Amid all the hustle and bustle of the 2009 New York Comic Con, I got an opportunity to speak briefly with Kanji Tashiro of Square-Enix's Merchandising division after checking out their display booth. Certainly one of the spreads we most look forward to checking out at each event, Square-Enix has really come a long way in the relatively short time they've been producing toys and figures, and it was exciting to tug at the sleeve of the man responsible for much of that and ask him a few things I've always been curious about.
SE has a lot of very exciting things in store for its fans, and if you're one of them, you might like to hit the jump and learn a little more about the process of bringing your favorite characters (game-related or not) to life.
Tomopop: First off, how does the team decide which characters should become toys and figures?
Tashiro: First and foremost, we want people to know that we don't choose figures based on how well a game sells. We like to listen to what the fans like; which characters are their favorites, and if there's a demand for them, we look into that as well. One thing we're very careful about is the fact that certain characters are only popular in the states or only popular in Japan, so we like to bring over the characters that are most universally popular so that the product has a better chance of being loved by lots of different people.
Tomopop: When people hear the name Square-Enix, they immediately think videogames. What drove the company to want to break into the toy and figure market?
Tashiro: At the beginning of the business, we were of course outsourcing the creative development of our merchandise. But when you're outsourcing, there are a lot of things that you have to compromise. Maybe there's not enough time to work on the project, so the quality has to be compomised there, or contractual obligations that limit the quality. The team decided to take things into their own hands so that they could work on projects until they were completely satisfied with the quality. That has developed over the years, and now the team can say proudly that there aren't many companies out there who can create these kinds of quality products in such a short amount of time. Our merchandising team has really developed.
Tomopop: One thing that's always surprised and pleased many fans is the very reasonable prices for your merchandise. We see comparable offerings from other manufacturers going for far more than what SE charges for its products. How are you able to produce such quality pieces while still keeping the price points so low?
Tashiro: To be completely honest, we feel that the prices may have been set a little too low in the beginning for certain products. For example, the Play Arts action figure line goes for about 3,800 Yen in Japan. At the time those products were brought over, considering some of the exchange rates and such, and the fact that it was the first time those products had been brought over to the states, the team wanted to be sure that the products would be accessible to everybody, so they set the price range between $19 and $24. Right now we think that may have been a little low, so as the merchandising team has developed, they have decided to make some of the lines a bit larger in size, while still making sure that the price fits right for those products. We want to make sure that fans still look at that product and think that it's definitely worth the price with the level of detail and quality in each one.
Tomopop: It's good to hear that trend will continue! So what's next for you and your team?
Tashiro: Definitely, at the core of production is the videogame side of things. The merchandising team wants to create products that are able to bring dreams to life for our fans. But moving forward, as you can see, Square-Enix has begun to expand outside of our videogame properties. There's now the Disney line and the Peanuts line, so if you keep your eyes open for future projects, there will be a lot of products that fans will look at and think "What? Square enix is making these now?" It will be something we really want fans to look forward to.
And I can say as a huge SE fan myself, that we are very much looking forward to it indeed. Not only is it incredibly exciting to see some of our favorite videogame characters and items come to life, it's also exciting to see Square-Enix branching out as a toy manufacturer beyond its own IPs.
Thanks to Tashiro-san for taking a moment to speak with me, and to Amelia for translating the Nihongo that he spoke much faster than I could understand. There's a lot of very cool stuff coming down the pipeline from Square-Enix, so stay tuned to Tomopop for the latest on all of it.