Poe’s Point > Hard Times at McFarlane Toys

Rich Johnston, the comic industry commentator who writes an insider column for Comic Book Resources, reports that McFarlane Toys may be undergoing some serious downsizing.

McFarlane Toys, the company owned by comic creator Todd McFarlane, has had a long history and reputation for increasing the quality of design of action figure dolls, transforming them from the simplistic posed plastic characters of my youth to the intricately designed and articulated figures commonplace today.

However, of late, the company have had a few problems. And has internally announced a third round of redundancies far more severe than the previous two.

The company is split into two, design studios in New Jersey and administration in Arizona offices. I understand that Ed Frank, President of the NJ group and founder of the original company before it was bought and renamed by Todd fifteen years ago read a letter out to the New Jersey staff, visibly uncomfortable.

The studios will see forty staff drop to thirteen. Major operations will be shut down, including the mold, paint, sculpting, and model departments.

The only department to survive will be the digital department, and only two of its members will be held on, and a couple of traditional sculptors are being trained up to handle digital sculpting.

The plan as it currently stands is that most new sculpts will be scans of actual people (posed standing up, making a T shape,) cleaned up digitally, armour and accessories assembled and added digitally (think Mr Potato Head,) mixing and matching from other sculpts, and then the files sent to China for 3D printing, cleaning, touching up, sculpting, articulation and the rest. New Jersey will only generate digital output from now on. This is still a very experimental process, however.

The New Jersey complex will be reduced from four buildings to one, with the equipment either being sold of shipped to China. As for Arizona, they will shrink from seventy people to around thirty-five.

The phasing out off staff will occur sometime between now and June, though no specific dates of personnel of departments have been given. When asked about severance, a human resources representative stated that “allowing you to work until June should be looked at as your severance package.”

This is what you call a developing story…

I can’t say this surprises me. Aside from sports figures and maybe Halo, McFarlane hasn’t been a relevant force in the action figure industry for most of the decade. They bet on collectors wanting super-detailed sculpts of new or original  licenses with minimal articulation, while the market actually moved toward nostalgia properties (G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, comic book superheroes) with increased articulation.

When McFarlane finally had a chance to compete with their highly-articulated Halo line, they punted the ball by making them 5″ tall–incompatible with both popular scales of 3 ¾” and 6″. The importance of this shouldn’t be dismissed. Collectors are often very loyal to particular scales, regardless of whether they plan to display figures next to one another or share vehicles with another line. I know that had Halo been in 6″ scale, I would have bought a lot more than just one Master Chief and one Grunt.

It seems to me McFarlane continued to believe they could appeal to the so-called casual action figure collector–a theoretically larger market than us hardcore collectors–with their various fantasy and military lines, but the casual collector is exactly where the market has contracted over the last five years. If, for example, their military line been 6″ and highly articulated, like Plan-B Toys’ Special Forces figures, I suspect the line might have had much greater success. (Of course, I don’t actually have access to any of the numbers, so I can’t say how successful or not McFarlane’s military lines have been–all I have for evidence is the racks of them at my local TRU and the fact that I don’t know anyone who collects them).

So now it appears McFarlane will be making nothing but immobile sports figures and videogame-based figures they can produce using 3D-modelling software. We action figure collectors will remain indebted to McFarlane Toys for revolutionizing the industry in the 1990s. It’s a shame they lost that edge and went in the complete wrong direction in the last decade.

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15 Comments

  1. Mark

    Totally agree Jim…although there is a few Tansformers Universe figures I am tempted to get. Got Merman yesterday, he is awesome, I was amazed it only took a week to arrive from the USA. The line is getting better and better.

  2. Jim

    @ryanlb…wow Ryan…r u serious?

    DCUC is notorious for QC issues. You seriously have luck with the line if you haven't haven't had issues.

    I bought all 4 of the TRUS 2pk exclusives for example and ALL …EVERY figure broke except batgirl and she had a loose leg. The others had STUCK joints. Poe's way to unstick joints is great but I don't think we should have to resort to such crafty methods.

    So I just gave up the line and got fed up with everything.

    MOTUC all the way for me!!!!! 🙂

  3. Jason

    Just one thought I have always had in regards to his company…when you have a company founded on the ego of one man, things often go wrong. It is hard to correct the course of a ship when the captain thinks he invented navigation. It was always his company and only his company, which means if he is wrong, there is no one to push back. He has always been the comic personality I have most hated due to his lack of accepting that anything not done by him could be good (in an interview once he said he refused to watch the original Star Wars Trilogy because it had no story and was just a bunch of fancy FX). As Michael Crawford mentioned, there are a ton of misteps we could catalog, but it all goes back to one thing…Todd himself.

  4. It's too bad. I really like the Spawn figures, even the non-articulated ones, but the last two series haven't been great, they changed scale and were more expensive than earlier waves. And then they dropped all internal properties.

    I like the Halo line, but I'm not a huge Halo fan, so if I'm short on funds (and I am), I'm going to stick to DCUC over everything else, for being bigger, characters I like a lot more, and better QC. Out of my 15 Halo figures 2 broke right out of the package, vs my nearly 50 DCUC figures, not one has broken.

  5. Mark

    @Jeff well said, there isno fun in statues.

    @Jim…thank you.

  6. jeff

    I'm a casual collector from Malaysia, the last McFarlane toy i bought was master chief from halo, thats coz i love the game so much. Anyway, as casual collectors, we collect toys, not statues……

  7. Jim

    @Mark: I think it gives them more of a good guy look…they just are under some sort of mind control by Mer-Man.

    I have to say man…I LOVE the way you think! You have a point there! 🙂

  8. caitlin

    Oh Dear how the mighty have fallen.

    Switching to this scan and tweak method is a very bad move.

    I've worke dwith scan data in the past and no matter how good the scan theres still a lot of roughness than can only be cleaned up by hand.

    Lots of detail will be lost when trying to make it look like real people.

    When a sculptor does his/her job they always (no matter how good they are) will caricature a likeness and thats how something on such a small scale ends up looking like someone recogniseable. The scan data messes that all up.

  9. Mark

    @Jim…easier to control as soldiers, he just commands them to run (or swim) into battle only to receive a beating from He-Man. I think it gives them more of a good guy look…they just are under some sort of mind control by Mer-Man.

  10. Jim

    I want those 2 mermans as fillers for my shelf…OFCOURSE the classic head for the RULER of the mermen and the Retarded goofy eyed Merman as soldiers……

    ……..even though it looks funny he's ruler of a bunch of retarded mermen….sigh

  11. Mark

    Bought one on ebay….I'll pay the scalpers LOL, I got a good deal.

    I wouldn't advise you getting two….it will just cause you more hassle…which head will you use for Merman and which for his soldiers.

  12. Jim

    @Mark: EXACTLY! Hey Mer man is going back up if you missed one! I'm going to get another 2 for mer man soldiers to fill up the 80's motu shelf!

    8:53! Clock is tickin buddy!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Mark

    @Jim….finally someone else who isn't a McFarlane fanboy. Bottom line is none of their properties from the last few years have been very good….if Todd had had more sense he should have took all his Spawn money and left it at that.

    Four Horsemen Rule.

  14. dayraven

    dead man, i definitely still play w/ mine, both on my own and w/ my kids… i collect toys, it seems a sin not to play w/ them… that's kind of like buying oreos and leaving them in the bag, no?

    that said, i can't help but to think mcf could have held on and perhaps turned things around, had they saved the right jobs. but as michael pointed out, they axed the very crew that could save them. for thor's sake, they should axe the HR jackoff who made the statement "you should consider working until june your severance package," clearly that slapnuts is making WAY too much. SAVE THE ARTISTS TODD, NOT THE ASSHOLES!!!

    (but he's not listening cuz he's todd and he knows better than we do :p)

  15. Jim

    I think mc farlane should get the big licenses…work his way up back to the top again.

    I knew this would happen about 2 years ago….and since then when I go to toysrus i ask myself…how the heck are they still in business.

    Now…end of story. Finally happened and i'm suprised they lasted this long!

    Todd M. has to work his way back to the top or file bankrupcy. His company had a lot of potential to combine articulation and detail….yet he was pretty adamant about sticking to pure sculptures. Hence, the reason my the horsemen left Todd.

    I bet the 4horsemen are doing a "I told you so" parade at their place. Hopefully, mcfarelane will learn from all this. Accepting this humbling situation and working slowly to make limited figures of HUGE POPULAR properties and selling them exclusively online maybe.

    Sort of like Matty collector.com

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