Sunday, 6 May 2018

Bandai Gashapon development lead speaks on product development and challenges ahead

I stumbled across a blog entry on the official Bandai Gashapon blog which was posted in mid April. Written by Bandai Gashapon development lead Kawa, it discusses upcoming news in Mobile Suit Ensemble and Senshi Forte, but also discusses the current state of development. Available in Japanese only (of course...) I went through it with the help of Google Translate and even though the translation is far from perfect there is a lot of interesting information inside. I wanted to share some of these findings with the risk of butchering the quotes a bit so my apologies to Kawa-san for that.

The post in full (with more illustrations) is found here:

Kawa begins by talking about product development and managing the lifecycle of a figure series. Some select quotes from the text:


"Like last year, I would like to share with everyone about the future development while looking back a bit.
*Since my personal opinion is probably included, it is different whether to proceed as stated this way...."

と、宣伝を挟みつつ、昨年と同じく「アンサンブル」から振り返りとこれからを簡単にお話ししたいと思います。 シリーズの企画が始動してから約2年。シリーズが発売してから1年ちょっとが経ちました。大変ありがたいことに皆様に受け入れていただくことができ、順調に開発も進んでおります。 ここに関しては、昨年の振り返りでの「しっかりと継続していきたい」という部分がうまく機能してきたな、という印象です。 ここからは、どのように安定したシリーズとして成長をしていくか?がテーマになるかと思います。

"And, with the advertisement in mind, I would like to tell you a little from the "ensemble" as well as last year and look forward to the future. About 2 years since the planning of the series started. A little over a year has passed since the series was released. Thanks very much for accepting everyone, we are progressing smoothly development. Regarding here, it is the impression that the part of "I want to continue firmly" in the review of last year worked well. From here, how to grow as a stable series? I think whether it will be the theme."

Currently under scrutiny: Mobile Suit Ensemble (left) and SD Gashapon Senshi Forte (right).

ガンダムに限らず、シリーズ商品はなかなか継続展開できるまでのベースに乗せることが難しく、3弾以降の継続ができないものが多いのですが、現時点は8弾の原型も進行しており、EXシリーズの開発もかなり拡大している状況です。 これからは「売上を落とさないこと」「更に拡大すること」が重要になってきます。 言い換えると「皆様を飽きさせず継続して購入してもらえるものを作り続けること」「新規のお客様の獲得や、より多く購入したい思ってもらえる商品の展開をすること」になります。 つまりはもっと良いもの、面白いものを提供するという単純な話ですね。

"Not limited to Gundam, series products are difficult to put on the base until it is quite easy to continue deployment, many of them can not continue after the third series, but at the moment 8 prototypes are also progressing, EX series Development is also considerably expanding. From now on "not to drop sales" and "to expand further" becomes important. In other words: "Continue to make things that will not be bored by everyone," "To acquire new customers and develop products that you want to purchase more" will be. That is a simple story of providing better things and interesting things."

Let's stop here and reflect a little bit on what he said. Kawa talks about the early deaths of figure series that survive only to the third volume. Presumably because that's how far the initial planning of the series went. Bandai likely sets up a release schedule with a certain number of volumes and a predetermined initial timeframe, and then evaluates its continuation from there. Although we are talking about Gashapon here I can immediately think of three Shokugan figure series that went down this exact route:

- Build Model Gundam (3 volumes, 15 figures, ran between January and October 2015)
- MSG Mini Kit Collection (3 volumes, 48 model kits, ran between June and December 2016)
- FW SD Gundam NEO (3 volumes, 18 figures, ran between February and September 2017)

Reading between the lines it looks like the axed series run out of steam in the marketplace, perhaps the spoilt Japanese customers are a fickle bunch losing interest in "old news" easily, or perhaps it is because we tend to get the same old figures released all over again?

Kawa then goes on to discuss the development of Mobile Suit Ensemble, with the new EX07 Double-X Gundam having just been announced.

EXに関しても、アンサンブルは「重奏×重装」というテーマを最大限に楽しむためにはより大きなパーツやバリエーションが多くほしくなるシリーズなので、より多く商品を展開できればと考えております。フルアーマーユニコーンなんかもどこかで再販できればなあと思うのですが・・・。 そして、EXシリーズに関してはガシャポン戦士も同じなのですが数量のベースがあがったらより安く提供できるように動きます。

どうしてもプレミアムバンダイ限定の商品は仕様がMAXなうえに受注少数生産のため、結構立派な値段がしてしまうのですが、過去にこのブログでコストの仕組みについて簡単にお伝えした通り、数が伸びれば値段を下げられるというのが真理です。地味にザンネックとか、今回のガンダムDXも当初予定よりは下げているのですが、まだまだ伝わりづらい感じかなと思います。 シリーズが育てば育つほどより購入しやすくなっていくのが理想ですね。(それより前にさらなる生産環境の悪化がやってくるかもですが・・・)

"As for EX, as for the ensemble, it is a series that you will want more parts and variations more in order to maximize the theme of "heavy x heavy", so we believe that we can develop more products. I wish I could resell something full armor unicorns... And as for the EX series, it is the same as the gashapon warrior, but it moves so as to be able to offer it cheaper if the base of quantity goes up.

Although the product limited only for premium Bandai is MAX specification and ordered for minority production, it costs a pretty good price, but as you briefly told about the cost mechanism in this blog in the past, if the number grows The truth is that you can lower the price. I think that I feel that it is hard to convey yet, such as Zanneck or the Gundam Double X this time is also lower than originally planned. Ideally it will become easier to purchase as the series grows up. (It may be that further deterioration of production environment comes before that...)"

Well, Kawa discusses what we all know and deal with on our everyday figure hunt; increasing the volume lowers the unit prices, and I think also if more people were supporting the MS Ensemble we would see prices dropping even more. The outlook currently seems a bit positive though, with the latest EX products having been cheaper to manufacture than already planned for, presumably because preorders are going up as the series becomes more popular?

Kawa next turns his attention to the state of the current super deformed figure line, the SD Warrior Senshi Forte line which I am a huge fan of, by the way... :)

ガシャポン戦士に関しては、昨年立てた目標が達成できたとは言えないものの、こちらも皆様に大いに支えていただいておりここまで走り続けることができております。 ガシャポン戦士は売れ行きとしてはアジアなどの販売も含めると過去の200円時代を上回る数量を売り上げており、過去最高水準となっております。

・・・が、コスト面では限界を超えてしまっていてここからどうすれば継続して提供できるか?という大きな課題を残しつつ、更に昨年テーマとしていた「組み立てやすさ」と「量産品質」に関してもまだまだ課題が多く残り、今期はそれをどう解決していくか?が課題になります。 シリーズ自体はこちらも継続していくつもりで、現在8弾の原型がスタートしております。

"Regarding the gashapon fighter, although it can not be said that the goal set up last year was able to be achieved, this has also been highly supported by everyone and we are able to continue running to this point. Gashapon warrior has sold a volume exceeding the past 200 era, including sales of Asia etc. as a sales, and it is the highest level ever.

...Has exceeded the limit in terms of cost, how can I continue to provide it from here? We remain a big challenge, and furthermore there are still many issues regarding "ease of assembly" and "mass production quality" that we had been the theme last year, so how can we solve this problem in the current term? Is an issue. The series themselves are going to continue this time, now 8 prototype starts."

Wow... Senshi Forte is in dire straits... Although the series seems to be getting continued support (for now), it has depleted its budget and been marred by quality issues both in terms of manufacturing quality and the finger-crunching mess that is their assembly. This is why it takes so long for me to review them by the way, because putting them together makes my fingers ache for days afterwards.

¥200 Zetas from SD Warrior NEXT (left) vs. ¥300 and ¥370 versions from Gashapon Senshi Forte and FW SD Gundam NEO (right).
Kawa talks about Gashapon Warrior performing better than the 200 yen era. This likely means that the sales of Gashapon Senshi Forte combined with its predecessor SD Warrior DASH has exceeded the combined sales of SD Warrior NEXT.

For a bit of perspective here, NEXT had 24 standard volumes and at least five specials (realtype colour swaps etc.) selling for 200 yen per figure for a total of 147 + 37 figures. Add to those seven sets of P-Bandai sets that are probably not included in this comparison. DASH and Senshi Forte have this far produced 13 standard volumes and three specials for a total of 77 + 20 figures. These series also have eight P-Bandai releases and some other limited stuff.

Kawa continues:

ガシャポン戦士に関しては何よりもまず「継続すること」がテーマになります。 正直、300円で走り続けるのは先にも述べた通り限界を超えてしまっているのが現状です。 今300円で展開しているのは私の意地の部分が非常に大きいのですが、それも長くは続かない(値上げは避けられない)というのが現実です。しかしながら、できれば300円という価格にはこだわりたいので、どのように展開をするのか?を模索しております。 例えば、ガンダムタイプのちょっとゴテッとした機体がいる弾は400円~500円(これ昨年テーマに挙げてたやつですね)にしつつ、より多く数を並べたい量産機がラインナップされている弾は300円で提供・・・など。

"Regarding gashapon warriors, the theme is "to continue" first and foremost. To be honest, it is the present condition that we continue to run at 300 yen has exceeded the limit as stated earlier. It is my reality that the meaning of my nature is expanding at 300 yen now, but that does not last long (price increases are inevitable). However, since we would like to stick to the price of 300 yen if possible, how do you deploy it? We are looking for. For example, volumes with gundam type aircraft have a lineup of mass production machines that want to line up more while placing between 400 yen and 500 yen (this is the theme listed last year) Offered in yen ... etc."

So in short, even though the prices went up 50% the volumes are down and the product complexity is up. We can perhaps expect Senshi Forte to be retired before long and replaced with a new figure series conveniently priced at 400-500 yen. If that happens, they better not start reissuing the same mobile suits all over again. : /

「遊び」がメインのアンサンブルに対して「コレクション性」がメインのガシャポン戦士は、とにかくシリーズを終わらせずに継続して種類を増やしていくことが大事と考え、いろいろな手を使って継続していきたいと考えております。 そして、昨年から引き続き「組み立てやすさ」と「量産品質の向上」はテーマとして取り組んでいきます。

"The gashapon fighter whose "play" is main to "ensemble" is considered to be important as it continues to increase the variety without ending the series anyway, continuing with various hands We would like to go. And from last year we will continue to work on "ease of assembly" and "improvement of mass production quality" as a theme."

That's right, this is a hold up! Give us your hands! Then we're gonna put some nice holes in you too...
I think what Kawa means here is that figures with interchangeable components are key because they add playability and allows for the customization of your own designs. We can already see this development in Mobile Suit Ensemble where all the regular figures have the exact same dark grey hands and many weapons come with holes punched through them for combination purposes; great for weapon swapping, less appealing from an aesthetic point of view of course. The smaller 300 yen figures still retain their own custom hands; it looks like we can expect these to become standardized in the future.


"The fact is that the production is not catching up even if the factory is fully operated, the fact that the production is catching up is a current situation of the gashapon warrior. Efficiency improvement of mass production is an essential issue, but in reality it is felt that if mass production quality can be improved if it can be improved naturally."

Apart from cost issues alone, there is also a mass production aspect of this scenario, as the actual production capacity is apparently already strained. I recall there were delays in the Senshi Forte line earlier this year and Bandai are clearly looking at ways to solve this issue through smoothening the production process.

そのための新機構なども研究中です。 例えば新ジョイント。この間ブログに乗せたやつよりも複雑なバージョンの検証とかもしてます。 共通パーツが増えることによって、より効率的かつ均一な品質で作れるのではないかと・・・。 外観上はほとんど変わりませんが

"We are also researching new mechanisms for that purpose. For example, a new joint. I am doing verification of a more complicated version than the one that I put on my blog during this time. By increasing common parts, it can be made with more efficient and uniform quality... Although it does not change almost on the appearance."

Here we have an actual example of what Kawa is talking about. I have a feeling we are looking at a prototype of the successor to the Senshi Forte line. The design seems to take some input from the Mobile Suit Ensemble, specifically from the torso area.

Bandai development concept for what is a likely evolution of the Gashapon Senshi Forte series.
外観上はほとんど変わりませんが。 腕がグイン!と横に広げられるようになって。 ライフルがよりかっこよく構えられるようになったり・・・。 上腕の巻き込みがなくなる制限があったり、そもそもこんなパーツ増えたらもっとコスト死ぬんじゃん!とかあって、まだまだ実装には程遠いですが、検証作業や調整は続けております。


"Although it does not change almost on the appearance. The arm is GIN! And be able to spread laterally. The rifle will be able to be kept cooler... There is a limitation that the involvement of the upper arm is lost, or if such parts increase in the first place it will cost more! Although it is still far from implementation, verification work and adjustment are continued.

... It is a meaningful word, conforming to an ensemble."

Kawa then closes by reinforcing the wish to continue development of the SD Gashapon figure line and thanks the readers for another year.

ガシャポン戦士も引き続き全力で続けていきたいと考えておりますので、よろしくお願いいたします。 ということで、今年も「アンサンブル」「フォルテ」の2本の振り返りをしつつ『今期も全力で繋いでいく』という気持ちが伝われば幸いです。 今期も1年間、よろしくお願いいたします。

"We are thinking that we would like to continue gashapon warrior with full strength, so thank you. So we are pleased to hear the feeling that "We will continue to connect with you all this season" while looking back on the two of "Ensemble" and "Forte" again this year. I'd like to thank you for this year as well."

I think this is dynamite information and wish there was more of this type of insight available for the international audience as well. I remember trying to find contact information for Bandai's Shokugan line a while back, after endless trolling by their different websites I landed on the general customer helpdesk where all requests are to be made in Japanese only... Pffft. I really would have liked to interview some of the designers behind STANDart or Converge. For now, we have to make do with the scraps that we can find.

1 comment:

  1. I think CORE version of FA Unicorn will be exactly the same as EX version, saves for some metallic paint. Already ordered one and crossing my fingers. I did not have the original EX version anyway, and the price has rocketed so its better to get CORE one which is actually cheaper than the current market price for EX.