Monday, February 9, 2015

Masters of the Universe Classics: 5 Things Done Right and 5 Things Done Wrong

1. A Diverse Roster

     If there is one thing I can pinpoint as a key strength of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, it's the diversity of the figures included. Masters of the Universe is a interesting property in that it seems to be more of an umbrella banner for a multiple divergant canons. Masters of the Universe Classics doesn't just contain figures from the vintage Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power toylines; it also includes figures from the less successful New Adventures of He-Man and 200x Masters of the Universe lines, four different cartoons, vintage storybooks and box art, a handful of comic book runs, vintage prototypes and concept characters, fan "create a character" contest entries, and even newly created characters. While not every fan loves every figure or character released, the inclusiveness of the line certainly keeps things interesting. Almost nothing seems off limits for this line!

3. A Unified Style

   While working with a diverse roster of characters from cartoons, comic books, and the vintage toy lines, Mattel and the Four Horsemen have done an excellent job of making sure that the Masters of the Universe Classic has a very cohesive look to it. Sure, from time to time a Filmation character might have a more animated appearance than a figure based on the vintage toyline or a character like Loo-Kee might stand out a bit, but overall the figures look great together. If you didn't already know the release order , I don't think you could tell the difference between the earliest figures in the line and the most recent. While many toylines change the build, articulation, and even scale of their figures throughout the line's lifespan, Mattel has kept this line very consistent. That's a huge plus when displaying these figures together!
    

3. More Than Just Basic Figures
    
     While the action figures are pretty much the bread and butter of any toyline, the additional vehicles, accessories, and playsets to use with the figures really elevate things to the next level. Fortunately, Mattel has seen fit to elevate this line far above most other modern toylines. Not only do MOTUC figures get access to weapons packs to re-outfit them with a mixture of new and repainted accessories, but they also have two vehicles and the enormous Castle Grayskull playset at their disposal. Oh, and we're not getting just your standard sized figures, either: The line includes smaller companions, large giants, a dragon, and even beasts that can be ridden by the heroes and villains. While collectors lines in the 6-7 inch scale have shied away from anything outside of a regular SKU, Mattel has worked to include these different toys in the line on a regular basis. It's one of the little things that works to make MOTUC feel just a bit more special and more like a 1980's toyline.

4. Keeping it Monthly
     If I were pointing out the second key strength of Masters of the Universe Classics, I would argue that it is the way these figures are released monthly. Other than one month about two years back, every month since 2009 has seen at least one MOTUC figure released monthly. While there are always people who grow tired of collecting any toyline over time, Mattel has managed to keep the excitement growing by always giving fans something to look forward to in the next 30 days. Generally there is the excitement that a new figure will be released soon, the week or so where the figure is sold and people wait for the figure to ship and arrive at their door, then a week or so where fans discuss and review the newest figure(s). Then the process starts all over again. Unlike many retail lines that can go months (sometimes almost a year) without fans seeing new product or having new figures to discuss, Mattel keeps the excitement and discussion going, rarely giving the line a chance to grow stagnant.

5. Utilizing the Subscription Model
     Collecting Masters of the Universe Classics is a tough hobby to explain to someone who isn't familiar with it. Yes, you subscribe to it. Once a year, for a period of about a month or two, the window is open for customers to subscribe to the line. You commit to buying a certain number of figures without always knowing who those figures are. We typically know who about 1/4 to 1/3 of the figures are when we subscribe along with how many figures will be in the sub and how much they will cost. Some people love the idea while others loathe it.  I think it's a strength of the line, first of all is that it helps secure the line financially for at least a year at a time. Secondly, it does alleviate many of the problems of collecting. Collecting modern action figure lines is difficult: Many retailers just don't carry them, they tend to be shipped infrequently and in far too small numbers, and often they end up having to cater to the whims of the general public versus collectors. Mattel has cut out the obnoxious "retailer demands" that we always hear about and I couldn't be happier. This kind of leads into the third strength of this model which is that the subscription makes less popular characters viable. Yes, it means that some fans get stuck with characters they don't like, but it also means that every character is pretty much viable in the line. How often do you get tired of hearing that a character in a toyline is too obscure, too unpopular retails, or not Snake Eyes/ Darth Vader/ Iron Man? Mattel can take risks and make any character (including plenty of females) because the subscription model guarantees that they'll sell what they need to make ends meet!

Of course, not everything is rosy about the line. Here's the five negative things....
1. Quality Control/ Design Issues
          Here's a weird problem that MOTUC has dealt with for a few years now: Bizarre quality control problems and weird design issues. First, we'll talk about the weird breakage issues such as the brittle translucent green crotch of the Goddess that often shatters randomly, Snout Spout's breakable, bendable trunk, and the random cracking on Roboto's torso. Fortunately it has been a few years since we had any of thee breakage issues, but none of them were ever really addressed other than a halfhearted offer of a refund for anyone who wanted one. What has been a bigger issue have been instances of swapped parts such as Roboto's shoulders and Frosta's forearms, bizarre design decisions such as intentionally reversing Stinkor's arms to make the figure "pop," or the usage of the infamous black plastic that showed paint wear and damage on a number of figures a couple of years back. Over the past year or so, we've also been seeing the removable figure on various figures like Hydron, Sea Hawk, and others really expanding to give us larger, bulkier figures that look more like they hang out at the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet versus hanging out at Castle Grayskull. Mistakes happen, but one of the problems with this line is that due to the monthly cycle (which I listed as a boon above) there really is not time to come in and fix changes before more figures come down the production line. Now we're most often told by Scott Neitlich that it takes up to two years to implement changes. Unlike most toy companies that can address QC and design issues between waves, Mattel has to keep rolling MOTUC out, for better or for worse.

2. Arbitrary Rules
     ~the classicizer machine
     ~characters?
    

3. Digital River
    

4. Making Extra Items Difficult to Get
     ~SDCC exclusives
     ~chase figures
     ~out of sub

5. Utilizing the Subscription Model
     ~One period during a year to pick up new customers
     ~Daunting- how big of a MOTU fan are you?
     ~Created an "us vs. them" mentality

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