Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Maybe it's okay with you if the first reaction a kid has to a toy is to start crying, but it's not with me." (Life With Unicorns)

Here is the email I just sent to Fisher-Price, about a toy that really they ought not to be making. (In the real letter, I used Mr Bunches' real name)

Dear Customer Service,

I am writing about your "Octonauts GUP-A Mission Vehicle," (  which we just purchased today at a Target store.  The vehicle is shoddy, which is the reason for my writing.

We paid $19.99 plus tax for this toy, which was the third or fourth in the set that our son, Mr Bunches, had bought.  He watches the Octonauts shows, and he has slowly been collecting the Octonauts playsets at a rate of one every week or 2 as a reward for doing good in school or helping out.

Today, as I said, he got the GUP-A, which to my surprise turned out to be not even up to the minimal standards of the other toys.  The primary problem is the capsule windshield, which does not close tightly.  I was unprepared for this, as (a) I generally expect things we purchase to work properly and (b) it is a submarine, which means that kids are going to use it in the water or at least pretend it is underwater, and although I am not a sailor of any sort, even I know that submarines which do not seal airtight would face serious problems.

When the capsule is closed, it rests rather stupidly on the edge of the plastic.  It feels like it should lock tight. It has two small holes where it appears it should lock tight, as well as two tabs adding to the general lock-tightiness feel of it. But it does not lock tight.

While this is no doubt a problem for any kid who wants to get more out of his Octonauts than simply recreating the experience of the 1963 U.S.S. Thresher disaster, it is more of a problem for Mr Bunches, as he has autism and so when things do not work perfectly, he finds them distressing.  More than distressing: in this case, Mr Bunches was reduced to tears in the 10 minutes he worked and worked to get the windshield to lock tightly.  When I helped him (because I, unlike Fisher-Price, do not like to see 7-year-olds sobbing about their new toys), by showing him that he could still play with it, albeit without the windshield locking, and when I even showed him promotional stills of the toy on various websites which show that the windshield does not lock tightly:

Inline image 1

(a photo which, if enlarged, would show the windshield resting loosely on the toy), 

...this did not help him, and he continued to cry and entreat me to help him.

In the end, Fisher-Price, we had to take two small pieces of Duck Tape to tape down the cockpit, thusly:

Inline image 2

I find it incredibly annoying to have to tape a brand-new, just-out-of-the-box toy, let alone having to do so after your toy has reduced my son to tears.  

But even worse is that it didn't work.  Shortly after trying that fix (which was his suggestion), he tried to play with the GUP-A for a while, but found it so distressing that he could not get the windshield open then that he eventually left the toy sitting on our table and went up to his room to lie down.

Congratulations are in order, since that must have been the intended effect of this toy; otherwise, one would have to assume that Fisher-Price simply doesn't care about whether or not it produces quality merchandise for children.

And 'quality' is not a word one would apply to this toy, or the Octonauts line in general.  Aside from that glaring flaw, the GUP-A, like every other crummy toy in this line, is made of shoddy plastic and has suspect engineering and design.

The plastic feels roughly the weight and sturdiness one would associate with breakfast-cereal (or perhaps fast-food restaurant giveaway) toys.  This is apparently the intention of Fisher-Price and is no doubt done to increase profits, as we have bought numerous other toys on similar design, including your own "Imaginext" line of toys, and found them to be sturdy and durable -- and the same price, generally. So why cheap out on Octonauts? God only knows, but we do appreciate the opportunity to have toys break quickly, as we were wondering what we would do with that little bit of extra money we had.

The design of this toy, too, as I said, is, to put it scientifically, crummy.  You have two little buttons on which a character may be placed to hold its foot to the deck so it doesn't fall when played with. That's a good idea! Too bad you screwed it up, as the two holes are too far apart to work for one figure (a situation that again drove Mr Bunches to distraction even before he learned of the windshield problem), and each GUP (as we know from watching the shows, something your designers should) is generally meant to be operated with just one Octonaut in it -- so if you were to suggest to your child that the holes are to let the Octonaut stand on either side (a suggestion that honestly makes no sense, as why would the pilot not want to look straight out the windshield), or suggest that an Octonaut could share the GUP-A with another (leaving one GUP vehicle behind, of course), your child might point out that this is a ridiculous suggestion.  

Your child, if he is autistic, might start crying when you suggest that and say, tearfully, "Please fix the feet," and continue trying to get one foot on each small button.

We've put up with hard-to-shoot nets, flimsy ropes, and the rest of this shoddy line of toys, but I'm going to tell Mr Bunches from now on that he can't buy any Octonauts toys.  Maybe it's okay with you if the first reaction a kid has to a toy is to start crying, but it's not with me.

I'm going to post this on Amazon, and on your site (if it allows reviews) and on my site, as well, in hopes that no other kids or parents will have to go through this.

Update:  After writing the above, Mr Bunches wanted to take another whack at playing with the "Sucktonauts," as I now think of them.

It was too disheartening to take a video of him trying to work the GUP-A, but I did show him trying to press the GUP-D down to shoot the net.  This is a kid's toy, in which you press a fin on the back to make the net shoot out via a puff of air.

Watch this video, and ask yourself why this toy had to be this way:

It take nearly all my strength to press that button. I'm 44 years old. Why, Fisher-Price? 


Liz A. said...

Yikes. Too bad they cheaped out on the toys. It's never fun to get a toy that doesn't work the way you'd hoped it would.

Andrew Leon said...

I remember toys like that from when I was a kid. Toys that you couldn't put together properly because of some flaw in the design or the mold or whatever. Or, the worst, when they were so cheap they came out of the box broken.

Rusty Webb said...

Yeah, that's awful. I do recall when my son was young, and I was in my worst financial state of my adult life, scrounging together a few dollars to buy one of those large, stryrofoam gliders for my kid. The thing was maybe two feet from nose to tail, so it was pretty big.

We went home with it, assembled the pieces together. I explained how the wings generate lift when their is air flowing over them... it was a great moment.

Then we went outside on a beautiful day and I picked the glider up, pulled it back over my shoulder to give it a (I promise) gentle toss, and it snapped in two.

I saw my kid's heart break that day. All I could do was get mad. I packed him up, went back to the local hobby shop that sold it to me and raged, begged, and held my confused three year old up to the owner and complained endlessly about what happened.

I got 20% of glue for my trouble.

So, anyway, I empathize with what happened with that crummy toy. And I'm glad you used scientific terminology.

Briane P said...

We've all had bad toys, from time to time. As someone who loves the Dollar Store, I don't mind a toy breaking if I get what I paid for.

But this seems extreme, and this year I decided I'm not going to just take it and get ripped off. So I'm going to do what I can to make sure nobody else falls for it.

Rusty: your story made me sad, too.