ICv2 caught up with Justin Ziran, Vice President of Brand Marketing at WizKids, to talk about the company’s first full year since its acquisition by NECA in 2009 and its plans for 2011.
It’s been a little over a year since the NECA acquisition and the re-launch of HeroClix. How do you evaluate 2010 in terms of the response to your products? What were your top sellers?
2010 was a busy year for us at WizKids; the response to the re-launch of HeroClix was incredible. Each product we released (Hammer of Thor, The Brave and the Bold, Web of Spider-Man and DC 75th Anniversary) exceeded our expectations with each one showing nice signs of growth over the previous set.
DC 75th gets my vote as a Top Seller – the sales velocity of the set was very fast and it was a nice way to end the year.
We made a lot of progress in 2010 because we had a strict focus on filling the product pipeline. In 2011 we'll add a few more goals, namely, expanding into new categories and building out in-store programs.
What do your Marvel and DC releases look like for 2011—will you be able to do anything to tie in with the interest in particular characters related to the movies?
We've announced Giant Sized X-Men, our March 2011 release, and we'll have releases tied to the Green Lantern movie as well as a HeroClix release themed around Captain America. As far as the back half of the year goes, we'll make those announcements as soon as our concepts are approved and have some meat around them.
In early 2010, you announced that you were producing the HeroClix Marvel and DC Classics line for mass retailers. How was the response to that line, and what did it tell you about the HeroClix customer?
The response was good and it allowed us to reach a consumer that doesn't ordinarily buy HeroClix.   We’re always looking to improve our offering and as such, we'll be tweaking the Classics line throughout 2011.
WizKids is producing board games both using HeroClix and without. What will we see in 2011 in both kinds of board games?
Star Trek Expeditions by Reiner Knizia is going to be the first game out of the gate. Set in the universe J.J. Abrams brought to life in the 2009 Star Trek theatrical release, Star Trek Expeditions is a co-op game for one to four people featuring a unique branching mission system that delivers a high level of re-playability. The game features six pre-painted miniatures on Clix bases (Captain Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Dr. McCoy, The Enterprise and a Klingon Battle Cruiser). The release date is June 2011.
Star Trek Expeditions includes:
6 highly detailed, painted HeroClix miniatures
1 game board (23" x 24")
14 Stardate cards
42 Energize Cards
21 Captain’s Log Cards
25 Captain’s Log Supplemental Cards
15 Regular and 5 Major Discovery Tokens
1 Score Tracker, 4 away team cards, 4 turn order cards
3 Custom dice
Star Trek Star Fleet Battles by Mike Elliott and Ethan Pasternak will also release in 2011. The game features over 20 ships and plays on an almost infinitely customizable hex based board system that players build from their collection of hex board pieces. The game will be sold in non-blind format and it will release in the back half of 2011.
Star Trek Star Fleet Battles includes:
24 highly detailed, painted miniature starships (12 federation, 12 Klingon)
24 Ship information cards
50 Galaxy location tiles
200 Command Cards (100 Federation, 100 Klingon)
50 Encounter Cards
76 Mission Cards
Quarriors, a dice building game by Mike Elliott and Eric Lang, is a unique take on the deck building games that have become so popular lately. In Quarriors, a dice rolling system replaces card playing and results in a fast, fun, always unique gaming experience. The game features 130 custom dice, 53 cards and 4 dice bags.
We’re excited about the game because the entire office was taken by this “new format.” We spent many a late night rolling dice with each other and new players. Really fun stuff!
Lord of the Rings will also get a board game later this year. In a fun, new twist for the property, players get to play as the Nazgul working with and against other Nazgul trying to capture the One Ring before it reaches Mount Doom. The game will feature pre-painted miniatures and game play will be driven by story elements the Lord of the Rings fans have come expect.
We're also planning a board game release at Essen this year. The game, by Vlada Chvatil, is a Euro-style strategy board game set in the Mage Knight world.
Will there be Star Trek HeroClix in a Starter/Booster format in 2011?
No, not at this time.   Star Trek Expeditions is sold as a boxed game and Star Trek Star Fleet Battles will be sold in non-blind formats as I mentioned earlier.
WizKids released Halo ActionClix in 2010. Will there be other videogame ActionClix in 2011?
Yes, however, we're not ready to announce the property at this time. What I can say is that the game/property will be 100% HeroClix compatible.
What plans does WizKids have to extend its brands online in 2011?
We're aggressively moving into the online space and we're well into development on a new HeroClix Online platform that will allow players from around the world to play 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The game is currently in testing and will release in 2011. The platform is targeted at players that are either (1) too busy with life (kids, jobs and family) to attend an in-store event, or (2) don't have a store within driving distance.
Like other online ports of table top games, we believe that HeroClix Online will actually enhance the brand experience and bring back lapsed (or soon to be lapsed) players back into the fold. 
We’ll be releasing screen shots and more information shortly. I’ll make sure ICV2 is at the top of my distribution list.
WizKids announced its in-store Organized Play for GSX. What can retailers expect to see in 2011 as far as future OP?
By design, each of our HeroClix releases to date has been supported with an OP kit that gives retailers options with regard to how and when to run their events. We believe the retailers have a better idea of how to tailor a program that works best in their stores and for their customers. 
However, we also realize the benefit of a more structured OP program and have begun testing of our in-store system, code named DaVinci, and plan a larger scale rollout later this year. The system will allow stores to schedule events, manage in store gaming and track ratings, ranking and achievements (all of which will be tied back to our store locator hosted on our Website).
WizKids also announced the return of its Brick promotion, in an altered form, in 2011. Do you expect to continue that type of promotion for other Clix releases in 2011?
Traditionally, the Buy it By the Brick program has been a mail away incentive program for consumers who buy 10 boosters (a HeroClix Brick) at a brick and mortar retail location. We're trying an in-store distribution model for the Giant Sized X-Men brick figure. We're not married to one distribution model over the other.   In the end, we want to provide the best value to the retailer and consumer and will adjust our program as necessary.
What can you tell us about WizKids’ Zero to Hero program for 2011?
Zero to Hero started out as an experiment to test an idea we had. We asked ourselves - What if we (WKs) took a high involvement approach to developing a store into a HeroClix store? We set about testing this idea with a local store, A Little Shop of Comics, in Scotch Plains, NJ. We met with the owners, formulated a plan to drive customers to a "learn to play event" and then followed up with weekly Organized Play events.   WizKids took an active role in developing material for the store, having it produced and helping with whatever and where ever we could - always remembering to assist the store rather than mandate a course of action.
The program worked REALLY well - the store went from zero players playing HeroClix to a weekly event with an average of 10 people participating on any given week. We continue to work with the store to drive attendance and increase new player acquisition. 
The program is still in the "pilot" stages and we're working with our next group of stores to see if we can drive a similar level of interest. Of course, each store is different and we're trying different ideas to see what works best. After phase two, we'll solidify our best practices and take a bigger bite with a larger number of stores.
Once again, the program is rooted in the belief that the "store knows best." WizKids’ role in that equation is to provide great product, support, advice (when needed) and design/marketing resources as required.
It looks like WizKids is doing some production of board games for NECA’s broader, more mass licenses. Is that something we’re going to see more of in 2011?
To date, we've done games to support Gremlins, Goonies, A Christmas Story, Freddy vs. Jason, and The Hunger Games properties. We're always looking for ways to broaden our audience and will continue to develop games to support new properties. There are several ideas in various stages of business development - we'll announce them as we our plans finalized.