Shocka: the latest Mattel/He-Man cockup

Shocka sez:

Alright! After this week's highly successful sell-out of Battle Cat on MattyCollector everyone is now receiving their Battle Cats, so its time for another joyous OAFE review! Unlike the lucky people who managed to buy their Battle Cats, I didn't have to wait to receive mine - it was already in my house, waiting for me to play with it!

The first thing to notice is that Battle Cat doesn't have the same kind of packaging as the other MOTU Classics figures; like the toy itself, it is constructed entirely of air and is completely invisible! MIB collectors will not be pleased as this will look out of place in their collection, but as an opener it doesn't bother me in the slightest. Cracking this baby open, you'll find that the sculpting and paint has also taken a turn from the worse - there isn't any.

Very much like the toy itself, playability is non-existent. He-Man simply falls through Battle Cat to the floor when you try to pose him on it, and frankly he doesn't seem to present much of a threat to Skeletor and his functionally retarded cronies because he's not present at all. Finally it's really easy to lose Battle Cat because he's both invisible and incorporeal, so he could be anywhere right now. I'm not sure where I left him.

Ok, enough of this charade - I'm going to weigh in with my thoughts on the latest Matty screw-up and their inadequate response. Most of you readers will know that earlier this week MattyCollector successfully sold out of all of their MOTU Classics offerings within minutes of the sale going live, and during this time basically anyone who logged in was presented with a myriad of server problems, white screens of death and ultimately notification that the items they were attempting to order were out of stock. Issues with Digital River meant that some users were presented with "out of stock" messages due to a bug when the item in question was not actually out of stock, whilst everyone saw white screens due to bandwidth problems and few were actually able to order the toys they wanted. It was a gargatuan mess, and many have already written about it at length - I just want to add my 2¢ on behalf of OAFE.

MattyCollector and Mattel have become infamous since inception for offering what is currently the most celebrated, and most popular, and possibly the best new toys on the market, and at the same time have received universal hatred for their handling of customers and the hoops that collectors are forced to jump through to acquire their wares. Designed supposedly for collectors, they sell exclusives from their website in limited qualities to ensure sell-outs, addressing the main issue that plagued the 2002 versions of the MOTU figures - a lack of sales. The problem is that the demand for their toys versus a lack of supply alongside technical problems and a scenario that favors scalpers means that a lot of people are left very unhappy and without the toys they want, and this has never been more evident than last week.

Browsing the many different forums and sites just hours after Battle Cat sold out showed lots of fans unanimous in outrage, and it quickly became clear to me that it wasn’t just, say, a couple of hundred fans that missed out, it was in the thousands. That’s a huge amount of collectors who missed out on the toys they wanted to buy, and also a lot of money that Mattel missed out on due to their poor handling of the situation. (If you don't believe me, head over to Matty’s forum and check the thread for individual people to post if they missed out on Battle Cat – there were over 300 people at last count. From there, head over to He-Man.org, then to Action-Figure.com, so on and so on.) The sentiment expressed by fans was all similar - the server problems had prevented them from completing orders whilst others had somehow broken through and ordered up to 10 of the toys, ensuring that the secondary market would be blooming just moments after the sell out and eBay scalpers would be making hundreds of dollars in profit before they'd even received the figures from Matty. Further, the benefit to subscribers - the $8 voucher - was entirely worthless as no one could even buy the toy, even those who had gone all-in and bought a full subscription to the series, which was supposedly MattyCollector's answer to the problem of getting these toys back when all the problems begun.

There is something severely wrong with MattyCollector's approach to selling these toys. Fans and collectors really, really want them - they're very detailed, very articulated, very playable and very fun updates of our fond childhood memories, which clash with the unpleasant experiences of trying to obtain them. The problems with Digital River are inexcusable, and have happened over and over again, yet Matty persists on using them; worse, their supply of the toys is always wrong, is always under-estimated and always resulting in people missing out, and clashes with an unfortunate "limit" that successful buyers can acquire. Although many collectors including myself have placed group orders to save on shipping, there is only one type of person who needs 10 Battle Cats, and that person is a scalper. That person is making a lot of money out of these toys via the secondary market, and MattyCollector is essentially helping them do it. To me, that is anti-collector, and it is disgusting.

MattyCollector has offered some consolation to those who missed out - that the toys will be rereleased at some point down the line, and that the server issues will be addressed. Ignoring the latter, this completely disregards many of the complaints collectors have, particularly that of the secondary market, and also ignores their ongoing problem with estimating the demand of the toys. It is positively insane of them not to have thought Battle Cat would sell well - even at the slightly higher price, it was going to sell very well, and at this point it doesn't even seem like all of the subscribers got one, which means their stock was comparatively low. With that in mind, the "limit" of 10 was even more moronic, to Roswell Sun standards.

Although I respect the decision to rerelease a toy, and feel that this is one of the better steps they've taken to address complaints, rereleases present another round of issues, not just with the amount of stock available, but the fact that the rerelease will be slightly repackaged, causing the initial release to go further up in value and many collectors to seek out a second toy to complete their collection. (They have also chosen not to rerelease several core figures that many collectors like myself missed out on, meaning that if I'm ever to have a Faker of my own I'm going to need to pay through the teeth on eBay.) The rerelease is also many months away, in which time many collectors will have either lost interest or just succumbed to eBay.

The solution that Matty has offered to this is to subscribe to their toys, which reserves each figure long in advance and means that the turmoil of ordering online can be skipped. Ignoring the many problems that collectors have had with their subscriptions (including that one that seems to pop up each week about their ordering system deciding that the credit card used to order with isn't real and cancelling the subscription, even if it was used without issue prior) for most this is too expensive and not a viable option - as I mentioned in my He-Man review, I'm not the biggest MOTU fan so having to drop around $30 on each of their regular figures (or more for international customers) is not something I want to do for characters I have no interest in just so I can get the ones I want. It isn't a viable solution for me, and for a lot of collectors - it is, however, a great solution for Matty, because it guarantees them more money - many have suggested that their current strategy is using low stock to edge collectors towards the subscriptions, with the threat of not receiving the toys they want if they don't, which is exactly the kind of unpleasant possibility that MattyCollector is capable of.

Look, I feel that the real solution is simple: offer preorders of their very, very popular toys. Since their justification for handling the line(s) like this is that they’re a collector product and thus numbers cannot be easily estimated, and subsequently must be limited, why not offer a whole week for people to preorder 12 months before the regular sale, ensuring that fans can get the toys they want and numbers can be estimated properly, then the live sale can still go ahead so everyone does get a chance to get what they want? I know that Matty has responded to this previously saying that the line up changes and that preorders would have to be done a year in advance, but honestly I don't feel that this is a problem. Back when Battle Cat was first announced we were all just as excited to buy him as we were the hours before the sale actually began. The "line up changes" retort is ludicrous - in the worst case scenario it would be no issue to refund money, even months after the fact, and it isn't like Matty is above treating their consumers like crap anyway, as evidenced with their frequent "It's all the collector's fault!" response to every other valid complaint. I can’t see any reason why this isn’t an acceptable option except that Mattel wants to make a monopoly on these toys, which bothers me to the extreme – what would be their motivation for doing that? Selling an extra thousand on eBay for double the price? It sounds unlikely, but worse things have happened.

Ultimately, yes, as far as the world at large goes, this is a trivial problem. But I'm not going to wring my hands over the frivolity of my chosen hobby - that would be pretentious and condescending. You don't need me to remind you of what's going on in Haiti, for instance. We're all adults, capable of compartmentalizing our lives, and Mattel's latest bungling is really bad news.

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