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Figure Scale Trends, Part 2: The Last 15 YearsFigure Scale Trends, Part 2: The Last 15 Years

vgadictvgadict1 month agoDiary
Background
Previously, I posted an article that examined some trends in the scales of older PVC figures. This is part 2 which looks at trends in the scales of figures released over the last 15 years. Future parts 3 and 4 will examine the scale trends for cast off figures and nopan figures respectively.

Disclaimer
The data being used was collected between mid-October to early November. Any updates to the MFC database since then are not reflected in this analysis.

Although there are several other scales (1/20, 1/12, 1/3, etc), these articles are going to focus on 1/8 through 1/4 scales which comprise the majority of scale figures. There are also several entries in the MFC database that omit scale or release date, and as a result, those figures are not included.

Note: Figure photos in this article are from the MFC database. The chart image was created by me.

Figures Then and Now
To begin, it's worth taking a look at how much scale figures have evolved over the past 15 years. Here's an example of the same character in the same scale from same manufacturer released 15 years apart:

1/8 scale (2004 vs. 2019)
https://static.myfigurecollection.net/upload/pictures/2009/07/30/14987.jpghttps://static.myfigurecollection.net/upload/pictures/2018/11/19/2099452.jpeg

Left: One Piece - Roronoa Zoro - Excellent Model - Portrait Of Pirates Original Series - 1/8 - Series 1 (MegaHouse) Original Price: ¥3,800 ITEM #2173
Right: One Piece - Roronoa Zoro - Portrait Of Pirates "SA-MAXIMUM" - Portrait Of Pirates Limited Edition - 1/8 - ver. 3000 World!!! (MegaHouse) Original Price: ¥14,800 ITEM #728451

Clearly, the detail has increased significantly over the years. On the other hand, the price has drastically increased as well. The newer figure is a limited edition, which likely makes it even more expensive then it could be. However, many of the 1/8 scale figures released in 2019 have a price of ¥12,800 or more. By comparison, most 1/8 scale figures released back in 2004 cost under ¥4,000. Thus, prices of 1/8 scale figures appear to have increased by at least a factor of 3x over the past 15 years.

I didn't find any other examples where the same character was released in the same scale for these two years, but here are a few example figures having the same manufacturer that were released in these periods:

1/7 scale (2004 vs. 2019)
https://static.myfigurecollection.net/pics/figure/big/1510.jpghttps://static.myfigurecollection.net/upload/pictures/2018/07/02/2011535.jpeg

Left: Yuusha Ou GaoGaiGar - Utsugi Mikoto - 1/7 (Max Factory) Original Price: ¥6,800 ITEM #1510
Right: Hatsune Miku -Project Diva- 2nd - Hatsune Miku - 1/7 - Vintage Dress Ver. (Max Factory) Original Price: ¥15,556 ITEM #604392

1/6 scale (2004 vs. 2019)
https://static.myfigurecollection.net/pics/figure/large/1715.jpghttps://static.myfigurecollection.net/upload/pictures/2018/12/13/2114574r1544671583.jpeg

Left: Comic Party - Takase Mizuki - 1/6 - Swimsuit ver. 2 (Kotobukiya) Original Price: ¥4,800 ITEM #1715
Right: Sister Blood - Akeno Maria - 1/6 (Kotobukiya) Original Price: ¥14,000 ITEM #740172

Scale trends 2004 to 2019
From the examples above, it's fairly obvious that there are overall trends in both increasing detail and price for figures of different scales. But what about the popularity and growth trends between the scales? To examine that, I searched the MFC database for figures released in the past 15 years. It revealed some very interesting trends:

https://static.myfigurecollection.net/upload/pictures/2019/11/11/2330500.png

Over the past 15 years, there appear to be 4 distinct phases:
    2004 to 2008: Early growth
    2008 to 2012: Downturn and eventual recovery
    2012 to 2017: Market plateau
    2017 to 2019: Return to growth

During these periods, the trends for the different scales underwent some significant changes.

Phase 1: Early Growth (2004 to 2008)
Many older collectors will likely recognize the mid-2000s as a period of tremendous growth in the hobby, and it's likely that several of them may have gotten their start during this time frame. I'm among them, having started my figure collection in 2005. During this period there were a high number of figures produced. Online sales sites saw significant improvements that helped drive sales. The availability of figures through alternate markets began to increase significantly as well. Online methods for currency conversion also improved, making it easier for foreign buyers to purchase products directly from Japan.

The growth in the number of unique figures released for each scale during this period was profound. Between 2004 to 2008 the number of figures released for each scale per year changed as follows:
    1/8 scale: increased from 55 to 347
    1/7 scale: increased from 27 to 176
    1/6 scale: increased from 22 to 142
    1/5 scale: increased from 7 to 20
    1/4 scale: increased from 0 to 19

One notable new feature that helped fuel the hobby's popularity during this period was the introduction of castoff figures. Part 3 will examine that in more depth.

Phase 2: Downturn and eventual recovery (2008 to 2012)
The dip that began in 2008 is very likely due to the Great Recession. This had a significant worldwide financial impact, though it was felt in different regions of the world at slightly different times. According to this wiki page (en.wikipedia.or...), it affected Japan for many quarters between 2008 to 2012. The recession impacted companies and consumers, and there was less disposable money being spent on figures during this time frame. Orders and pre-orders would have been down, which in turn led to fewer figures being produced. By 2011, the market had begun to recover and by 2012, the overall market had returned to a level close to where it was in 2008.

Besides the market downturn and subsequent recovery, the primary scale shift was subtle. The popularity of 1/6 scale slightly increased while all other scales decreased, with 1/8 scale decreasing the most. The ratio of scale figures released per year between 2008 to 2012 changed as follows:
    1/8 scale: decreased from 347 to 321
    1/7 scale: decreased from 176 to 169
    1/6 scale: increased from 142 to 156
    1/5 scale: decreased from 20 to 18
    1/4 scale decreased from 19 to 15

Phase 3: Market plateau (2012 to 2017)
If you've studied product lifecycles, you may be familiar with something called a S-curve or Sigmoidal curve. Many new products follow a similar growth pattern where they see fast growth early on, but later it tends to flatten out. If the drop-off and recovery during the 2008 to 2012 period of the Great Recession are excluded, it appears that the initial growth in unique figure releases had reached somewhat of a plateau. Although there were some small variations between 2012 to 2017, the overall number of unique figures released during these years was relatively flat, with only limited growth. However, there continued to be some subtle shifts between the popularity of scales during this time frame:
    1/8 scale: Declined from 321 to 257
    1/7 scale: Increased from 169 to 208
    1/6 scale: Increased from 156 to 166
    1/5 scale: Increased from 18 to 20
    1/4 scale: Increased form 15 to 53

While 1/8 scale saw a notable drop-off, it was still the most popular scale. Meanwhile, each other scale increased, with 1/4 scale seeing a huge jump in popularity during this period.

Phase 4: Return to growth (2017 to 2019)
Something surprising has happened over the past 2 years; the number of unique figures being produced has returned to a high growth trajectory. From a product lifecycle perspective, this is extremely unexpected. Most products and markets don't exhibit this behavior unless there is a new innovation that can explain the next growth phase. I currently don't know why this is happening, but there could be a number of reasons for this. For example, 3D printing innovations may provide rapid prototyping of figures, allowing manufacturers to get more figures to market. Worldwide online sales channels might be improving, allowing for more figures to be sold to a wider number of collectors.

Regardless of what is driving this increase, the figure collecting market is currently undergoing a significant growth that we haven't seen since those high growth years between 2004 to 2008. This could have a huge impact on figure-collecting in years to come. Just as the growth in figures during that prior period ushered in large changes to the hobby (e.g. large influx of new collectors, new features like castoff, etc), figure-collecting could be in the midst of similar changes right now that could have a long-lasting impact.

From looking at the recent trends, there is also a fundamental shift in the popularity of certain scales. Starting in 2018, 1/7 scale finally overtook 1/8 scale as the most popular, and in 2019, 1/6 scale overtook 1/8 scale as well. Between 2017 to 2019, the unique releases in each scale changed as follows:
    1/8 scale: Decreased from 257 to 222
    1/7 scale: Increased from 208 to 410
    1/6 scale: Increased from 166 to 231
    1/5 scale: Increased from 21 to 31
    1/4 scale: Increased from 65 to 122

Other scales
1/5.5 was introduced in 2004 and 1/4.5 scale was introduced in 2011. However, between their introduction to now, the number of figures released per year in either scale was only in the single digits. These scales could have been omitted from this examination, but I felt they should be included for completeness. The narrow lines on the chart shows their number of releases was virtually microscopic compared to the impact of other scales.

Collector considerations
It's likely that the downward trend in 1/8 scale will continue, and collectors of that scale may be faced with an ever-dwindling market of new available figures. If you're in this category, it may be time to finally consider moving up to 1/7 scale. For everyone else, the trends look very promising. The number of releases in 1/6 and 1/5 scale are increasing at a very healthy rate. Collectors of 1/7 or 1/4 scales should be especially happy since the releases in those scales have nearly doubled over the past 2 years!

Coming next...
Part 3 will examine scale trends for castoff figures. Note that due to their content and links, both part 3 and part 4 will be NSFW.
902 hits • 11 likes21 comments

Comments21

1pt
victorviper (1 month ago) #70260472
The interesting thing about s-shaped curves is that it's difficult to determine exactly where you are on the curve until that first sustained slowdown- is the industry about to plateau again, or are we in the early stages of another period of rapid expansion?

Given that the last growth phase lasted about 4 to 5 years, and considering the slope of the growth on the chart, after 2+ years in the current growth phase it is plausible that we're about halfway through this growth phase. However, overall market dynamics like a recession or something of similar magnitude could alter that.
1 month ago
2pt
Moeromoero (1 month ago) #70278018
I try to consider the time value of currencies(inflation),
If annual inflation is constant at 5% for 15 years,
$4000 yen 15 years ago is almost like $8316 yen in 2019 (present year).
More than a double.
5% assumption is quite fair.
Therefore, I feel like figures are overpriced but totally acceptable.
But with the enhanced product quality, I always say yes.

This is an incorrect assumption. Inflation hasn't been anywhere close to 5% per year during the past 15 years. You can easily confirm this from several available sources online such as these:

www.inflationto... - this one shows that for Japan, the total inflation from 2004 to 2019 was only 4.64%, which was only 0.3% inflation yearly.

www.in2013dolla... - this shows that during those same years, the inflation in USD was 35.92% total between 2004 to 2019 which is an average of 2.07% yearly.

So whether you try to base the prices in Japanese Yen or US Dollars, the price increase due to inflation is somewhere between 0.3% to 2.07% per year.

In either case, the amount of price increase due to inflation is only a tiny fraction of cost increase being seen in figures during that time. Thus, there are other factors leading to the cost increase in figures.
1 month ago
1pt
Moeromoero Chinese Dress Hunter
Thank you for the comparison. Happy to see the market grows healthily.
Can't wait to read your next article.


regarding the price bump,
I try to consider the time value of currencies(inflation),
If annual inflation is constant at 5% for 15 years,
$4000 yen 15 years ago is almost like $8316 yen in 2019 (present year).
More than a double.
5% assumption is quite fair.

Therefore, I feel like figures are overpriced but totally acceptable.
But with the enhanced product quality, I always say yes.
1 month ago
2pt
An interesting data-y article. My gut feeling was that the mean figure scale had increased over the last few years, but it was interesting to see the numbers bear that out.

The interesting thing about s-shaped curves is that it's difficult to determine exactly where you are on the curve until that first sustained slowdown- is the industry about to plateau again, or are we in the early stages of another period of rapid expansion?
1 month ago
2pt
ddarko (1 month ago) #70239023Woah, this is a very informative article!
EDIT: Is the slow decline in 1/8 scale figure releases due to any particular reason?

It's likely a combination of several factors. Some possible reasons could be that...
    - Collectors want larger figures because the larger scales are usually more impressive and visually appealing.
    - Quality of larger scales is usually better.
    - Larger scales allow much greater detail.
    - Certain features like castoff work better with larger scales.
    - Cost to manufacture 1/8 scale may be nearly as much as larger scales like 1/7, but companies can sell the larger scales at a higher price and make a greater profit.
1 month ago
2pt
Woah, this is a very informative article!

EDIT: Is the slow decline in 1/8 scale figure releases due to any particular reason?
1 month ago
2pt
rogue_g (1 month ago) #70238459Thinking on it more, probably see a rise in re-releases during another recession more than anything. That'd be the most cost effective solution manufactures could use to stay in business then.
This is very likely. It's also worth noting that during those early growth years, there were lots of reissued figures. Virtually every QB figure had at least 2 color versions, and some even had 4 or more. It seems that reissues are less common nowadays. However, I did see that there are some figures being reissued this year which is adding to the numbers. My guess is that the manufacturers are seeing so much demand for figures that they're trying everything possible to get more figures to market, and reissues are one of the easiest routes for that.
1 month ago
1pt
vgadict (1 month ago) #70238300
1/6 scale has continued to be a popular scale dating back to before PVC figures, such as early action figures and other dolls. At this point, it looks like 1/6 will likely stay popular regardless of the up and down trends of other scales.

It is a fascinatingly popular scale in terms of popularity, probably down to the easier process in the past to add small detail effectively without as high a failure rate as smaller scales. Not a problem these days, but the demand is still there. I imagine it's also the manufacturer familiarity that helps keep the scale alive too, they're just used to it and more comfortable at that larger size.

vgadict
I don't know if the MFC database has tags to easily identify those. However, I'm only interested in scale figures, and not prize figures or nendos, so someone else will have to investigate that if they're so inclined.

Fair enough, more of an alternate path for comparison than anything. I do know that MFC does have a flag for prize, but it's associated to the price and not as a general filter term. Would be interesting to see if prize figure demand is more responsible for 1/8th scale drop in sales, the rise in 1/7th scale could be much more organic growth than natural leaching of consumers from 1/8th to 1/7th.

vgadict
If there are changes in how licensing agreements work for those characters (anime vs. non-anime source), it may also be conducive for figure producers to make products more easily.

This is more than likely the case, licensing creating some of the biggest issues to market penetration of products than anything else. Good suggestion.

vgadict
Perhaps, but what we saw during the Great Recession is that 1/8th scale diminished more than other sizes, and as I'll show in parts 3 and 4, 1/8 scale seems to be dying even faster for the adult figure segments. Meanwhile, it's doubtful that prices of new figures will fall much. They tend to either hold steady or climb. It's only in the 2nd hand market where we see prices actually falling, and generally only for older, lower quality figures.

Arguable. I know from personal experience during 2008-12 that figure prices flatlined and, in some cases, dropped. There were also a lot more sales of recently released figures that were heavily binned. I suppose it would take more money and effort to downsize to 1/8th scale after all the manufacturers are investing into 1/7th, so yeah a rise during a recession of 1/8th doesn't make sense. Thinking on it more, probably see a rise in re-releases during another recession more than anything. That'd be the most cost effective solution manufactures could use to stay in business then. Probably a bigger contraction than 2008 too, the market is very hot right now.
1 month ago
2pt
leith (1 month ago) #70238297This is an interesting article, thanks for putting it together. The difference between the older version of Zoro and the newer one is striking ^^
I think Funwari is spot on regarding the cause of growth in the phase 4, manufacturers realized that there is a market for premium products and it's lucrative. Of course the increase in quality is much appreciated, but if they keep rising the price without limit, I don't think it will be sustainable. Like in game industry, Sony and Microsoft were too invested on improving the graphics but they forgot about the gameplay. I think figure manufacturers forget that in a way figure is just a memento of one's favourite character. IMO there are people who wish for good quality figures with reasonable prices. I collect figures for their aesthetics but the newer ones seem intimidating price-wise.

The companies forecast figure volumes based on prior sales, and then set the price of pre-orders accordingly. The only way they would drop prices is if a significant number of collectors stopped pre-ordering, and not just for a single figure for many different figures. Thus far, that hasn't happened, and in fact I suspect their sales are actually growing based on the number of new figures being released. The figure collecting market appears to be growing, which either means there are more people collecting now than before, or the collectors today are buying more figures than previously. As collectors get older, they tend have more money too (better jobs, etc) which would also allow them to buy more expensive figures.

So as a collector I can look at a figure and say, "No way, that's too expensive!", but that doesn't stop other collectors from reaching into their pocketbooks and gladly buying that figure instead.
1 month ago
3pt
rogue_g (1 month ago) #70237915Great analysis into the trends of the hobby, a lot of pivot points in scale demand that would be interesting to determine the source of. For instance, I would point to the rise in 1/4 scales around 2015 to FREEing's saturation of the market with as many 1/4 bunny figure scales as possible.
I did not delve into trying to identify specific manufacturer trends since that ends up being a lot more work, but based on the smaller size of the 1/4 scale market, it is very plausible that one or two companies could be largely responsible for the growth trend there.

rogue_g (1 month ago) #70237915Also fascinating to see how stable 1/6 scales have been since.. 2006 basically. Bit of a surge in the past year, sure, but nothing like the changes with 1/8th and 1/7th.
1/6 scale has continued to be a popular scale dating back to before PVC figures, such as early action figures and other dolls. At this point, it looks like 1/6 will likely stay popular regardless of the up and down trends of other scales.

rogue_g (1 month ago) #70237915As for what has caused the rapid growth starting in 2017 and continuing at pace, I would argue it's down to companies expanding beyond Anime sources and into cellphone gatcha games. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the huge rise in demand for Idolm@ster, Kantai Collection, Granblue, Girls Frontline, Azur Lane and the juggernaut of them all, FGO. All that demand has only shown up the past ~3 years, but it has inundated the scene. Even if you don't like playing those games, as a collector it's impossible to ignore the insane quality being put towards figures in this category. It would also be quite arguable that the customer base behind those games is less concerned about costs and more about attention to detail, hence the push to higher priced 1/7th scales. If the customer base is willing to pay the high prices for something physical to collect representing their digital game hobby, manufacturers will more than happily set the market accordingly.
This is plausible. I know the KanColle girls have been insanely popular in other media formats such as MikuMikuDance (MMD), and there's definite interest among MMD fans to get their hands on actual figures. So where the 2004-2008 growth surge was related to popular anime titles like Queen's Blade and Ikkitousen, the current growth surge is following a similar trend, but for characters from non-anime sources. If there are changes in how licensing agreements work for those characters (anime vs. non-anime source), it may also be conducive for figure producers to make products more easily.

rogue_g (1 month ago) #70237915As for where this will leave the hobby in the next 5 years, ask yourself what killed the growth before? Another recession. You will probably see a rise in 1/8th at that point along with a major drop in prices.
Perhaps, but what we saw during the Great Recession is that 1/8th scale diminished more than other sizes, and as I'll show in parts 3 and 4, 1/8 scale seems to be dying even faster for the adult figure segments. Meanwhile, it's doubtful that prices of new figures will fall much. They tend to either hold steady or climb. It's only in the 2nd hand market where we see prices actually falling, and generally only for older, lower quality figures.


rogue_g (1 month ago) #70237915After you finish parts 3 and 4, I think it would be worth looking at the prize figure category (if MFC has the capability of filtering out that). Prize figures have risen considerably in quality the past few years and are rising to the prices scales used to cost in the early 00's. Nendo's bare a similar change too.
I don't know if the MFC database has tags to easily identify those. However, I'm only interested in scale figures, and not prize figures or nendos, so someone else will have to investigate that if they're so inclined.
1 month ago
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