GoBots first came to the western market in 1983, intending to capitalize early on the spreading transforming robot craze that already gripped Japan. The brainchild of Popy, a division of Bandai, the GoBots started out as the affordable Machine Robo series, small reasistic or futuristic vehicles that transformed into robots. The earliest waves were marketed directly by Bandai as Machine Men, named after their alternate modes. The line instantly sunk in the US, much like competitor Takara’s Diakron line. American toy manufacturer stepped in to start marketing the toys in the US with a new name and an accompanying Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Bandai marketed the figures directly in Europe as Robo Machine, and in Australia as Machine Men.
The lines were instant hits, gripping the market months before Hasbro’s Transformers hit the shelves. Tonka pumped out all the Bandai designs available in rapid succession, adding indigenous designs like Zod and the Command Center. Once Transformers hit, however, competition was fierce. GoBots countered the mostly larger Generation 1 toys by licensing Bandai’s larger designs as Super GoBots, but these failed to compete effectively. Relegated to competing solely at the ~$3 price point, GoBots took on the schoolyard caste of cheap wannabees despite booming sales. Tonka tried to license any robot products they could, creating an eclectic empire of GoBots branded merchandise.
Still, it was to no avail. By 1985, Transformers sales were through the roof, dominating the valuable market above the $3 price point. Tonka was fighting for scraps, and slipping Machine Robo sales in Japan just meant fewer and fewer molds were available. To make matters worse, Hasbro launched a massive campaign to ensure all non-Transormers were viewed as inauthentic knock-offs, including adding special “rubsigns” to their toys. Transformers’ Sunbow action cartoon was dominating the more primitive Hanna-Barbera Challenge of the GoBots, which was soon cancelled.
1987 was GoBots last dying gasp. Tonka marketed only the Dread Launchers and Power Marchers, while Bandai followed up in Europe with Robo Machine-branded issues of some other miscellaneous Bandai toys. However, the height of the robot craze was over for everyone, with GoBots being the second to last survivor. In 1991, Tonka folded, and Hasbro scooped up the remnants, including all the IP for GoBots, but not any of the tooling. Bandai tried briefly to market the toys in Europe again as Robo Machines (with an ‘s’), with the prosaic names that failed to capture attention in early 1983. Beyond this, most modern GoBots lore comes ironically from Hasbro, in the form of homage toys or comic book cameos.