As announced on the Miniatures forums, the Players Handbook Heroes line of DDM has been cancelled, and the PHB3 minis will not be released. Having addressed the monsters previously I felt I should talk about PC minis while I had the chance.
Breaking the News
First off, a big "boooooo!!" to WotC for not announcing this. I discovered the line had been cancelled yesterday from the Critical Hits Blog referencing an official forum post, although the cancellation was first "leaked" when retailers were notified of the change.
Way to keep us in the loop.
And it wasn't even a big official announcement on the Minis forum. A poster had to request that the thread be stickied, and the thread itself was a response to the speculation.
In defence of WotC, their terrible new(ish) website doesn't lend itself to news releases. The "news and articles" section is really set-up for articles and DDI. Anything that's not a preview or won't end-up in a compiled magazine really doesn't have a place on the website. And the news of the cancellation is terribly one-sided, as they probably have a planned replacement product in the works that they're not ready to release. Rather than announce only the negative they probably want to wait until they can finalize and announce their new and improved product and garner a positive reaction to the change rather than weather the fall-out from cancelling the line. The news of that will probably find its way into Ampersand, the only real sources of D&D product updates (sadly, this is behind the pay wall, so us second-class D&D players are further out of the loop).
Looking at the Product
The non-randomized PC minis were a good idea. The miniature game itself did a very, very poor job of supplying PC with miniatures. Random boxes and an emphasis on interesting monsters meant there was seldom a chance of getting an appropriate PC.
However, the current line had its problems. The minis were packed in groups of three, so a player – purchasing a mini to represent a beloved character – had to buy two additional minis that they didn't really want. This might push buyers into the secondary market (higher cost per mini, but a lower overall cost) which brings less money into WotC as three people essentially buy one box not three people buying a single box.
The races and classes represented also were not even. There were twelve humans and seven elf-ish minis but two dwarfs, one gnome, two halflings, two dragonborn, and no half-orcs, drow, kalashtar, or changelings. Of the nine divine minis there were four clerics and two paladins.
The minis were also frequently of poor quality. They were often not designed to be generic PCs but were reused designs from the cancelled sets padded with repaints. And the repaints were often of inferior quality compared to the originals. DDM switched to fewer paint steps and a cheaper paint (that is thicker, shinier, and just strips away the detail from the minis) before the re-launch of the mini line in '08, and while the new minis are meant to be of "rare" quality they often look very cheap. Archetypal of this is the Male Human Wizard from Arcane Heroes 2 that is a repaint of an uncommon mini, the Bonded Fire Summoner, and the latter looks much, much better. Overlooking the hideous choice of colour scheme for the repaint better there were more paint steps, a wash, and more visible detail in the original. If the original were some hard-to-find rare (like most of the DDM dragonborn) then a cheap repaint would be acceptable, but the original is readily available on eBay for less than a McDonalds lunch.
For the longest time, D&D out-sourced its minis to other companies, licensing the products and characters. Ral Partha is the most well-known of these and still has a presence as Iron Wind metals. These are less useful as PCs as Ral Partha used a smaller scale than the current size of D&D's plastic minis, making their heroes smaller. During my stint playing Living Greyhawk you all but needed a metal mini to be taken seriously, and Reaper was the go-to dealer. For Reaper I tend to rely on Miniature Giant that has some great prices and some older, harder to find minis. While painting metal minis can be a pain, all you need is one decent painter in the gaming group, and it's easy to learn.
It's hard to imagine WotC being able to compete with the back catalogue of Reaper or other miniature vendors, at least without offering a sizable variety of their own minis. Gaming stores seem to do alright stocking metal minis so it doesn't seem impossible to have a wide variety of PC figurines. But after six or more years of making plastic minis, WotC probably has a sizable variety of molds and minis and could easily provide a mini that matched any PC... if they wanted.