Hobby Musings: smALL-Stars a new type of collectible for digital age – In a time where our world is rapidly changing thanks to technology, the hobby itself has been accused of being behind the curve at times. Thanks to recent innovations, including digital trading cards and on-demand offerings, it has started to come out of that shell. One facet of the hobby that is getting the digital treatment is figurines thanks to Icon AI NBA smAll-Stars Figures. A smart collectible, it combines the satisfaction of a physical item with the added interactivity of a digital item. For more about the figurines work, I had the chance to catch up with Icon AI’s Terry Smith. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: What gave you the inspiration to start the product line?
TS: With the Small-Stars line of collectible figurines, we wanted to try to introduce something new to collectors; something that was more than just an item to put on your shelf. The idea was to create a line of collectibles that were “smart”. Our products connect to mobile devices for authentication and other features to provide collectors with added value.
KS: For fans and collectors who may not be aware, how exactly do they work?
TS: The ease of use is pretty simple. Android users just need to download the free IconAI SmallStars app and make sure the NFC reader on the device is turned on. All they have to do after that is touch the back of the phone to the top of the Small-Star’s right shoe toe. The virtual version of the Small-Star will magically spring to life on their phone. For iOS (and Android) users there is a unique ID code laser engraved on the bottom of the right shoe that can be entered into the app to activate the virtual Small-Star. Collectors will be able to see what the production ID number of their figure is as well as set up a user account to register their Small-Stars.
KS: What challenges have you faced integrating both a physical and digital aspect into the figurines?
TS: Well, needless to say, we have to work on two products simultaneously. The physical goods, the Small-Star collectible figures require a lot artistic and logistical attention to detail. Just to put out a high quality product takes a lot of time and energy. Add to that all of the engineering and design work that goes into creating an app and you have the makings of a pretty ambitious project. We hope that the collector community will be patient with us as we try to work out all of the initial kinks but we are positive we will be able to provide them with a terrific product that they will be able to enjoy and share in multiple ways.
KS: Which players are you featuring in the initial release?
TS: We are going to try to release 10 players for the end of the 2016-17 NBA season. The first six players scheduled for release are: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin. We will follow that up with four additional players: Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Damian Lillard.
TS: I’m sure everyone has an opinion on who the first 10 players should be. We did our best to try to pick players that we thought fans would like to see in our stylized representations.
KS: Were there any players who almost made the cut for this series, but you ended up having to drop them?
TS: No players were dropped. We merely postponed their Small-Star debut. We are already working on a quick follow up to add players for next year’s line.
KS: Do you think you’ll ever branch into featuring retired players with the figurines?
TS: Yes. We are in conversations with some retired players that we would like to add to the Small-Star line. I am hopeful that we can include a handful of retired players in next year’s product line.
KS: The figures are being advertised as having a “very limited production run.” Any chance you can share just how limited they will be?
TS: The exact number of NBA Small-Stars that will be released is still being determined. I can say that the number is going to be extremely small because we are coming out very late in the NBA season. (We are shooting to get products to retailers toward the end of the Championship Series –mid June.) We also know that next season the teams will be switching uniform manufactures so we will need to change the uniforms for the current crop of Small-Stars players. When you add these considerations into the mix, it means our production run will be very small this season to gauge how the collector community and fans react to this new type of product. In short, there will not be very many produced for the inaugural test launch.
KS: There are aspects of the figurines that appeal to all different walks of life, but I’m curious, do you have a target audience in mind for them, especially as it relates to age?
TS: We were shooting for a stylized representation of the athletes that would have a broad appeal and quite simply just be FUN! We were not going for realism. There is already enough of that type of product out there. We also were not aiming for anything too cartoon-like. There are already products and other representation of NBA stars that capture that angle. We were trying to find a sweet spot somewhere in-between. A look that fans and collectors alike would find appealing. We hope that we have captured a stylized caricature of each athlete that people of all ages will enjoy.
KS: The digital world is always updating, the same as NBA players moving on to other teams. With that in mind, could you ever foresee a scenario where you have an option to update the jerseys on the figurines in the event of a new team?
TS: On the virtual side, allowing Small-Star collectors to update the uniforms is something that they will already be able to do in the app. As for the Small-Star collectible figures we do intend to create various uniform options and will do our best to stay up to date as events like trades and free agency occur. Our production methods allow us to react to these types of scenarios faster than most companies that produce this type of product. This is something we hope to take advantage of.
KS: Looking ahead, how would you like to expand the product line in the future?
TS: We are hopeful we can branch out to other sports and entertainment. Our name Icon AI was chosen because we ultimately would like to create products that include any and all cultural icons. We believe our technology and creativity will allow fans and collectors to enjoy the iconic individuals they follow and admire in a more engaging and meaningful way.
KS: I’ll get you out of here on this. They’re set to launch in June. Do you have a specific date in mind yet for release and will the app portion of it be available at the same time?
TS: We are working like crazy to try to get the first wave of product to a number of retailers before the NBA Championship series is over. It will be tight, but we are aiming for a mid-June release. Those interested in keeping tabs on the exact release date and the retailers that will be carrying the NBA Small-Stars line can follow us on Twitter, @IconAISmallStar, or visit our website IconAI.com. They can also ask the local sports collector shop they frequent to order NBA IconAI SmallStars from GTS Distribution.
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