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Grumpy Old Man: “Due to unexpected delays” aka The ThreeA Story

The latest 3A H3ADLINES newsletter brings with it some classic 3A news: delays.  One of those action figures affected by the delays is their 6″ Judge Death, a figure that went up on 3A’s primary avenue of sales, Bambaland, some 7 months ago.  As the French adage goes, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

It’s been 7 years since I bought my first figure from Bambaland, which was also one of their first figures, the Dirty Deeds Bertie Pipebomb.  It was the start of their venture and, being a fan of Wood’s quirky art style, I fell in love with the idea of buying a toy robot designed by him.  I had at the time been accumulating a number of art toys from Hong Kong, and was no stranger to ThreeZero, the production company behind 3A, having purchased a couple of figures they produced that were designed by Jason Siu (all of these discovered thanks to the tireless blogging of Andy Heng aka TOYSREVIL).  In short order I found myself with a Les Mort, Noir de Plume, a Boilerzomb, several Tomorrow Kings, a Euro Bramble and a 3AAssociates membership.  Les Mort took two months to arrive, Noir de Plume a month… but then the time between pre-order and delivery started to widen.  The Boilerzomb was delayed, then the 3AAssociates membership took 4 months to arrive.  The word delay started to appear more frequently.  It soon became apparent that 3A had production issues, yet there seemed to be no stopping of pre-orders.  It got so bad that Phillip Reed of Battlegrip declared he was done with 3A’s toys, and even posited we could be witnessing the death of 3A.  Those posts were from 2009 and 2010, and yet here we are 5 years later and there are still delays, and still massive gaps between pre-orders and delivery of a product.  And all of this in spite of the WWRp Large Martin debacle.

Large Martin is part of the World War Robot line from 3A, at the point it was introduced it was by far the largest figure they had produced for their 1/6 line, and despite being large it was still a fairly simply constructed figure.  With the success of their portable line of figures (aka WWRp), starting with the reduction of the Bramble to 1/12 scale, it was only natural that Large Martin would see a release in the line.  Available to pre-order on 19th Feb 2010, the WWRp Large Martins “entered the shipping system” at the end of October 2010, meaning a lot of people waited almost 9 months to receive it.  In the time between the WWRp pre-order opening and the figures finally shipping 3A had put up 16 other figures for pre-order1, 11 of which had multiple variants2, and that’s not counting the show exclusives that appeared during that time period3.  That’s prolific by anybody’s standards, but coming from a new business (admittedly ThreeZero were not new to the game) that’s a crazy number of production runs that are required, especially when you factor in the complicated colour schemes of some and the hand-painted weathering.  And these pre-orders required payment up front, essentially crowd-funding the production and taking the profit early (assuming it didn’t get eaten into by production issues), with no general guarantee of a shipping date.  So, as with Phillip Reed’s example of $654.50 in his ‘death of 3A’ post, fans could be left with staggering amounts of money paid out with little or no updates on when things were going to arrive.  In fact you had to go and find the updates yourself, on a 3A forum (a hive of fanatics that I found scarier than any other fan community).

But still they rolled on.  Delays kept happening.  QC issues started cropping up.  Regular complaints were made about poor customer service.  By the time my WWRp Large Martin set turned up I had tired of the situation, having suffered the delays and QC issues myself4.  My purchases ground to a halt, with my last 3A purchase direct from Bambaland being an Action Portable Hatchery Guard (who has a foot that hates staying attached to his leg), that was back in 2011.  I’ve bought the occasional 3A figure since, but only from retailers where I can pre-order with a small deposit (their Marvel Silver Centurion Iron Man5 via OneSixthBruce) or, preferably, no payment upfront at all (Microman6 String Divers via HobbyLink Japan).  I want an actual product to be there before I pay for it.  It’s cynical, but across that 2 years period, 2009-2011, I spent more time sitting and waiting than I did enjoying the final product.  I can only think that their business model is heavily reliant on their direct sales via the Bambaland store and not retail sales, and their audience seems to have reached a put where they just put up with it.  They’re certainly used to it (“well, it is 3A” is a surprisingly common phrase on forums discussing their products).  I’m actually surprised so many retailers still support their products when they have alarmingly regular delays.  These retailers must have sunk fairly large sums of money in pre-ordering product and delays are extremely bad for business when your capital is tied up in product you cannot sell [while this is more Transformers oriented it’s worth reading Morgan of Masterforce’s posts on the buying and selling action figures & toys, those will give you some insight as to what retailers go through due to minimum orders and prepayments.  Imagine stumping up the price of a Lexus and then being told “Oh, yeah, production issues, next month”].  And while there can be legitimate production problems, where an untried process requires a bit more thought, should it really be happening that often?

What can’t have helped is the expansion of 3A’s lines beyond products designed by Ashley Wood.  Over the past few years 3A have extended their lines to include properties from Metal Gear Solid, Halo, Transformers, Marvel, Valve and, more recently, Bungie’s Destiny.  They’ve also recently previewed alternative takes on Star Wars characters (some very alternative).  And then the production company behind 3A, ThreeZero, started to produce their own figures7, which presumably use the same factories and have to take up spaces in the overall production schedule (oddly ThreeZero’s output hasn’t seen too many delays).

So this brings us back to Judge Death.  When it was announced, no release date was given on their promotional material, much as with the Destiny Titan, and the figure disappeared into a limbo that didn’t even see it showing up in the H3ADLINES newsletters until this latest one, a full 7 months since it went on sale on Bambaland.  Last month HLJ8 were listing the release as August, and now it’s showing September.  I’ll be surprised if it gets released as early as October.  Last year saw 3A’s Microman String Divers slip from August to September and then finally see release in December, and I’m fully expecting a repeat of that.  3A has been running for 7 years and hasn’t changed, they haven’t had to change, and that’s largely our fault.

 

References
  1. WWR Dropcloth, WWR Jung de Plume, WWR Heavy Bramble, WWRp Armstrong, WWRp Noir de Plume, Popbot Tomorrow Queens, Popbot/Badbot, Popbot Kitties, Popbot Slicer Tomorrow Kings, Adventure Kartel Little Shadow, AK Ankou Sentry, AK JC, Action Portable Tomorrow King, 2nd Birthdayboss, The Mighty Tharg – taken from ThreeA Toys Catalog.
  2. WWR Dropcloth [Panda Shocktrooper, Deimos Liberator, Slaughterhouse, Commando Uncle 5, Slim Red], WWR Heavy Bramble [Gravedigger, Marine JEA, Deimos, Bromwich], WWRp Armstrong [Dawn Patrol, NYC EMGY, Lunar Camo, White Engineer, Africa Defense, Medic Air Support, Shadow Guard, Suicide Club, Marine, Daywatch, Nightwatch], Popbot Tomorrow Queens [Reimi Kawaii, Yubi, Odayaka, Yumiko], Popbot/Badbot [Popbot Standard/Ascended/Day One, Badbot Standard], Popbot Kitty [ten pack of variants], Popbot Slicer Tomorrow Kings [Baka, Kyuuketsuki], Adventure Kartel Little Shadow [Little Shadow, Shadow Mode, Cherry Shadow w. Sanakhte Zombot], AK Ankou Sentry [Shadow Security, Newandria Police, N.L.C.S, Asclepius, UNKNOWN, N.L.C.S. Commander, The Drown, Junglevet, Johnson!], AK JC [Fighting, Exegesis, Tracky Boss, Mauro], Action Portable Tomorrow King [8 colorways] – taken from ThreeA Toys Catalog.
  3. Kuan ti Plume, WWR Hatchery Guard Large Martin, Gebi de Plume, Toy Tokyo SDCC 2010 Armstrong 0G, Easter Tomorrow Queen, Elite Hatchery Guard Tomorrow King, Badbot Manchester War, Tomorrow Queens Noniko, Whitey Balls Kitty, Invitation Tomorrow King, Saturday Adventure Set [Ghost Shadow, Missionary Zomb, Shadow Tommy, Shadow Zombot] – taken from ThreeA Toys Catalog.
    • Cherry Shadow having a fully painted body, including joints, which cracked and chipped at the first movement out of the box.  Mostly this affected the ankles for the heeled shoes, reducing the joints to bare plastic – luckily she came with alternative footwear.
    • My 2000AD Mighty Tharg had weathering that resulted in him looking as if he’d spilt coffee over his top lip and let it stain.  Contacting customer services they requested I send the figure back at my own cost for replacement (I elected not to do so, treating him as A Lesson Learnt).
    • Numerous instances of frozen joints, mostly fingers, which didn’t free up easily with heat or cold.  I still don’t like trying to repose my 1/6 Popbot figure.  In one instance a WWRp Armstrong’s thumb sheared off with minimal effort – I contacted customer services who agreed to send a replacement thumb, but this never arrived (I didn’t chase it up, chalking it down to Another Lesson Learnt).
    • My WWR (1/6 scale) Euro Bramble’s arm shearing off after a few years of posing and reposing it – the weight of the arm, which I left holding a gun most of the time, finally took its toll on the slim, hollow joint.
  4. Silver Centurion being The Best Colour Scheme For Iron Man.
  5. Microman is a long running line from Takara that co-spawned Transformers with Takara’s Diaclone property.
  6. They started with the FullMetal Ghost designed by Kunio Okawara, then made some Walking Dead zombies, Titanfall Titans. Zoids and Go Nagai giant robots, Robocop (the new one at least)… the list continues.
  7. HobbyLink Japan‘s more common name.

Published in Grumpy Old Man News Toys

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