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 http://www.hcrealms.com/forum/showthread.php?t=554422, 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!

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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.

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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: http://www.hcrealms.com/forum/showthread.php?t=554422

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