Looks like Scott (Toy Guru) is in a writing type of mood tonight. He has started a new blog (note only people registered on Matty’s forum can read it, but I posted it below) which is a really good read on how Masters of the Universe Classics got started. He also wrote up a long list of quality control issues with the line, what their statuses are, and what they are doing currently.
The first article I’ll put up is the QC post, it basically goes into issues with Green Goddess, Robot/Hssss shoulders, and Swiftwind/Wind Raider issues. It looks to be a longform way of also telling people about their return policy and to make it clear what to do if you have a problem. Go on and check it out:
MOTU Classics fans,
Toy Guru here. Last week I posted an update covering many of the recent issues on the MOTUC line. A few (okay, more than a few) customers have written to me to clarify issues about quality control (QC) that were not addressed and explain how we will be improving on this. I am happy to address this and to do so, let me go back and cover some previous issues we have had to shed some light on why certain figures have turned out less than perfect.
1: Green Goddess – Breakage Issues on the Torso
Despite constant rumors, this issue had nothing to do with “cheap plastic” or even the use of translucent plastic. A small percentage of Green Goddess figures did have issues with the lower torso cracking. This was the same issue we had with retail DCUC Wave 3 and Wave 4 produced at around the same time. The sonic welder used to fuse the joints together was causing microscopic tears in the plastic which would later lead to breakage. We quickly tried to inform customers that this was a joint issue and not a plastic issue (although for some reason many didn’t believe us and cusotmers continue to rail about cheap plastic which I assure you is not the case as noted above) What is key, is as you may have noticed, this issue has not come up in ANY other figure since then. Fans and customers like to use this as a bell cow for QC issues, but it only happened to one figure and we quickly resolved the issue by recalibrating the sonic welder. So it hasn’t and won’t happen again. ISSUE RESOLVED!
2: Backwards Shoulders on Roboto and King Hssss
Okay, this one we messed up. Both figures were assembled wrongly from Day 1, but the catch is that not a single member of the team noticed this issue. I am 100% to blame just as much as design and engineering as I personally had both figures on my desk for weeks and never noticed this swap. As a frame of reference only, this issue was so minor in the details that it was missed by the Horsemen and all of the fans at NYTF, as well as by all the reviewers who received a PR sample. Not that that is an excuse, it is just a point of reference for how easy it was to miss this issue! Yes, the shoulders were attached wrong and it kills me that we missed it. We now take extra care with any new parts to ensure it is assembled correctly. It hasn’t happened since King Hsss almost a year ago and shouldn’t be an issue going forward. ISSUE RESOLVED!
3: Inverted Legs on Swiftwind and Missing Missiles on the Windraider
While on the surface this seems like a similar issue to the shoulders on Roboto and Hssss, it is actually not. For Roboto and Hssss, Mattel was sent early samples to review and we (myself included) completely dropped the ball and didn’t notice the fine detailing that differentiated the two shoulders.
For Swiftwind and Windraider, a very small number (but just as important) of customers received horses and vehicles with errors. All of the pre-production samples we received at Mattel were assembled correctly. So this is not a case of us missing QC problems with review samples. This is purely a case of human error at the vendor.
What looks like happened is a small batch of Swiftwind figures was hand-assembled incorrectly against our review instructions. The same for the Windraider, a small number were shipped without both projectiles. This was a case of human error. It does happen sometimes.
I know that is not an excuse, it is an explanation. All MOTUC figures are assembled and painted by hand. Sometimes (ideally rarely or not at all) mistakes will happen.
We do have a return policy where any product may be exchanged free of charge (for 30 days) for a correct product. But you do need to return the defective toy to get a new one. So in a sense, this issue is resolved. There will always be that small percentage of human error in any product line. It is regretful when it happens, but it does happen some of the time. To compensate, we have a return policy in place to ensure customers get a corrected figure. We can’t stop human error, but we can compensate for it with a return/exchange policy. HUMAN ERROR.
I hope this sheds some light on some of the issues we have had. Of course we are committed to eliminating all QC issues, but at the end of the day, when you are running a very small online collector line, there will be QC issues on occasion. I hope the fact that the breakage issues with Goddess and the shoulder swap issue with Roboto/Hssss has not repeated itself is a sign that we are working on things. We can never fully eliminate human error, but we can put a policy in place to ensure returns and exchanges are possible on the occasional — but hopefully rare — human error.
Nothing is more important to us than our customers and delivering the high end product you expect and deserve. We are committed to constantly improving QC issues and hope to continue to deliver the highest quality figures possible!
For the role I have had in maintaining or dropping QC, I personally and humbly apologize. Things like the swapped shoulders are absolutely my fault as well, as I had those figures on my desk with the wrong assembly and never noticed. Other issues like human error in China are hard to control from my desk here in El Segundo. They do and will happen from time to time, but we will do all we can to prevent or correct them.
I know fans continue to bring up QC issues a lot. But really, to take a step back, except for the repeat of the reversed shoulders on Roboto and Hssss, other issues such as the pelvis breakage have never repeated themselves. Even smaller issues like tighter joints, softer loin clothes and better paint ops have improved over time. Ideally the fact that customers have not seen the same issue pop up again is proof that we are addressing issues. But we can certianly solve one issue and another unrelated one does pop up.
Yes, QC issues will always be there (as with ANY consumer product line) but we are working around the clock to fix things and improve things. Human error (like what happened with Swifty) does happen from time to time and is unavoidable. But as I said, we have a policy in place to replace items at our cost if this happens.
The future is nothing but bright for all of our collector lines. We are committed to eliminating as many QC issues as possible and will keep working to bring you the best product possible.
Next up is the new blog post, it’s a really good read on the build up to the Classics line, I liked this read a bunch more than the QC problems one:
I’m a toy fan. That’s no secret. It’s pretty much the reason I applied to work at Mattel. I’m also a big movie fan (I was a film major in college, well at least one of my majors was film, I’m an overachiever sometimes). One of the things I love about movies is hearing the behind-the-scenes info and the DVD format was perfect for this because it gave us “Director’s Commentary” with insights and secrets behind some of our favorite films.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of MOTU, I thought it would be a blast to take a look back at MOTUC (circa 2008 – current) and create a blog reflecting on each figure released to date. It is rare for one brand manager to work on a single line as long as I have so I’m in a cool position to share ramblings on both the origins of the brand and a look behind each figure. I don’t remember every detail of every figure, and I’m sure as we get closer to current releases I will have more clarity. But for now, much like getting the director’s commentary on a DVD, this blog is my attempt to offer that same concept but for a fantastic collector toy line – Master of the Universe Classics!
Each entry will focus on one figure, starting with King Grayskull from SDCC 2008 and going all the way up to the current monthly or quarterly release coming out this year. I hope by the end of 2012 to be caught up with all the figures. There won’t be an exact rollout of these blog entries as I’m going to write them in my “spare” time. But look for them every so often as we take a trip down memory lane and reflect back on the greatest collector toy line of them all, MOTU Classics!
So where did it all start?
Well, back in 2007 I was new to the Action Play Marketing group. I had just moved over to the group from the Hot Wheels packaging team where I was a writer on basic cars and track sets. I was moved over to the Marketing team to help start up more robust collector lines as I was a collector myself (in addition to helping to launch the DCUC line with the WB group!).
One of the first things at the top of my list was somehow through **** or high water getting a MOTU line up and running for collectors. MOTU was my favorite line as a child and getting to work on a MOTU line (or line extension) was a dream job. Basically I wanted to make the MOTU line I always wanted, meaning highly articulated, fully detailed and huge character selection. Yes, that sounds 100% selfish, but remember, as a fan myself my plan was that if I was pleasing myself (as a HUGE MOTU fan), likely I was pleasing most fans (not every fan obviously) but I used my own “requirements” for what a collector MOTU line should be as a jumping off point.
First stop was SDCC.
We were a year off from SDCC 2008 and I really wanted to find some way to bring MOTU there. The 200X line had “ended” about 4 years earlier but we still had all of the tools and molds for this line at our factories. I was a HUGE fan of this show and the line (I remember waiting in line at SDCC myself for a Keldor and She-Ra figure and being very upset I only walked away with one She-Ra the year she came out. So much for having a second one MIB!)
A lot of folks were a bit unsure whether we could launch a MOTU line without any new entertainment and relying on collector interest only. Others were very supportive of the idea. In the end, what we decided was to try one figure using shared tooling.
There were quite a few characters that never made it into the 200X line and the original idea was to just pick up where the retail line ended and keep pumping out 200x style figures using what shared tooling we could use. Very early on, King Grayskull became the character we wanted to do as he would be a great SDCC item since he was “He-Man” but was not really “He-Man,” appealing to both hard core fans and ideally casual new buyers as well.
The original idea was to use the 200X Ice Armor He-Man body buck since it had the cape and boots we wanted. A new head would give us this figure perfect to “close out” the 200X line. King Grayskull was not originally intended to be the start of a new line but rather the “final” figure in the 200X line (or if he hit perhaps the start of a 200X collector line).
Design started looking over the concept and management approved King Grayskull as the SDCC exclusive for summer of 2008. We reached out to our vendor to dig up the old Ice Armor He-Man tool and were about to call the Horsemen to ask about creating a new head.
But then fate stepped in.
The Horsemen showed up at SDCC 2007 a month later with an all new concept for a He-Man figure they created on their own independently. You all know what I’m talking about because we slipped it into the display case just to see what fans thought!
This was a highly detailed, fully articulated figure that used the proportions of the vintage line but updated with today’s standards (set pretty high by a certain 6” Superhero line that was legendary and marvelous).
The best part about the Horsemen’s new pitch was the figure was designed to heavily use shared parts. I can’t overstress how important this is for a collector line. Tooling is INCREDIBLY expensive. So finding a way to incorporate shared tooling from day one was the only way a line could work. AND what was great was the vintage line was based on shared tooling, so reflecting that in a collector line actually worked without it looking like the line was going cheap.
The sneak peak in the case was a huge hit with fans at SDCC 2007 and we quickly came back to El Segundo and scrapped out plans to use the Ice Armor He-Man buck and instead thought, “what if we used this new buck for a whole new line of MOTU characters?”
Now at the same time, we were starting up Mattycollector.com (my major project for coming over to the marketing group). If we could get this new MOTU shared parts line up and running it might be the perfect backbone to this new online distribution model.
We hatched a plan to use the new buck system to premier King Grayskull at SDCC 2008 as planned, with the idea that if we reflected the vintage line and created basic human, beast (Beastman/Stratos) and reptile (Skeletor) bucks, we could make a variety of characters with minimal new tooling (heads, capes, weapons, etc…).
I’ll go into detail about the first 6 characters when I get to their blog entries, but for now, a look at how King Grayskull came about.
We had very little assets and very little time. The packaging group came up with the idea of putting him in a castle-like package and even adding in lights and sounds for that extra Comic-Con affect. Yes, he would be a 100% tool, but we were looking at him as an investment that if we tooled King Grayskull, we would essentially have He-Man and the base for countless other figures.
The dice were rolled and we took a risk!
I remember getting the first early sample back and plunking him down on my desk. Wow. We did it! The first new MOTU figure in almost 5 years and boy, was he amazing! I completely credit the Horsemen with the amazing look. Keeping those buffed-up proportions from the vintage line was a stroke of genius. While the original idea was to use the limited shared tooling from the 200X line, having an all-new buck system and starting an all-new line actually made way more sense (especially to upper management) because it gave us the chance to make ALL of the characters again, not just the ones that didn’t make it into the 200X line (like King Grayskull).
At NYCC in February 2008 we announced the figure as an SDCC exclusive with the idea that there was more to come and a whole new MOTU line with “the best distribution ever” and “MOTU would be back on shelves everywhere.” This was my first experience of fans misinterpreting what I meant. A lot of fans took this to mean store shelves everywhere. I wasn’t yet cleared to announce Mattycollector.com as the distribution model (as that was a reveal saved for SDCC in a few months).
What I had intended to mean was MOTU would be back on “your” shelf. Meaning the shelf you keep your collection on at home. And by the “best distribution ever” what I meant was anyone in any country could order these online. (As opposed to a retail-exclusive line. If MOTU was, for example, a TRU line, if you lived in a country without a TRU you were out of luck!). Online distribution really meant the widest distribution possible. I honestly never intended to mislead fans and customers and this was a good key learning to watch what I say as everything I say will be picked apart and possibly misinterpreted! A lot of fans were upset when they learned at SDCC this would be an online line, but I think over time it has worked out. Not having to rely on retailer interest has actually been a great move for this line and what has allowed us to do items without thinking about retailer shelf space.
Anyway, regardless of a few early communication issues, King Grayskull was off to a great start. We even came up with a concept for a “chase” version at the show to help generate more PR and noise by doing a bronze statue version (for the record, this was the suggestion of some of the web masters at He-Man.org who have been a great resource, especially in the beginning when we were getting out feet wet!).
The figure and package really came together nicely. We no longer had rights to use the actual voice from the 200X series in the toy, but luckily we had a recording from a talking figure from 200X that was a sounds-like voice that we owned. The sound studio deepened the “I have the Power” call from this toy to make it more “King Grayskull” and the package was set.
We brought King Grayskull to SDCC 2008 and he was a huge smash. This was also the show where we announced Mattycollector.com itself and that there would be more MOTUC figures coming later that fall. (I’ll get more into that in the next blog entry.) We also made sure to produce a few additional units to sell online to kick off the website. Unfortunately, due to not thinking holistically, the electronics we used in the package prevented us from shipping King Grayskull outside of North America. This was never something we did intentionally, but when you are trying to make a cake sometimes you break a few eggs. This was a big one. We really wanted to cultivate an international audience so it killed me that we had this restriction.
But in the end, despite a few missteps, we had a hit. King Grayskull wound up being the perfect figure to kick off the line since, as I said above, he “was He-Man, but was not He-Man”. He was a figure that was not in the vintage line, but was being done in the new Classics style as an interpretation of what an updated hypothetical vintage King Grayskull would be as updated through the new “Classics style.” Just as the 200X line was a reinterpretation of the vintage line, so was the Classics line. All characters would be in the same Classics look, regardless of where they were from, the vintage line, 200X, POP, NA etc… One all-inclusive line for all figures in a new style. How awesome.
King Grayskull sold out pretty fast online and it was soon clear that we could proceed with a whole line. But how to do them? Singles? Two packs? What would the packaging look like? How deep in character selection could we go?
The future was wide open and no one at Mattel was more excited then I. A skinny little kid from Connecticut who played with MOTU when he was 4 was now helping to make figures. Wow. A dream come true no matter how you shake it. For the very first time, MOTU had actual MOTU fans running the line. We were in for one heck of a ride.
PS … one day I’ll get a better featured image for Scott posts. I almost feel bad using it.