Collector Expectations: Realistic or Not?
June 11, 2010

A new movie-based action figure line has recently hit the toy store shelves, and with it came the requisite round of internet complaining.

Complaints ranged from the sculpting, to the paint apps, to the articulation. Comments ranged from "some of the worst executed tiny line figures ever" to "horrendous" to "the fact that they have a sticker on the front stating that they are ‘highly articulated’ is totally bogus" to "they look like they’re carved from soap"

The figures in question are Spinmaster Toys‘  line based on The Last Airbender coming to theaters next month.

I’ve seen the figures. I even own one (but fully plan on getting them all).

I honestly don’t understand the complaints.

I picked up one of the Aang figures. It’s a nice sculpt and it’s very nicely articulated. I wouldn’t want more articulation in this figure.

The paint is pretty much standard for any mass market toyline. Up to part with any of Hasbro’s offerings, for example.

So, when I read the complaints referenced above I was left scratching my head a bit. Why the hate?

Well, frankly, part of the answer is it’s the Internet and message boards are generally full more of condemnation than of praise.

But, I think another piece of the puzzle is expectations.

I believe that there’s a segment of the online toy collecting population that has set it’s expectations way too high when it comes to a mass produced toy product aimed at the younger end of the demographic spectrum. I think some have taken the standards set by companies such as McFarlane Toys, and NECA and applied them to Hasbro, Mattel, Playmates, Jazwares and, now, Spinmaster.

Whereas a company crafting a product specifically for the collector markets knows that it’s going to either a) remain in it’s packaging for all eternity or b) be removed and remain displayed upon a shelf for near eternity. These products are expected to be viewed under great scrutiny by discerning collectors just looking for something to complain about, or possibly to have praise lavished upon it.

However, your general mass market toy is expected to be played with by kids who will do everything from play in their room, play outside in the dirt or in the pool or the bathtub. They will be dropped. They will be tossed against walls or trees. They will generally be mistreated and beaten until they, one day, fall apart. Very few kids will ever say, "Sigh. This guy could use a few more paint ops" or "I wish this figure had double knee joints like those crazy, expensive Japanese toys"

My daughter is 5-1/2 now, and she loves to come into my studio and play with some of the figures lying about. It took me awhile to be comfortable saying OK to that, but they’re toys, right? They were made to be played with. In fact, she just came in and is playing as I type this.

Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone. I realize we’re talking about my opinion vs the opinions of others. But, I do feel that when it comes to a mass produced line that some individuals in the collecting community (and i don’t mean to just single out the ones quoted above) need to relax. I don’t think it’s fair, or even logical, to hold mass market lines aimed at kids to what seems at times to be impossibly high standards.

I’m not talking about settling for less quality, but rather have a realistic expectations of what is possible given market conditions, budgets and retail pricepoints.

After all, they’re just toys, right?

Jeff Cope
Jeff Cope has been collecting toys and action figures since he was a wee lad growing up in the 70s, and is still waiting to grow out of it. He's been involved in the online collecting community since he first started writing for Raving Toy Maniac in the mid-90s, and is proud to call AFi his online home.
Read other articles by Jeff Cope.





  • demoncat says:

    could not agree more for it seems those who buy the toys just to either believe they will make a small fortune some day from them or just display them seem to forgot that the reason the companies make them is to be played with for thats what a toy is for . and should add some fans also have the belief that a company will make every character of a certain genre. like some dc collectors thinking that Mattel and DCdirect could some day do every dc character in plastic. or every marvel character could be done that way. some collectors expections are set on a bar too high and when reality sets in wind up dispointed.

  • Russ says:

    I’d love to agree with you, but take note that the Avatar: Last Airbender figures made by Mattel were *also* made for kids, and looked a thousand times better than these, and had more articulation too; too bad they blew it in regards to variety, but I assure you the figures were far better.

    Now, I will give you this much: despite all the people in the MOTU community insisting that Classics is the line they wanted so badly as kids, I think they’re completely full of it, main reason being that said level of sculpting didn’t even exist on MEGOS at the time; articulation is another story, but the sculpting was never even close to there.

    I’m not saying the figure has to be the absolute most perfect representation of the character( though I assure you it helps), but IMO the sculpting on these is pretty much a joke, and I literally can’t tell the difference between prototype and final product with these, simply because Aang is barely even painted. I would maybe expect something of this caliber possibly in the very early ’90s, but not much later than that. These are pretty much on par with the Terminator: Salvation figures; there, I said it…

  • Edward says:

    I absolutely agree! Sometimes it is very discourging to read someones very ocd opinion on something as meaningless as a toy. Whats weird is that I even sometimes get offended when a collector refers to Hasbro, as HasBLO. I guess i can be overly sensitive about my toys!

    I just think that collectors are missing out on some great stuff out there because they have too strong of opinions, rather than accepting the toy for what it is. I mean, I thought Jim Camerons Avatar toys were awsome, but you’d never guess anybody liked them from reading posts online. As a matter of fact the beasts from that toy line are some of the best toys that have come out in a while.

    Anyway, you can never really gauge a toy success from collector oriented sites because, like you said, the harshest critics stand out the most…

  • UncleMarsellus says:

    Yes and no. While I agree that collectors do have unreasonable expectations, I also feel that quality control in general has deteriorated over the last decade. I’ve seen the Last Airbender toys and I agree with your assessment. But there are other lines where it’s near impossible to find decent examples to take home. A-Team, last year’s Star Trek, and a good chunk of DCUC are good examples of this. And it wasn’t just paint apps. Even Transformers, a line that largely has good QC, has been very iffy in some sub-sets of the brand. Animated had spotty quality control and you still have to pick the best of the lot with movie toys. Cuts off the mold tree, assembly, and paint have all become messier. There is a difference in what you’d see in the first half of the past decade to the latter half.

    No, it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be on the boards and collectors have been spoiled by higher-end lines and tend to expect a bit much from their favorite mass market lines because of it. But there is a QC issue in the industry. Unless you don’t care, you do have to flip though more figures to find the best examples. I remember when I didn’t have to do that at all.

  • George says:

    If a sticker says it is “highly articulated” I would argue that the demographic that the product is trying to reach is that of the adult market. I highly doubt a kid would care, much less know what articulated means. So if the product does have said sticker, and without a picture of the product you’re specifically mentioning, I would say that the complainant has every right.

  • stewbacca says:

    I know that in the star wars realm it is definitely not collectors have insane expectations– I mean- I am as hard core as it comes to star wars (I collect everything)– but some of the complaints people come up with are ridiculous and they are about things I wouldnt notice (and sometimes cant even with photographs in front of me)– Things like the clone troopers belts being upside down, snowtroopers rank badges, stormtrooper lenses being the wrong color or the wrong shape, the wrong lightsaber hilt, people demanding a better Jedi Luke 2 seconds after the new one just came out. Or saying how a line like SHS or Galactic Heroes should be cancelled- because they are a waste of plastic with no articulation – when they are made for 4 year olds….

    • UncleMarsellus says:

      Something like an incorrect lightsaber hilt is a big deal though. Lightsabers were unique to the user and while some were passed around among background Jedi in the prequels, they still had specific designs. It’s indicative of whether they care to get it right. Sometimes its excusable like the case of ROTJ Luke which hasn’t had the correct lightsaber since the very plain POTF2 version. He’s primarily had repainted Obi-Wan lightsabers which, while inaccurate, are still passable if painted correctly.

      There was also the case of Stormtrooper Luke and Han having swapped belts (Han having Luke’s and vice versa) and Hasbro’s inability to correctly paint ROTS era Clone Trooper helmets for at least a couple of years now. Even as a kid, I obsessed over details and was able to recognize what was accurate and what wasn’t. It’s always a big deal in Star Wars.

      Yeah, in the grand scheme of things they’re small but Hasbro has brought it on themselves because they are SO GOOD at getting it right most of the time. These oversights are magnified and all the more mystifying. It hasn’t stopped me from buying and I’ve mixed-and-matched and repainted my fair of accessories to get them right.

  • Newton says:

    Yeah I don’t get the hate on these figs. Other than the odd pale tone and lighter paint aps, they seem like pretty good toys.

  • Danny CantinaDan says:

    Agree with 90%, Jeff! The only comment I’ll take issue with is this:
    “The paint is pretty much standard for any mass market toyline. Up to part with any of Hasbro’s offerings, for example.”
    I’ve been beating this drum a lot lately, but Hasbro’s Star Wars 3 3/4″ line has set the bar really high. Check out the sculpt, articulation, and paint apps on a figure like Hrchek Kal Fas or the new Snowspeeder Pilot Luke. No other small scale line is coming close, including Airbender!

    That said, I almost bought the Appa (or whatever its called) just cause it looks so cool. I’m sure I will eventually. And I’ll probably have to get a figure to ride it, etc, etc…

  • charles says:

    Are people sometimes too nitpicky about playline figures?


    However there is at least one line that proved playline and collector quality paint work can go hand in hand.

    Popco’s The Golden Compass line.

    I have at least one of each single pack human figure and each one has an amazing likeness and brilliant paint ops, Hated the movie, Not a fan of the books but those figures are amazing.

    That’s not even mentioning the Dr Who and Primeval lines from Character options.

    Galoob’s STNG figures had excellent likenesses and paint work (Mostly) and they were made 20 plus years ago.

  • NickD says:

    I must admit, a lot of collectors have very unrealistic foibles and quirks that kids don’t have.

    However, the toy companies have a lot too answer for. Exaples: Mattel’s handling of the MOTUC range (just coz no toy retailer will give them the time of day on a new line (YES, the biggest toy company havving a rep like mud).

    The offensively pathetic Terminator Salvation and Star Trek (2009) ranges… so pathetic I think no one bought any in the UK. They were awful. Even kids (or their parents would baulk at those) “I gotta pay how much for that!? in a recession. I don’t think so” Even ifd Terminator was aimed at kids under 10, they certainly did not buy into the merchandise.

    The Dr Who, GI Joe (to an extent and the Transformers range and Star Wars (also like GI Joe not a huge seller, mainly to the collector audience).

    Unless manufacturers give kids (and) collectors some great product, the industry will (like the comics industry) continue to contract.

    Not everything needs the hyper paint jobs of McFarlane or the detail to the sculpt (look at the Ben 10 figures… they sell).

    BUT likewise, we as paying customers won’t buy complete junk like the cynical pieces of mabngled plastic masquerading as Christian Bale or Zachary Quinto in T4 or Star Trek (2009)… truly offensive toys, that deserved to (and did indeed) siot gathering dust on the shelves of toy shops worlwide.

  • Russ says:

    Hey guys, take a look at the McDonald’s Last Airbender figures; they actually look better than what Spin Masters made; and the scary part is…it’s also the first set of toys to include a Kitara figure. ‘:B-)

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