Action Figure Collecting: The End of Days?
December 19, 2012

The End is Nigh!

ok, ok, maybe you were expecting that from me, being the resident AFi Conspiracy Theorist and all.  Of course I couldn’t resist referencing the upcoming(?) Mayan Calendar Event.  But within our hobby, there is another End-of-Days Scenario unfolding.

It’s the end of the (collecting) world as we know it…but do you feel fine?

Let me backtrack a bit.  As I walked into a local Target last week, I had fond recollections of times past, hurrying towards the toy aisle with anticipation, hoping to run across the latest action figure de jour.  My mind drifted to other toy runs, other times, other stores.  A decade’s worth of exhilarating moments that defined this silly hobby.

Discovering the short-packed Trap-Jaw and Tri-Klops in the MOTU 200X line during the holidays at Walmart.  Stumbling upon two chase Red Skull figures hanging in front on the pegged endcap.

Driving all day to multiple Tuesday Morning stores for the G.I.Joe Crimson Command Chopper, and finally finding one at the last store in town.  Morning after morning, Target after Target, hunting down the yellow Stalker and Snake Eyes with black Timber in the 25th Anniversary G.I.Joe line.

Hitting all the Gamestop stores in Colorado in one single day, searching for the SOTA Street Fighter Round 2 exclusive variants. 

The triumphant finds and devastating near-misses throughout the many years of JLU.

Cyborg Superman at Big Lots. Marvel Legends exclusive wave at Walmart. DCUC wave 3 variants at KayBee Toys. All the great stuff that turned up at Ross, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s.

Remember what it used to be like?

Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, the mighty Toy Hunt, heart pounding for the thrill of the chase, the eternal struggle of Collector VS Scalper!

Many times I came away empty-handed, but man…those rare finds made this collecting hobby fun.

Fun.

That word seems very foreign to my action figure collecting these days.

I’m sure you have many of the same collecting memories over the past few years…but that’s all they are now – memories.  Whether it’s being continuously upset at certain online services, or frustration from the lack of product to be found on shelves, or the sorrow from seeing your favorite lines unfairly die a slow and painful death, there doesn’t seem to be much joy in collecting toys anymore.  How long has it been since you excitedly searched the aisle for some new treasure?  Months?  Years?  Longer?

Is it still fun for you?

Like Boys II Men so eloquently stated – we’ve come to the End of the Road.

Here’s my prediction – within the next few years, the 6″ action figure will be an endangered species, and possibly completely extinct.

Overly-dramatic? maybe a little. But hear me out.

We all know that the collecting landscape has rapidly changed in recent years.  Numerous and frequent price increases, business models moving towards subscription programs, less product overall being carried by retailers.  Budgets are shrinking, corners are being cut in manufacturing, more focus on recognizable names and fewer fan-requested obscure characters, and less overall characters in general.  But despite these cost-cutting practices, the prices keep rising.  My rants on ‘corporate greed’ are commonplace on the forum, but I am also aware that overseas manufacturing costs have been kept artificially low for over a decade due to the influence of certain retailers.  We have seen fifteen years of adjustments in just the past few years, and many collectors can no longer afford the action figures at today’s prices.  Add in improving factory conditions, fair workforce compensation, additional regulations and safety standards, and, well, you begin to realize the days of cheap 6″ action figures are nearly over.  And if 6″ figures go away, will 4″ action figures be far behind?

The recent (and polarizing) updates within DC and Marvel have certainly had an effect as well.  Not to open up Pandora’s Box too much, but the wholesale changes made in the past year to both companies’ characters have influenced the habits of collectors.  While these stunts have gained some new fans, many others have reduced their monthly reading, or stopped buying comics altogether, which creates a ripple effect on the community.  DC and Marvel aren’t about comics and toys anymore – it’s all about licensing. By focusing on streamlining their properties for movies and video games (and also by chasing a non-existent young adult market), these companies have sent an unfortunate message that the characters and history and intertwined universes we enjoyed for the past 70+ years are outdated, irrelevant, and passe, leaving the loyal fanbase with feelings of disinterest, and sometimes anger.  And if you’re feeling angry, then why give them your hard-earned money?  For me, personally, I have zero interest in buying any comic books and associated action figures of DCnU characters that are devoid of any depth or inspirational qualities.  As a DC fanboy for the past thirty years, I never expected that to happen, ever.  And it carries over to other toys, as well – I look the lackluster efforts on some of the DCUC Subscription figures, wonder if I even care anymore.  Are these action figures really worth $25 each, or are we fooling ourselves with rose-colored nostalgia?

One last contributing factor could be the biggest of all – Brand Exhaustion.

Is it possible that we’ve had too much of a good thing?  Maybe.  For the past ten years, we’ve seen all the Classic properties from our childhoods come back in a flurry of nostalgic updates – Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, G.I.Joe, Transformers, Marvel, DC, Voltron, Ghostbusters, ThunderCats…with all the sculpting, articulation, and details we all wished our original toys had when we were kids, and often with in iterations and variations.  But is the ‘WOW’ factor gone?  Is there anything left to achieve?  Perhaps all the goodwill and excitement created from that 80s sentimentality has finally worn off, and collectors are finally satisfied.  We literally have dozens of Spider-Men, Optimus Primes, Darth Vaders, Snake Eyes.  We’ve all been unbelievably spoiled.  Maybe we have taken it all for granted, and there’s nothing new left to make, nothing left to be enthused about, and nothing new that deserves our money.

So there it is.

The End of Days.

Oh, sure, there will always be vintage collections, there will always be fans wanting to track down all the different action figures that have been produced over the past 50 years and beyond…but it won’t be the same.  The excitement for seeing new figures at NYTF and SDCC will be gone.  No more adrenalin rush walking into a toy aisle and finding new items, no more arguing with JLU fans on the message boards.  Just a bunch of old collectors arguing about old stuff…

…and, really, if the Maya have guessed correctly, then none of this matters anyway, right?

Ryan "TheSuperfly" Prast
Current designer, future artist, eternal manchild, Ryan "The Superfly" Prast uses his toynerd acumen to delve deep into the profound nuances of life. With a penchant for tiny plastic men and nostalgia of times past, he also enjoys panelology, obscure cultural references, tomfoolery and/or shenanigans, conspiracy theories, and watching his Cubs flush another season down the toilet. And he always keeps his fork when there’s pie.
Read other articles by Ryan "TheSuperfly" Prast.

 

 

 

20 Comments »

  • Adam Hardy says:

    I wouldn’t lump the problems with DC and Marvel toys together. Yeah, I’ve mostly given up on everything but the DC subscription service due to the New 52, but Marvel really hasn’t done anything of the sort. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to contrast themselves to DC as NOT having rebooted their universe. Sure, characters change costumes periodically, but they always return to their original looks after a while.

    My problem with Marvel toy collecting these days is that most of the classic-look figures Hasbro is producing are either (a) their build-a-figures or (b) “randomly” distributed so that collectors can’t use reliable online resources to order what they want. I nearly tore out my hair in frustration trying to pick up Madame Masque and Thunderball, and now they’re pulling the same [expletive] with Hyperion. Since I’m not interested in modern-look Marvel toys, I find myself asking whether I REALLY want Arnim Zola so badly I’ll buy a bunch of toys I have no interest in ever displaying.

    So what’s got me feeling optimistic about the hobby? I’ve discovered that the money I used to plunk down for a case of DCUC figures and instead buy a single high-end import toy from Soul of Chogokin, Figma, or Transformers Masterpiece. Expensive, yes, but WOW, you get what you pay for.

    Truth be told, I NEVER enjoyed hunting for toys in stores. Sure, I enjoyed walking into a toy aisle and finding what I wanted, but how often did that happen in comparison to disappointment and wasted time and gas? Online ordering has made my life a lot happier.

  • Jasper says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. This is also what I felt when DC made the New 52 reboot. I’m not touching those New 52 versions (except Superman maybe)even if my toy display would look outdated. Because of the drought of finding new toylines (blah 4 inchers) that is of my interests (I’m a loyal 6 incher guy), I’ve gotten myself back tracking on Pre new 52 comic books. The good thing that come out of this though is that at least I can now control my toy addiction.

  • Bob W says:

    I agree and disagree. I think you’re dead on with the rising costs. But, none of the stores have any lack of Star Wars figures around me and constantly refresh. Star Wars hasn’t arguably produced anything in the mass media (besides comics which are no longer mass media), that long time fans have enjoyed in 30 years. But the toy line caters to long time fans with continual improvement if sculpts, character selection, plays on nostalgia, and diving into the expanded universe. They get the kids and new fans by making the core characters available and keep refreshing the brand.
    In mass media, the DC brand should be stronger with the Nolan Batman films, DC Nation cartoons (containing decades if successful cartoons), Arrow, etc. beyond having some of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet. As a long time fan (collector of over 20 years), the new 52 doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Batman and Justice League are better than they’ve been in years and the look of the Batman family finally reflects what they’ve claimed their costumes were for decades, body armor. The comic industry as a whole has seen a big bump and come out of the decline from the new 52 and Marvel Now (which if you read most of the books, is as big a reboot as the new 52). Also, DC has done this to this or a greater extent twice before with the start of the silver age and the changes from Crisis on infinite Earths. Neither killed their fan base off and actually saved their line and, with the former, the genre of super hero books in general.
    Mattel has been horrible from day one with distribution, quality control, character selection, and price for DC merchandise. Even when you could walk in the store and fine a lot of their stuff on the shelf, it would be overpacked variants of Batman and Superman or characters only the list die hard can would want. They never found a middle ground. The JLU figures were warped and had 1980′s articulation. Half looked like bad customs from the reuse if parts. DCUC devolved into the same pattern and I’m actually amazed to see the level of new sculpting they are putting into the new DC 6″. That said, they’ve abandoned any mix of characters, the figures feel cheaper, are more expensive, and not carried by many stores. The subscription is a joke with characters maybe 10 people want to bad kit bashes of popular characters that should be mass market instead of $25 subscriptions. Thus, I for one, get far less if these and instead go for Hot Toys or Sideshow stuff (which also looks better on a shelf). Marvel is a little better in the mass market toy dept, but won’t stick to a scale (even at 6″ they go between a 7″ to almost 5″ scale depending on waves). The Marvel Legends feel much cheaper. And they flood shelves with variants kids supposedly want. Movie after movie you can get orange Batmans (back to DC) or purple Iron Men quite easily and eventually in the bargain bin, but they still make these every movie.
    Overall, I agree with you, but think long time and older collectors will move on to higher end collectables or, if they can’t accept that these properties change every generation, will quit and pine for the exact version of something when they were kids.

    • Erik superfriend says:

      “Mattel has been horrible from day one with distribution, quality control, character selection, and price for DC merchandise. Even when you could walk in the store and find a lot of their stuff on the shelf, it would be overpacked variants of Batman and Superman or characters only the list die hard can would want. They never found a middle ground.”
      .
      I have to disagree on the character selection. I think the character selection on DCUC and JLU has been fantastic. They catered to both the casual buyer (big names) and the hard core collector. Batman insures sales of the line while J’emm Son of Saturn makes the collector happy. The realm between (middle ground) is what? Green Lantern and Flash? How many characters do the general public really know beyond the Superman and Batman family? How many characters are there in this middle ground that Mattel did not get to in either line? None that I can think of.
      .
      I do agree that in order to expand selection in the JLU line, sculpt reuse was maxed out. But it fit the art style of the licensed property, so most fans of the property and the line liked it. It sounds like JLU was not the line for you.

  • Jim Abell says:

    Absolutely no chance on you finishing that Bigfoot story before everything goes belly-up tomorrow, is there?… ;)

  • I walked into my neighborhood Walgreens last night and found two more Pursuit of Cobra Steel Brigade figures for my collection. Even in a year when G.I. JOE, which makes up the bulk of my collecting purchases, saw its retail presence nearly disappear with the delay of a new theatrical release, I’ve still had a great year for toys. I’ve had great success with troop building at Walgreens, I scooped up maybe fifteen of the new Red Ninjas while movie toys were on pegs, I came home from New Orleans with a wonderful haul of Oktober Guard and Iron Grenadiers characters, and two versions of Jinx and a Shockwave H.I.S.S. arrived from SDCC a month later. That’s in addition to all the Transformers: Prime hotness, some new releases from The Clone Wars, fantastic versions of the Hulk and Punisher to replace those wave 1 Marvel Universe figures (and Kang!), and a killer new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.

    I expect 2013 to be even better, so I can’t relate to your doom and gloom outlook, Ryan. If someone isn’t having fun anymore, that’s about the individual, not the hobby.

    • Ryan The Superfly says:

      Good points, especially that last one. I will concede that there are still plenty of great figures out there to be purchased. But how long will that last?

      How many more Snake Eyes and Duke figures will be purchased when the line resumes in 2013? And how many other fans will be willing to continue to plunk down literally hundreds of dollars for just a handful of exclusive collector club figures?

      You expect 2013 to be even better, and I would like to agree with you, but I think we’re going to see drastic changes within the industry.

      • First question: That all depends on how popular the new movie is with kids, but I guarantee those characters will sell in greater quantities than the more obscure, “fan-demanded” characters. Second question: Last year’s set sold out in record time and required a second run to meet demand. Seeing how quickly retailers are selling through their stock of TMNT figures, I don’t have any doubts about the future of the format.
        Aren’t you supposed to be the “sunny side” guy, Ryan? Also, The Ref is best Christmas movie! :-D

  • Shellhead says:

    I started a thread on this very subject about a year ago.
    I think the Golden Age (or the second Golden Age if you count the 80′s as the first one)of collecting is over. We had a great decade of action figure revival, but nothing lasts forever.
    That being said, Star Wars collectors will soldier on with several brand new movies on the way. Other licenses . . . not so much.

  • Erik superfriend says:

    One other end, the end of JLU. JLU has been such a big part of AFi over the years. I gave up on JLU years ago, but for the die hards, this is finally the end of the line.

    With the increase in cost of plastic, I wonder if the 6 inch lines will be replaced by 5 inch, which is the scale I always collected until 6 inch took over.

    Would really like to see some kind of DC Nation line created to fill the retail void of DC product.

  • Jroug says:

    I agree with a lot of the points here; there’s no denying that many lines have overstayed their welcome on store shelves and boys action sales are down. A lot of people aren’t digging Nu 52 but DC toys are in the dump because “toyguru” mismanaged the line out of existence. Ironically, despite the higher pricing, 6″ is really the last frontier for tired lines like Star Wars and GI Joe, where previous attempts in that scale have been far from what the core buyer wants. I’m not sure that Hasbro can make SW work in that scale due to the royalty rate, but there is NO REASON why they shouldn’t have an ML style line of the core Joes, especially as vehicle sales are no longer the driver behind the scale choices.

    To give you an idea of the mindset at Hasbro, I had dinner with the current brand managers of ML this year (after David Vonner left, unfortunately) and when they talked about how surprised they were about the success of the ML relaunch, I said “Imagine how much better it could be if you had ToyBiz level figures, instead of Frankenstein-ing the same bodies over & over”. They told me their MLs were better than Toy Biz because “we don’t use recycled plastic”. Okay, that’s an improvement, but pack-ins. new sculpts, articulation, paint apps, character selection and EVERYTHING ELSE are wore. But hey – new plastic!

    It’ll always be easier to sell an Optimus Prime, a Luke Skywalker and a Snake-Eyes than it is to launch new properties, but on the other hand these properties have been in toy aisles for 15+ uninterrupted years at this point – when the aisles used to turn over way faster than that. That’s where corporate greed comes into it – there are people who are risk managing the companies and the properties out of existence by over-exposing properties at the expense of developing new ones. Think about this – Vince McMahon has developed more marketable new characters in the last ten years than Marvel, DC, Hasbro & Mattel put together!

    I would rather pay for & have one Hot Toys figure than I would 25 3 3/4″ Hasbro MU figures – and that’s the final reason why I’ve largely stopped buying American toys.

  • GeekSummit says:

    I can agree that we have seen a demographically sensative(< how do you spell that?) renaissance in the our favorite lines coming back from plastic Valhalla to greet us with open arms. Super Powers, He-Man, Voltron, Thunder Cats, Star Wars, GiJoe… the list exists, if there was anything I left out.

    Much like the mid-90's – early 2000's (My Dark Age) saw FLOOOOOODS of McFarlane and JimLee and other rising artist specific product everywhere to the point that there was nothing nostalgic at all (excluding the emerging Marvel Legends) about the commercial toyhunt, this too must have an end SOMEWHERE. As I look back on my complete collection of 20+ Waves of DCU and start to pick my favorite children I realize hey, it was a good run. In just 2006 @ $10.00 a head to now $19.99 a head if your lucky enough to find what it is your looking for, we have clearly transcended some sort of cycle. From what seemed like one-shot waves of DCSH sets to then the DCU @ 4-5 figures a series +C&C to now 7+ figures +C&C @ double the price, we have clearly grown quite the profitable coats of wool for our toy producers. Our Unyeilding yeild is our gift to them and in exchange they gave us a little bit of our childhood back (except for that pesky work thing and other responsibilities). It's got to end somewhere right?… Some of us have kids to spoil!!!

    If this is the end (mayanwise) then well, I guess Daniel Pickett wins, but if its the end (collectorwise) I've got enough toys to fuel 10 childhoods.

    Like many collectors in the PolymerVerse, when I don't see the products I want… I'll just stick to making my own or ranting about it with the rest of you.

  • [...] recent post at Action Figure Insider — Action Figure Collecting: The End of Days? -– put forth the suggestion that we’re seeing the end of action figure collecting. Read the [...]

  • Clutch says:

    Well, it’s the 21st and we’re still kicking…

    Regarding comics, I’ll never understand why DC had to tweak its company history around to sell video games and movies when Warners’ licensing wing had been doing its job so nicely for decades prior, using material such as Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’ style guide even after the Crisis reboot and Byrne’s take on Superman had supposedly made the Garcia-Lopez versions null and void.

    Same goes for Marvel having their print characters match the “movie universe” costumes and appearances right down to the Sam Jackson version of Nick Fury when we all know that general interest in the movie universe can’t possibly outlast its four-color lineage. In any case, that’s Marvel and DC’s ball for now and they are rolling with it. More power to them.

    As for the action figure biz, it may never bounce back to the good old days given modern consumer preferences, but I don’t think it will go away completely. Its mainstream appeal has greatly diminished due to changing tastes (much like model kits or puzzles) but there will always be some sort of retail presence, collector support be damned or not. The 80′s nostalgia revival still dusts off a forgotten property each year (witness the Four Horsemen on Power Lords) and will continue to draw source material from history as the children of the 90′s and beyond begin to age.

    In the end, it might be more of an endless loop than a slow demise for the action figure industry.

  • StrangePlanet says:

    It sure has changed, you got that right. I recognized the golden age of 6-inch superarticulated toys and I had a ball, including some fun hunting. All over now. There’s so very little on the shelves anymore.
    And I’m with Adam Hardy on this – I don’t buy much of the US domestic stuff anymore, but there’s tons of Soul of Chogokin, Figmas, D-Arts, and a nice Masterpiece Transformer every now and then, and that’s the space I’ve moved to now.
    But your last point is perhaps the most powerful one for me. In the last 14 years or so, I’ve aquired some really amazing figures, many Marvel Legends, a few DCUCs, some of the old Spawn figs that are really strong, some great imports – and now that I have so many, I really don’t need many more. And since the ones I still have are so good, the standard is incredibly high now. I’m really looking for S. H. Figuarts level of action figure now to stand up to that McFarlane Spidey.

  • demoncat says:

    i kind of agree with the part about the companies having to cut costs to make the toys now and like dc and marvel now knowing the only way to sell is have the big guns since that is what has name brand. though mattel has manage to still give some fan requested old school characters in their subs. not to mention sadly when even motu is having to have mattel change their original plans for the line. the age of toy collecting as it use to be may be nearing its own final end soon

  • Brainlock says:

    DCUC got to be more of a “habit buy” and I was surprised to see a few personal favorites towards the end (H&D!), but it was obvious the choices were being swayed by pleasing a few, not the majority. The DC sub from Matty has left me ..not cold, but I still have yet to do more than simply open the box to check the figure before closing it back up again. and this month, I don’t know if I can (almost) complete my Metal Men, as DR charged my old card again instead of the new one I switched to several months back. I just don’t care to argue with them, anymore.

    for Marvel, if it hadn’t been for the original Legends line, I doubt any of would be ‘in the business’, any more. they kept me collecting after the end of the 5″ line which is still a watermark in diversity for me. When the 6″ scale was basically shelved to concentrate/push the 4″ line, I only cherry picked a few new/unique characters, mostly ignoring the line until this past year’s Return of ML, which does have me excited to collect again, but I’m wondering how many IM and now CAP variants they can push? (an updated Braddock would be nice, but still…!)

    The thing is, I was a diehard ARAH and TF-G1 collector, but the 4″ scale from DC and Marvel have left me cold and the newer Joes have me worried that they’re too fragile to do much! With TF, they keep recycling the same handful of characters in new iterations every year or two, so it does get repetitive and I’m passing on more than I’m picking up.

    I do think we are at a breaking point, what with the “subscription” costs making one figure north of $20, and almost $30 for MOTUC! I balked at the Hasbro Hulk Classics line at first when they were the first to hit $15. I could never complete a Fin Fang Foom if I had wanted, as I never saw a few key figures to complete him, anyway. the Rulk ML wave I passed on half the figures for several reasons, least of which the BAF was a figure I didn’t “need” and was only vaguely familiar with, even tho I had several opportunities to finish him. The fact the DC and now even ML lines aren’t including the BAF/CnC incentive to buy more figures isn’t helping.

    I just can’t wait for the day when we get those 3D tooling machine costs down so we can create our own figures! ;)
    #TrekReplicatorsFTW!

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