Toy enthusiasts pay attention! We’re back with the latest installment of Indie Toy Showcase. And once again we’re back with Ryan Magnon of Pandamony Toy Brands as his recently launched crowdfund campaign for the second phase of their Alter Nation Action Figures. We covered their awesome toys last year, you can check the article out here.
Phase one of these figures was super well made. From the packaging to the design of the toys, everything is really colorful and instantly draws you in. The toys have a number of points of articulation allowing you to display them in a multitude of poses. In each of the packages you not only get the figures, but also a series of accessories and a mini comic. The figures also have some really fun action features, some even have a color changing feature. They not only standout on their own, but also fit well with some of the more classic toy lines, like Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles. They also look great when paired with the Marvel Legends Figures. The line hit Amazon and was very well received. The figures have garnered tons of positive reviews. The line was even nominated for toy of the year and both kids and collectors seem to love the toys. So let’s get into it and catch up with Ryan as he is in the final hours of their campaign.
John: Ryan hey, welcome back to Indie Toy Showcase, we are super glad to have you with us once again. Before we get started I was hoping you can catch us up. From what I understand the company and you have had a number of ups and downs since the world went coo coo for cocoa puffs.
Ryan: That’s true! Everything is terrible now, but cheer up! It should all be back to normal in two weeks! Let’s see, ups and downs, ey? Well, we pushed hard to get the toys out just before Christmas 2019. We made it in by the skin of our teeth, but I think we missed out on a longer Christmas lead time because we were slightly behind schedule. There is an instant message conversation somewhere between my business partner and me basically saying this was okay because “I think 2020 is going to be our year.” We planned a live-event tour focusing on Comic Cons and mobile kiosks at places like Little League Games. Well, that all went down the crapper. I was stuck paying rent on an office I wasn’t allowed to have employees at, and warehousing on merchandising intended for stores and conventions that were closed.
With those setbacks, we opted to do a Kickstarter instead of take loans or stimulus to keep the brand going. It’s been a learning experience and we’ll probably do it again, knowing what we know now, in order to launch more brands.
John: Yikes. Glad 2020 is behind us. I know you’ve been promoting Phase Two since the first one, tell our readers about some of the main attractions in the P2 line.
Ryan: Phase 2 is finally going to give our heroes more villains to fight in a backyard battle. Alpha and Bomber are the first evil human-animal hybrids in the line. Alpha has huge, articulated wings that help hold up his massive frame. He also has a snake-jaw that looks like something out of predator and opens with a spring-loaded switch. Some of his paint glows in the dark or changes color too! Then we’ve got Bomber who’ll come with one of those sticky, gel-filled balls that splats and reforms. He’ll be able to launch it from his scorpion tail. We would also like to debut our Alter Nation collectibles line, M.U.T.T.S. The Multigenic Utility and Tactical Test Species are high-quality, blind-box animal-hybrid figurines that can connect to an Alter Nation action figure or its accessories.
John: Cool! How does Phase two further expand on the Alternation universe?
Ryan: Our stories so far have primarily focused on our cyborg villain, Sabotage, the primalist anarchists, VYRUS, or had our heroes investigating paranormal phenomena like Shadow People. With the release of the toy for Alpha and Bomber, we’re going to give more insights to what Alpha is up to and why Bomber would possibly betray the only family he’s ever known to join Bomber.
John: What are some things that you ‘ve been wanting to do with this line, but haven’t been able to do so far?
Ryan: Make money! We’re finally starting to recover from 2020 after cracking the online-sales stratagem and downsizing, but it came too late to fund production of Alpha and Bomber. We launched this Kickstarter as a way to speed up that process now that we’re on a little bit of stable ground.
John: I hear you. One would think playsets and vehicles might be in that category. Have you done any designs for them?
Ryan: Heck yeah! We recently premiered a video on our YouTube channel and on the Kickstarter that shows not only concepts for new characters, but some vehicle concepts, like the USS Allen Dulles. It’s an aircraft carrier that transforms into a cruise ship disguise so that the heroes can travel around the world without drawing suspicion. We’re a 1:12 scale brand, and the limitations with that has always been size. Being the creative hacks that we are, we have some ideas to deal with that.
John: Have you seen those giant $600.00 Super 7 Masters of The Universe Snake Mountain? How does the make you feel about not only other toy lines and things that they could get, but your own toy line as well?
Ryan: I figure Super 7 knows their audience and did their research to see if a $600 playset could be profitable. I collect TMNT, Batman Beyond, and Back to the Future stuff. Back to the Future and Batman Beyond weren’t that big with the merchandising, so I am glad to get some toys for those as an adult. Conversely, I don’t collect Playmobil. I always saw them as preschooler toys, and so I never got those BTTF even though the features and details are really impressive. Ninja Turtles has so much merchandising, now I’m only buying 1987 Playmates. I’d make an exception for new stuff if it’s really special like a huge Technodrome display case or something (hint hint). Otherwise, I’d stick to the original Technodrome playset.
So, I say all that because I presume other people feel like me in that there’s just too much licensing going on and the new items need to be special to get my cash. There’s just way too many companies slapping a nostalgic license on their product, and I suspect consumers are going to have a moment of realization where they limit their habit like I had to. For me, the magic feelz of those brands remains in the past.
That’s why with Alter Nation, we never set out to compete for that nostalgia audience, at least not in the same way. Our goal was always to offer kids something new. We lucked out in that we also found an audience with the kids-at-heart. We always wanted to offer cool characters that kids liked and that had a lot of value for their buck. We also made the Alter Nation Agent Auxiliary, a fan club to be able to reach out to fans, kids, and parents directly without the burden of COPPA laws that disproportionately impede small businesses like mine. Kids like it, and adult collectors recognize that we’re taking inspiration from what those evergreen brands in the first place instead of a lame reboot.
John: Are there any improvements, upgrades, or alterations that you hope to make to any of the figures in future iterations?
Ryan: Why? They’re so perfect as they are! In all seriousness, we take a lot of pride in the figures we make. There is honestly something I’d like to improve and that is to oversee production in the United States. It’s frustrating to have to go oversees and rely on third parties for production. Our designers and the factories don’t see eye to eye sometimes, and we basically have to put our faith in outside vendors, who are no doubt experts, but who repeatedly expect us to put our faith in their analysis that an idea we may have for a design improvement won’t work. There have been plenty of times, after having been told that, that I’ve pushed back only for the factory to find a way to make it work. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s happened enough for me to compromise that faith. Overseas production also makes things like limited-runs cost prohibitive. I’d love to be able to produce an order for say 500, get feedback from consumers, then go into mass production or do another iteration. Instead, we have to produce thousands at a time just to make a toy profitable.
Technologically speaking, we have a lot of cool stuff planned for future characters like swimming and flying action figures. I go over that in some of our Kickstarter videos.
John: I’ve seen some larger scale figures that do really well with younger kids. Parents buy them because they are larger and look more durable, but they don’t seem to have much in the way of articulation. Is it because of the size?
Ryan: Good question on articulation and size. We targeted the same amount of articulation as the 2012 TMNT and WWE figures. We thought we’d be able to match their price point and appeal to the same audience. If we were doing more Alter Nation, I’d just keep it all 1:12. Less articulation might make them more durable though. It’s a good thought. I feel bad when kids break the toys.
John: I’ve watched a lot of your interviews and a lot of the review videos for the Alter Nation figures, one of the main things the reviewers wished some of the figures had was some sort of articulation in the abdominal region. As the toy line evolves, do you think that is something you would be able to do down the line?
Ryan: Absolutely! We put extra articulation in the waist for Albert VII because he was supposed to be our most agile character. We’re always open to whatever the consumer wants. There’s a balance with articulation we have to carry. Each point adds more assembly which adds more cost. There’s also the issue of durability in that the more articulation there is, the more disconnection risk rises. We really want kids to be able to play with this first and foremost. We love that some fans want to see them look cool on the shelf, so I hope they don’t take exception to this. Our mission from day one has always been to offer kids something since they’ve only been getting reboots.
John: Ryan, when you were working on the designs, did you encounter any issues with toy construction patents that you had to avoid?
Ryan: We didn’t run into any issues with design patents, no. Most articulation engineering is pretty common, and probably not patentable. With the mechanisms, it’s basically the same issue. You can’t really patent the gear-switch that moves Sham’s tongue or a spring-loaded motion feature like Sabotage and Daart have. Where we did run into intellectual property issues were with the original name. Alter Nation’s working title was originally “GM Delta.” The GM was for Genetically Modified as well as being an allusion to MK Ultra / MK Delta, the CIA’s mind-control experiments.
Our lawyer notified us that General Motors had some technology concept for, I think, and engine and they called it Delta. So, GM Delta was out. We submitted alternate names and started referring to the team in our story as GK Delta. I think it worked out better as a team name. As for “Alter Nation” being chosen, we submitted to our lawyer a list of our top 10 alternate names, and I Alter Nation was the highest ranked one that wasn’t rejected for trademark concerns. I liked it because of the double-entendre anyway. The story deals with how technology is altering soldiers, who in turn, alter the nation as well as the nation, represented by the military, altering the genetic code.
John: While doing market research, did you find there was there anything you wanted to do that just wasn’t meshing with the kids?
Ryan: We had some characters that kids really didn’t like. Birch was the most prominent. I can’t blame them. The concept was weird. We reworked it, and I think she looks cool now. I think bird anthropomorphic heroes are hard to pull off. Something about a beak and feathers is silly. I can’t really think of a popular one off hand. Ace Duck didn’t really get much love and I don’t think were other TMNT bird characters after that except Pigeon Pete, who was an idiot.
I was annoyingly adamant that the team test their assumptions. I didn’t like relying on anecdotes or old trends. We did market research to test the assumption that kid action figure buyers were boys. Based on our research, I didn’t see a lot of evidence to refute this. When we then tested boys, they expressed preference for the male characters. Some adults didn’t like to hear that because we’re in the middle of a culture war. I tend to be agnostic on this stuff and I’m happy to provide whatever kids want. We’re here to serve them, not push them into a side. As the market changes, we’ll follow kids and their parents’ lead. I will say though, as we found an adult audience, those people expressed a desire for female characters and we will be producing those too assuming there’s demand for more Alter Nation overall.
We also had some play features kids didn’t really like. One was a “sonar” feature that would’ve been on Quillroy. There’d be a sensor that would detect how far away a solid object was and a bat “chirp” sound would’ve played more or less frequently the closer or farther the object was from the sensor. One kid said it sounded annoying. We also had them rank all the animal features we had to help us determine what to keep or prioritize.
One kid in testing explicitly said he didn’t like gimmicks at all. Most seemed excited about it, and it didn’t seem like we’d stand out enough without something to set us apart. I made the call to keep them. After our launch, a lot of adults said they don’t like gimmicks either. Some that collect more kid-friendly stuff were super-excited about it. I don’t think even in the adult market we’d stand out much without gimmicks since there’s a lot of toy companies making great, original designs of their own.
John: Have you seen the custom painted Sabotage figure that Little Big Robots had on his channel? It looks like something out of Halo or Gears of War even. I think it shows that with a bit of creativity and know how, that just about anything can be done with these toys, which also shows how great the designs are.
Ryan: I did! I really liked the copper color he did on the arm. It made it look like a coil on the inside of a transformer (the electrical device, not the toy).
John: Well, I think the figures look amazing, I want to buy a set to do some toy photography with them in the near future. I really hope that phase two gets funded and all of the downs turn into ups and frowns turn upside down.
Ryan: Great to hear! Please send me a copy! Thank you for the kind sentiments as well.
John: Where can people find you on social media?
Ryan: @PandaMonyToys covers all of our company announcements. @AlterNationToys we do exclusively Alter Nation announcements and a lot of fun stuff that ties in with our altered reality game. The full ARG is at www.GKDelta.navy
John: What are your hopes for phase two and beyond?
Ryan: We’re hoping Phase 2 getting funded validates the brand a bit. Our fans are the best, and they’ve been so kind with letting us know they appreciate what we’re trying to bring the world. It’s been tough to spread the word and our hope is that the Kickstarter goes viral at the last minute. Maybe with your readers!
John: Is there anything else you would like to share with us before we sign off?
Ryan: I should probably share the link to the Kickstarter, right? AlterNationKickstarter.com will take you right to it!
John: Ryan, thank you once again for joining us at Indie Toy Showcase. We wish you all the best with phase two and all future projects?
Ryan: Thanks for having me!
Check out the Alter Nation Phase 2 indie toys campaign here