I paid $40.04 for my last He-Man: Masters of the Universe Classics figure. That’s totally normal, right? Those things really skyrocket in price on the secondary market! Oh, wait, I bought it straight from Matty.
-$27.00 for the figure -$9.90 for shipping -$3.14 for tax
This is part of Mattel’s new price increase for MOTUC figures – from $20, to $22, to…$27. Now, I understand the rising costs of plastic and labor (more on that later), but… forty dollars. NECA makes way more-detailed toys with less parts re-use, and charges half that. In fact, without shipping or tax, they still charge less, as most of their stuff barely crests $20 at most. OKay, time to talk Mattel.
Founded in 1945 (by a guy named “matt,” no less), Mattel is the world’s largest toy company, owning Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, and all sorts of other things. In the early ’80s, Mattel developed He-Man, which revolutionized children’s programming, marketing, and the concept of “Action figure.” Just about every boy’s toy we have that isn’t Star Wars or a MEGO doll owes something to Mattel, just as… well, toys in general owe everything to Barbie’s tremendous popularity. Mattel made modern toys.
He-Man is big enough that, no kidding, there are history books talking about it. So we’ll just gloss over this – hugely popular, took advantage of lightened FCC restrictions, oversaturated the market and dropped into oblivion. It was remade in the early 2000s to moderate success, but the cartoon soon faltered, and the toys had several logistical problems. I wish I could find it again, but there was a quote about how the at-the-time Mattel execs had no clue how to run a line like He-Man anymore. Figure assortments bore this out – the endless variants of He-Man and Skeletor remained unsold on shelves, while the (surprisingly rare) toys of everybody else got bought up immediately. So, He-Man disappeared for a while, and in the interim, Mattel got the license for DC comics, and began copying Toybiz (and later Hasbro’s) business model from Marvel Legends. It looked like the company had learned its lesson!
Late in the 2000s, Mattel remade He-Man again, only this time as a mail-order collector’s line. Less stock (though generally not TOO limited), slightly higher prices, and huge quality. The current model is a subscription program, with power prices and bonus figures for people willing to pay for the entire year’s line. I am not a subscriber. I’ve actually resisted this new line’s pull for a while, and even now I’m justy tentatively grabbing a few figures I’ve decided I really like. I do not feel the need to be a completist on this line – I dunno, maybe it’s Chief Carnivus, or maybe the Star Sisters who totally decided it for me.
And since this is an impressive labor of love done for the fans, designed by fans, and even marketed by fans (Scott Neitlich is a huge fanboy), the internet hates it. If you go to a He-Man fan site, you’d think that nobody likes the toys, nobody buys them, and Mattel only makes things to spite its fans. But hey, it’s the internet, and that’s how we roll. But then when you look outside of bitter fannish complaints, you’ll find a lot of valid criticism of Mattel, and particularly Masters of the Universe Classics. So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how they’ve been handling these toys, for better or for worse.
Firstly, there’s the issue of market size. As far as I can tell, MOTUC makes a decent amount of money, but it’s absolutely nothing when compared to the juggernauts of BHarbie and Hot wheels. I know the temptation is to say “Mattel doesn’t care about anything if it’s not Barbie,” and that is silly – clearly they care enough to assign people to work on it. But yeah, Barbie gets the lion’s share of attention, because it’s the lion’s share of their profits. Think of it this way – let’s say you make $40,000 a year in your 9-to-5 job. Let’s also say that there’s a local swap meet, and you set up a table there on weekends. Sometimes you make some money, sometimes you don’t, but you average maybe $100 a week after paying for the table. Which are you going to care more about? Your job, or your weekend yard sale? And the fact is, despite this, the MOTUC runners really fight to keep the line going. If it were cancelled, Mattel wouldn’t see much of a change in their profits at all. I know this sounds like I’m giving them a blank check to run the toyline however they want, but I’m not, just trying to explain some of their perspective. Subscription sizes are important, and that’s why there was such a panic last year. But here’s the thing – even though it’s not a BIG part of Mattel’s profits, He-Man is an important IP of theirs, and they have put enough effort into promoting the line that the way they run it is very important. At the least, they need to remain professional. So, do they?
Matty Collector’s on-line store is awful. It’s not purely Mattel’s fault, only mostly. Their distribution service, Digital River, took a few years to adjust the store well enough to handle actual normal day-to-day traffic. Lots and lots of people found it impossible to order the toys they wanted! Digital River also has surprisingly bad customer service, and the joke is that they seem like they’re trying to sabotage Mattel, themselbes. But Matty has them under contract, and they are improving (very slightly), so there’s that.
Quality control for this line is hit-and-miss. Every toy company has some QC issues – I brought up NECA before, and they are infamous for stuck/breakable joints. Thankfully, THAT is pretty rare with Mattel…moderately rare…sometimes rare… okay, stuck joints happen. For about half of last year, there were serious paint-flaking issues when they cast all their figures in black plastic, and painted over them – a smart way to cut costs, but a terrible way to keep customers. But that has been fixed. Toy weapons and accessories are sometimes made of the softest, gummiest, meltingest plastic available, so un-bending them can be rough, but that happpens a lot, too. These don’t really reflect Mattel’s HILARIOUS quality control issues, which include:
-Character assembly. Roboto, He-Man, Skeletor, and King Hsss had swapped shoulders, Stinkor had swapped forearms (which they claimed were intentiona0, Frosta had swapped forearms, and I know I’m missing a lot. It’s just kind of a Mattel thing – some body parts are going to be switched around. It’s like that Simpsons joke about Mr. McGraig – with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg! This is terrible.
-Broken stuff. Lots of Robotos were broken. Lots of Fearless Photogs had cracked lenses. Several Stratos torsos were not glued correctly, and had open seams. If you put Granamyr together, he will probably break. Several vehicles have arrived broken.
-Mattel’s customer service for broken or defective product is pretty lacking. On at least one occasion, they made a customer send back the toy at his expense, and then never offered a replacement.
Image thanks to the forums at He-Man.org
-Snout Spout’s trunk was made of a special type of foam rubber that cracks, rots, and decays from exposure to oxygen.
-Not a part of MOTUC, but one of their DC convention exclusives was missing an entire figure (the Wonder Twins plus their monkey).
-Also not MOTUC, but the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, a massive toy that cost a huge premium, was made of the same stuff as Snout Spout’s trunk. So hey, you paid over $100 for this toy? It’s going to rot like a week-old hamburger!
-Also, The Mighty Spector. No QC issues there, except that the figure got made. Okay, okay, that’s an exagerration, but it’s not the most popular toy ever.
Whenever something like this happens, Mattel drafts Scott Neitlich, The Toy Guru, to be their go-between with their customer base. And look, it’s not totally his fault that he’s told to say “Everything is fine! Marshmallow men are supposed to dissolve! Shoulders are always swapped! Two plus two is five tanks!” Though admittedly, sometimes hios responses aren’t as diplomatic as they could be (with a fanbase like this one, would YOU be polite?). This was bad for a line of $20 figures. It’s REALLY bad for a line of $30 figures. MOTUC toys now cost as much as Revoltech, hyper-articulated semi-high end Japanese toys. Just as figures, Revoltech toys are technically superior to MOTUC ones in pretty much every way. In a sense, MOTUC’s general lack of quality makes them more expensive as a result.
Well, to be fair, when a figure is assembled correctly and does not decay, it’s pretty solidly built. But there is a lot of parts re-use, something that is supposed to lower prices. In theory. It’s just like how rotocast vinyl toys cost a lot less to make than injection-molded plastic, and yet people charge way more for them!
I’ll accept the line that lower production numbers is a factor in MOTUC’s high cost, it’s just not a nice one. These would be excellent $15 figures, and are still good $20 ones, but $27? It’s hard to justify them. And $40 after taxes and shipping? To put it in perspective, $40 is what you’d pay for some of the really desirable out-of-print figures in this line, like Draego-Man or Horde Prime. It’s lucky that I paid $40 for my Horde Prime from them, because that’s roughly his aftermarket value. But what about poor, poor netossa, the BArbie-esque most recent offering? That’s just sad. They have to fix their quality control issues, or it will cost them a lot of sales.
Now, on the flipside, we have gotten like a bajillion figures, many of whom would have never seen retail, and are awesome (yay, Draego-Man! Vikor! Castle Grayskullman!), and at the same time, the MOTUC fanbase has issues. Sure, not all of them, or even a majority, but the Vocal Internet Minority is INSANE. Even when they get what they want, they call it a “slap in the face” and threaten to sue! And then we have the conspiracy theories. My two favorites are:
-The line was in trouble in 2012, and needed a set number of subscriptiong to get the green light for 2013. Plenty of people thought that this was a vast conspiracy made of lies, and the line never was in jeopardy. Nonsense. Yes, I am aware that they only got enough to continue on the last day, but I’m willing to bet that a whole ton of subscribers waited until the last minute to sign up.
-Castle Grayskull (coming out later this year) had the same issue. It needed a certain number of pre-orders, and only achieved it at the end of the last day. See above. I highly doubt that there are any vast He-Man conspiracies going on, not even the devil-worshipping one. Remember that? Yeah.
Okay, so Mattel really isn’t that good with MOTUC, or many other collector lines (though I think Ghostbusters just failed because of awful, awful sales). They run Barbie and Hot Wheels well, at least! Though for some of their other lines… have you seen the 4″ Dark Knight Rises toys? They just might be the worst things in mass-market right now. And I’ll be honest, a lot of the issues going on right now are understandable, or not as big a deal as people make them out to be. But the QC issues are really horrible, and those hurt the most. Other companies have quality issues, but not to this extent.
So, what should you do? Buy toys if you want, boycott if you want, but remember to try to stick to valid complaints. Every time you blurt out a silly conspiracy theory, they listen just a little bit less.
But the fact remains that I just paid $40 for a $15 figure, $20 if I want to be generous. Something has to change.
One more thing. Here’s a quote from MattyCollector’s very own Facebook page:
“The reason the figures cost 25.00/27.00 is because of the very low production run. The fewer we make, the most it cost. It is as simple as that! MOTUC is a very small line with a very dedicated fan base. But in the end it is small.”
Yes, it is a small line. But in order to be worth $27.00, you need to work on your quality control and customer service. And please, please, get a less smug logo. I want to punch Matty in the face SO HARD.
Okay, next time, I’m gonna have more fun.