At Toy Fair, we talked to WizKids CEO Justin Ziran on 2012, what they’re seeing in customer behavior, 2013, a new HeroClix brand not previously revealed, and whether WizKids has grown beyond its old peak in the last decade.
What are your reflections on 2012 overall for WizKids?
It was a big year for us. We saw a lot of organic growth in HeroClix, specifically via our storyline OP program starting with Infinity Gauntlet. HeroClix had a very big year, call it double digit growth, and really served as a launch platform for 2013. In 2013 we have a lot of titles, both on the HeroClix platform and on related platforms on the board game side of the business. It’s shaping up to be good for both the HeroClix core line as well as for the line extensions that we’ve done via the board games.
Do you find HeroClix customers buy all brands or do they focus on a single brand?
One of the things we’ve done differently with WizKids and HeroClix is that we’ve unified the platform and we’ve made every license use the same game engine. So whereas in the past we had ActionClix, HorrorClix, and HeroClix, all of which used the Clix combat dial but had their own unique game system, this new version of WizKids has taken the approach of unifying the gaming systems where all the licenses share the exact same platform. That’s been a very, very big difference.
Honestly, at the beginning we didn’t know if was going to work, but the proof has proven itself out in that we’ve been able to create larger critical masses at the store and more players coming in on an acquisition basis. So the Star Trek player now walks into the store, learns the game and now, guess what? He now knows how to play Halo; he knows how to play HeroClix; he knows how to play Bioshock Clix. It’s a very, very, very positive experience for us.
In other words each of these additional brands that you’ve done on the HeroClix platform brings in a new group of players?
There’s definitely some overlap, but the feedback we’ve gotten at GTS, or Trade Day at Origins, or Gen Con, is that these new brands are bringing in new players. We ask all the time, show of hands, how many new players have come in on Star Trek? And undoubtedly, 20-30 people say "Best thing you ever did unifying the game platform."
I know both anecdotally and quantitatively that we’re seeing new players come into the stores.
How close do you think you are to the level at which your HeroClix fans don’t have enough money to buy the number of products that you’re putting out?
I feel bad if everyone is buying everything. We’re running at a pace that’s pretty hard to keep up with. What we’ve seen is the comic fans stay within the comic territory. The Star Trek fans stay within the Star Trek territory, obviously there’s some overlap.
The videogame people?
Videogames are so ubiquitous at this point you see a dabbling from everybody. More importantly, I think what the videogame offerings allow us to do is get us into GameStop and get on the counter at a GameStop and bring people that may have played HeroClix years ago and lapsed out back into the fold. Or get the new guys to say "what is this cool little thing that I love?" If he asks that question and gets to the Website, that question is usually answered by feeding him to a new hobby store. Then, that’s where we see the acquisition.
The growth that we’ve had wouldn’t be possible without significant acquisitions.
What are you excited about for 2013?
We have a new storyline OP program, "Fear Itself," which is going to test a new model where we’ll be selling booster packs through an OP kit. So the OP kit will now have a booster set pack embedded within it, which is a big deal for us. We’ve never done that before.
When does that start?
In June. That’s going to be the big hobby program.
We have a couple of new games coming out. Trains and Stations by Eric Lang is a classic train game where you move commodities from city to city.
We have a lot of mass market opportunities with Lone Ranger, Hello Kitty, Pac Rim—those are all kind of nice mass market.
Batman Gotham City Strategy Game is the nearest thing on the horizon that is the most exciting to me. It’s the first time that we’ve used SwitchClix in a product where we’ve created a really good area control board game—call it a Euro area control board game. We’ve embedded some HeroClix styles in there that are easily converted to a tabletop game. So I imagine we’ll see both board game adoption and HeroClix adoption. I think it will do some pretty remarkable things for us.
Where is HeroClix now compared to its growth curve the first time around?
Hard to say. I wasn’t around the first time around, but I know how big it was. We’re big. We’ve grown quite a bit.
Have you passed the first time around?
I don’t think so but I don’t want to curse anything. We look like we’re on a good trajectory and the gun’s loaded in terms of our portfolio, so I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll pass it.