Complaint Department – Lego Super Heroes Part Three: Bootlegos and Customs

Bootlegs have always been around for any popular toy but they’ve blown up recently with Lego’s licensed themes like Superheroes. You can’t search for a figure from the Superhero line on Ebay without running into bootlegs. This has become quite a talking point that has fans divided. We’re going to look at some of the reactions to these fakes popping up, the pros and cons (though these fakes really shouldn’t exist at all), and my thoughts as well. Also, my last two posts will tie into this one so please check those out if you haven’t.

As I said, tons of bootlegos are all over Ebay. Lego fans are reporting these listings to Ebay hoping they’ll be taken down. I’m not sure if Lego themselves are taking any action but this can easily cut into their sales. While there will be people who buy these unknowingly, there will also be some that will buy them knowingly because they cost pennies compared to actual Lego sets, especially for the Super Heroes line where there are no blind pack figures and certain figures are exclusive to very expensive sets. Some fakes are done close enough to the original and the very common quality flaws can be overlooked due to the money saved. Let’s not forget that many of these fake figures are made with designs stolen not only from Lego themselves, but also the video games and fan-made customs. Inaction from Lego wouldn’t be a surprise to me at this point. My thoughts on them aside, how often do bootleg toy makers actually get found out and stopped?

Lego fans can easily spot the fakes. The general person may have trouble, especially from pictures. One of the easiest tells is if the seller is from Hong Kong. Another is poor or offset printing along with nonsensical accessories. The description on the Ebay listing is usually written by someone who either can’t speak English or went to Babelfish for a translation. They normally won’t put “Lego” in the title and instead of “custom” they’ll say things like “Lego compatible”. If a listing seems too good to be true, make sure you’re buying what you actually want because these fakes don’t go for much. We’ve also sort of gotten to the point where if you see a Lego of a character you’ve wanted for a long time, it’s probably a fake or custom because Lego certainly wouldn’t make something you want. Hate to take a jab at them here but it’s true to some extent. That’s sort of where this problem stems.

One of the reasons some Lego fans have “turned to the dark side” and purchased bootlegs is cost. Sets can be very expensive and if it’s a poorly done set with good figures, people will still buy it solely for the figures. I don’t disagree that the figures should be the stars of the set. I know I’ve bought building toy sets where the build is disappointing but the figures were fine. There’s a lack of effort on the team making these sets, the corporate level, or the concepts for the sets were bad, especially in the early stages of a movie. The figures are the easiest part to make so while I get that it’s difficult to come up with great builds every time, you can do better than random vehicle(s) with some good/bad guy figures. We need more Arkham Asylums and Funhouse Escapes. The general line of thought at this point is why spend around $80-100 for 3-4 poorly conceived sets when you can get a decent selection of bootleg figures for what, $6-10 when the figures are all you want? That’s a good point. With the low price you get lower quality but some are passable enough to make it into people’s collections. Keep in mind they’re only this cheap because bootleggers don’t have to deal with licensing fees or care about plastic quality/safety. Such things matter little to those who are saving though.

Some are sticking to official Lego products while others have reluctantly turned to bootlegs because they’re beyond cheap and offer such a huge variety of figures that are either out of the general fan’s reach or just won’t be made. I feel that you’re free to do what you like with your money. I can see both sides of the argument. My stance on this is that I won’t be buying the bootlegs. I have bought one for review purposes but we’ll get into that later. Otherwise, I’ll stick to Lego when they deserve my money or I develop the same old “set’s lame but I need that figure” syndrome.

Some have said they bought bootlegs for their children to play with because they wanted the character and either that character was in a ridiculously priced set, some exclusive give away, or just hasn’t been made. Official single minifigure prices can be hard to justify. A few dollars? Get the kid three. He/she probably can’t tell the difference (unless you got one with printing THAT bad) and they’ll be happy. Iron Patriot being a Wal-Mart exclusive for pre-ordering a console version of the Lego Marvel game was annoying. Forget that I wanted it, lots of kids did as well because this was a main suit in Iron Man 3 (even if it didn’t really do anything). Why wasn’t this guy in a set? Well, either you pay $20-30 for him or $2 for a fake. I’m not trying to justify buying bootlegs in any way but it’s quite an attractive alternative the way Lego chooses to do things sometimes. What, are they afraid the game won’t sell unless they force in a main character figure to go with it?

The other big reason comes down to what I brought up in the last two posts: character variety and pointless exclusives. The bootlegs are putting out designs that I know Lego would never bother doing. After Lego’s Avengers and Iron Man 3 waves, how many of the forty-two Iron Man armors do we have?  Four… It’s pretty pathetic. I’m not even going to bother counting the suitcase with the Mark V sticker. On the fake side, I’ve seen so many different Iron Man suits. They’re getting closer to that hall of armor everyone wants. I think both Lego and Hasbro have failed in this regard. There’s forty-two designs right there and you’re both out to sell toys. I can’t believe neither one has done at least ten of these things. If Hasbro did, they didn’t name them properly because I couldn’t tell what was or wasn’t in the movie except 42 and Iron Patriot. In Lego’s case they don’t even really have to do anything. The helmet’s the same mold for many of the suits, just in different colors for some. Otherwise, all they have to do is the torso print and if they’re generous, leg printing. Once again, it seems Lego just doesn’t want money. The Iron Man 3 line was full of awful builds, most of which have nothing to do with the movie. This could be the fault of the concepts but there’s no justifying the Mandarin’s flamethrower golf cart. Yeah, it might appeal to some kids but it’s still lame and if they saw the movie, it makes no sense. If anyone bought this wave, it was more than likely just for the figures. Besides the growing assortment of armors, here are some other awesome things bootleggers are making:

– Fantastic Four with both bigfig and regular fig The Thing and Future Foundation variants
– The Incredible Hulk in different colors
– Copies of San Diego Comic-Con figures like Phoenix, Green Lantern, etc. (Lego was asking for this one)
– Odin and Winter Soldier (Missed opportunities for movie tie-ins, someone’s fault if not Lego’s)
– X-Men members besides Wolverine and Magneto
– Several variants for Green Lanterns, Spider-Man, Batman, and more
– Young Justice (Did anyone think Lego would ever bother with these guys?)
– Wrist swivels for bigfigs
– Legs that move for short-legged or “Hobbit-like” figures

I’m sure there’s a lot more I’m not aware of. These just stuck out to me because they’re either never going to be on Lego’s radar, make too much sense to do, or in the case of the last two, things that should’ve been done at their conception. I can’t believe the fakes beat Lego to them.

I’ll talk a little about customs as well because these have also been a prominent topic in the Lego community. Some aspects of customs definitely overlap with bootlegs. Those who make customs most likely did it for fun. Printing your own figures is the next step after being tired of the inability to make unique characters from existing Lego parts alone. Of course, some will take their skill and try to make money from it. As a crazy man once said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” I have less of a problem with customizers because they’re essentially selling their art which many people do. Sure, they’re doing it using a foundation that wasn’t their own, some designs were taken and not made, and they also don’t pay licensing fees but neither do people who sell their drawings/artwork and I don’t think that’ll ever get stopped so the customizers can keep going. I can’t stress enough that if Lego would make these guys and release them properly, people wouldn’t have to turn to customs and fakes or at the very least rely on them less.

Personally, most customizers charge too much. I understand that it takes effort to create the designs, resources to print them, and an expensive printer which they need to break even on first. They also don’t have a factory or staff like Lego does and all the parts are for the most part real Lego parts instead of plastic X used for the fakes. Sometimes the hair/helmet molds are their own creation as well. Still, some have successfully made a business out of it. Customizers can also control their own supply leaving fans not knowing if a figure will be back meaning high bids. I’ve seen a figure get bid up to $250. Nobody wants to pay $40-80 (which is common) for a custom Lego figure but if it’s an important enough character to them, some will which is what the customizers are counting on. I have to admit that at least customizers strive to put out a good product with great quality but I don’t see me going for them at those prices. I think it’s a little sad but not surprising that the bootleggers have also stolen designs from customs. Just a testament to how good some of these are and that if Lego doesn’t have one to rip off, the bootleggers will find a way.

As time goes by, more people will eventually stumble upon the bootlegs and make their choice. I’m sure most will still support Lego when they can but it shouldn’t shock anyone if some go for the fakes. While I won’t be buying any bootlegs, I get it. I understand why some are turning to them. If Lego or whoever’s responsible made these characters or weren’t stupid about putting them out, there wouldn’t be fans reluctantly buying bootlegs. While they may enjoy their bootleg figures, many of them probably feel bad for supporting them. I’m sure we’d all rather support the real thing. The problem is companies actually doing the work or making the common sense decisions to pull it off. They seem very set in their ways. When there’s a good change in what they’re doing it’s only seen as good because of how bad it’s been. I can barely call them steps in the right direction. They’re more like a tip-toe towards being less awful.

Real Lego fans buying the bootlegs is really Lego’s fault more than anybody else’s. Sure, the bootleggers are to blame as well for taking other people’s work and profiting from it but at the core this comes down to competition. Bootleggers are successful because of what their figures cost, the vast variety, and willingness to steal do the characters/costumes Lego won’t. As I mentioned, bootleggers don’t have to pay licensing fees and whatnot but despite having the licenses anyway, Lego or the license holders are severely mishandling them. There’s so much wasted potential when they have access to such big names like Star Wars, Marvel, and DC. I don’t expect Lego to start competing price-wise with the bootleggers but I’m hoping someday this will be a wake-up call for their antiquated mindset that standard Spidey along with Batman every time just isn’t going to cut it. Again, I’m not here just to criticize. I’m out to point out how you can make more money while keeping fans happy. Shouldn’t every company strive for both? Challenge yourself to do better, take risks, and make what the people want. It’s not that hard, guys.

Next time’s post will contain closing thoughts on everything I’ve talked about and I’ll be reviewing the one bootleg figure I own.

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