A Call to Action (Figures): The Rise of Video Game Action Figures

When I turned eight my parents gave my brother and I a Nintendo 64 along with a copy of Super Smash Brothers. Like any self-respecting child, Samus was my favorite because she had a charge up laser cannon and that’s the illest. Of course, I wanted an action figure of her, but that product didn’t exist yet. Twenty years (give or take a few) and all kinds of video game action figures exist. Just in Toys ‘R’ Us the last few years I’ve seen Super Smash Brothers amiibos, Halo action figures and Mega Bloks, Call of Duty Mega Bloks, Portal action figures, Crysis action figures, Assassin’s Creed action figures, and many more.

These action figures have really blown up in the last five to ten years. A big part of that has been the success of the video game industry, but it didn’t work how I thought it would.

At first I thought how video game action figures came to be would have a lot of overlap with how summer movie action figures came to be, but there’s not. The general wisdom with movie action figures is that they will sell most when a movie debuts, and have an extremely short, but productive, shelf life. That’s why we (almost) never see action figures debuting halfway through a movie’s box office run. Because video game’s success is much harder to predict, the action figures don’t work that way.

Video game action figures follow a model that’s more similar model to cult classic movie action figures. There wasn’t an action figure line to accompany Big Trouble in Little China when it debuted in 1986, robbing the world of Jack Burton action figures. Just about 30 years later, that injustice has been corrected with a line by N2 in 2002 and Funko Reaction Figures last year. Those lines were made because the movie had sustained popularity over a long period of time, demonstrating that they had an existing fan base that may buy the figures. I haven’t found a video game action figure that was made for a game that didn’t have a sequel, because a video game needs the same sustained popularity as a cult classic movie to have action figures.

I’d also theorize that video games are a back door into the action figure market. Hasbro has the licenses for Transformers, Marvel, Star Wars, and G.I. Joe, wrapping up a huge portion of the popular market. Companies like NECA and Kotobukiya have found creative ways around that, and one of those has been making video game action figures. By making quality figures for licenses that Hasbro won’t touch, these companies are establishing a reputation with consumers and putting themselves in a position to get larger licenses in the future.

A Call to Action (Figures) is a weekly column published on Wednesdays, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Next week I’ll be talking about haunted action figures!

Do you like video game action figures? What are your favorites? Post pictures and let me know in the comments!

By Bryan Stewart

Bryan first discovered an appreciation for action figures at an early age, setting up elaborate GI Joe ant hill attacks, complete with firework pyrotechnics. Due to the high injury rate for the Joes, replacements were a constant necessity.


    1. Haha. I think he cancelled his Microsoft account because he didn’t want to pay $9.99 a month to use internet from an internet enabled device because that’s freaking ridiculous.

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