`Star Wars’ Geeks See Dollar Signs as E3 Freebie Dolls Hit EBay

Darth Vader Figure
The Star Wars Darth Vader figure, part of Disney’s Infinity 3.0 video-game platform at E3. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Star Wars fans who attended the annual E3 video-game conference this week are turning a quick profit selling unreleased Yoda and Darth Maul toys on the Internet that were handed out for free by Walt Disney Co.

The collectible figures, part of Disney’s Infinity 3.0 video-game platform, are being offered for as much as $300 each on EBay Inc. The Star Wars characters, which haven’t yet reached store shelves, will retail for about $14 each when they go on sale this fall, ahead of the December release of the film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Disney gave out thousands of the figures at E3, the annual trade show held in Los Angeles. Attendees, mostly video-game industry professionals, raced to the Disney booth at the start of the show each day to line up for the promotion. The company had to close the line after as little as a minute so it didn’t run out of toys.

“It’s amazing that people love these characters so much that they’re willing to stand in line for so long,” John Blackburn, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Infinity, said in an e-mail.

Disney hasn’t announced the release date for Infinity 3.0, its latest version of the game, which competes with Activision Blizzard Inc.’s Skylanders, Nintendo Co.’s Amiibo and the newest entrant in the so-called toys-to-life category that combines onscreen and offscreen play -- Lego Dimensions, which is distributed by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

Darth Maul, one of the Disney characters in shortest supply, was being offered for $200 to $300 on eBay. Others, such as Chewbacca and Yoda, were selling for around $75.

New Customers

Including software and accessories, interactive gaming toys have generated more than $2 billion since their inception in late 2011, according to researcher NPD Group Inc. For the 12 months ended in March, sales grew 2 percent to $695 million.

The Star Wars brand may entice some consumers to buy Infinity 3.0 figures who wouldn’t normally be interested in that platform this holiday season.

Jean-Philippe Steinmetz, a 33-year-old programmer from Los Angeles who tested Infinity Star Wars at E3 on June 18, said he would probably purchase the game even though hadn’t bought an action figure since he was 10.

“It was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Steinmetz recalled.

Disney, based in Burbank, California, is employing a two-pronged attack on the video-game market for its Star Wars brand.

Two Prongs

The company’s interactive division is releasing Star Wars figures and games for Infinity 3.0, which is aimed at kids. The company has also licensed Star Wars to game maker Electronic Arts Inc., which is releasing Star Wars Battlefront on Nov. 17. That game, a so-called first-person shooter, is targeting older players.

Electronic Arts designers filmed at locations from the movies to create a game that looks cinematic.

Characters in Infinity 3.0, meanwhile, are designed to look like toys. Onscreen they explode into pieces. Players also try to remove the batteries from an opponent to disable it, rather than resort to more violent forms of attack.

Disney is releasing the first game for its Infinity 3.0 $65 starter pack tied to the Clone Wars era, the most-recent three films in the Star Wars series, rather than the first three films, specifically to appeal to younger players.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh in the series and the first Star Wars film since Disney acquired the brand for $4 billion in 2012, comes out on Dec. 18.

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