Any fan of Dino-Riders or toy collecting in general must take a look at Toyland:
The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry by Stern & Schoenhaus. The book offers an
in-depth look into the world of toy making and covers all of the major toys producers,
including Mattel, Tyco, and Hasbro. In addition, the book devotes several chapters
to the development of the Dino-Riders toy line. It describes the two year period
of time between the conception of the line and the final launching on December 26,
1987. Some of the more interesting facts about Dino-Riders include:
Jim Alley, a Tyco vice president, is credited with coming up with the idea of Dino-Riders.
Tyco was looking for a new toy and a private brainstorming session on the day after
Christmas in 1985 by Alley produced the idea for the toy line.
The name of the line was called Dino-Riders from the get-go and never changed.
The concept of Dino-Riders represented Tyco's first entry into the action figure
market. Tyco had been fixed primarily on producing electric train sets and Lego-like
building blocks. Tyco was concerned about keeping costs low because making an action
figure line was extremely costly and being that Tyco wasn't the biggest toy company
out there at the time, it would prove difficult to market properly.
From very early on, Tyco aimed for scientifically accurate replicas of the dinosaurs.
For starters, they knew that many kids were very well educated when it came to dinosaurs
and Tyco wanted to avoid any cheesy portrayals of the dinosaurs that would take away
from the line. Second, the designers reasoned that when kids got tired of the toy,
they could still use the dinosaur itself as a museum quality display piece.
Woody Browne, a marketing director for Tyco, took on extensive responsibilities in
the production of the line. From the very beginning, he had the idea of producing
two assortments of three dinosaurs that would sell for $6.25, $12.99, and $21.99,
In order to keep the dinosaurs as realistic as possible, their scale had to be such
that they would fit in relation to the human figures. Kenner’s MASK figures paved
the way for Tyco’s decision to release 2-¾ inch action figures that would fit in
with the scale of the dinosaurs and not force Tyco to have to make huge dinosaur
Deinonychus, one of the very first prototypes produced for the line, was affectionately
known as “Nike.”
The story line always called for the good guys to change their names to “Dino-Riders”
in honor of their newfound dinosaur friends. However, the original name for what
would later become the Valorians, was the “Sauresians.” Lee Volpe, one of the original
creators, imagined the Sauresians to be a noble race of elf-like beings with big
eyes. The name Sauresians would be changed to Valorians later on when children in
various test groups had difficulty remembering and pronouncing “Sauresians.”
Because imitation is a constant problem in the toy industry, Tyco employees would
only refer to Dino-Riders as B.C.
In an early test group, children were introduced to the Dino-Riders concept. The
T-Rex was known as Tyrant. The Rulon leaders were Kermit (later Krulos), Antman,
Because a television program was considered essential to the success of an action
figure line, the development team began to look into the possibility of making a
Dino-Riders cartoon. They enlisted the help of a man named Jay Garfinkel, who had
previous experience in television. After being informed of the high costs of producing
a cartoon series, the development team asked him to do a simple 8-minute cartoon
that explained the story. Garfinkel then hired Paul Kirschner, a comic book artist,
to plot out the characters.
Kirschner changed Sauresians to Valorians. Their leader was dubbed, Arturus, a philosopher
king and scientific genius. Mind-Zei was described as a man with second-sight and
his granddaughter Serena had healing powers. They communicated through “The Path,”
a type of mental telepathy. Another character, Ironoke, was described as the armorer,
quartermaster, and sergeant-major. Yet another character, Elkin, was described as
a male ingénue – ready and willing, but not quite able. For the Rulons, the leader
was known as Mogg. His troops were the Sharkurrs led by Hammerhead, the Cobra Warriors
led by Fangthorne, and the Antmen led by Antor. The dinosaurs also had unique personalities
as well. Nike the Deinonychus, Doc the Diplodocus, Terry the Pterodactyl, Clone the
Monoclonius, Tyrant the Tyrannosaurus, and Top the Triceratops all had their unique
functions and attributes. Tyco didn’t want the dinosaurs to have so much personality
because it wanted the line to be taken more seriously. Kirschner then toned it down
a bit so that the dinosaurs no longer had names and did not talk. One of Kirschner’s
ideas for telepathic communication was to have the Valorians place their fingers
on top of their foreheads in order to speak to one another. Tyco decided to make
them have special necklaces so that it could take advantage of a merchandising opportunity
(kids can go out and buy a life size toy necklace). They dubbed the necklaces AMPs,
for amplified mental projectors.
Bernie Loomis, an outside consultant and toy industry giant, provided Tyco with some
helpful suggestions on how to improve the line before it went to market. For starters,
he suggested that Tyco offer different dinosaurs instead of a Rulon and Valorian
version of the same one. That is where Tyco got the idea to use identical body molds
and simply switch the heads and call it a new dinosaur. He also suggested that some
of the price points be different. In order to justify charging a few dollars extra
for some dinosaurs, Tyco came up with the idea to include traps that could be used
by the Rulons to capture the dinosaurs. Finally, Loomis suggested that instead of
an 8-minute cartoon, Tyco should release a full cartoon episode that they could sell
on videotape. Tyco decided to sell this tape at their cost in order to generate awareness
for the line.
Tyco decided to show a full 2-minute commercial on the day after Christmas that would
essentially tell the story of Dino-Riders. The strategy to release the toy line the
day after Christmas was based on the idea that kids would definitely be home watching
the commercial and would have Christmas money available to spend on the toys. Tyco
road blocked a television spot (having the commercial appear on several networks
at the same time). The launch of the commercial was exactly two years from Jim Alley's
original conception of the toy line.
In the line's first full year, 1988, total US sales were $35 million. Internationally,
sales equaled $64 million.