Friday, June 14, 2013

Rant: Is it REALLY "Nerf or nothin'?"

There's only one choice...?
Over the last few years, new blaster lines have come and gone; they've all at the time emerged as an innovative new product hoping to claim their stake in the competitive toy blaster market and to make more than just a tiny dent in Hasbro's considerable presence. It's been a tough run though; even when good gear is released from a Non Nerf manufacturer and fans praise it, it serves as more of a novelty or "something different" for a short time before fans run back to Nerf and the gear is no longer of use.

With Nerf being not only the dominant brand, but also the default name for any type of blaster these days (Parents especially are schooled pretty darn quickly when they dare to get their kid something that's NOT Nerf- Cosmic Thruster aside!) there's not really a whole lot of reason for a fan to get anything else. So what is it that makes fans so loyal? Is it based on solid arguments or are we all just sheep? Let's explore this...

Fans are rather unforgiving these days and are pretty specific about what they want. There's always a strong emphasis on greater distances and amazing aesthetic design and are they're unwilling to compromise on either.  Rival toy manufacturers take this feedback quite seriously and incorporate these ideals in their new blasters to the point that in my opinion many of these new lines have been successful in achieving both, yet have fallen into obscurity after fans fail to adopt them.

Until recently I can't think of any instance where a foam dart blaster that WASN'T from Nerf has really generated significant buzz, at least enough to be considered a real contender as a fan favourite. I myself was quite impressed with the X-Shot Turbo Fire and it was actually quite well received in the community for a short space of time.  Buzzbee's Rangemaster and Panther models had a lot of positive press.. but then after a while we stopped hearing about them.

So maybe the stranglehold is too great you might suggest? Perhaps, the solution is if you can't directly compete, perhaps try changing the game? There are those who therefore try to develop blasters that use alternative disposable ammunition other than foam darts. Everything from the Maya Group's Xploderz range that used ammo similar to the wet balls found in flower vases, to Jakks Pacific's Max Force (I still think the Terrornator was one of my favourite pieces in my war against Pigeons) that essentially used 'spit wads'- both lines were pretty impressive as far as ranges and performances were concerned and looked pretty darn cool, but the criticism of them was they didn't have working triggers. Maya then released Blaster Pro which had all the pluses of the Xploderz line but now with fully working triggers. They would have every reason to believe they hit a home run there, right?... Well given they never came to Australia, I can't say for certain how successful they've been but I'm guessing not very:( Disposable ammo makes a LOT of sense in theory, but in practice we just don't seem to like the idea of paying money for ammo we have to throw away.

The only alternative ammo to darts I think seems to be accepted is the XLR disc from.. Nerf's Vortex line. I wonder sometimes if these DIDN'T carry the Nerf badge but were a totally different brand whether they would be so popular- Nerf were so successful and aggressive with the foam dart being the ammo of choice that I still find the community aren't completely sold on Vortex, as much as it  nails everything fans have said they wanted.

The dominance of foam, and in turn, Nerf may be at an all time high and it's interesting to see even established lines from the past dropping in interest too. Attempts to resurrect home laser tag to its glory days of the 80's have been quite average at best, and water guns are nowhere near as exciting as they were in the 90's and probably at their lowest as far as innovation is concerned. And Nerf fans are a loyal bunch- laser tag and water gun fans will generally love foam darts too, but not the other way around.

I for one LOVE variety and I love competition- I believe you need it to push boundaries and promote innovation and yet even I admit as much as I dabble in other blaster lines, I have to say Nerf's on the whole had the bulk of my business to date. SO maybe we need to focus our analysis on what Nerf do RIGHT.

First and foremost- it's a quality product. Other blasters tend to feel cheap with low grade plastics and poor designs, with details that are often merely rebadged stickers and shoddy paint jobs. Nerf blasters always look good, they're well made, all follow a design identity that makes a Nerf blaster look distinct from everything else. And more importantly performances are consistently good stock out of the box (although these days other blasters are quite comparable..but noone seems to care!).

Then there's their big bucks marketing. Nerf has done well to develop a strong identity, not just in the blasters but the image surrounding them; the very clever "It's Nerf or Nothin'" catch cry very aggressively throws the gauntlet down to other manufacturers that they're up against significant resistance from fans and influences the market greatly. While I've always been somewhat critical of their somewhat awkward outdated marketing decisions, they're a big company so they've got the bucks to definitely be the biggest, brightest and loudest of all toy companies. The only real way to compete with a massive company with a phat marketing budget would be for SOMEONE out there who actually understands alternative media (social media for instance) and how it works to win fans over; unfortunately to date no toy company can really say they've done this that well so it is no wonder the biggest and most funded can dominate the market.

There's also variety- which Nerf have in spades. The toy blaster climate has actually changed a LOT, just in the past few years. Hasbro's done a pretty darn good job and flooding the market with a LOT of Nerf branded choice, and with new models coming out so regularly, they're making it really difficult for any other manufacturer to come up with anything to meet any market gaps or afford to compete on the same playing field.

Even rival toy companies with the dollars and power to compete on the same playing field (like Mattel for instance) are strangely refusing to compete. It's a far cry from when I first started blogging about blasters in 2010 where there wasn't a WHOLE lot of choice in the Nerf range (especially in Australia) and fans pretty much grabbed whatever they could get- as long as it shot a dart reasonably well it made the grade. There was a lot more Buzzbee floating around in those days; stuff you rarely see at games today.

There's also the price- Nerf blasters have also come down considerably in price over the past few years- Recalling the days of 120 dollar Stampedes and 79 dollar Longstrikes, we're now almost half of that in today's market- whereas many of the other blasters are lacking the reputation but still being priced consistently higher.
Hideous Hailfire. and yet.. I have two.
So many fans in Nerfland are completionists- they're so keen to get the latest big thing that even if they don't like it, they'll still buy it. If I want to be brutally honest, half of my Nerf collection never sees light of day including more recent efforts like the monstrosity that is the Hailfire. And yet  I can bag it out and think very little of it and.. Hasbro still wins as I still have two and paid quite a significant amount to import them to boot!

Taking a look at the toy aisles, and Nerf really owns the shelves in spades, and are more than deserving of the king of the hill title. But That being said.. are fans getting a little bored these days? Is there a window where even as grown ups, we'll only really love toy blasters for a certain number of years before we decide to seek more or move on? Do we require more to keep us interested and actively seek innovation and alternatives like the way die hard Apple users are starting to stray from the iPhone and enjoy Samsung's and HTC's these days? Or are we still in the era of "Nerf or Nothin'"?


  1. honestly i like the look of Nerf all the others look like kid toys to me Nerf has always had a techie edge to them that put them a cut above the rest. so for me its NERF or Nothin'

  2. Wow, that was extremely well written. I'm impressed.

    To be honest, I think more of us are looking to Tek Recon and keeping an eye on them, just to see what happens. They're rolling in with everything they've got, and they definitely would beat all of the other competitors of Nerf. So it should be interesting to see what happens.

    I haven't pulled out my Nerf blasters for over three months, and I still buy them. I don't know why. It's always exciting to see something new coming out, but is it REALLY worth it?

    I'm 13. I love blasters and first person shooters. And to COMBINE those two things is so simple, yet so intriguing. A long time ago I pulled out my Nitron and said to myself, "I wanted this?" We were all looking forward to the release date of the Vortex series back before then, but now we look at it as pretty much junk, because there's something BETTER. It really does look better on the outside of the box. I think we will all switch at one point, but it's hard to say.

    Nerf is always going to keep coming out with something new, better and exciting, but I think that eventually they'll run out of ideas. It's hard to keep "bettering" yourself for so long, so it's good that Tek Recon has gotten an early start so that Nerf has some competition.

    That's how I see it, but I dunno. I might switch to Tek Recon, I might not. It's hard to say.

    The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side of the hill.

  3. Tek Recon would be where it's at, but I am shy to push that until we really see how it goes in the wild.

    Nerf for me has gotten rather stale. I totally agree with what you're saying with the marketing- I work as a social media manager and its important to actually hear your readers out rather than just tweet or facebook for the sake of being 'cool'. The news they always release is outdated and they patronize their readership. People love their product and I agree they deserve those accolades, but they do seem to be doing a lot of churn so its quantity over quality.

  4. Here's one thing to consider: There's a deep-seated universal preference for the foam dart form factor, with its resemblance to the bullet both in its cylindrical shape and its behavior in flight.

    It's along the same lines as our preference for "tacticool"--whether or not we have a propensity for real firearms, we prefer our toy weapons to be reasonable analogs of them. What I'm saying is that this almost subconscious predilection also applies to ammo (and being easily recoverable helps, too). It's why Nerf's dart blasters are number one, why Buzz Bee, Air Zone and the other dart blasters are collectively number two, and why Blaster Pro/Xploderz, Vapor, Max Force and Nerf's own Vortex line are either languishing on shelves, absent, or being fire-saled.

    It's also why I have little confidence in Tek Recon becoming a true contender in the blaster biz. It's got some great innovations on the app side, but I think the end result will be that these innovations will migrate over to the established dart blaster side, while Tek Recon's blaster technology itself, disappears along with the brand. It boils down to this: It's a rubber band shooter. It. is. A rubber band shooter. Foam dart fans are not going to abandon their favorite type of ammunition for small, hard to see, hard to recover mini-rubber-bands.

    And we know why Buzz Bee is a distant second to Nerf: while it's released a few remarkable blasters along the way, it puts little effort in aesthetics, and it seems more content with flooding the market with cheap garishly-colored spring blasters. If Buzz Bee were to focus their efforts on the visual look of their toys, and on blasters that offer customers things that they can no longer find in Nerf (air pressure blasters, for one), they could improve their market share and fan perception.

    1. About that tek recon bit, I think everyone was okay switching from darts to discs, and long as it SIMULATED a bullet or something. It went farther, and that was good enough for me. I'm especially looking for distance in Nerf blasters, and the Vortex...sorta looked like a gun, and it shot something.

      Tek Recon is no different in my eyes. I know it's a rubber band gun, but it has DISTANCE. I think Tech 4 kids has Nerf worried, and that's good. Nerf needs some competition so that they can lower their prices and I don't have to pay $25 freaking dollas for a decent weapon.

  5. It's Buzz Bee or Nothin'!!!

  6. I like how you touch on Water Guns and the dearth of quality blasters there, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to Buzz Bee's 2014 Water Warriors lineup. If it's as good as I suspect it will be, 90's CPS's will finally have competition.

  7. for me I personally like buzzbee more because you can create some really wacky mods and they're reasonably cheap, Main thing I found is nerf stocks better and has better publicity, good example is in Tasmania I havnt seen a single panther and only just now is the rangemaster in the toyworld catalogue, but even then its not in stock :/

  8. If Mega darts are as hard to mod as I expect them to be I could see the 3rd party tuning and replacement parts groups working on other brands. They are always doing research. WE like to think we can mod any thing but nerf are actually fighting against us sure they gave us stronger springs and the same power plungers in smaller shells but what what their PR is saying about community involvement is hiding the fact they are trying harder and harder to make modding any thing other than springs (which they already do region to region) harder and harder to impossible to do.

    Nstrike introduced the Air Ristrictor
    Elite introduced plunger tube strangulation points
    Rebelle (I include Triad/roughcut as rebelle era)introduced auto selective chambers that don't work with Stephan's well even if you cut them down.
    Mega will introduce some thing new to make modifying harder mark my words.

    Despite what Nerf say they are fighting against mods in every release.

    Will not be long before a non nerf company release a Electric Plunger Tube blaster that could possibly make nerf irrelevant in the high end scene. or push them to side arm only status.

    1. If hasbro really wanted to make nerf guns harder to modify, they could just use triangular-headed screws (as opposed to phillips- and flat-headed screws), but it would just be a matter of time before we got the screwdrivers for them. Also, with 3D printers, people will be able to create their own custom parts and internals, and they will also print their own nerf guns, but they can modify them before they are even made.

  9. One reason the Buzzbee Panther stopped being so talked about was due to the fact that they changed the tank size to something smaller which killed the modding potential. The NIC was not happy about that. If that had never changed, a lot of people would still be buying them quite often. Big Salvo tank replacement that doesn't cost a lot? It's perfect. Too bad Buzzbee ruined it.

  10. Well I think you are pretty spot on. Another factor to consider why people don't buy a lot of buzz bee and other brands tends to be a compatibility issue. Nerf is currently
    The number one because they put in the work in for it so it will be the biggest part of everyone's arsenal, this being said, the other dart gun brands are not always compatible with nerf darts, which are beyond a doubt superior, and they are not compatible with clips. And clips was one of
    Nerf best ideas to date. Is there anything more satisfying then loading up a clip, locking it in a blaster, then tossing it out and putting a new one in when needed? It does so much for the realistic combat feel. While buzz bee blasters do have many guns with more then single
    Shot capacity, it's just not as 'cool'l as having a clip.

    Another point is that with the realize of the elite series, nerf blew everyone else out of the water ten full , these blasters get bettter preformence stock then many off brand guns could get with even the most extreme modding. So they deserve the top spot for such a great line of guns.

    In regards to how nerf is trying to stop people from modding, well yea, I kinda don't blame them, modding is fun and all don't get me wrong but look at it from the engineer's standpoint, they are making these brilliant guns that get great performance, and what does your community do? Cannibalize them. Don't get me wrong I'm not knocking modding as its fun as hell, but these engineers are trying to make the best blasters they can. The AR's, the reason for those is to try and make the blaster life longer, are you going to get mad at them for trying to increase your blasters life? And what wa said about the selective fire thing making it harder, yes is does but people have already found a way around it, and it's an awesome feature so be greatful to have it, nerf isn't actively trying to stop modding, that's half there god dam business, but their main priority is gonna be making stock preformence as awesome as possible, an I find criticizing them for that to be somewhat rude.

    In terms of their media aspect, don't be so ignorant as to think the leaks are always unintentional...their ad team knows what they are doing.

    So my bottom line is that they are number one and they have earned it. That's my .02 $.

  11. I see only one solution for this:
    We, the dart blaster fan community, make our own darn blasters. Not just the ones you see made out of PVC, but innovative designs such as- say, a four-dart revolver that uses a slide action and is balanced. Crowdsource the design and mechanics so most everybody is happy. The community has enough engineers and designers to assure the "longer ranges" and "amazing aesthetic design" you speak of. Something that can be uploaded to Thingiverse and printed by members of the community with 3D printers (or CNC mills as the case may be) and then distributed through the internet. The tools for Nerf revolution are there.
    Let's use them.

  12. To be honest, I find that the build quality of Nerf blasters just feels so superior to the others; it's what made me fall in love with the whole 'foam blaster' schtick in the first place. The first one I got was a Recon (more than five years ago!), and I still own it and use it regularly. I've dropped it off the back of moving utes, had it fall off roofs, ran with it, rolled with it, soaked it in mud and water and ice, and it still feels as solid and functional as it did the day I brought it.

    Most other lines (Buzzbee in particular) feel a lot like 'toys' - they feel like, if you bump them, they'll shatter. Nerf feels solid, tight and heavy - exactly how I like it.

    If other manufacturers would up their game, especially the plastics their blasters were made from (in particular, I would be all over a blaster made from metal), then I'd be more open. At this stage, other companies' blasters just don't have the durability for HvZ.

  13. For me, I like vintage Nerf (Longshot,2k,ect.)but Buzz-Bee has really upped their game (the Panther,Range-Master,ect.)though I am looking at the modding point of view, the new Elite series from Nerf(the fly wheel blasters) if they keep going with battery powered blasters, I might just jump out of the window.For me its vintage Nerf, New Buzz-Bee.

  14. I to have been watching prices.

    The Australian dollar has started to head below US$1... So I'm thinking we will see Nerf prices in local shops rise.

  15. Seriously, there really hasnt been much competitive innovation lately on nerfs side. we are all getting the same dual motor type blasters and disk shooters. when will we see air powered or a lighter version of the stampede with better guts rather than a rehashed twin mottor tennisball launcher. system foam dart guns??