World of Springfield
The toy action figure series was called World of Springfield because the goal of the line was to build a miniature Springfield through a series of interactive action figures and playsets. It eventually encompassed over 200 different figures/characters from the series, 40 interactive playsets (toy re-creations of Simpson's interior settings and town location settings within Springfield), and 3 non-interactive diorama town settings.
The success of all "mass-market" action figure lines based on TV or movie characters are timed to the initial release of the project - as part of its promotional and marketing messages - taking advantage of the promotions, P.R. and advertising awareness and the figures themselves also as advertising and promotional vehicles. Most movie/TV tie-in action figures are successful for the brief period of the theatrical release, the video/DVD release and the possibility of a successful sequel but rarely for any longer period and typically, the release pattern for the action figure is no more than a few dozen figures, and some playsets to serve as background dioramas for the figures - with sales dropping off a few months after the last film is released. The Kenner/Hasbro Star Wars movie line is of course, the gold standard with figures in the same scale and in the marketplace since 1978. The closest TV equivalent might be the Star Trek line, though non-contiguous and not technically from one TV series (coincidentally also from Playmates Toys).
While The Simpsons merchandising and licensing had continued unabated since the first season of the TV series in 1989, the characters represented as action figures only had a brief Mattel run in 1990, with only 7 figures, 3 exclusive figures and 1 Simpsons Living Room representation playset.
Why was the line successful?
Of course, it starts with the mass market appeal of The Simpsons - encompassing everyone from young kids who loved the slapstick aspects to adults of all ages who appreciated that the jokes and situations that worked on multi-levels of our intellect (from the kid in us to the Mensa in us). Like any classic TV series, fans remember and quote the lines - and Playmates Toys managed to capture that appeal with its interactive playsets. Each figure came with its own "coded" chip on the base of that characters foot (generally foot but not always) that when contacted with the "trigger" tab on each playset would (complete the circuit) so by then pressing the button closest to that figure, you would hear a playback of 1-5 phrases for the character.
What made it unique was that the playback was from the actual show and the actual voice actor - so placing the Homer Simpson figure on an appropriate playset would trigger the playback of a quote performed by Dan Castellaneta as he performed it in the original episode.
Of additional value was that each playset held quotes and voice clip performances for a variety of characters so that placing the Marge Simpson figure or the Bart figure would trigger different quotes and voice clips. One limitation was that not every character worked with every playset - some for story logic reasons (character might not appear at that setting), release logistics (figures released after a playset was available much earlier) or presumably for cost reasons (as each voice clip had to be approved and licensed).
A real-world situation also cannot be over-looked - that these were released during the era of the internet/dot.com boom and general health of the U.S. economy. While the figures were priced at the lower end of action figure retail pricing (from $5.99 USD to eventually $7.99 USD each), the playsets generally ranged from $20 USD to $25 USD at the end of 2004 but there were special releases that ranged into the $60 USD range. Even at minimal retail, 200+ figures and 40 playsets meant a financial commitment. In addition, there were a dozen exclusives and mail-in figures that required extra work to obtain the figures - often via an online auction. It was however, during these early years of the series coinciding with the healthy economy that added extra impetus and momentum that carried the line a few extra years.
The World of Springfield line set a new standard of company/fan interaction in its relationship between Playmates Toys and the collectors, specifically based at the Simpsons Collector Sector (SCS) website and forums. Starting in mid-2001, with contacts from board moderator Michael Crawford, Playmates executives (first Jeff Trojan and later Pat Linden) reached out to the collectors in a mutually beneficial relationship—fans got input into the line; the company got free market research. Playmates Toys answered a monthly Q&A from collectors, and regularly gave exclusive details about upcoming products to the SCS website directly. Collectors had opportunities to affect the line's future on a few occasions.
The first incident occurred in summer 2001 after a controversy surrounding the release of a ToyFare mail-away figure, Pin Pal Burns. Fans complained about the unfair way ToyFare handled these offers and Playmates responded, first by having ToyFare make later offers available online and later by ending WoS offers from ToyFare entirely. Conversely, fan enthusiasm helped revive products that had been cancelled at one point, including the deluxe Main Street playset and the Moe's Tavern playset.
Collectors were also asked often to give suggestions on what figures and playsets they wanted to see; polls were generated. The results of these polls had an impact on future lineups, with collectors getting many of the figures they had requested.
This interaction hit a peak in 2003 when the Simpsons Collector Sector hosted a panel discussion at the San Diego Comic Con that July. A representative from Playmates Toys was the featured guest and engaged in Q&A with attendees and handed out free figures to all as well.
Fans continued to have a voice through the end of the line, although larger issues—voice contracts, licensor disagreements—sometimes prevented collectors from getting everything they wanted from the line. This model of interaction has been followed by many other toy companies since.
End and revival
The line ended in mid-2004 due to a number of factors, most importantly slow sales. There were a number of factors, in turn, that contributed to the declining sales, including: "collectors fatigue"; the release pattern of figures; the sheer size of the line was difficult for newcomers; the slowing economy; the changing toy retail situation; and even Playmates Toys relationship with 20th Century Fox.
However, not long after, McFarlane Toys - known for their sports line of action figures - decided to revive Simpsons collecting and start a new line of figures. The first set to be released was the "Ironic Punishment" set from the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". It features Homer being "tortured" by one of the Devil's minions, by forcing all the donuts in the world down his throat. It was soon followed by a "Family Couch Gag" set, from the beginning of each episode.
NECA recently released the "25 Greatest Guest Stars" line of figures, these figures fit in scale with the World of Springfield figures and have the same articulation.
List of figures and playsets
Technically not part of World of Springfield (though there is a debate among the fans), these vehicles were made by Playmates Toys in June 2001, and later, August 2002, and are sometimes considered part of the line by fans. The vehicles weren't actually able to hold any figures from the line, but they could however speak by moving the small characters to the right or the left or by pressing the car's hood (this would create a conversation between the characters rather than just one character talking). Upon doing so, each character would have special lines taken from episodes from the series, much like the figures.
- Family Car w/ Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie/Release date: June 2001
- School Bus w/ Martin, Milhouse, Ralph, Bart, and Otto/Release date: August 2002
KayBee Toys exclusive
Again, technically not considered part of the World of Springfield line (though there is debate about that among collectors), Playmates Toys released in August 2002 a series of figures exclusive to KayBee Toys based on the When Bongos Collide storyline from Bongo Comics. It featured Simpsons characters transformed into superheroes. The initial three-pack of figures included Homer Simpson as the Indigestible Bulk, Apu as Captain Kwik, and Ms. Krabappel as Vampiredna. Two more three-packs were planned (featuring Marge as the Entangler, Lisa as the Jazzler, Maggie as Brainbaby, Grampa as Oldblood member Coda, and Skinner as The Stickler, and Willie as the Plaid Piper), but the line was cancelled as soon as it hit retail.
As in most toy lines, items are planned for release that for a number of reasons (cost issues, low retailer interest) never end up being produced and/or released. Many items were cancelled from the World of Springfield line, a complete list is available in the Simpsons Collector Sector's Release Guide.
- Rabbi Krustofsky - Was to be included in the Series 2 line of Celebrity Figures, but he was cancelled because Playmates could not clear the rights for Jackie Mason’s voice work.
- Lyle Lanley - Originally part of the Series 3 line of Celebrity Figures, but was replaced by Cooder.
- Molloy - Originally part of Series 12, but was replaced by Number One.
- Stonecutter Wiggum - Was cancelled when the World of Springfield line ended. Was going to be part of the Mail Away figures.
- Flanders' Rumpus Room w/ Maude Flanders - Was originally going to be the playset for the Wave 18 line, but was cancelled when the World of Springfield line ended.
- Springfield Elementary Playground w/ Janey - Was going to be a part of the Wave 17 line, but was cancelled when the World of Springfield line ended.
- Stonecutter Hall w/ Stonecutter Carl - Was going to be Toys-R-Us exclusive, but cancelled due to slow sales of the Be Sharps playset and the end of World of Springfield.
- 300th Episode Special: Bart's Loft w/ Skateboarding Homer, Pajama Bart, "Indian Burn" Lisa, and Casual Skinner - Was cancelled due to overwhelmingly negative response with fans.
- Oval Office w/ President Lisa, Old Homer, Old Marge, Grownup Bart, and Maggie Jr. - Was planned as a Toys-R-Us exclusive, but cancelled due to slow sales in previous exclusives.
- Wave 17: Ninja Bart, Richard & Lewis Clark, Arnie Pie, Bigfoot Homer, Flying Hellfish Grampa, and Cecil Terwilliger
- Wave 18: Lindsay Naegle, Tuxedo Kang, Tuxedo Kodos, Uncle Moe, Sanjay, and Akira
World of Springfield
|Series 1 (Playsets) • Series 2 (Playsets) • Series 3 (Playsets) • Series 4 (Playsets) • Series 5 • Series 6 (Playsets) • Series 7 (Playsets) • Series 8 (Playsets) • Series 9 (Playsets) • Series 10 (Playsets) • Series 11 (Playset) • Series 12 (Playset) • Series 13 (Playset) • Series 14 (Playset) • Series 15 (Playset) • Series 16 (Playset)|
|Series 1 • Series 2 • Series 3|
|Toyfare • Toys "Я" Us • EB Games • Mail away • KayBee Toys|
|Family Car • School Bus|
|Dioramas • Re-Release|
|Figures • Playsets • Series 17 • Series 18 • Times Square Playset|