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G.I. JOE (2000-2006)



The Transformers Vs. The Gobots
Tuesday, March 20th, 2007 7:14PM CDT
Origin of this Article:

It has been awhile since we have posted a new article. Well, the wait is over! Our next article comes to you courtesy of staff member Hotrod. In this article Hotrod takes a look back at the early 1980's when both Transformers were competing with another brand of transforming robot, Gobots. Here is Hotrod's article The Transformers Vs. The Gobots:

The Transformers Vs. The Gobots

During the mid to late 1980's there was a war taking place. It was not just a war between Autobots and Decepticons, or Guardians and Renegades. It was a war between Transformers and Gobots. The war was a struggle for fans and ultimately survival. When the dust finally settled there was a clear victor in the contest. As a result of the war Transformers and Gobots have been forever linked to each others history. The conflict has had a lasting impact on today's Transformers fans. Gobots receive a very mixed reaction from the Transformers fandom. Some Transformers fans cringe at the mention of Gobots, because they hate them for some reason. Other fans are indifferent towards Gobots. There is still another group of fans who for some reason or another like something about Gobots. This article will look back at the beginning of the war, how it ended, and the lasting impact the battle had on the Transformers franchise.

The Staging Game Begins

Both Hasbro and Tonka were two of the biggest toy companies in the United States during the 1980's. Both were constantly competing in the market with one another to get parents to buy their products for children. Tonka was popular for their toy trucks and construction vehicles. Hasbro was known for a wide range of games and toys, mainly G.I. Joe. The competition would come to a head in 1984, when both companies released products that on the surface were very similar to one another, robots that could change into something else.

The beginning of the Transformers goes further back then 1984. The idea of Transforming robots was nothing new to Hasbro. Hasbro had already formed a partnership with Japanese toy maker Takara in 1969, when Hasbro, then known as Hassenfeld Brothers was looking to expand into Japan. The two companies worked together to create the Microman line based on Hassenfeld Brothers' G.I. Joe figures. In order to appeal to the Japanese market Stephen Hassenfeld developed a different type of G.I. Joe figure that looked more like a cyborg. Thus, the Microman line was born. However, the two companies were not done working with each other.

Under the direction of Stephen Hassenfeld, Hassenfeld Brothers began working on scaled accessories for either the Microman or G.I. Joe line that could turn into robots. In 1974 the company received the first patent for first transforming toy figure. This toy would later be released as Megatron. In 1981 both Takara and Hassenfeld Brothers would put the patent to use.

Takara decide to reset the Microman line and reintroduce the line as New Microman. It did not stop there. Both Hassenfeld Brothers and Takara decided to combine this line with the transforming accessories Hassenfeld had developed. The result was yet another line named Micro Change. This was just the beginning, because Takara was about to take the Micro Change line a few more steps forward.

In 1983 Takara took the idea of transforming robots to new levels with their Micro Change series. They began to produce robots that could turn into normal everyday objects. Also in 1983 Takara began to market a series of robots that turned into various vehicles know as Diaclone. They would market this line in the United States under the name Diakron. This line was never marketed to the mainstream so it did not enjoy the success of most mainstream toy liens, but it did prove to be successful.

Hassenfeld Brothers, now Hasbro, had been watching Takara's success. Beginning in 1982 the company started to recapture all of the designs, concepts, and works. Hasbro also decided to license parts of the Micro Change and Diaclone lines from Takara and market the two series under one name, Transformers. The Hasbro contacted Griffin-Bacal Advertising Company to help come up with ideas for the new toy line. In 1983 Bob Budianski was brought in to flesh the idea out more and give life to the Concept of Transformers. By 1983 the pre-production of both the Transformers toys and cartoon was underway.

In 1982 Bandai, a Japanese toy company began producing a toy line of transforming robots called Machine Robo. Machine Robo enjoyed moderate success in Japan, and this caught the attention of executives at Tonka. Tonka had by this time heard the news about what was happening at Hasbro. After seeing the results of the Diakron line Tonka officials realized that there was a place in the United States market for transforming robots. So, Tonka entered a partnership with Bandai to bring Bandai's Machine Robo toys to North America. The agreement between Tonka and Bandai allowed Tonka to import the toys to the United States. Tonka changed the name of the toy line to the Gobots. In order to fill the line out for the U.S. market, Tonka created a few of their own toys to be part of the Gobot line. These toys were the Command Center, Thruster, and Zod.

War Breaks Out At Retail Stores

Tonka may have entered the planning phases later then Hasbro, but it was able to beat Hasbro to store shelves. Tonka began to distribute Gobots to retail stores in the United States in 1984. Gobots were released five months before the first Transformers hit the shelves. It seemed like Gobots had an advantage by being the first to the market. However, when Hasbro released Transformers whatever advantage Tonka had was soon gone.

The idea of transforming robots was almost an immediate hit with children, males in particular. Initial sales of both Gobots and Transformers were good. Neither company had a clear advantage early on, sales were about equal. In order for one of the companies to take the lead in the market they would have to address the problem of educating parents and children if they wanted to maximize profits and take the lead. Since both lines were on store shelves at the same time parents were easily confused at first when they went to the toy aisle at their favorite store. To many parents Transformers and Gobots were easily confused with one another. In their minds both were the same because they all were transforming robots. The first company to distinguish their brand as superior would be able to win the battle at retail stores.

Hasbro was smart enough to address the situation. They added faction symbols to their products from the beginning. As time passed parents and their children could recognize Transformers based on the Autobot and Decepticon logos alone. Children and parents alike could tell weather they were buying a heroic Autobot or evil Decepticon. Tonka never added faction symbols to their figures. As a result it was often confusing to kids and their parents as to whether they were getting a good Gobot, a Guardian, or a bad Gobot, a Renegade. After the confusion subsided Transformers sales began to out pace the sales of Gobots. Transformers were clearly becoming the toy of choice.

Another thing that began to hinder the success of Gobots was while Tonka was selling Gobots in the United States, Bandai continued to sell its Machine Robo line in Japan unaltered by the changes Tonka made. There was no continuity between the two companies. Takara on the other hand took a different approach. After seeing the success Hasbro was having with Transformers, Takara would bring the Transformers brand to Japan in 1985 and stop the production of their Micro Change and Diaclone lines. This meant that now both companies would work together on the same toy line to ensure the success of Transformers. This helped make Transformers a world wide brand, where as Gobots was more of a regional brand that, was not challenging the Transformers outside of the United States for the most part.

Though the sales of Gobots were high in 1984 and early 1985 the line was in trouble. Transformers were taking the lead in sales by larger margins each year. In 1986 it was clear that the Transformers were winning out at retail stores. By 1987 Gobot sales dropped dramatically.

The War gets Televised!

In September of 1984 both the Transformers and Gobots would get their own animated television shows. The reason behind this was simple. Each company wanted to advertise their product and what better way to do so then through a thirty minute cartoon aimed at their targeted audience, children.

Tonka turned to Hanna-Barbera to bring the Gobots to life. At the time Hanna-Barbera was one of the most popular animation studios in the United States, though many would argue the studio was in decline at the time. The Gobot cartoon would be named Challenge of the Gobots. The Challenge of the Gobots was the first of the two shows to reach to the airwaves. The first episode aired on September 8, 1984. Once again Tonka would not work with Bandai in this endeavor.

Bandai would go in a different direction. Machine Robo would not have a cartoon until July 3, 1986. The series was produced by Ashi Production. The series was called Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos. This series ended on May 28, 1987. However, from 1988-1990 there were direct to video releases of the series. 1987 also marked the beginning of the second Machine Robo series, Machine Robo: Battle Hackers. The latest edition in the series is Machine Robo Rescue.

Not to be out done Hasbro also decided to create an animated series. They turned to an old partner who had helped them in the past, Marvel Comics. Marvel started to work on the Transformers cartoon with the help of the production company Sunbow, which was run by both Hasbro and Sony though Sony owned the company under the name Sony Wonder. Griffin-Bacal Advertising ran the media aspects of Sunbow. The first episode of Transformers would air nine days after the first episode of Challenge of the Gobots. Episode one of Transformers aired on September 17, 1984. Unlike Tonka and Bandai, Hasbro and Takara would share the cartoon and have it broadcast in both the United States and Japan. Initially Hasbro was on its own with the new cartoon, but after Hasbro started to enjoy success Takara had the series imported to Japan and continued to back it. In fact as many fans know Generation 1 continued on in Japan long after it had reached its conclusion in the United States.

Both shows tried to get some of the best voice actors available. There were voice actors who worked on both Challenge of the Gobots and Transformers. Two of these actors are popular with Transformers fans today. They are Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. Many Transformers know Cullen as the voice behind Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Wingspan, and others. Welker is known for doing the voices of Galvatron, Megatron, Mirage, Trailbreaker, Teletraan 2 and many others. Both actors also did a number of voices for Challenge of the Gobots. Cullen did voice acting for Spoiler, Tank, and Pincher. While Welker did the voices for Scooter, Zeemon, and Rest-Q.

Transformers would prove to be the better of the two series. Gobots lasted for sixty-six episodes, while the first Transformers series would span ninety-eight, thirty-two more then Gobots in the U.S. alone with many more episodes in Japan (Headmasters, Masterforce, and Victory). There were many reasons behind this. The first is simply many considered Gobots to be campier then Transformers. The writing and animation on Transformers was for the most part better then Gobots. Also the split between Tonka and Bandai over producing a cartoon also did not help. Instead of building a world wide audience both seemed to be after a regional audiences. Hasbro and Takara on the other hand were able to get a world wide audience by working together. This helped to increase the popularity of Transformers.

The War Expands Into Other Areas of Marketing

Hasbro and Tonka advertised their products on almost everything imaginable. Transformers and Gobots appeared on everything from plastic plates, birthday invitations, and bed sheets. Each brand even appeared in children's books. There seemed to be no limit to where Transformers and Gobots could be found. Hasbro, however, would turn to another marketing medium that the Tonka did not.

Hasbro wanted to bring the Transformers into the world of comic books so they signed a deal with Marvel Comics to produce a Transformers comic book. Marvel was one of the most popular comic book companies. Marvel was involved with Transformers from the very beginning. The first issue of Transformers was released in September of 1984, about the same time as the cartoon began to air in the United States. The Transformers comic was set originally to only run for four issues, however, due to early success it would last for eighty issues. The success of the comic would help spread the popularity of Transformers. Transformers were now able to reach people who read comic books but may or may not have watched the cartoon.

The War Erupts on the Big Screen!

Hasbro and Tonka decided to make movies of their properties. Both would in be released theaters. In the summer of 1986 the Gobots would battle the Transformers for box office superiority.

Gobots were the first to grace the silver screen. The Gobot movie was titled Gobots: War of the Rock Lords. Tonka would use the movie to introduce the Rock Lords as a spin off of Gobots. In order to try to ensure box office success Tonka and Hanna-Barbera would look to add well know celebrity voices to the movie cast. They brought in Roddy McDowell, who had done a number of movies before taking the role as Nuggit in the Gobot movie. McDowell had roles in a number of Planet of the Apes movies, The Poseidon Adventure, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Cleopatra, and many other films. They also brought in Telly Savalas and Margot Kidder. Telly Savalas was a very popular actor at the time. He played Kojack in the Kojack television series. In Gobots: War of the Rock Lords, Savalas would do the voice for Magmar. Margot Kidder was a very popular actress at the time. She was best known at the time for her role as Lois Lane in the Superman movies. Kidder was cast as Solitaire in Gobots: War of the Rock Lords. Gobots: War of the Rock Lords was released on March 21, 1986.

Hasbro also enlisted the aid of popular Hollywood actors to voice act for their movie, Transformers: The Movie. Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, and Orson Welles all provided their vocal talents to Transformers: The Movie. Judd Nelson had previously had parts in Moonlighting, St. Elmo's Fire, The Breakfast Club, and other films. In the Transformers movie Nelson would be the voice behind the main character Hot Rod (and Rodimus Prime). Leonard Nimoy was another popular actor at the time Transformers: The Movie went in production. He was best known for his role as Spock in both the Star Trek movies and T.V. series. In the Transformers movie, Nimoy voiced the part of Galvatron. Robert Stack had a long career in Hollywood long before Transformers: The Movie. He was known for his roles in Uncommon Valor, Airplane!, Most Wanted, The Untouchables Parts 1 and 2. His credits also included many other movies and television series. Stacked filled the role of Ultra Magnus in the Transformers Movie. Orson Welles provided the voice of Unicron in the movie. Prior to his work on Transformers, a few of Welles credits were A Man of All Seasons, House of Card, London, and Waterloo. Sadly Welles died of a heart attack before production on Transformers: The Movie ended. On August 8, 1986, a little over four months after the release of Gobots: War of the Rock Lords, Transformers: The Movie was released on the big screen.

Even though it was released later, Transformers: The Movie won out at the box office. In its opening weekend, the movie pulled in over $1,779,559 with an overall gross of $5,849,647. Gobots: War of the Rock Lords only made $531,905 on its opening weekend and made a total of $1,338,264, which was less then Transformers: The Movie made on its opening weekend. To add insult to injury the Gobot movie had a slightly wider release then the Transformers movie. Gobots: War of the Rock Lords was released at 1,045 theaters across the United States. Transformers: The Movie was only released at 990 theaters.

The End of the Road

After being beaten at the box office and at retail stores, Tonka decided to shake things up a little. Tonka decided to release a spin off line call Rock Lords. In their minds this made perfect since they had introduced the Rock Lords in the Gobots movie. So later in 1986 Tonka released Rock Lords which had the slogan Powerful Living Rocks! This line would be a disappointment. It only lasted for three waves of figures, and many planned figures were never released.

Sales on Gobots continued to fall in 1986 and early 1987. The failure of the Rock Lords line did not help matters either. Tonka decided to cut their losses and ended both Gobots and Rock Lords. In 1987 the Gobot line was discontinued, leaving the Dread Launchers as the last Gobots ever released.

The Aftermath

Tonka would be bought out by Hasbro in 1991. This ended the war between Gobots and Transformers. However, it did not completely mark the end of Gobots. Ironically, Hasbro would use the name Gobots in the Transformers line and produce another line transforming robots aimed at younger children that would be called Gobots. It can be argued as to whether this was done out of spite or as a homage.

The first time the name Gobots appeared in the Transformers line was in 1993. A figure named Gobots was released as part of the Generation 2, G2, line. In 1995 Hasbro released a group of Transformers in the G2 line called Go-Bots. Go-Bots were small cars that were simple to transform. The molds used for Go-Bots would later be used as the Spy Changers.

Hasbro and Takara have used the names of Gobot characters as names for Transformers. One example of this was in 2002 when Hasbro released the Transformers Armada line. One of the mini-cons was named after the Gobot leader, Leader-1. Another example occurred in 2004 when Takara release E-Hobby repaints of their mini-bot reissues, Transformers Collection 12. The mini-bots in the set were suppose to have used the names of some of the Gobots who looked similar to them. Renegades were made into Decepticons and Guardians were changed to Autobots. However, due to legal issues the toys were numbered but never officially named. Here is the list of the six repaints with their intended names:

Bumblebee repainted as Bug Bite, a Decepticon

Cosmos repainted as Pathfinder, an Autobot

Huffer repainted as Road Ranger, an Autobot

Gears repainted as Small Foot, an Autobot

Powerglide repainted as Bad Boy, a Decepticon

Warpath repainted as Treads, a Decepticon

Gobots have even made cameo appearances in Transformers comic books. When Dreamwave had the license to producing Transformers comics, they would put Gobots in some of the panels. One of the Gobots that was used most often was Cykill. A few of Cykill's cameos were in Armada #16, War Within #2, and Transformers: Generation #10. Other Gobots also had brief cameos as well.

Hasbro also released another line of toys using the name Gobots. Hasbro made the decision to combine their Playskool brand with the Gobots name. The result was Playskool Gobots. Playskool Gobots were Transformers aimed at younger children.

The End?

The war between the Transformers and Gobots is over. Hasbro has seen fit to use the name Gobots, images of Gobots, and former Gobot names time after time. Who knows when or how Hasbro will use the Gobots next. One thing is for certain, Transformers won the war in the 80's and continue to survive today. Also Gobots may be gone, at least in the same sense as they were in the 80's, but they are not forgotten. They have made a lasting impact on Transformers. In some ways perhaps Transformers fans should thank Tonka for the Gobots. If they never would have challenged Hasbro who knows how hard Hasbro would have pushed Transformers. One thing is for certain the competition from Tonka forced Hasbro to put their best effort forward.

Special Thanks:
I would like to give a special thanks to Raymond T., for all of his help with this article. Thanks you Raymond T. for all of your input and countless edits!

List of sources

Credit(s): Hotrod

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