If one company is to be heralded as the pioneer for art toys in the West, most people would struggle to argue against Kidrobot taking the crown. They were pretty much the first company to embrace what was happening in Hong Kong and Japan in a way that opened it up to the general populace.

However, while once they were universally loved, there seems to be a growing disquiet amongst collectors. The toy store that could do no wrong now seems to be unable to do right in the eyes of some. It’s almost like they’re being painted as the corporate face of the toy world (the investment by Wild Brain didn’t seem to help this) – a McRobot figure to be rallied against.

I’m going to throw my hat in the ring here and say that Kidrobot is being lambasted unfairly. Kidrobot, as a business – and sorry to break it to some of you, it is a business – has changed its focus in the last year or so. Or rather, it’s become what I think Paul Budnitz always intended it to be – a multi-faceted art emporium of which toys are just one, albeit a significant, part.

Diversification is the key to any business’s success. If you have one route to market and can tap into another, it makes financial sense to do so. It basically boils down to not putting all your eggs in one basket. But when Kidrobot did this with their new apparel line, there was an unbelievable amount of fuss made. Fuss that went way beyond the fact that people didn’t like the designs. Yes, it’s the BAPE model down to a letter. And maybe it is played out. But Christ – how many other companies are going down this route to the joy of the streetwear masses?

Then there’s the continual bitching over Web crashes on popular releases, QA issues and anything else people can find to gripe about. Like any growing company, there are going to be teething problems. Maybe they’ve extended themselves too far, in too many directions, too quickly. They’re retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers – and now fashionistas. But don’t you think it’s frustrating for them, too, when things go wrong? You’re only as good as your last toy (or hoodie) in this game, and it’s not like they don’t know this.

A lot of the sour grapes seem to come down to the fact that Kidrobot is the public face of the toy world to the uneducated masses. And I think some people see them as spoiling our little underground world, by courting or utilising this media attention. Sure, it’s great our little world has a nice community feel, but what happens when it reaches saturation point? How much room have we all got in our homes for these vinyl delights? New collectors are needed to keep the vinyl world alive, and Kidrobot is essentially the industry’s recruiting sergeant.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying they’re perfect by any means. They need to get some things in their house in order. For example, Teeter’s QA seems to have been bang-on, but on release day, the Web server went to crap. Now I’m far more concerned about the former than the latter. Servers will always crash or freeze. That’s what happens when hundreds of people hit the same URL at the same time. QA is the real issue, and if we’re honest, with the prices we’re paying its something most toy manufacturers need to raise their game on.

In all, it’s time they were cut a bit of slack. Kidrobot isn’t some multi-national. In the grand scheme of things, it’s still a small company. Directly or indirectly, they are what brought a lot of us to designer toys. It’s time that even those of us who don’t collect their particular product admit to Kidrobot’s role in our paths to vinyl enlightenment.

Drunken Master

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