Full disclosure: I'm not the biggest Mattel fan. And I'm even less a fan of their Masters of the Universe Classics (aka MOTUC) line. I used to collect Mattel's various DC lines, and I bought the Ghostbusters II set on sale at Toys Я Us, but I only own one MOTUC figure (Optikk). I did collect Mattel's first He-Man revamp line, known by most as Mo2K or 200X, but I sold them all off after Mattel made it infuriating to try to collect that line (this is a practice that would end up synonymous with the name Mattel).
However, I have watched the current MOTUC saga unfold through other sites, and it's been quite interesting to see, from an outsider's perspective, how much fans of a property will take from a company in order to keep getting the toys they want. I personally made a choice to stop giving Mattel my money after their horrendous handling of the DC subscription service, but that doesn't mean I don't have snarky opinions to share about how Mattel could better handle their other properties. So here it is: an outsider's outline for how Mattel should fix MOTUC:
- Sever all ties with Digital River
- Stop blaming fans when you screw up
- Stop making figures nobody freaking wants
- Decide what type of toyline you're actually making
Digital River is Matty's customer service provider, and they are, by all accounts, completely awful to deal with in every single way. You'd be hard-pressed to find even the staunchest Matty apologist who would have anything nice to say in defense of DR. Fans at this point know that if you want to get anywhere with a customer service issue, you have to bypass the standard system and go straight to the escalation department, since the lower levels of DR seem purely devoted to mishandling the issue until the frustrated customer gives up. It would be a tremendous show of good faith if Matty found itself a new company to handle its numerous customer service issues. No matter who they chose, they couldn't be worse than DR. Unless, of course, Mattel is actually pleased with how difficult DR makes customer service, because they want customers to get frustrated and give up...but that's just silly.
When MOTUC quality control issues pop up, Mattel will usually issue a response through Scott Neitlich, who will basically say it's not a big deal and fans should stop bitching about it. He will often say that a particular QC issue affected "a very small number" of figures, and that the issue has been resolved (as if by Matty acknowledging it occurred they had somehow "resolved" it, even though fixing the figure means going through DR's labyrinthine exchange process). Here's the thing though: Mattel loves telling us how limited MOTUC is, and how they're produced in small numbers to begin with. When you produce in small numbers, any "small" issue is a big issue. And there have been several issues that have actually affected every single figure in a release (Roboto and King Hsss's shoulders for example). Mattel even likes to tout its figures as "handmade" and "hand-painted", as if this means something other than an underpaid Chinese factory worker toiling away on an assembly line. If the figures were truly "handmade" and "hand-painted" in such small numbers, you would expect there to be more care and concern into getting each figure right. Instead, this line has had issue after issue, from missing accessories to switched body parts to cracking plastic, and each time one gets acknowledged, you'll always find that subtle, passive aggressive attitude from Mattel that says it's really the fans' fault for making such a big deal about it.
Here's the thing: when you make figures in small numbers, each QC concern is going to be a large issue. If Mattel acknowledged such problems and committed to fixing them, like a good company would, it would go over much better than passing the blame around to different factories and then coming down on fans for even caring if a figure doesn't have all its accessories or isn't assembled correctly. Hey Matty, if your factories continue to get figures wrong, how about changing factories?
I'm not talking about Mattel taking a chance on new characters like Demo-Man or Draego-Man. I'm not even talking about delving into She-Ra or "Preternia" or New Adventures of He-Man or any of those somewhat obscure aspects of MOTU lore. I'm not even referring to little "inside jokes" like Fearless Photog or Wonder-Bread He-Man or Mo-Larr. I think these are fun little touches that help make the line unique and aid in its longevity. What I'm talking about are just plain garbage figures that absolutely nobody wants. The most egregious example of this is the Star Sisters. Mattel loves putting the survival of the line solely on the fans' shoulders, and has basically said that the line will die if they don't get enough people "subscribed" (i.e. committed to buying every single figure released in the line). Matty also loves talking about how much time, money and effort goes into creating each new figure, and how sometimes figures get delayed or changed or altered because of cost concerns. Why then, when you lock people into a line in which each figure is supposedly the result of lots of tender loving care from design to execution, would you ever release something like the Star Sisters? Basically, this three-figure set put subscribers on the hook for about $80 to own garish figures of characters that even the most die hard fans of She-Ra: Princess of Power could barely remember. These were not important characters, and they certainly didn't deserve their own three pack, and fans certainly shouldn't have been forced to buy them.
And then there's the upcoming "Mighty Spector", which is based on ToyGuru's entry into the "Design a Master" contest when he was a kid. Thanks to Neitlich's egotistical vanity project, fans are basically being forced to purchase a figure of a character they have never heard of, based on the failed design of a child. Making people sign up for a subscription service and then shoving pricey figures they don't want down their throats is insulting. These toys aren't cheap, and this isn't a mass market line; there should be no "filler" figures.
So far these gripes haven't really been anything new, as I'm sure plenty of MOTUC fans or former fans feel the same way about a lot of these issues. This last one, however, is a bit more of a personal peeve of mine. I know some people feel the same way I do, but it's not as ubiquitous as, say, the universally accepted ineptitude of Digital River. The final issue for me is the way Mattel touts this as an "adult collector" line (even branding the figures as such right on every package), but then they do things that make no sense for a line aimed at adults. The most blatant example of this is the softening of sharp edges to make them "child safe" (as seen on Catra's claw glove and on the upcoming Draego-Man's sword). If you consider your line an adult-oriented line to the point that you slap "adult collector" on every package, why would you need to adhere to child safety standards? Your figures aren't for sale at Toys Я Us or Walmart. Fans have to go to your website and either subscribe to buy every figure (which no kid has the money to do) or sit through the "white screen of death" to try and order each individual toy on the day it comes out (which no kid has the patience for). These toys aren't cheap, so I can't imagine any parents shelling out $20 + mystery tax charge & shipping for figures from a 1980s property that their kids have no interest in. These aren't kids' toys, you even say so on your package (which should absolve you of any legal obligations if someone pokes themselves in the eye), so stop dumbing them down for kids.
It's almost as if you're having a laugh at your fans' expense when you slap "adult collector" on the package of such a kid-friendly line. And speaking of packaging, some "adult collectors" like to keep their toys in the package. Why then has Matty chosen a packaging style that typically hides the entire head of the figure? The toys look dreadful in the packaging, and you only have to look at any SDCC Mattel exclusive to see that Matty clearly cares about its packaging. So why do they just shove the figures in there haphazardly, often obscuring some of the most important bits of the toy? This problem actually seems to be getting worse with recent releases: check out Snout Spout, Draego-Man and Kobra Khan in their packages. The heads are almost entirely obscured! Why even put such a blatant "adult collector" label on your figures if you don't give a crap about the presentation of the figures and you go out of your way to soften up the detail so kids don't hurt themselves?
In conclusion, this may seem like little more than a fanboy rant. However, keep in mind that I'm not a fanboy. I don't have any investment in MOTUC, I don't have a subscription, and I don't collect the line. This is purely an outsider's perspective on how Mattel has been treating its MOTUC fanbase, and the absurdity of it all has only increased as the line has continued. I know there are still those holdouts who are willing to take whatever abuse Mattel can think of as long as they still get their precious MOTUC figures, but the number seems to be dwindling as the debacles pile up. Of course, I don't expect Matty to take any responsibility when they inevitably decide to cancel the line; I'm sure they'll blame the fans for not supporting the line hard enough. Personally I'm surprised it's lasted as long as it has.