On Vinegar, Honey, and Flies
June 12, 2011

"The fans would get us to pay a lot more attention if they weren’t so negative. ‘Cause what happens is, there are so many people that are so negative, you just have to shut it off, because it would shake your confidence. And it’s unfortunate, because fans have helped us, too. You know, we want to know who the favorite characters are when you take a mythology like Transformers or G.I. JOE." – Lorenzo di Bonaventura

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No, this isn’t a defense of any of the movies with which Lorenzo di Bonaventura has been involved. He makes a very valid point, though, and it’s relevant to a lot more than Hollywood productions. It would behoove those of us who collect action figures and discuss them online to pause and consider his words.

"The fans would get us to pay a lot more attention if they weren’t so negative."

Just imagine how many times this very thought has run through the heads of Hasbro and Mattel employees.

Some will inevitably say, "But people have a right to complain if they don’t like something!" Sure. I don’t dispute that, and I’m certainly not trying to deprive anyone of their rights. This is simply a reminder that it’s wise to choose our words carefully and to consider the consequences before publishing some of the things hobbyists say.

"Collectors are just blowing off steam and expressing themselves. It doesn’t hurt anything!" Except that it does. Some of us would actually like toy manufacturers to listen when we offer constructive criticism. If a representative from one of those companies has to scroll through ten pages of, "HasBLOW SUCKS," and, "The guy who runs this line is an IDIOT," to read a couple of rational, thoughtful ideas and suggestions, what do you think is going to happen? Those comments will get lost in all the nastiness. The overwhelming negativity directed at these people – because they are people, after all – makes it less likely that anything we have to say will be heard. Throwing a fit and having a message board tantrum might make someone feel (if not appear) clever at the time, but all it does is make it more difficult for others to communicate sound, reasonable recommendations to the teams behind our favorite action figure lines.

"They just don’t care about us," is one of the most frequent complaints. If you mean the suits who actually run these companies or dictate budgets, of course they don’t care about you. The collector market is a tiny percentage of their overall business. They barely know you exist. If anyone believes Scott Neitlich, the Mattel Brand Manager who overseas their DC, Masters of the Universe, and Ghostbusters lines, isn’t a fan who cares about getting action figures desired by collectors to the market, that person hasn’t been paying attention over the last few years. All he and his team have done is spoil collectors, and a very vocal minority just demands more, more, more. The same goes for Derryl DePriest, back for another tour with G.I. JOE after spending a few years in a galaxy far, far away. Think back to the quality and selection available from any line not based on STAR WARS a decade ago. For that matter, just go back to 2004. You had Marvel Legends, but only ten figures were released in each of the first two years. Mattel had its comic-style Batman line, but there was no representation of the DC Universe as a whole at mainstream retail. The 200X Masters of the Universe line was dying a painful death. Hasbro’s G.I. JOE vs. Cobra line was hardly an aesthetically pleasing collection, and Transformers: Energon was hit-or-miss. Think about how much more we have to enjoy now.

In addition to the basic STAR WARS line, there’s The Vintage Collection and the animated-style The Clone Wars. Hasbro also has Pursuit of Cobra as a follow-up to several years of great 25th Anniversary and Modern Era G.I. JOE, Marvel Universe, Spider-Man, classic Transformers like Jazz, Kup, Thundercracker, and Wheeljack mixed in with movie toys, a new Prime line, and lots of Thor and Cap goodness for summer movies. On the Mattel side of things, there’s a 6" line that covers the entire DC Universe, a new animated line inspired by the Young Justice series, Masters of the Universe Classics, Ghostbusters, and a huge Green Lantern push this summer. On top of all that, they’re trying to squeeze out a lot more JLU characters as they bring that line to an end. Within a few weeks of a new wave hitting retail, people start complaining about there being nothing new to buy. Spoiled, and not just for more, more, more, but now, now, now. What happened to taking some time to sit back and actually enjoy a toy collection?

This is not to say that any company has ever produced an action figure like without making mistakes. All companies who manufacture anything make mistakes. That’s because companies and their various projects are managed by – again – actual people, and perfection just isn’t a realistic expectation. Big corporations, by their very nature, are slow to adapt and evolve. Progress takes time. Constructive criticism is helpful, and I have no doubt that the men and women who work on these toys appreciate pragmatic, useful input, but overblown hostility is inherently counterproductive. When people start ranting about how, "So-and-so at Mattel is clueless and incompetent," it’s patently detrimental to our cause, which is to get fun, quality toys. Just being respectful toward filmmakers, comic creators, and the men and women who work on our favorite toy lines can really go a long way.

So express yourself, even if what you have to say isn’t complimentary. When it’s not flattering, though, that doesn’t mean it has to be insulting. It’s honestly not that difficult to find the balance here, to be critical without being disparaging. Ask yourself: Do I want to be taken seriously, or do I just want to deride someone I’ve never even met? Am I in this because I love collecting toys, or am I simply collecting reasons to complain? And for those – the majority – who don’t resort to ranting and raving over little plastic men, those who can calmly convey serious advice as to how these products can be improved, do not allow yourselves to be drowned out by the extremely vocal minority. If you have something positive to say, if you want to offer praise when you feel these companies are doing an exceptionally good job, do not allow yourselves to be drowned out by the extremely vocal minority. Sure, it could put you in the crosshairs of those who thrive on negativity. They may call you an apologist. They may even accuse you of being a paid shill, but positive reaction is every bit as important as constructive criticism. This is our hobby, after all. We’re supposed to be enjoying it, right? If we don’t have any reason to be positive about it, just exactly what are we doing here?

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Jon "Caped Crusader" Edwards
Born in April of '77, Jon quite literally grew up with STAR WARS. His mother took him to see it barely two months later and started buying him the figures before he was even old enough for them. G.I. JOE and Super Powers came along in the '80s, and an action figure addict was created. The moment he decided he was "too old" to play with his toys, he started to collect carded figures, beginning with Super Powers. No longer in possession of the toys or comics of his childhood, he rediscovered collecting with The Phantom Menace, and has moved on from STAR WARS to JLU, DC Direct, G.I. JOE, Marvel Universe, and various characters from movies, television shows, and comics.
Read other articles by Jon "Caped Crusader" Edwards.

 

 

 

19 Comments »

  • Chill Billy says:

    I understand what you’re saying Jon but when these companies make the same mistakes over and over it can be hard for some to be diplomatic. Bad paint, poor or broken articulation, warped parts, pitiful distribution etc. These are the basics and collectors get the same glad-handing-brush off EVERY time when this is mentioned regardless of the tone or attitude.
    Maybe if some (or even one) of the issues were addressed, then the trash talkers would cool out.

  • The Penguin says:

    I know that it’s absurd to make a blanket statement like this, because there are exceptions of course, but mostly the negativity comes from the younger fans. I won’t get into it, but this is the crowd who is is used to getting a trophy and a standing ovation just for showing up, rather than for winning or achieving or even participating at all in anything. Most of these guys are so self-absorbed that when they express themselves, they come across as entirely irrational, and tend to be very negative on the message boards. You know who they are. They have a very limited vocabulary, and a very skewed worldview. On the other hand, you don’t hear mature fans complaining too much about the non-canonical Super Friends in Wave 18 or the so-called Skittles Wave of DCUC, because we are just very happy, thrilled in fact, to “collect ‘em all,” something many of us (or our parents, I should say) could not afford to do when we were kids. Mature fans have other concerns, like QC and disribution…because these issues cost us precious time and money…things that responsible people care about. We place different kinds of demands on a company like Mattel because we are a generation that was taught to strive for excellence, and to assume responsibility. Not because the world revolves around us. Even we know that the world clearly revolves around the younger generation. We 40-somethings have created an entire generation of monsters. And they are indeed monsters. Heaven help us twenty years from now!

  • gl666 says:

    Its easy to be nice the first 5 times you give advice, but when its ignored, mistakes repeated, and then the fans get blamed for bad things happening? Well, don’t poke the bear if you don’t want to get mauled.

  • Brad Rader says:

    Bottom line, they ARE TOYS. We didn’t notice the mistakes with our toys when we were kids because WE WERE KIDS! We were so excited to open up a new Hiss tank or G1 Jetfire we weren’t jaded or picky enough to notice the Hiss tank wasn’t Big enough or that Jetfire was actually Skyfire in the cartoon and that this was just a repainted Macross toy! We didn’t care, we were just full of toy adrenaline! I’m full of some today as well since I got Batman Legacy Mr. Freeze (SP colors), Reveal the Shield Windcharger and MOTHA F’IN vintage carded(that is now officially uncarded and freed) Super Powers Shazam in my mailbox all the same day!!! Woooo. Feels like the day my dad bought me my first Storm Shadow, G1 Shockwave, and a Sky Striker all the same day at a Service Merchandise just because I couldn’t make up my mind. I didn’t even ask him to, he was just a great dad (IS a great dad still) like that. That is what toys make me feel like. The day they make me a uppity butthole over some paint apps or not liking that they chose to go with a certain artists look, is the day I take my now COMPLETE Super Powers collection and just give ‘em to a REAL kid, And believe me when I say, “that ain’t happening sir!”. I see just as many adults throwing down the toy gauntlet as younger fellers do. Jon is right and everyone else is wrong, period. I guess that makes me right as well. Yay for John. Yay for me. Most of all, YAY FOR TOYS! Everyone would do well to take to heart something I’ve found true in my life at every turn WITHOUT EXCEPTION! Positive breeds positive and negative breeds negative. Next time a reversed MOTU classic Roboto shoulder has you 5 seconds away from writng a hate laced tirade on Matty’s page, take a breath, stand up and drive down to your local soup kitchen and donate an hour’s worth of your time and see what a REAL problem is.

  • Shellhead says:

    Gotta agree with Jon on this one. He’s absolutely correct.
    Unfortunately, as a public school teacher, I also have to agree with Penguin. The future’s gonna be scary.

  • Acer says:

    Maybe diplomacy does work in these instances. The way I figure it, when we want to address these issues, we should do it the way a political issue is addressed: formal speech and language, calm demeanor, and enough evidence to back our claims.

  • GaryG says:

    Look,I really love the DCUC stuff. The sculpts are pretty good. The variety is great, wish there was more. A squirrel Green Latern? Wow. $17.99? Really? Really?

    My main issue is with the distribution, not Mattel. If Wal-mart, K-Mart, Target and ToysRus keep telling me they have no control over shipments and the toy companies claim no control over that or price points, then is someone not telling the truth? I am a collector, but my son and I open the boxes, play with the figures and sometimes customize what we can’t buy. They are toys, make them attainable and affordable. While you’re at it put them on Mattycollector and sell the #$%$# out of them. Make me buy them from Mattel, not the overpriced secondary market. LOVE THE STUFF, but hate the us vs them mentality. It’s a plastic figure of the Anti-monitor…not a BMW. Keep it real.

    That make any sense or was I just ranting negatively? Thanks for the opportunity.

  • Erik superfriend says:

    Overall, I think Jon is right. The polls we’ve run here have been well received. There have been blogs where we’ve thanked Mattel for making stuff.
    .
    But some things just do not make sense. We will never know all the facts. Some of us do have experience in the toy industry (myself 6 years in the QA dept at Hasbro). So we do have a frame of reference.
    .
    And Mattel in particular hurts themselves.
    1. They blame Target for distribution when Hasbro can get their product into the stores.
    2. They make a fan requested figure like the Question and saddle him with 2 characters we already have a half dozen of. Captain Atom’s 3 pack may be “story centric”, but Question never worked with either Flash or Wonder Woman. They could have given us “Superman/Captain Atom/Question”.

  • demoncat says:

    have to agree with you john the current crop of collectors have not only gotten a case of we buy the product so we should have some say about how the characters are done as figures if they are not done to our liking then the ones like Scott at mattel who is going all out trying to get certain characters in the dc line or certain motu characters out are really winding up with a job where they will get nothing but grief instead of yes so and so finaly saw plastic. for toy collectors should relize all the negativity is going to wind up getting so the toy companies just decide its not worth trying to let fans participate in how to make the best toy line and collecting experiance any mor

  • stewbacca says:

    I do agree and as bad as we attack Mattel- the Hasbro star Wars Haters are worse–a figure comes out- and 2 seconds later theres a list of why it sucks and why it needs to be rereleased as a new done version.I have never understood that- 6.00-8.00 and they want it pretty much to be a living breathing sculpt- I complain every once in a while (say cankles leia– but I explained why- and understood the reason– but just didnt agree with the choice.. I am probably a Hasbro apologist more than not– but its because they have given me pretty much everything I have ever wanted (granted in the scale that I collect)- and I do complain– but instead of going you suck I at least try to explain why I have a problem and what could be done about it- My problem with Mattel is they treat us like no one else has any experience in the field they are in and they expect us to buy some of their shield the company answers (some of us are and were in manufacturing/marketing and understand about production,development,logistics,customer satisfaction, we get the costs, ROI etc.. Making tous is not the most difficult thing in the world (difficult to please the most people, yes, but its not like if they mess something up its the end of the world (disreagarding the occasional choking or lead paint incident (which by the way Darwin is turning over in his grave on that one)– I have seen hasbro take direct blame for failures- and explain what they are doing about it and attempting to correct it, they are willing to go the extra mile for us– which personally I dont think Mattel is. However I have never understand the personal attacks on Toy Guru -however – Im sorry but Mattel is the Labron James of the toy world- may do pretty good through must of the process but cant close it out and deliver the goods, and they make comments that gathers the scorn of the industry and fans alike..- I mean how would you like to be a retail partner – and if you were to read some of their answers- find out apparently they are all the reasons for all of Mattels failings. and the ones that they arent responsible for, the fans are– ..-

  • Hourman says:

    This post is kind of ironic coming from the guy who is easily the most consistently negative regular contributer to AFI. Take your own advice, Mr. Edwards.

  • Lee in MI says:

    First, if those 2 guys were responsible AT ALL for The Rise of Cobra…they deserve all the fan scorn they can get, post movie release.

    Now complaining about something you don’t have in hand yet is what puzzles me. Particularly if that company has a track record of doing pretty good stuff. Case in point, DCUC waves 17 & 18. The 4H will make all that stuff look great. They have with many other potential “duds” in the past. No reason to hate on the figs before you see em in hand and certainly not before you even see the prototypes. Now you can B&M about the character selection, but like The Penquin said, I, for one, am just glad they are still cranking out figs…all kinds of figs. I’m in for the long haul and I don’t cherry pick the line for just the team I want or just the fig I’ve been waiting for. Lotsa characters to do and there is absolutely NO reason to believe you will get the One out of 1000+ characters that you happen to want right now.

    As for fan vitriol, I think most companies bring a lot of it on themselves. For example, Hasbro. They took the Marvel Legends line and basically canned it. Now, no reason to badger them over the head if they simply couldn’t produce the figs like Toybiz did and for an affordable price that the retailers would get on board with, right? Right. BUT, they chose to jerk the fans around for over a year talking about they were getting their ducks in a row to do it right yadda yadda yadda. They did that song and dance for over a year while showing mostly the same hand full of figures at SDCC. When it was all said and done, the bottom line was they couldn’t pull it off…period. They would have saved themselves some heartache if they would have just handled it like a straight shooter and told the fans the lay of the land. Sure we would have been upset, but like JLU, once you accept that its done, its done. No need to beat a dead horse with all the B& Moaning.

    Mattel tends to shoot themselves in the foot in much the same way, ie, distribution. Instead of constantly reassuring the fans that they will improve on it and that they are working on it they need to just be straight about it and tell everyone how the Freight On Board system works. This will explain, in clear terms, why they have almost no control over release dates, shelf dates or if a particular retailer gets product at all. It would certainly clear up many of the questions you read over and over again about why “I can’t find the figures!” Once you understand those “logistics” you can get comfortable with just ordering from an online retailer and selling off what you don’t want. At least you will have the piece of mind that the one you do want, you will get!

    Mattel sometimes just cuts off their nose in spite of their face by giving those odd ball answers that sometimes only partially answers the question or answers a completly different question or side steps the question all together. If you don’t have an answer for the question, just say, “We don’t have an answer for this question at this time.” WHY is that so hard. At least the answer is honest and that’s about the best any rational person can expect. They literally give fans ammunition to fire at them by saying asinine, and in some cases, unintelligent answers to questions that they just shouldn’t attempt to answer.

    To this day, I still say the NYTF interview by one of the members here with, I believe, Cornboy from the 4H was an outstanding, honest and articulate interview and certainly worth an entire years worth of Toy Guru/ Matty Q & A’s. That is a perfect example of the type of straightforwardness that will pacify the apetite of the insatiable fans…and quell much of the so called “negativity.”

    • Lee in MI says:

      I’ll just add…if they are primarily making these toys to pander to kids & the moms & dads, why do they care what the hell the fans think anyway? O_o

      Saying you are pandering to kids while making huge marketing pushes at the fans (SDCC, Matty”COLLECTOR”, Internet FAN site product placement & free samples) is the exact type of duplicitous BS that gets them roasted! all the time. It’s an affront to peoples intelligence…or atleast their sense of reasoning.

      For example:

      Ghostbusters subscription but no JLU sub? You mean to tell me there are more fans who want GB toys than JLU…shenanigans!

      GB subscription but no DCUCs sub? You mean to tell me there are more fans who want GB toys than DCUCs…shenanigans! This is the most successful 6″ line of figures since Marvel Legends!

      Voltron subscription but no JLU or DCUCs sub? You mean to tell me the base number of Voltron collectors is bigger…WAIT! There is no baseline of Voltron collectors yet! Mattel hasn’t sold one friggin product yet?!?!? SHENANIGANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      …just asking…

  • Cookie says:

    I read this and all I wanted to do is stand up and give you a round of applause Mr. Edwards. Well written and well done sir! The Penguin & Brad Rader I agree with you 100%. Hourman reread his posts.

  • Justifier says:

    When the prices go up over and over again, when the Q&A’s get pretty condescending non-answers, what does Mattel or Hasbro expect? Put out some toys that don’t break out of the box, that’s a start.

    A little good will in the prices, and less executives in new BMWs might be a start too. When it’s a Depression economy, and your companies are making billions of gains in profits, your collector fans aren’t going to be psyched to pay $10 for what they got for $5, less than 10 years ago. No one wants to see that.

    I find this type of post to be pretty ridiculous from AFI. I knew you guys were pretty Mattel-friendly, especially after the whole Infinite Heroes SDCC Anti-Monitor thing (which i’m sure made *everyone* who reads here *really* positive, and hasn’t killed all of the site’s integrity) and the way you swept it under the rug… but a whole post about how fans should just “take it and be happy” sounds Orwellian and scary. Don’t speak up, just pay up.

    It’s the chicken and the egg in this article… which came first? I think the companies treating people like they’re stupid was the 1st step. Rather than waste all this space telling your readers to “stop being jerks” maybe telling the companies to “stop the corporate double-speak” would go a long way in ending the negativity.

  • MisterPL says:

    If the people making the movies were fans themselves, they’d already know who the popular characters of the franchise are.

    Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks were well received until studio execs coerced him into using a character with which he wasn’t comfortable because they wanted to pander to fans begging for Venom. The Lord of the Rings books were considered by some to be un-filmable until Peter Jackson and his team of fans were left to their devices by a supportive New Line. The last couple Batman films were commercially and critically successful because the filmmakers already knew the material and if they didn’t, they did their own research. Same with JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, produced by hardcore and casual fans but fans nonetheless.

    Bottom line: If you’re not already familiar enough with the property to KNOW something as simple as who the popular characters are, you shouldn’t be anywhere near the project’s creation. Just write a big, fat check and let the fans go.

  • Rich says:

    I really think the “angry nerd” stereotype is a bit over blown. Most of the websites and forums I frequent all seem to have pretty reasonable fans that love what they love and our generally pretty happy. I’d say it’s a case of one bad apple getting more attention than the majority of the fans. That’s not to say that if toy companies want the dollars from collectors, they are gonna get some feedback. There are certain toy lines that seem to have the same issues over and over and fans are gonna feel compelled to complain louder and louder if they feel like they are being ignored.

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