Monday, August 24, 2015

A Nerf Blogger Had Writer's Block in 2005. What happened Years Later.... Might Surprise you.

The Nerf Ambassador Meetup at #NerfHQ (Hasbro Headquarters/offices, not the old forum)
Vas The Stampede


Seriously, surprise.

 
Whereupon the blogger (and others of his ilk) visited the home of Nerf blasters, and learnt about production, design, marketing, safety standards, the future, and many things Nerf. Rival, Modulus, Zombie Strike, Doomlands, Rebelle, darts, Rounds, foreign markets, and what it means to be Nerfnation. MORE AFTER THE JUMP.
Sorry about the clickbaiting title, I just couldn't help it. But seriously, folks! I know I say this a lot, but when I started this blog in 2005 (and barely posted then, but it was up!) I can't believe some of the opportunities afforded me. And the latest... visiting the Nerf offices in Rhode Island, was fantastic.
 
NOW- I can't talk about everything I saw there. Other bloggers (Nerd Drop, Click Click BAMF, Shining Foam, Lord Draconical, Blaster Labs, Nerf Haven) were there as well, so THERE WILL BE SOME OVERLAP. If you've already read those sources, great. Also, we all also signed a non-disclosure agreement (hereafter referred to as NDA).
 
WHAT I CAN TALK ABOUT IS GREAT (as far as I can say about prototypes.)
 
Coming this Spring 2016 (maybe sometime around January, hopefully earlier in time for the holidays)
 
 
Dual-Strike

There is A LOT I like about the Dual-Strike. First and foremost, it fires regular Nerf darts AND Mega darts at the flick of a switch. The idea is a fine one, and long overdue given the breadth of ammo available. This begs the question about when/if we get a disc shooter combo in somewhere, but that's a whole different story. My initial impression was that it felt like a solid build, the priming arm wasn't awkward, and the almighty selective switch did its job. In a lot of games recently I found myself carrying a Mega blaster, but also something smaller for darts. This eliminates having to carry the additional sidearm, and increases mobility. I definitely hope this is something they continue to tinker with and we see more of in the future. I'll have plenty more to say when I finally get a production model. In general, I like and even prefer using Mega blasters on some level because of the wider surface area of Mega darts, which to me means an increased probability of hitting my target. They may not have the ammo capacity of an N-Strike blaster with a drum on it and may be longer to reload compared to swapping a new magazine in, but those are issues that I address with my play style. The Dual-Strike now tells me I can go with my preference but I don't have to have that normal streamline blaster carried on me as well in case I run out of Mega darts during a game with none in sight.



Nerf Zombie Strike Crosscut


THIS. This blaster has the added roleplay element of the zombie-slicing buzz saw partnered with the blaster, and that's all there is to it. The lower trigger "revs" the soft foam buzz saw, which stops spinning instantly upon contact with anything. More trigger pulls = higher revs and louder noise. Not really much to say here, except some good style points afoot for being able to tag with the saw first THEN shoot. Another interesting idea, although personally I would have liked to see the saw blade rev up and then launch out. :) It's a fun gimmick for me, and one I might use once in awhile just because.



Nerf Rival. 4-4.5 years IN DEVELOPMENT to get this blaster line worked out. Appealing to an older age group. Higher power. These are all things that I've seen groups asking for over the years from Nerf and here it is, 100 FPS right out of the box and decent accuracy. I can't even begin to imagine how much D was poured into the line, but they went through the play testing and everything  with the applicable groups that's what they assured us. In my own experience with the toy industry, selling something this powerful in the toy aisle can be a bit difficult. But given from what I've seen in recent weeks, the Rival line isn't pushed to the "sports equipment" aisle like I've seen with past brands. While I don't enjoy the prospect of buying new ammo, I do enjoy the prospect of higher velocity gameplay that this offers. I have a few more opinions on the subject, but that's for another post!

And that's the new stuff we can talk about for now. Other parts of the trip covered the design, production, marketing, and testing that takes place in the facilities. Along with getting a bit of history walking through the hallowed halls of Hasbro. I couldn't remember the last time I was on a field trip, but this was definitely one of the best.


DESIGN

Trivia: The way I understood it, all roads for a Nerf blaster lead to Marty's (Master Model Maker) desk. It is at his workstation that all the pieces are printed, worked out, and come together. He not only has to account for SAFETY GUIDELINES but also how to take the concepts/designs worked out and make them fit together in the first place. Amazing. Thank you, Marty. The design folks were great enough to walk us through making mockups, coloring, different piece variations, and what it takes to get the blasters to shelves. The 3-D printing setups were also hard at work if you can imagine, and we were able to literally watch parts grow.

PRODUCTION/MARKETING

First, Nerf has marketing concepts/campaigns and possible blasters lined up through about 2017. Just let that sink in, I'll be right here.

Let's put something else out there:
THE BULK OF NERF'S BUSINESS IS IN THE 8-10 YEAR OLD AGE RANGE.  

Yes, they may diversify their market (Rival, Koosh are such examples) but their main sales come from the 8-10 year olds, it's their imaginations they're trying to capture and their sales they are trying to earn. To do that, they need to make TOYS THAT THEY CAN SELL TO KIDS.

That being said, the discussion of high-end blasters akin to the Transformers "Masterpiece" line.... BLASTERPIECE if you will came up. The real question is what would make it compelling (performance is already upped in the other brands, so this will require some thinking.) Personally, a retro blaster (Manta Ray, Stinging Scarab, Perceptor) with Elite ranges would be nice. Or even a high-quality durable Crossbow redux. But they haven't come to a definite conclusion on what a high-end blaster line would mean and until they do it's still just an idea.

The team also took it upon themselves to show us prototypes, and fascinating isn't a strong enough word about how I felt about seeing the evolution of current blasters such as the Hammershot and Slingfire.

Variations of the Nerf Zombie Strike Slingfire on the table

The stories. Oh, the stories.

Zombie Strike was a tough marketing sell as we found out and was in development for years before release. Finding a good 8-10 year old friendly balance with a theme like that was the challenge, and how to make it work. It was a gamble that kids would buy into it from the perspective of many people. Zombies were a hot trend when the line finally did come out, and the rest is history. The zombie theme still works for Nerf, and they continue to support it. Doomlands is them rolling out another stage of their storylines, hopefully to recreate the success of Zombie Strike with a post-apocalyptic flair.

Rebelle was another wary sell, but Nerf wanted to test uncharted waters. Yes, I heard some of the complaints with the initial "core" launch being in purple and pink but that came out of observational  research with younger females (which also showed distinct differences in how they used blasters compared to boys). And from what I've read (not from Nerf sources, I mean business analysts) the line is a success. The fact the line is still being supported (and moving away from purple/pink, now that the main launch is out) is a testament to the line and its reception. The things they've learned in play testing are continuously being adopted into their plans.

I also mentioned the Nerf Nuke from ThinkGeek, definitely not likely in the future. Sorry, y'all.

Nerf does like to take current trends/products and add their own twist. That much is clear when we see new takes on blasters that have similar mechanisms such as the Jolts and bows across the brand.

The folks from the Rebelle team showed us some of the video they take during their playtesting sessions in their specialized "Fun Lab" and Armory, which is a shooting range of sorts, and it was very different from what I expected. It's pretty much a big observational area where they can watch how kids play with products. I saw a lot of target practice, not a lot of player vs player, unless that's video we didn't see. Girls definitely seemed to show more teamwork than boys, fulfilling distinct roles they identified for themselves. Not so apparent on the male side of the results.

One of the biggest questions for me was the lack of direct Nerf involvement in many of the grassroots Nerf/foam blaster only arenas popping up around the U.S. (Detroit Dart Club, Dart Wars, Strikezone Arena, Rochester Nerf League, etc) and beyond many of these places to play with blasters are opening up in some form or another, which are great when available parks/good bunkers are in short supply. The answer is "if you build it, they will come", meaning that there has to be a very good proof of concept and practice before Nerf gets into the business. With as many active arenas as I see now, there are plenty of candidates.

Overall it was a pretty good visit for me. Heck, the fact that I visited at ALL still surprises me. After all the years doing the New York visits and everything, there was a sense of validation I had for being a one man band with an idea and a 3.1 megapixel camera in 2005. But there I was, in the belly of the beast walking the Main Street of Hasbro. As a Kid Eternal, this is one of if not the highest point of my blogging "career". BIG thank you to the execs for letting this visit happen, which hasn't happened for the fan community in almost 10 years, to look behind the curtain at our toys. I know it's a risk but words can't express the appreciation for how you welcomed us in over the past few years to culminate in this.

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO THE FOLKS WHO WERE A PART OF OUR TOUR:
 
The PR folks (you know who you are) - you brought me in
 
 Michael Ritchie, VP Sports Action
Dean Carley, VP Product Development, Nerf
Eric Huban, Sr. Director, Global Brand Strategy & Marketing, Nerf
 Brandi Cooper, Sr. Brand Manager, Nerf
Brian Jablonski, Director Product Design, Nerf
Kevin Dakan, Director Product Development Engineering, Nerf
Capucine Rebuffe, Director Global Brand Strategy & Marketing, Nerf Rebelle
Aaron Mead, Senior NERF Armorer, Sports Action Design & Development
Curt Mahlstedt, Director Product Design, Nerf Rebelle
Maria Silveira, Director Global Consumer Insights, Global Consumer Insights (Fun Lab)
Brian Tolson, Manager Product Development Services, Design and Engineering Development
Marty Fura, Master Model Maker, Design and Engineering Development
 
 
It was kinda like this:

 

No comments:

FOAMME FATALES

RSS FEED - READ AS IT POSTS!