Soapbox Sunday: Five Lessons Mattel Can Learn from the Four Horsemen

Matty Tracker 2014 - T-8 Kickstarter - Gothitropolis Ravens by the Four Horsemen - 35 hours to go

It’s like a Tale of Two Cities – the Four Horsemen are involved in a couple of product pre-order campaigns running in parallel. On one side, they’re the design shop behind Mattel’s Mattycollector Club Eternia and Club Infinite Earths subscriptions for Masters of the Universe Classics and DC Universe Classics. On the other, they’re taking pre-orders for their own Gothitropolis Ravens line through the crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter.

As we’ve seen over the past week, folks from Mattel and the Four Horsemen are tearing their hair out over whether the Club Eternia and Club Infinite Earths subscriptions will hit the minimums needed to survive. Meanwhile, the Four Horsemen’s Ravens are flying high. Their Kickstarter campaign hit the funding target during its first week, and proceeded to blast through every stretch goal they started with and even a few more they had to put together along the way.

You might think it easy to dismiss the stark differences in the success of the campaigns as coming from collectors’ growing dislike of Mattel and their service partner Digital River. And while I see a fair amount of anecdotal evidence for Mattel-hate, I believe there are some clear differences in how they run their campaigns that is causing the Mattycollector subscription fallout. If the Mattycollector subs live to fill in product silhouettes again next year, here’s some things Mattel can learn from the Four Horsemen, to make the sign-up period less traumatic and uncertain.

1) Show more of the product.

People want to know what they’re buying, and asking them to sign up sight unseen is a major deterrent. Club Eternia is a $501 commitment (before shipping) and Club Infinite Earths is $275. It’s not easy to put that kind of money down if you might end up with duds you never would have bought if you had seen them first.

UnnamedOneQuestion ComicBook Hssss from the back. Note that his bio went to print before we adjusted the timeline. It should be 5,000 years, not 500 that he was imprisoned! If we ever do a re-release we can look at updating this.

Count me among the fans scratching their heads when Mattel announced the Club Eternia exclusive for 2014 – only to flash a question mark instead of a picture. I do think that the Unnamed One has an interesting and mysterious place in Masters lore, but when you are only revealing one quarter of a full year’s figures, maybe it would have been better if you didn’t deliberately hold one back.

Of course, tastes vary, but with transparency into what’s coming in the sub, collectors would feel better knowing that they won’t have major hits against the toy budget coming with figures like the Fighting Foe-Men (no offense to the Four Horsemen staffers who lent their names to the FFM) or Batzarro. These are character choices that have gotten a fair amount of backlash from current subscribers, many of whom feel that the Mattel teams have stuck in personal favorites to the line-ups instead of giving subscribers what they want.

Four Horsemen Gothitropolis Raven - Screaming Eagle Four Horsemen Gothitropolis Raven - Pink Flamingo WIP

In contrast, the Ravens Kickstarter showed nearly everything that was coming right off the bat. They managed to build excitement by keeping one figure secret as a stretch goal, and revealed it once it was unlocked. For items that weren’t completely finished, they showed mockups and then works in progress.

I’m well aware that the Four Horsemen are not as hamstrung by corporate requirements as Mattel is, but since this is one of the biggest blockers for subscribing, the guys running the collector lines ought to be thinking about how to alleviate this. Post potential line-ups. Plaster the site with disclaimers. Something. Anything.

2) Charge more only if you are delivering more value.

Mattel points out that cost of materials and labor has risen, and that’s why figures that cost $20 a couple years ago now cost $25. But at the same time they’ve cut back on what comes in the package, making collectors pay more for less value. Remember when Masters figures came with interchangeable heads and accessories? That’s the exception rather than the rule these days. For reference, check out what came with Fisto and what came with Jitsu. And some collectors take offense that accessories that they think should have been bundled with figures show up in accessory packs. On the DC side, a lot of figures are coming with zilch for accessories.

Subscribers are feeling a continued erosion of value for the two clubs.

When you look at the Ravens in comparison, you’ll see that they’re not cheap. Individually, they’re $33 a pop shipped, which puts them in the same range as Masters. Like Masters, they consist mostly of re-used parts. Plus them up with wings, and they’re around $50. So why do people regularly complain about price of the Matty figures but not about the Ravens? Maybe the next point has something to do with that.

3) Allow true a la carte ordering.

With the Mattycollector Clubs, it’s a fixed menu – all or nothing. With the Ravens, it’s build your own meal.

It’s just basic economics – when you limit your potential market to only those customers who can and will get everything, you’re going to end up with a smaller customer base. And Mattel can continue to eliminate day of sales, intentionally or not, but they won’t be able to convert the casual collectors into all-in collectors – at least not while there’s the perception of a lack of value there.

The Kickstarter campaign started with individual ravens. It wasn’t until all the figures had been unlocked that the Four Horsemen put in an all-in option. And that all-in option has got a nice discount off of what you’d pay if you’d ordered everything in it at the a la carte prices. Taking this approach, they’ve been able to bump up the average pledge amount per backer – by getting the guys who would have only gotten one or two Ravens and convincing them to get more of them.

Meanwhile, Matty is completely shutting out the guys who may be only buying one or two figures, as well as eliminating any chance to get them to buy more. It just seems like common sense to me that when you get the guys who buy everything *AND* the guys that cherry-pick, you’ll sell more than if you just get the former.

4) Fix what’s broken and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

There’s been a number of Mattycollector products that have come under fire for quality control issues. The most flagrant were the Back to the Future Hoverboard (final product not matching design) and the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (figure turning yellow due to materials choice). While those could be considered one-time misses, it’s even more troubling to subscribers when mistakes are repeated.

he-man_3 Robotoshoulder1 hssss_before_after

Photos: Poe Ghostal

Masters has had its share of these. The original He-Man came with reversed shoulders, but that’s been followed by several more figures that had the same error. Stinkor’s forearms were reversed. This begs the question – how many times does it have to happen before you put in a check to catch it before it happens again?



It’s not like the Four Horsemen haven’t had quality issues of their own. The first figures for their Fantastic Exclusive Seventh Kingdom Elephants wave had inferior pegs in their limbs – that caused them to fall off rather easily. While this wasn’t considered breakage (they could be reattached just as easily), the Four Horsemen interrupted production to make sure the pegs were corrected. From that point on, none of the figures exhibited this problem. And while they still sold the inferior figures, they marked them as such and sold them at a discount.

5) Find a customer service organization that will treat customers like they were their own.

I’ve written about the problems I’ve had with Digital River, and I know many of you have run into similar issues. To summarize what I’ve heard: they charge exorbitant shipping and handling costs (for international customers, it’s untenable), fixing the frequent screw ups takes a lot more work than it should, and the customer service reps don’t have the systems they need to really fix things – it seems like they just use the regular Mattycollector site for everything.

I don’t want to malign outsourcing in general, because I’ve been places where it works – but here, it feels like Digital River is taking Mattel for a ride, and we’re the ones paying for it.

The Four Horsemen are a small shop. When they sell something, they’re the ones shipping it out. They field the problems when they come in, and they fix them. And the difference is pretty dramatic. Back when the Gothitropolis Scarabus figures were being sold, I put in an order – I only got 3 out of the 4 things I ordered. I’d like perfection but know that mistakes happen – but it took me just one email to get it fixed. Every time I get a shipment from Matty (I subbed to Club Eternia, Club Infinite Earths, and Watchmen for this year), I am crossing my fingers that everything is ok. Because every time something’s wrong, it’s such a hassle to fix it that I wonder why I signed up in the first place.

Now, while this article points out flaws with Mattel and Digital River, don’t label me a Mattel-hater. I want them to succeed, and I want the subscriptions to succeed – because I love the Masters and DC products. But when guys like me are wondering whether it’s worth it to subscribe for another year, you’ve got to acknowledge that things could be a lot better. I hope the team at Mattycollector turns this around for next year.

All right – I’ve had my say. Now it’s your turn. What can Mattel do to fix the subscriptions moving forward? Let me know via the comments below.

22 thoughts on “Soapbox Sunday: Five Lessons Mattel Can Learn from the Four Horsemen”

  1. Great points. I’d just add two things. First, Matty seems to be ignoring the basic business principle that you’ve often got to spend more to make more. A character like Granny Goodness may cost more to produce, but she would sell a hell of a lot more subscriptions than Batzarro. 
    Also, while it’s understandable that Matty can’t show prototypes of all future figures, they could certainly provide some semblance of a list. If I saw that Vixen, Dr. Light, Felix Faust, Ragdoll, etc. would possibly be included, I’d be on board. But I’m not going to risk nearly $300 and possibly end up with a bunch of characters that no one would ever want.

  2. They also need to have a real time update of the subscription meter.  Is Club Eternia still at 48%, or have they just not made a new graphic for the percentage that it is at now?  How many more subscriptions are needed to reach the goal?

  3. @feywulf It’s always about them not giving out information unless they have to. If they let the meter rest at this point for a while, then it reinforces how far away from the goal they are, despite where they may actually be by now.

  4. This is my favoute line: “And Mattel can continue to eliminate day of sales, intentionally or not, but they won’t be able to convert the casual collectors into all-in collectors – at least not while there’s the perception of a lack of value there.”
    Like the Grayskull fiasco and I said this to Toy Guru on Roast Gooble Dinner, the fact that we buy what they sell us seems have been completelty missed. Mattel seem to act like they are doing us a massive favour by selling is their product.

  5. The value of MOTUC figures is what has kept me from subbing in the past. Anytime I buy one from mattycollector, even when I really like the figure, I feel like I paid too much for it. Then you get a figure like the Scarabus, who costs the same after shipping as a MOTUC figure, but has fantastic and detailed paint applications, a ridiculously detailed sculpt, the same amount of articulation, and loads of accessories; and it makes the MOTUC pill harder to swallow.
    Nevertheless, I really like MOTUC figures, and I wish I could subscribe this year because I feel like I’ll be happier with 2014’s lineup (ironically, the biggest reason I can’t subscribe is because of how much I’m spending on raven figures). I wish Mattel the best of luck (I really want a Blade, Rio Blast, Ninjor, Tongue Lashor, and probably Two-bad), but I will still have to be a dirty cherry-picker for the time being.

  6. @feywulf – Toy Guru has said a few times that the sub meters are up to date, but I don’t believe it. I wouldn’t expect real-time updates, but they should at least be able to manage daily updates. all three meters have been the same for four days.

  7. drrampageo – I’m not surprised at all. but just because this is how they’ve always done it, it does not mean that they can’t improve. 
    given that Mattel has been concerned about hitting the minimum subscriptions needed in the past, it’s disappointing they have not addressed the major obstacles to more people signing up.

  8. @Ray
    Really? So then what if you sign up based on that list, and then Mattel
    has to change it? WB decides to say no to a figure, or they realize one
    of them is just too expensive? Then you’ll feel like Mattel lied and
    stole your money and tricked you, even if they have disclaimers
    plastered everywhere. Now imagine that by the fold of 1000’s and you’ll
    understand why Mattel just doesn’t do that. A smaller company like The
    Four Horsemen can do that, because they’re smaller. It’s more intimate,
    it’s basically indie toymaking and the fans understand that if there
    happen to be any problems and changes. And because there are fewer
    customers than Mattel themselves would have, any problems are easier to

  9. Mattel will never change, They are a monster of a toy company with a complete jack ass as the brand manager… I personally can’t wait for the line to finish up. I want the rest of the essential figures and then it’s a wrap. I’ve been consciously letting Mattel rape me and It’s starting to hurt, so enough is enough.

  10. JohnHarmon You are correct that collectors will give smaller companies more slack. I know I do. Mattel is giant, most likely has many times the subscribers than 4H has customers, and they own their own factories. Also, smaller companies have much better customer service (I’m thinking guys like Onell and Four Horsemen), but it’s easier for them to address the few issues that come along.
    Mattel can piss off hundreds of people, but they still have thousands who are not going to care about whatever the issue of the day happens to be.
    However, all of that still adds up to my issue of value. I feel like I get more value for my dollar with some of these smaller independent companies than I do with Mattel.

  11. How about just: treat potential customers with respect?
    Snarky mascot; advertising for a subscription that’s pitch accuses you of being too lazy to dress yourself or go outside; selling subs to alleviate the pain of a website that sucks, then reserving certain items for outside the sub and the pain of the WSOD; items that shouldn’t be sub-exclusive suddenly become so (and let’s not forget the derogatory names for entire segments of your customer base) ; all-in subs that don’t include secret “chase” items as cruel jokes; I think I’m forgetting a few things.

  12. JohnHarmon If Mattel had to make a change, but (and this is the key) they still came out with a character that most fans wanted (like doing say, Lantern Leaders instead of Lantern Deputies) and they made fans feel like they respected them all along, fans would tend to forgive them for having to sub in a different figure at the last minute a lot more.
    It’s the blatant butt-rape by Mattel and then the cruel, obvious ridicule by Toyguru after that (telling us that “cherry-picking” is the downfall of the line, not Mattel’s HUGE blunders) that makes fans not forgive even the slightest mistake on Mattel’s part.

  13. Not that this probably means anything to anyone, but back when the retail line was wrapping and the sub as first announced, I posted on several boards that Mattel should do the whole “crowd funding-type” deal where they asked people to sub on each figure and then only produced the ones that were financially feasible, by showing protos for each figure individually. When I did this, a few people posted encouragingly and a few posted on why this wouldn’t work. And now the 4HM are doing it.
    So in my opionion, mattel has no right to complain NOW. Just suck it up and deal.

  14. JohnHarmon Squeezeplay You didn’t even bother to think about that one before you posted.
    I didn’t equate my NOT GETTING THE TOYS with rape. I was talking about people actually paying money before seeing something, and then getting inferior product (shoddy construction, PLUS lack of acc.) for their money.
    IE they’ve been raped for their dollars. I wasn’t making some statement that rape victims should feel like US.

  15. JohnHarmon Squeezeplay Oh PS I don’t actually feel like I was raped by the subs themselves since I never subbed and never will. My anger comes from the fundamental feelings of betrayal by Mattel that all DC fans should share. Namely, that we enjoyed DCUC and they totally cocked it up and made it a pain to see these superior sculpts by the 4HM and have to bend over the couch for Mattel to own them (as opposed to a candlelit dinner, liquor and some soft music).

  16. JohnHarmon PPS John, I’m not the only one who’s equating rape with rising prices on merchandise. Millions of people do that on the ‘net every day. Also, we live the the USA which has a little thing called The 1st Amendment. You’re not The Emperor Of The Internet.

  17. JohnHarmon Squeezeplay Oh well, if it’s just toys, then I have no right to type anything. I guess I’ll just go cut off all my fingers. 
    u win teh internets!

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