's a door open. Wouldn't rule it out. (I feel like we should wink after every comment.)

Blaster Labs: Are we nearing the end of what can be done with traditional ammo? If so, is the RIVAL an answer to that?

The very corporate answer is that we will continue to push ourselves to figure out what's possible. We always want to push to figure how we can get better. However, better can be defined in many different ways like speed, distance, accuracy, capacity. It's very difficult to hit everything with one product. RIVAL is something that focuses directly on Speed and Accuracy. It may not hit everything, but it focuses on the 14-year-old and how they want to play. We will keep pushing ourselves on darts and foam while we expand into other things too, but we don't think we're at the limit yet. Obviously we've got to and want to consider the safety limits.

Click Click BAMF: The Nerf Grenade is a constant request. Everyone eventually asks for one when they get into Nerf. How many times has the Nerf team asked the same questions? How many times have you hit the drawing board asking, "How can we accomplish this thing that people keep asking for?"

A LOT. We get that question a lot. It's been a pretty consistent question for us at least for the past 13.5 years. We are always up against safety. Maybe when you guys get here we can show you some prototypes? We've come up with some things that are okay, but you want to put out something competitive. You worte about the ThinkGeek Nuke, right? We don't -obviously, work with them. But you do want a payoff. We're right there with you -it would be a great thing. It's a constant challenge. We just want to make sure that we do the right one when we do it. 

There's also a cost consideration. It's one of those "holy grails". It's always on the table. Per the other members of the team, Brian Jablonski has promised to make one before he dies, but we don't want to lose him yet!

F2A: What lessons were you able to take away from the Cam blaster? Where do you go after a blaster like that?

It all goes back to people sharing their videos. It's still crazy to think about the tens of thousands of videos that get uploading to Youtube every week about Nerf. The biggest feedback we had is that as you watch the playback, the motor is loud and you can't here the talk between people. If we were to go back, we'd use a different type of blaster. Like with a lot of our successful items, we always think about what the next successful iteration would be. The challenge we face is the more innovative we get, the more cost is involved. We have lots of kids that are dependent on their parents for income and we have retailers. We have to balance against what the majority is willing to pay. Innovative blasters are great but a lot of the country can't afford those. We have to be balanced in our approach.

Lord Draconical: How do we join you guys? How to we go about getting on the "other side of the sofa"?

It depends on your discipline. When we're hiring we usually looking for the education as well as the years of experience on the outside. The design and development is more on the technical side. Details are posted in the job openings on the website. 15 years ago, Michael Ritchie started as an intern and now he is a VP of Global Branding.

Nerf Haven: Will there be anything like Dart Tag coming in the future? Is that what was planned with the RIVAL line? Anything other line that encourage player versus player instead of just target shooting, etc?

We don't have current plans to expand Dart Tag right now. RIVAL was somewhat positioned to be the reinvention of Dart Tag -at least in regards to being a head-to-head, team sport. There are a lot of markets that drive these experiences like the licensed arenas in the UK.

Shining Foam: With so many blasters out right now, it's hard for people to pick a favorite blaster. Is there a possible plan for a holster that can carry more than one blaster. 

Great input. Perpetual Play is our textile license partner right now. It's not something we can talk about specifically right now, but we want to get as much feedback from you guys as possible on August 6th. We want to make sure we are truly addressing the needs of our consumers. Perpetual play has had a lot of success with selling storage which is what parents and kids had been asking for. They've also seen success with individual holsters so we are asking them to expand that range. If we can give them specific input, even better.

Lord Draconical: We had a really sweet double-action in the Snapfire a little while ago. Is that tech still around? Any chance seeing that action in something new -like a space revolver with a Western spin? (Rumored line Doomlands 2169 for those of you who haven't heard of it yet.)

We do like that double-action and you can never say "never". It can be a little difficult for smaller hands, but we love the mechanism. It gets put on the table for various concepts and we're sure we'll see it out there some time between now and 2169.

Nerd Drop: You guys do a lot of interesting things with Rebelle. The Agent Bow uniquely stands out. Any plans to moving those bows/arrows over Zombie Strike or Elite?

There is a good possibility. We do a lot of the testing with projectiles across the board. Testing on the Rebelle side really brought out that girls wanted a more accurate archery-type arrow. Then we tested it with boys and they liked it too. Not talking specifics, but we like to share mechanisms and projectiles if it matches what the consumers say. Now that we know the consumers like it, it's really a matter a where and when.

Click Click BAMF: We know innovation can raise the price as talked about above. Lots of positive reaction on the Split Strike -the term "quad wielding" is already making some rounds! However, a lot of opinion about the suggested price of $20 for a pistol being high. Is it simply the tech to be able to split the blaster into two that's raising the price or is there another driving factor there?

Remember that even though it does combine into one blaster, it really is two separate pistols with two separate pistons in there. That's the easy answer. It's two different mechanisms in two separate housings. It's really two blasters than you can choose to use together.

It's one of our favorite blasters we can't wait until it comes out. It is a Walmart exclusive -we're trying to give unique features to our exclusive blasters so that they each have a unique blaster or feature no one else has. Really easy to use. It works really well together or separately.

Blaster Labs: Can we expect more limited release type blasters -like the idea of a special holiday blaster. Why not do some really cool Zombie Strike release for Halloween?

What we try to do is design for the two major release times of January and August. Anything that's in the Spring we would release around Easter and under $20/$25 is the sweet spot. When you get into the Fall, you're into a little more spending flexibility from the parents when you get through back-to-school into Halloween, into the Holiday. The Rhinofire for example was an exclusive 10/1 or 11/1 release instead of 8/1.

There will be other cases where there will be a recommendation to the retailers on when to drop that product. Doominator is a perfect example. It's a fantastic blaster that will be available 8/1 but we would recommend to the market around the world to drive it in October because of Halloween. But it doesn't need to be something exclusively unique for Halloween. It's more the timing of when you advertise it.
Retailers reset their shelves for toy twice a year; once on January 1st and once on August 1st. Beyond that it becomes a little difficult to have a separate launch date. You can get things to launch out of the aisle on an end-cap or something around Christmas. So it makes sense to be on the shelf 8/1 or 1/1 but then promote them some time later.

You've got the spare time in the Summer, but with the larger price points theres just not the flexibility in spending. When you go over $40 or $50 the purchase becomes occasion specific (birthday or Holiday).

Lots of information there. We know that they are working constantly on a Nerf Grenade concept. They've asked Perpetual Play to expand their holster line. They were happy with the results of the Combat Creature and won't rule out a Nerf Drone. As usual, we can expect them to expand upon their existing and upcoming lines. They are already working on that with the Modulus and RIVAL for sure. There was certainly a nod to the concept/product that has leaked out about "Doomlands 2169". We are all expecting to hear more at San Diego Comic Con about that. No promise of anything specifically special for a Holiday release, but they usually bring out SOMETHING for at least Christmas.

Thoughts? More questions you want asked when we visit HQ? ~Chris

1 comment:

  1. nerf has 7 diffrent brands in cluding normal nerf