Quality control issues are nothing new in the action figure hobby over the last ten years. The reasons for this are obvious. The most significant problems are rising production costs. The cost of almost everything involved in producing action figures is on a continual and precipitous rise – the petroleum for the plastic, the petroleum for transportation, tooling costs, the labor costs for the factory. Thanks to a few high-profile toy safety crises, safety testing has become more expensive. Moreover, the most successful action figure lines today are licensed from large media properties which are increasingly expensive to obtain.
Meanwhile, many adult collectors (in my experience) unceasingly complain about the rising costs of action figures, unable to let go of the memory of paying $3 or $5 for action figures as kids. Put that all together and toy companies have a strong incentive – even a desperate need – to cut corners wherever possible to keep the price point reasonable. Sometimes they do so by reducing the size of their figures. Sometimes they do so by reducing the number of (larger) figures they make per year. Sometimes they do so by reusing molds as much as possible. Sometimes they do so by minimizing articulation. Sometimes they do so by going with cheaper plastic, or the lowest-bidder factory – or both.*
Mattel’s DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics both went through some very bad periods of QC. NECA had QC issues for years, though they’ve gotten much better (although the recent ED-209 appears to have a few issues). And now, newcomer Funko appears to be having some significant issues with their 6″ Legacy Collector Game of Thrones figures.
IThe Thrones first aren’t even due for an official release until this weekend, and at that point they’ll be a 30-day exclusive at Barnes and Noble. The only Thrones figures available at the moment are at Barnes and Noble franchises whose managers have ignored the do-not-sell order. So we’re talking about a pretty small sample set here. And yet, we’re already seeing a number of reports of broken limbs, stuck joints and other QC issues – examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. It’s still early, so perhaps these issues are only appearing on the first few shipments and will go away as the figures hit wider release in a month, but there are reasons to think that won’t be the case, as outlined below.
Collectors have advised that you use warm water or a hair dryer to warm up and massage the joints before moving them. That’s fine advice for diehard collectors like ourselves who know about that sort of thing, or frequent forums where they can find out about it. But you can hardly expect your casual GoT fans – the ones who will help drive this line’s success – to know anything about it. And of course it goes without saying that it shouldn’t even be necessary.
The culprit appears to be the transparent, brittle plastic used for the joints. Collectors have seen this before (I believe a recent example is DC Collectibles’ 3.75″ series), and it almost always seems to result in frequent breakage. An improvement would require a running change that swapped out the brittle plastic for more durable joints.
So what happened? Who knows. Maybe Funko deliberately cut corners in production – the transparent plastic used for the joints would seem to suggest that – in order to hit the $19.99 price point on a super-articulated action figure line based on what was likely an expensive license to obtain. Maybe Funko used a bad factory, or one with little experience at making action figures but will improve as time goes on.
Funko is new to the super-articulated action figure game, so some growing pains are to be expected. Fortunately, I think the license is popular enough they can overcome this if they correct the problem by wave two. I just think it’s important both to acknowledge the issues (and not blindly support the line) while also acknowledging such issues can be fixed, and that the line itself appears promising (at least in my opinion).
I wanted to write something up on this for a couple of reasons. I wanted to give collectors a heads-up – if you buy these, watch out for stuck joints and warm them up before trying to move them (the Fwoosh thread has a lot more on this). But the other thing I’m seeing is some collectors dismissing or even criticizing the complaints of others regarding the QC issues.
I know all about the inclination to forgive or minimize the significance of QC issues or other problems on something you love. I’ve been guilty of it myself, on occasion. But the problems are there, and Funko needs to address them. They may not be able to before wave two. I think the figures themselves look great (and the paint apps will likely improve with each wave), but bad QC can really undermine a line’s potential success. I still wonder whether DCUC would still be around today if it hadn’t gone through a bad QC period.
Oh, and for the curious – despite my coverage of the Funko line, I’m not actually a big Game of Thrones fan and have no plans to get the figures. However, I feel like I have a stake in the line since I’m very excited for their Firefly line in the fall, and I don’t want the same QC issues to crop up then.
* What won’t happen, at least among American companies, is a price increase that comes with a quality increase. Prices always seem to increase just enough to keep up with the production costs, which means the cost-cutting is still necessary.