Comic Shenanigans

Adam Chapman discusses comic books, related media, both alone and with guests. Periodic interviews with professionals in the comic book industry. Weekly comic reviews.

December 11th, 2015    

Talkin’ Heroclix Special: A Conversation with Justin Ziran, Part Two

Welcome to the Comic Shenanigans Podcast!

For this special text-only edition of Talkin' Heroclix, we had the distinct pleasure to interview Wizkids President Justin Ziran for the show. 

This is the second of three parts to this special edition version of the Comic Shenanigans show, in this exclusive text-only format. In this second part, we discuss more of the design and tournament-related aspects of Wizkids' business.  In this installment, Justin calls in some help, as his R&D Team and Tournament Team get in on the question answering!

Once you've read the following interview, head over to, where you can post about your reactions to the questions, and post follow-up questions. Justin will be stopping by the thread here and there to answer questions and respond to some of the feedback to the answers below.  Please keep it civil and respectful, that's my only request.  On with the show!


Ben Reilly asks: “Are there plans to release more “holiday” figures like Krampus and the Christmas Elf?”

JAZ: Yes, we plan to continue to make the holiday figures, like the Abominable Snowman released this December.  As with any of our plans, if people generally like them we like to do more of them.

 Matt Miller asks: “Will there be a Dr. Strange movie set?”

 JAX: Not this go-round. We are always looking for opportunities to create new versions of all the characters that everyone loves, but at the moment we do not know enough about the movie itself to be able to create a set for it.

 Matt Miller asks: “When can we expect a new physical PAC and rule book?”

 R&D Team: This is a project that we’ve been spending quite a bit of time on, and what we’ve learned is that if you have a deadline for it you either need to compromise on the scope or you risk making mistakes.  Instead of having a firm date, we’re going to focus on the process.  What we can tell you is our plans are by mid-2016 to start talking with the Heroclix fans about the details and get their feedback before everything is locked down.  We are going to try to smooth out the wording throughout, clarify the turn and action order sequence and remove advanced rule ideas from the rulebook found in starters while making it easier to understand. Some mechanics will be tweaked, but we are going to make tweaks, not wholesale changes, to how the game functions.

 Matt Miller asks: “What can we expect for this year’s tournament season?”

 Tournament Team: We’re really excited to be expanding our regional event, the Wizkids Open, to more stores in the U.S. as well as branching off to some other countries, with our bigger player bases including Canada, Mexico, Chile, and several countries in Europe.  These events will allow players to win some great exclusive prizes and earn qualifications for their National Championship events. Speaking of National Championships, we’re happy to report that the U.S. National Championship will be taking place sometime in April and will be in New Jersey (exact date and location TBA). Following the National Championship events, we’ll be returning to the Origins Game Fair in June to hold our yearly World Championships.

 Additionally, the remainder of this event season is shaping up to be our biggest and best yet with the advent of the Side Event Challenge.  The Side Event Challenge allows players to earn points through playing in side events in order to win fantastic prizes. The players who earn the most points each day and across the entire event will earn bundles of convention exclusive prices and products that aren’t available anywhere else!

 Matt Miller asks: “Will there by a TMNT con-exclusive in 2016?”

 JAZ: Long Answer: C’mon now. Short Answer: Yes, maybe even more than one.

 Matt Miller asks: “Will there by any more retail Brainiac Skull ships made/sold?”

 JAZ: Yes, and it is available December 16th (U.S.) at local game & comic stores. Other territories may lag a bit. Quantities are limited but we based our print run on past variants and we should be OK.

 Matt Miller asks: “Which is your favourite clixed character?”

 JAZ: Ziran the Tester – of course.

 Spideyguy51 asks: “When will we see a TMNT dial preview?”

 JAZ: We should start sometime in February.

 SpyderNick88 asks: “How is Wizkids working to expand the audience of the game?”

 JAZ: Big question with a long answer but I’ll try to touch upon the big topics.

 There are two groups we focus on:

 1. Comic Book/Gamer audience: Shops in the local game/comics shops. Predominantly, males 18-35 years old (if you are reading this, this is probably you). The majority of the consumers in this group are gamers. We know we have collector-only segments as well, and hybrid gamer/collector and collector/gamer.

 2. Comic Movie-aware audience: Shops in larger chains (Target/Wal-Mart) and might know about local comics/game shops but probably doesn’t shop there; enjoys gaming, loves comic movies. Males ages 12-25.

 For Audience #1: We’re keenly focused on this audience and work with Diamond Comics and our distributors around the world to make sure we are well represented in comics & game stores. In the U.S., we’re outlining a program where each new comics/game store has an introductory Heroclix/Dice Masters section within the store.

 To explain how we grew Audience 1, we should review the expansion of WizKids OP and HeroClix OP.

 Six years ago, the player base size and game store penetration was such that we believe anything more than a monthly event was overkill.  Obviously, there were pockets of HeroClix hotness where weekly or even daily play could have been supported.  We thought the best course of action was to let the retailers make that judgment call. In the end, the retailer is our eyes and ears and we’ve had good results when we left tactical decisions to the stores that are actually interfacing with the players.

 About three and a half years ago, we launched Storyline OP, which triggered tremendous growth in our player base, attendance and general interest in the line. Our weekly attendance numbers exploded. By all measures we had done something special. However, as with all things in business, there were some issues that we needed to deal with – the kids were big (20-player kits) and the program was expensive, despite our efforts to sell it at our minimum price; stores that had small HeroClix groups felt tempted to sell the OP kits.

 We found that the smaller stores couldn’t participate in a cost-effective way. You were paying for a 20-person kit and only seating 6 players, so by the time you ran your 2nd event most prizes had been awarded and you were sitting on a decent amount of OP product.

 We spent a good amount of time working with retailers and observing player feedback and took our first pass at some changes.

 We reduced the size of the Storyline OP kit from a 20-player kit to a 10-player kit. We also introduced a VERY low cost monthly OP program. Lastly, we reduced the contents in the release day OP kits to make them an easy starting point for stores without a large dollar commitment. We knew we’d lose some of the release day excitement but we also knew we were going to move to a pre-release model in the coming year or so.

 Results: More stores can fit in Storyline OP into their store’s budget.

 More stores are running weekly organized play using the monthly kits and the amount of content in the monthly kits stretches much further and covers the gaps between sets.

 The results have been great, although our players per store metric actually dropped. What happened?  Using fictitious numbers: if we had 200 players playing in 10 stores (20 players per store) before the changes, we now had 350 players playing in 30 stores (12 players per store). It looks like we shrunk when you look at an individual store, but when you look at the total number of players, we grew quite a bit. That’s understandable because there are more stores running events and the player base has spread out into those stores. 

 Our challenge over the coming years is to grow the players per store number on the larger number of stores running events.

 We’ve doubled down on the WizKids Event System, and it’s come a long way since early versions. The database is still relatively new, and as we build the data on stores and players, we’ll be relying on it almost exclusively to make decisions with respect to our games (e.g. who gets pre-releases, Storyline OP, OP and product allocations, etc.). You’ve probably noticed we’re tracking player data as well. Eventually, we’ll be able to award invitations, byes and prizes to standout players in the community.

 If it isn’t already obvious, we’re moving a lot of our decision making toward the factual data coming out of the WES. That should actually help on a variety of fronts and remove a lot of the “fog of retail” when it comes to allocations.

 All of that said, if you, your store and your events aren’t in the WES, there is a good chance that we don’t know about you.  By example, when a store calls me and says they need 3 OP kits, my first question is: “Are your players and events recorded in the WES?” If they are, it becomes much easier to validate and respond to the request.  If they are not, it’s a much longer process and the answer will likely not be in the store’s favour.  When you consider how valuable the content of a Storyline OP kit is relative to what the store pays, you realize what lengths people will go to in order to get an extra kit.  The overwhelming majority of stores play by the rules and we’re trying to make sure they reap the rewards of being great WizKids stores.

Back to the original question: We have a lot of programs in the hopper to get HeroClix in front of a comic-aware customer that doesn’t necessarily shop at the game/comics store. You’ll see more of these programs in the future.  The key to these programs is migrating them from a mass-market store to their local game and comic stores.  Part 2 of that equation is making sure that the comic/game store runs a quality event and is welcoming of the new player.  In the future, you’ll see WES programs that incentivize that sort of environment.

 From a rules perspective, we’ve got some work to do (see the earlier answer above), but one of our goals is lowering the learning curve to a new player by introducing concepts and ideas as they need them rather than everything all at once. We want to keep all the great decisions while not scaring off the new player.  There’s also some legacy edge cases that cause a lot of rules questions that we’d like to address (this is only a few  very specific rules).

 TO BE VERY CLEAR – We’re not going to 2.0 the game, it’s not good for business.  We are looking at changes that we think the majority of the audience is going to appreciate, understand and embrace.

 RavenProject asks: “How doesWK plan to use the information collected through the WES?”

 JAZ: See above

 Wilx asks: “Does WizKids plan to expand its official tournament presence to more conventions?”

 Tournament Team: Yes and no. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re expanding our regional, store-based events programs.  These events have been very popular and it seems like the WizKids Opens are a format that stores and players are digging, and we are going to try to grow those so that they’re happening more often.

 Tyroclix asks: “In SM/WW, there seemed to be a design change to make the lower rarities contain less complex powers?  Will that remain going forward? Was this done to make the game more accessible for newer players?

 R&D Team: Essentially yes.  Hand in hand with our long-term goals with the PAC and Rulebook was a long hard look at dial design, especially at the commons and uncommons.  A new (or existing) player should be able to field an easy-to-pilot team and have a good time at their local store or at home with their friends.  They may not be the most competitive team, but they’ll quickly grasp the game, what their team needs to do and have a good time.

 Phantalien asks: “Are there plans to release starters to big box stores?

 JAZ: So here is how it works (very simplified). In mass-market stores you have to earn and maintain your “slot.” In order to do that, you have to sell multiple copies of your “widget” per week and hopefully generate enough dollars to hold off any competitors. Our typical HeroClix starters are $25-$30 dollars and don’t fit well into the impulse game aisle. The shopper in that aisle is looking to spend $1-$10 dollars. We’ve tried placing starters and they just don’t sell.  Yes, I know it is counterintuitive to have a booster pack for sale without a starter… WE AGREE.

 We’re considering a couple options (mostly in my head) but to date we have not  been able to come up with something that sells enough units per week without resorting to a channel exclusive. We’re grateful for having our mass space and we know we get a small percentage of those shoppers to Google HeroClix and show up at their FLGS/FLCS.  We’re hoping we can solve this one over time with something creative products (e.g. Extreme HeroClix).

 Short Answer: We don’t have plans at this time.

 Undying Red Comet asks: “If Neca has rights for Godzilla, is there any chance of Godzilla heroclix?”

 JAZ: So, we have the rights to Godzilla (and only Godzilla, not Mothra, Rodan, or any other “bad guy”).  It just didn’t make sense to release only various versions of Godzilla on the platform.  Also remember, we wanted to slow down the product a bit as there was so much coming out every month.  However, based on the response we saw, we’re looking additional rights for Godzilla, but I have nothing to report as of now.


That's all for Part 2 of our interview with Justin Ziran. Over the next month, we'll have more from the interview as we delve more into the game itself, as questions will get answered by Justin and the design team!

Respond to the interview at this thread:

December 7th, 2015    

Talkin’ Heroclix Special: A Conversation with Justin Ziran, Part One

Welcome to the Comic Shenanigans Podcast!

For this special text-only edition of Talkin' Heroclix, we had the distinct pleasure to interview Wizkids President Justin Ziran for the show. 

There will be 2 or 3 parts to this special edition verison of the Comic Shenanigans show, in this exclusive text-only edition. In this first part, we discuss the more business-centric aspects of Wizkids' business.  Future installments will focus more on the game of heroclix itself, and will involve Justin and his design/ R & D team answering listener and hcrealms user-submitted questions.

Once you've read the following interview, head over to, where you can post about your reactions to the questions, and post follow-up questions. Justin will be stopping by the thread here and there to answer questions and respond to some of the feedback to the answers below.  Please keep it civil and respectful, that's my only request.  On with the show!


Comic Shenanigans: We have lots of listener questions, so I’m going to turn the questions over to the Hcrealms community, as well as listeners of the show. I understand you may have to decline answering many of them, or give a base “no comment”.

 Nathan Struk asks: “To What Extent has Marvel restricted the ability to make X-Men or Fantastic Four heroclix?”

JAZ: Marvel, and for that matter, all licensors ask us to support their current initiatives because they spend millions of dollars to promote and expose their property to new consumers.  Being good partners, we support them where we can and at the same time represent our interest and opinions as well.  Marvel has been particularly good with giving us space to explore the IP as we see fit.  A good example is the forthcoming Uncanny X-Men set releasing this spring.

 Short answer: It is always a discussion.  Sometimes it is a short discussion, sometimes it is a long discussion, but in the end we get to a point that is mutually agreeable.

Nathan Struk asks: “To what extent do you think Wizkids owes transparent operations/conduct to the fans of the product?”

JAZ: In our industry (hobby games), you have a lot of passionate people (fans) as end users, retailers, distributors and even employees.  The demand for more information at all levels is enormous.  Having managed many product lines and businesses, all with passionate fans, I’ve seen companies spend so many resources being transparent only to realize that the underlying business was faltering. They took their eyes off the ball. 

I am VERY careful to assign our employees to the projects that move the company forward. As we’ve grown, we’ve  been able to do a lot more of our core business with the same amount of people and that has provided the opportunity for us to dedicate more resources to marketing and Organized Play (both of which are useless without a solid product). My personal view is transparency is important and companies should be as transparent as they can, provided they keep the business healthy. In all honesty, transparency is healthy for business right up until the point where it consumes the business.

What do I mean by “consumes the business”? Keep in mind that collectively, the community has unlimited time and unlimited requests for information, while the company has limited time and limited information (in some cases).  When we came from Topps to NECA we decided to focus on the product and communicate factual information in a timely fashion, with varying degrees of success. We’ve come a long way in 6 years, with new websites, a new event system, new e-mail distribution lists, and more employees committed to our communication programs.  We still have a lot of room to grow as well.  I just want to be responsible about everything we do so that we’re here for many years to come and continue to provide good product to our consumers.  With all of that in mind, we’re trying to push more information out there in a way that works for our business.  We haven’t structured ourselves to be the company with all its employees on the message boards.  However, we’re coming up with ways to share information, insights and facts with the consumers and retailers in a scalable way. (Meaning that as we grow, the demands of providing the information don’t grow disproportionately.) 

Short answer: Yes we can be more transparent but that requires resources. In a business where margins are thin, it’s hard to carve off a large section of staff to be community managers and still stay focused on the  business and product.  We’ve seen very positive responses to the new programs and we’ll continue to expand programs like the Design Insight series of articles. 

Nathan Struk adds: “Thanks for the recent rules changes, as well as the Rules articles. The increased transparency has been great as a longtime fan of the game.”

JAZ- You are welcome! This is an example of how we’re going to try to improve transparency.  We have a lot of good ideas rooted in sound reasoning.  We’re going to share that with people more openly as we move forward. However, be aware that it may have some starts and stops as we learn what the right balance is. We do think it’s important and hope to build consistency over time.

AJ Reece asks: “How large is the team at Wizkids, and specifically the team that works on Heroclix?”

JAZ: There are about 20 people +/- working on the Wizkids business.  We also share a few resources (logistics, finance, legal) with our parent company, NECA. Pound for pound we’re probably one of the more productive companies on a per employee basis.  When we talk with other companies in the industry we find that they have many times the number of people running similar parts of our business, but our  business is unique in terms of cash flow and cost expenditures. For those who might say “If you scaled up your business you’d get more money to support it”- We’ve been down the overstaffed company before (in previous incarnations of WK) and it actually causes more issues than it solves.  Given the how the business works, we think the current staffing formula is best. However, we have identified areas that need some attention and we’re taking steps to get them handled.

AJ Reece asks: “How has Wizkids been able to keep the price of a standard booster relatively the same price since the carded era, and stem the tide of inflation?”

JAZ: The previous questions answer some of that, but first and foremost, we try to be responsible shepherds of the business. Part of that is leveraging our position as the largest 1.5” figure and dice manufacturer in the world across our businesses. Secondly, we don’t hire irresponsibly and try to keep resources focused on products.

Price increases are challenging for consumers and the manufacturers. Every increase puts the product that much farther out of reach. Also, it may be useful to let some of your followers know that every dollar at retail results in only a fraction of that revenue ending up towards our business.

We try to exhaust every possible option at our disposal before we raise prices.

In my view, price increases are the lazy person’s way of getting profitable. Sometimes a price increase is necessary but often it masks underlying issues with the business (over staffing/too many people, lack of control of one’s supply chain, cost creep).

 I’ve been asked several times over the past year if we should raise prices. My first questions are have we pushed back on our suppliers, have we challenged our belief that we need expensive component X, Y, or Z? I am not saying price increases aren’t part of life, they are. We owe it to the customers to make sure we exhaust every option available to use before we increase cost. It’s good for us and it’s good for the customer.

AJ Reece asks: “Will the sales of TMNT be used as an indicator for future non-comic properties, or are these side sets going to happen regardless, to some degree (such as Lone Ranger, etc)”

JAZ: Yes, but… We’re always going to try new things. Some projects are no-brainers (like TMNT) but some are more speculative (Street Fighter). In the past, we were trying a lot of different things. Some were surprise hits, like Street Fighter, and some not so much. Given the rapid expansion of the product line, we decided to cut back both on properties and even some SKUs (primer displays, etc). We were hearing and seeing some signs of this and made the decision to slow down the expansion of the platform. It has allowed us to circle back and start tackling some of the items we’ve been wanting to tackle for a couple years.

Hcrealms user Wilx asks: What does it take to get a new property into Heroclix?  If Turtles does well could we see expansion into more properties?

 JAZ: It depends, and honestly there are too many factors to give a meaningful answer. In the end, we look for depth of content, fanbase, appropriateness and a lot of financial criteria. Sometimes we take a more strategic approach where we ask ourselves “Do we want to be in the Kaiju (Godzilla) space?” and move past a lot of questions I outlined above.

 Matt Miller asks: “Are there plans to cover this year’s Worlds matches on Twitch?  If so, will there be colour commentary?”

JAZ: The intent is there; we’re just deciding how to handle it this year, internally or outsourced. If we can figure out how to do this in a cost-effective manner we’ll do it in house. If it pulls too much focus, we’ll outsource this to a community group or contractor and yes, I would like to see colour commentary, as 50 minutes of technical Heroclix talk can cause brain damage.

Matt Miller asks: “What is next for heroclix technology-wise?  More tab app type stuff, or a new HCOnline?”

JAZ: No TabApp, which was a novel attempt at broadening the appeal of the platform to a younger audience that ultimately failed to catch on. Our latest trial was Extreme Heroclix – we supersized two figures and placed them in a new retail channel. The intent was and is to see if a non-gamer will purchase a figure and find their way to a local game store. I know many of the fans didn’t understand the initiative; in some ways, that was by design. If we wanted to sell to existing players we would have put them at the game stores. 

So far, Extreme Heroclix is our best selling SKU we’ve EVER placed at Toys R Us (even going back to Topps era Wizkids). While I know some existing players have purchased them, I am confident a lot of new consumers have dabbled in the line as well.  We’re still working the math on the supersized line. If we can make the financials work, we’ll sharpen the message… “Buy at chain X and go to play at your friendly local game store (FLGS).” We’ll probably expand the offering to something that makes sense for the game and lastly, we’ll figure out how to pull in our loyal partners the game stores into the program.

On a side note, while I was explaining the program to a group of FLGS retailers a couple of ideas came up. 1: A few savvy retailers asked to create a demo kit using the larger figures, saying it would make a new customer’s first experience with the game a lot easier and more eye-catching. 2: If we continue to see success we could release a series of figures for local games stores as well as the figures for the larger chains. 

Matt Miller asks: “Which is a better chili garnish, cheese-its or fritos?” 

JAZ: Cheez-Its – Costco sized. 

SpyderNick88 asks: “When will the print and play materials be updated for 2015 sets?”

JAZ: There are a lot of complicated licensing issues when it comes to print-n-play. If it was easy, we’d be all over it. If I could outsource it to a 3rd party or help the community do it without exposing people to a lot of legal risk, I would. In the end, we’re still working through issues and I can’t really discuss anything as we don’t have really actionable info. What I can say is that we’ve stopped updating print-n-play materials and we’ll have to stop the community from doing it as well- trust me, it is in everyone’s best interest.


That's all for Part 1 of our interview with Justin Ziran. Over the next month, we'll have more from the interview as we delve more into the game itself, as questions will get answered by Justin and the design team!

Respond to the interview at this thread:


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