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Lego Mindstorms: What Went Wrong?

Hemos posted more than 9 years ago | from the at-least-they-aren't-stolen dept.

Toys 278

latif writes "In recent years, Lego Mindstorms has generated more media buzz for Lego than all of its other product lines combined, but surprisingly, Mindstorms seem to be out of favor at Lego. The Mindstorms line has been cut down to a single set and Lego is not interested in marketing even that set. Lego has been in a lot of financial trouble in recent times and its neglect of a product line with solid sales potential might seem odd but this is not so. I have done an analysis of Lego's Mindstorms options and my analysis indicates that Lego has solid economic reasons for backing away from the Mindstorms line."

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Macslash (-1, Offtopic)

nxaccount (931295) | more than 9 years ago | (#14126670)

is for fags.

Re:Macslash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126723)

And for their victims - Lego playing boys. Two Lego stories within hours!

slashdot error? (0, Offtopic)

eobanb (823187) | more than 9 years ago | (#14126673)

Similarly, what went wrong with Slashcode this afternoon? It seems like four or five articles have all appeared at once even though their timestamps claim they were posted hours ago. Note the time of this article, the time of my post....and yet, FP? Wtf?

Simple! (1, Offtopic)

Inoshiro (71693) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126854)

Obviously Hemos saw this post [slashdot.org] , and was so shocked by the slagging on Slashdot going on in its own forums, that he took the time to build a time machine and avert this disaster!

That we still remember the past any other way is just an artifact of the time travel device used. Hemos, we salute you!

Re:slashdot error? (1)

Kelson (129150) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126990)

It seems like four or five articles have all appeared at once

And they're all about LEGO!

ummm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14126677)

Did someone forget to push a button?

Get thar firstest with the mostest (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14126680)

My name is Humpty, pronounced with an "umpty"

Back to the basics (5, Insightful)

GreyWolf3000 (468618) | more than 9 years ago | (#14126692)

Lego has dumbed down their sets too much. When I played legos as a kid, we'd only buy "sets" so that we had more pieces to make our own creations. Nowadays, the sets they sell have all these wierd specialized pieces which make constructing whatever model they have prepared for you easier.

The thing that made legos great was how much they used to enable creativity. Now they've gone the other way, and all the sets prevent you from making your own creation because of wierd specialized pieces.

Go back to the basics. Hell, just go back to Space Police, Blacktron, Castle, and Forest legos. That'd be cool.

Re:Back to the basics (4, Insightful)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 9 years ago | (#14126710)

That was the best part. We had something like 3 of those large plastic totes filled with lego and another couple with technic and played with that shit for hours making huge contraptions.

If i were a kid now i'm not sure i'd want to be able to build some crappy version of harry potter or some star wars model.

Re:Back to the basics (3, Insightful)

Meagermanx (768421) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126751)

The real problem with Legos is they're too expensive for what they are. Little pieces of plastic shouldn't cost that much.

And, sure, the original sets had class and style, but I would like to see sets based on cool current licenses. No, not Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, '60s Batman, Indiana Jones, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, 50 Cent. Those would sell at least as good as whatever Bionicle crap they're pushing nowadays. Well, maybe not that last one, but I think it would be funny.

Re:Back to the basics (4, Insightful)

indigoid (3724) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126976)

Take a really close look at some Lego pieces someday. Then have a look at
some other toys in your toy store. Lego's manufacturing tolerances are very
narrow indeed, and they must be; if they didn't you'd not be able to
put blocks together. Modern manufacturing has improved, to be sure, but they
have been doing this for decades.

Re:Back to the basics (4, Interesting)

ajd1474 (558490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126970)

I think that's the difference. When I was a kid, my brothers and I got a new set of lego for every birthday and xmas. The thing was that after we built the model, it got pulled apart and went in with the rest of the sets. We wouldn't build singular model jets, or spacehips, or cars, or boats. We built entire cities, space centres, ski resorts, fleets of ships. We would literaly build until we'd run out of blocks. Then pull it apart and start again. But these were 3-4 week projects, and everything worked. Ski lifts that actually worked, tractors with ploughs that moved etc etc. We couldn't afford transformers, so we'd build our own out of Lego. We weren't allowed to have a proper electric trainset, so we got a lego one and build a dozen different train sets. That was and IS what is cool about lego. Our lego was the only toy we ever needed, because with a bit of creativity it WAS every other toy.

Just recently, I started collecting all the star wars stuff that I couldn't have when i was a kid. Like the AT-AT, Millenium Falcon etc. And they do sit there and wont go in with the rest, because they are models in their own right. So you can have a bit of both.

But really... the Harry Potter and Spiderman stuff REALLY sucks.

Re:Back to the basics (5, Interesting)

freeweed (309734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126714)

Go back to the basics. Hell, just go back to Space Police, Blacktron, Castle, and Forest legos.

It's funny to see comments like this. When I was growing up, the original Space sets were just coming out. My older brothers complained that Lego was making far too many specialized pieces in order to help you construct their pre-prepared models.

Plus ca change...

Re:Back to the basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126737)

Those sets were always amazingly engineered to me and i would kill to get some more like that.

Re:Back to the basics (5, Funny)

Meagermanx (768421) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126784)

Do NOT show this man eBay.

Re:Back to the basics (1)

Skowronek (795408) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126808)

This is probably why I bought (OK, got my parents to buy :-) only Technic sets. Which were made in 99% of generic parts and made creating pretty much everything possible. Being the elitist bastard, I thought that Space sets were for little kids ;)

Re:Back to the basics (5, Insightful)

SageMusings (463344) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126746)

I tried to find one of those same sets for my children. Unfortunately, they are all small, specialized kits.

My biggest complaint is the eggregiuos (sp?) price. Lego toys are WAY over priced considering they are just simple plastic blocks. If they cut the price, I would make sure the Christmas tree this year had plenty of Legos for my kids.

Re:Back to the basics (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14127061)

I tried to find one of those same sets for my children. Unfortunately, they are all small, specialized kits.

Huh? They still sell generic sets. Fry's recently had a huge wall of them for ~$20 per box. All bricks, no special parts.

Re:Back to the basics (5, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126762)

That isn't dumbing down, that is attempting to force you to buy new sets instead of using old ones.

If 60% of your legos are 'one use only' parts, then that's 40% more you have to buy before you could do as much with them as you could a decade ago. The problem Lego has is that their product was designed to last and is always 'backwards compatable' they are afraid of saturating their market and having what happened when I was growing up. Back then, they were having problems selling sets, not because no one thought they were worth anything, but because after about three or four sets, you never needed to buy any more unless Billy managed to sitck the entire set up his nose or down the heating vents.

This is also why they are moving onto things like "Star Wars" and "Spiderman" instead of generic Space Police or 'build a city' sets. Even if you have all the pieces then, you want to buy the next set because you 'cant' build Spiderman without the 20 pieces they specially molded to make it look like Spiderman.

Mindstorm is a perfect example of the problem. They had a $200 set, and once you bought it, there wasn't any hook to make you buy more. So no one did. It didn't matter that they made huge profit on that $200 set that would have probably been more like $20 to create. If you aren't continuing to buy, then they failed.

Re:Back to the basics (5, Insightful)

rkcallaghan (858110) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126835)

Mindstorm is a perfect example of the problem. They had a $200 set, and once you bought it, there wasn't any hook to make you buy more. So no one did. It didn't matter that they made huge profit on that $200 set that would have probably been more like $20 to create. If you aren't continuing to buy, then they failed.

Geez, with businesses and people both thinking like this, it's no wonder we can't get anything anymore without a 2 year contract with DRM and a penalty for buying something else.

Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare? Mindstorms failed because as you said, it took $20 to make and cost $200 -- they sold it above the price point the market was willing and able to bear. No one wants to pay 1000% markup.

Sell your quality products like Mindstorms at a reasonable price and they will fly off the shelves, its Christmas even. The typical price point is somewhere in the $35-50 range these days for most things (a video game, a couple of CDs, etc..) and I imagine most parents would be happier giving quality legos than 50 Cent and Grand Theft Auto.


Re:Back to the basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126988)

"Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare?"

Because for companies, sustaining growth is a requirement for active investment. Steady income, while nice for you or me, isn't enough for a corporation seeking investors' checks.

Re:Back to the basics (3, Interesting)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126989)

Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare?>

Because eveyone has to eat, and few people are willing to work for nothing and rely on the soup kitchen.

Sell Mindstorm kits at $50, have them fly off the shelves this Christmas. Have every kid in the world own a kit.

Then what? What do you sell then? Or are you going to take the miniscule profits you made off the first run and continue to pay your employees off of it? Fat Chance.

They have to continue to sell because they need your money to pay the cost of doing buisness. They charged $200 not because they were gouging, but because that's the price point where they thought they could make back the loss in repeat customers with direct profit.

Now, I'm not taking their side on the issue, I'm not taking the stance that they should just return to 100% reusable cheap parts either.

But to not see why people build obselence into their products is to have a fundemental misunderstanding of economics in this world. There is nothing wrong with trying to 'keep them coming back', the problem is when the methods you choose in themselves are poor or unethical. In Lego's case, I would agree with another poster, they've failed in either case. That's why they are pulling back from the line. They can't see a way to sell it that won't cut their throat further down the road, so they are just slowly abandoning the line. It's sad. But it's the fate of hundreds of products out there and it's simply an economic fact that not everything the public loves is going to be something a company can make money off of in the long-term, at regarldess of price.

What about next year? (5, Insightful)

Otto (17870) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127002)

Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare?

Because companies are in for the long haul.

Let's say they take your advice, and build a Mindstorms lineup with the cool electronics bricks on the cheap. Say, $40 for the RIS with just the electronics and mechanical parts. Maybe a couple of add-on sets for more electronics and mechanical gears. Then say they go back to selling the big boxes of bricks again, like they had when I was a kid. You use these to build the models themselves, and the RIS stuff for the movement and such. Mark it all at a reasonable price so that for $100-150, you can get one fantastic set of Legos that will let you build anything you can imagine, as a kid. Nothing huge, but all the joy of Lego plus the learning experience of the Mindstorms gear. Easily done, and they'd make a killer profit. Everybody would get one.

Then next year rolls around, and they go out of business. Those Lego bricks *last*. My sister's kids will be playing with the same bricks I had 30 years previously. As long as you don't lose them to the evils of the vaccum cleaner, they just freakin' last forever.

Lego just has an unusual business. They're into selling timeless toys, but the problem with timeless toys is that they are actually timeless. They sold the big boxes of bricks 30 years ago and it almost killed the company. It's all down to profit, really. They make more money selling those crappy models with all the custom pieces and selling *less* of them than they did by selling the generic bricks on the cheap at a still substantial profit.

Yes, we all want the big buckets of bricks and we all want the electronic coolness that is the Mindstorms line, but the fact is that selling those is not a way to achieve long term profitability. They're not trying to sell to you right now, they're trying to continue selling to you and your kids, and their kids, forever.

Okay, so that sucks, but it does make sense from their point of view.

One thing not seemingly mentioned anywhere is that Lego seems to have the notion building internally of starting up a different market for the older people into Lego. Us old people who still remember the big buckets of bricks can sign up for their catalog. I got one the other day, and yes, you can buy bricks in bulk. Not random sets, but sets of specific brick types, basically by the bag. It's kinda interesting, actually. For the Lego-philes, I recommend looking around their webpage and signing up for the catalog to see what's what there. Yes, the catalog is full of all the Harry Potter and Spiderman crap, but in the center is a nice foldout where you can just buy pieces in bulk. You could amass one hell of a large lego collection for a decent price by buying one bag of everything they have. Or if you have a specific idea, it would be great for making a large model of whatever type you like.

Re:Back to the basics (1)

dcavanaugh (248349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126908)

I agree with your comments on Lego's desire to keep the customer coming back for more, but notice how it backfired. The product has no long-term value. Worse, the marketing strategy defeats the main selling point -- creativity for the user. I was a big Lego fan as a kid, but now my kids have NO Legos at all. Evidently, Lego couldn't achieve happiness as a supplier of interchangable plastic bricks. Pretty soon, they will supply nothing at all.

Re:Back to the basics (1)

mattkime (8466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126823)

I'm not sure where i saw the article, but lego is responding to market changes rather than selling out. For years they tried to buck the trend. Its easy to tell when - just look at their stock price. Their stock went into a serious tailspin and they pulled out of it by playing the game everyone else was playing - brand liscencing.

I'd rather have a "sellout" lego company than no lego company at all.

Re:Back to the basics (1)

dieman (4814) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126877)

Hell, my wife was very surprised that they've just about singled out boys for LEGO sets now -- girl oriented LEGO sets no longer exist. She grew up on this stuff and now she can't buy them for her niece. We wont give our niece the sets we've got since uh, we need them for our kids! (hopefully in the future)

LEGO needs to get rid of this insane brand-everything-with-something (Harry Potter, STAR WARS, FERRARI, etc) and get back to the basics. Include both genders. Give a stupid amount (20~) ways to put the blocks together in each set.

The current Vikings and other things are not a replacement for the original Castle gear, that stuff wasn't so gender-oriented, either (and I'm guessing it was what my wife was expecting).

Re:Back to the basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14127173)

The Harry Potter sets are intented to have cross-gender appeal, and I'm sure they do.

There's also a European-only line calle Belville, which is also available online and from their print catalog, that is obviously aimed at girls. You can tell by the fairies and the oceans of pink elements. But, by and large, I agree. The majority of sets have become so conflict-oriented in nature that I don't think that they would appeal to the majority of girls. (Although one of my favorite memories is hearing a little girl at KB Toys explain to her mother that she wanted the "Mommy Alien" from _Aliens_. That child was certainly going against gender stereotypes -- I don't associate small girls with creepy Giger monsters.)

Those grumbling about the proliferation of 'special pieces' should try the Star Wars sets. They are intended to be purchased for adults as well as for children. By and large your basic LEGO sets have been dumbed down because kids would rather play with playstation games than LEGO. The large 'special pieces' (POOPs, the LEGO fandom community calls them -- Pieces (that should be made) of Other Pieces) are intended to allow the five-year-olds to put the sets together. The Star Wars sets have a minimum of this style of stupidization and replicate to the best degree available the building experience offered by the classic lines of the 80s - the Blacktron sets, the forestmen and early castle sets, etc.

-- Nephilim2038@gmail.com, longterm AFOL (adult fan of LEGO)

Re:Back to the basics (5, Insightful)

StarvingSE (875139) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126881)

I agree, I recently perused the current selection of lego sets and I definately noticed the lack of creative potential in the sets. I remember sets had included specialized pieces in the past, but even these were open ended enough to be used for a variety of purposes (for example, tiny plastic antennaes included with space sets that could be used for space stations, or radio towers in a town building, etc).

What would you use the front windsheild piece on the TIE fighter model for other than a tie fighter? I guess you can be creative with it, but it will always make any spaceship built with it look like a TIE fighter knock-off.

The article mentions that children are giving up traditional toys for video game at an earlier age. This is a sad state of affairs, and I feel that it will result in a less creative and less intelligent generation. When I was growing up, I had 8-bit nintendo, I had computer games, and I enjoyed them. But I also highly valued my time playing with lego and erector sets. These promoted creative, math, and engineering type skills. My point is that I had access to both mediums, and I chose to split my time between the two. I wonder what else is making children less inclined to play with traditional toys and more attracted to the "idiot box" as my mother used to call the Nintendo.

Re:Back to the basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126972)

You really need to play with the new "custom" sets before you critize them.

Yes, I once thought that the custom sets stifle creativity. But in truth, the projects made with generic blocks were not that creative - cars, planes, robots, etc.

Now try building one of the harder new custom sets, lets say the Star Wars Starfighter.

No, really try it.

You will feel that it taxes your brain a whole lot more than building another version of a car.

And frankly, if you're really so creative with the old blocks, the new blocks will just enable you to do more. (The package often shows alternative designs with the same blocks but no instructions.)

Don't knock it till you try it.

Re:Back to the basics (1)

Skowronek (795408) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126982)

Creating a Lego car, plane, robot is creating a *new* type of a car, plane, robot, that by chance might even have some of the original functionality.

"Creating" a Star Wars Starfighter means really *modeling* the external shell of a specific project with custom-tailored bricks... How can this be called creative at all, eludes me.

Re:Back to the basics (4, Insightful)

BewireNomali (618969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127027)

Dude, they do those sets for marketing purposes. Children are flooded with toys designed for the impulse buy... expertly tied into the latest kids movie or DVD and/or kids radio, etc. Lego can't compete on those terms... so they do cross-marketing to grow the audience and grab some mindshare. The kids who have a natural affinity for legos latch on - the others move on after the impulse buy.

Our economy is such that, in general... it's the impulse buyers that keep makers of consumer products afloat rather than the loyal customer.

Ny nephew is an atypical child, but he latched on to legos early, and now, at nine... he's expanded the size of his set tenfold and builds huge and complex constructs regularly. The reason he fell into it is because I was a huge lego guy as a kid and passed the love on to him. We often build things together - he sends me pix and we consult on design.

Interestingly enough, many companies are having problems with keeping mindshare for the same reason. For example, the sports leagues (baseball, football, etc.) are facing an increasingly older demographic, as these generations have failed to instill their love for the sport in their kids and grandkids. The NFL speculates that 90% of their fans pick up the sport from a father or father figure. The implosion of the nuclear family and the lack of permanent father figures mean that generations of boys don't have an instilled passion for baseball or football... or whatever. Venture onto a kids channel during daytime hours and you'll be bombarded with NFL for kids and/or NBA for kids commercials et al.

I think legos suffer from a similar problem. they are great toys that a child for the most part needs to be introduced to. Modern day toys are things that are designed to babysit kids for parents, as opposed to involving them and engaging them together. And that's if kids are playing with toys at all. The only toys my nephew has are legos. Other than that, he's a gamer. His friends are no different, except that they don't even like legos. They play games and ride bikes.

This dude I knew once bought an old pocket watch at an estate sale. After a few tokes, while playing splinter cell co-op, he tells me that he's gonna keep the watch in his family... start a tradition. I laughed uproariously; it was the funniest thing I'd heard ever. I understand his sentiment though... now anyway. Part and parcel of a quickly evolving popular culture is a resetting of the mindset, like goldfish....

I know I've gotten completely off-topic... but it's ironic that the very companies that seek to destroy that which is good in man for profit are the very same companies we work for.

Re:Back to the basics (2, Interesting)

gandy909 (222251) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127074)

I really think there were 2 basic problems. I live in the midwest, and I have NEVER seen them on a commercial as far as advertising goes... As a matter of fact, I had never even heard of them until I saw them mentioned here on /. a couple of years or so ago. Since then I began 'looking' for them in the stores I frequent. I actually saw one in a store...once. I belive it was at Best Buy, and it was kind of tucked away on a bottom shelf at/near the PSX/XBox/Gamecube section. My son has never mentioned them to me either, which leads me to believe that there has been little or no advertising for them on the various kids channels either.

Bottom line, lots of advertising (on TV especially), and put them prominently on the shelf in the Lego/Bionicle section at WAL-MART, and they may well have succeeded!

Re:Stop complaining and buy the good sets (4, Informative)

Psykechan (255694) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127090)

There are some great sets that Lego still makes.

The Designer [lego.com] series is top notch and a current favorite of mine. Sure there are some custom pieces here and there but the majority are hinges and cosmetic blocks that can be used in many interesting ways. The models are great too; I've got a T-rex by my monitor at work and a (sadly discontinued) crab sitting on my system at home.

The Technic [lego.com] series is still going strong from the eighties. What's not to like?

The City [lego.com] is like the LegoLand sets of old that you probably remember. There are a few other lines that are in the same vein but those little yellow people don't interest me as much as they did when I was a child.

And the new Factory [lego.com] series are designed by fans. I'm strongly recommending that you check them out.

Lego is a for profit company and will continue to manufacture what sells. Licensed products like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Dora the Explorer are making them money so they will continue to make them. They have had moderate success with their annoying Bionicle line so it is still being added to. All is not lost yet; Lego is still making some decent and interesting products, so go out and support those.

P.S. You can also get buckets of regular blocks. Think about that the next time you want to buy that Star Destroyer.

Re:Stop complaining and buy the good sets (1)

colmore (56499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127150)

Yeah, from all the complaining and naysaying going on in this discussion, you'd think that the only things Lego sells are Bionicle and Harry Potter. They still have a very good lineup of Technic, city, and box-o-generic brick sets (alas there's nothing really like the old space, pirate, and castle sets)

Why do people not realize that these products exist?

Because they don't sell. Lego advertises the licensed products and puts them on their limited shelf space at places like Wal-Mart because those are the fast-sellers.

The worst things that ever happened to childhood was when they figured out how to really successfully market things to kids as well as they do to adults. Kids are much more impressionable and easily manipulated. Advertising to kids is really kind of messed up if you think about it.

Re:Back to the basics (0, Flamebait)

Seumas (6865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127116)

Speaking of dumbed-down, why are we talking about LEGOS on SLASHDOT yet again?!

Granted, I never played with legos growing up, but now I'm an adult anyway. I'm all growed up with big boy hair and everything now. Seriously, who plays with legso anymore? I don't mean to stereotype, but I will - because the only grown men I've seen playing with legos in my life are those who probably attend star trek conventions and spend saturday night memorizing monty python scripts.

Seriously... These are GROWN MEN playing with toys made for children 3-and-up....

You'll mod me flamebait or troll and I'm okay with that, because this certainly isn't a soft fuzzy acceptable response. But christ, someone has to be the grown up in this thread.

Re:Back to the basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14127180)

I see the same problem with a lot of products. One recent product we're having issues with is the Erector Set. It used to be that you bought a kit that had x number of long bars, x number of medium bars, and x number of short bars, some string, some wheels, and nuts and bolts. As children we'd spend hours building complex models. As soon as one model was built we'd realize what else we might build with more of the same parts. Then whenever possible we'd get a new set.

Now the Erector sets come with 50 parts that are completely different from one another and it's more difficult to create something that doesn't fit right it with the 5-10 model examples they've already given. There's no base to work with to allow for creativity.

Legos were the same way. I remember picking up a pack for 2.50 or 5.00 every other weekend. I had tons of the damn things. The creations became ever more complex. I had some models that I never took apart and became carriers for Star Wars figures or GI Joes.
Every other Christmas I might get one of the larger sets. As I grew older and Lego changed I found myself needing more and more of the basic blocks to do what I want. Unfortunately the newer packs came with fewer of those basics and more of the stupid specialty pieces. Of course the prices have also skyrocketed outside of what I would say are accountable for because of inflation.

Today I don't think there's a single lego in this house. My childhood set is long gone, lost in a move (or so my wife says). We've purchased a couple of small sets for the kids over the years but they lost interest because of the limitations, ended up under foot and eventually thrown out because all the specialty pieces were broken.

It's a shame. It's one of those chicken/egg issues. Did people dump legos because they changed or did legos change because people dumped them.

I don't know what's going on with Big Brick (5, Insightful)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 9 years ago | (#14126698)

First, they switch out their creative product lines (I'm thinking primarily of the wonderful space sets they had 10-25 years ago) for Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Spider Man. Next, they slowly kill Mindstorms? I haven't bought any Lego since they dropped their space lines for branded crap, and if they continue with these poor marketing decisions, I doubt they'll be of any real influence by the time my oldest is old enough to play with Lego. (And don't get me started on how they've been screwing around with Duplo over the last couple of years!)

On the plus side, at least they keep on churning out basic tubs.

Re:I don't know what's going on with Big Brick (3, Informative)

dieman (4814) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126889)

Yeah, target has them for $5 off (25% off) per tub this week, we grabbed three. Quatro, Duplo, and original LEGO. :)
Look here [target.com]
We ended up with all limited edition 50th anniversary tubs, too!

Re:I don't know what's going on with Big Brick (1)

Kelson (129150) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127004)

They killed off the space sets? Damn! Those were my favorites until I started on Technic. It's probably been 10-15 years since I've bought any Legos, but my Lego collection is one of those things from my childhood that I just can't bring myself to sell off.

What went wrong? (1)

talipdx (891867) | more than 9 years ago | (#14126704)

is that someone forgot to hit "Process Queue" about 10 hours and 46 minutes ago ;P but seriously, I havent heard much in the way of anything from lego in quiet some time even the new younger demographic barely recognizes its existance anymore, with the advent of so many other alternatives to distract an already ADD generation. I remember the vast amount of options in my childhood to amuse my imagination, legos and erector sets [erectorsets.com] but then I found out our princess was in another castle and it all went downhill from there

Re:What went wrong? (1)

failrate (583914) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126931)

Yeah, see, you can't even *say* erector without the children giggling hysterically.

The problem with Legos... (4, Insightful)

GeorgeMcBay (106610) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126715)

I love Legos* to death, but they are just too damn expensive. Normal, everyday people just don't like the idea of paying a hundred bucks for a couple of handfuls of plastic blocks, no matter how cool they are.

On the more specific topic of the Mindstorms kit, the author of that article seems to assume everyone who might be interested in Lego would be interested in Mindstorms, which just isn't true. Most people aren't interested in programming their own toys. I know it is difficult for geeks to believe this (and I say this as a professional C++ programmer for the past 10 years), but it is true.

*(yeah, that's right, I called them Legos, suck it down trademark Nazis)

Re:The problem with Legos... (1)

woja (633458) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126761)

I think lego(s) is one of those words that no one can agree on. Some call the plural legos and some just lego. Some pronounce it lay-go and some leg-o. I guess it's just like nike. Pronounciation whise - n-ike or n-ike-ee.

Re:The problem with Legos... (1)

mankey wanker (673345) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127102)

You are abslutely on the right track.

When programmers "play" they may just want to do something that has nothing to do with programming or even sitting at a desk for that matter.

Re:The problem with Legos... (1)

moro_666 (414422) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127182)

Most people aren't interested in programming their own toys.

Sure, but it wasn't the "most people" that lego had in mind as targets when they created this mindstorm line in the first place :)

Anyway, i'm pretty sure there are tens of thousands of people around who would like to program their toys. But for that we need at least one company that makes toys that can be rearranged for our needs and that can be programmed in a normal way.

One thing where they went wrong imho is that they put the computing "power" on a little pic chip in the robot itself. I would prefer a docking stations (which could also be the recharger for batteries), running on something more decent, like a 486/pentium class machine running some flavour of linux with 16-32 megs of ram. now that machine would be responsible for the "thinking" and the robot itself just does what the dock tells it to over the radio. This way i could have complicated applications outside of my pc. That's what i'd like ... ofcourse some other people like to count pic registers and program in some weird lego basic, but imho that is just a waste of time, too much energy spent on much nothin.

Financial Trouble (4, Funny)

CyberSlugGump (609485) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126717)

No wonder Lego is in financial trouble--Someone is stealing them all [slashdot.org] !

Re:Financial Trouble (1)

nmec (810091) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127192)

Two Lego articles in one day? I think we all know what this means, Lego is the new Google!

why I lost interest (2, Interesting)

Scudsucker (17617) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126730)

I lost interest in Lego before Mindstorms, because all the sets I wanted - like the Model Team line or the high end Technics - cost over $200. They might have more sucess if they had the more popular models in stores and moved the higher end stuff to mail order status to reduce inventory and price. Instead of getting a phancy box with packs of individual parts, you get an instruction book in a plain box with a bunch of parts in zip lock baggies.

Open sauce version needed (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126731)

I want open sauce version, one that be free !free! !FREE! I not pay a centavo for nothing no more.

Poor analysis (2, Insightful)

sopwith (5659) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126734)

Yes, a Mindstorms set's production costs are probably 10% of retail, but this is the toy business, where production costs are not the main issue, and keeping on top of a fickle marketplace is.

There are likely to be slotting fees that Lego has to pay on an ongoing basis to keep each of its products in stores, and no doubt Lego is trying to make the smart business decision of maximizing profitability by using that shelf space to sell products that have higher volume and the same level of profitability.

No argument that it would be cool to have more Lego Mindstorms sets available, but unfortunately this ain't the perfect world, and things are never as simple as they seem from outside the corporation.

This is a sin (2, Interesting)

Newer Guy (520108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126740)

I teach robotics with Lego products. Kids from three through High School love them! They even have First Lego League, where kids (and adults)compete by building robots to solve problems. Where are the next generation of engineers going to come from if American companies "greed out" all the opportunities to attract young people?

I heard that in 2004, American colleges graduated but 40,000 engineers while Pacific Rim ones graduated 450,000. Not only that, when you consider that 1/3 to 1/2 of American students are actually forigners, the picture looks even bleaker!

This is sad and pathetic! America needs a reality check lest we become an Engineering third world country!

Re:This is a sin (1)

ScaryFroMan (901163) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126847)

I heard that in 2004, American colleges graduated but 40,000 engineers while Pacific Rim ones graduated 450,000. Not only that, when you consider that 1/3 to 1/2 of American students are actually forigners, the picture looks even bleaker!

Ugh. I often see those numbers blown out of proportion. You have to look at it in Context. China alone has more than four times as many people in it as the US. When you consider the rest of the far east, it becomes far better to comprehend.

Re:This is a sin (5, Interesting)

geoskd (321194) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126971)

I heard that in 2004, American colleges graduated but 40,000 engineers while Pacific Rim ones graduated 450,000. Not only that, when you consider that 1/3 to 1/2 of American students are actually forigners, the picture looks even bleaker!

Ok, this is the third time this month I have heard this statistic, but It's about time we cleared a little of the BullSh*t around this topic.
The US graduates just over 40,000 engineers / ~250 Million individuals. This is about 1 in every 6000 people.
The pacific Rim graduates about 450,000 engineers / 2.7 Billion individuals. This is about 1 in every 6000 people.
The long and the short is that we are about on par as education goes, we are simply outnumbered on this planet at almost 30 : 1

As for lego, Their main malfunction has been pretty much just as TFA described: Bad market analysis coupled with a changing market. Shame on them for not doing their homework and we can all move on.

www.geoskd.com [geoskd.com]

Re:This is a sin (1)

slashdotnickname (882178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127127)

I teach robotics with Lego products. Kids from three through High School love them! They even have First Lego League, where kids (and adults)compete by building robots to solve problems. Where are the next generation of engineers going to come from if American companies "greed out" all the opportunities to attract young people?

If you'd put your toys down for a second and stop with your doomsday tantrum, you'd find out that the Lego Group [wikipedia.org] is actually a privately owned company based in Denmark.

Re:This is a sin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14127171)

The part about the foreign students isn't such a big deal, as many of them will stay here in the US to work. Plus, many Pacific Rim grads would love to come here to work. As long as we can keep getting the cream of the crop of grads, regardless of where they are educated or where they're from, we can stay on top. The real problem is attracting that cream of the crop to our firms.

$200 (2, Interesting)

rickliner (263200) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126744)

What went wrong is they charge $200 for a toy. That's the only reason I don't have one.

Yeah, you can find some on ebay for less, but who's counting those 718 parts?

Over at legoeducation.com you can find school-oriented Mindstorms kits, and you can also buy each of the most expensive parts (RCX, sensors, motors) individually.

Re:$200 (1)

Kelson (129150) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127014)

What went wrong is they charge $200 for a toy.

And yet Microsoft had no problem selling their $400 toy last week.

Useful educational tools (2, Interesting)

sage2k6 (784361) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126785)

My favorite Lego sets have always been the Kinetics set (the ones with the gears and pullies and blocks with holes). Those would've been so much more fun if I had a Mindstorm set...

When I look at Mindstorm, it's anyone's first step into programmable machines and robotics. It's actually how they teach some Mechanical Engineering and Systems Design Courses at school. It's an extremely versitile tool for learning. The Science/Engineering summer camp that the faculty runs, some age groups have extensive portions of the week focused on Mindstorms, and the kids loves it.

I admit that there may not be too much profit to marketing the set commercially, but to give it up entirely, I think a lot of benefits would be lost.

Re:Useful educational tools (1)

sage2k6 (784361) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126802)

Sorry...it was the technics set......my bad :P

Battlebot (3, Funny)

sqeaky (874667) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126803)

Someone made a "battlebot out of lego mindstorms, they didn't get past the qualifying rounds though, some about being smashed to peices?!

prices (1)

100lbHand (676832) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126804)

the price of legos is the problem, duh. someone who knows better figure out how much they are charging for a 1x1 brick. bet it is above 10 cents.

Re:prices (1)

Drakin (415182) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126979)

Not sure on a 1x1 brick, but the price they charge for a standard 2x4 brick is 13 cents, based on thier 50 packs.

Someone just finished an economics class? (5, Insightful)

cafeman (46922) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126806)

It's an interesting write-up, but I think the conclusions latif's come to aren't warranted. Firstly, all the speculation about Mindstorms price elasticity of demand are based on the assumption that strong consumer interest exists. Lego Mindstorms is competing against (read in the same price range) as Robosapien and the like. These toys are in a premium segment of the market - they're the "big gift" for Christmas and birthdays. Without having seen any sales figures, I'd be surprised if there were strong demand for Mindstorms - the price is just too high. It's anecdotal, but I've only ever seen a few (if any) mindstorm stock items on the shelves in any of the stores I've ever been into. And, they've typically been in electronics stores, not toy shops. That's not typically a characteristic of a high demand item.

To be honest, it looks like someone's just completed an economics course and decided to try applying their knowledge to a real-world problem. I mean, the only point in examining price elasticity of demand in this context would have been if one had already established that Lego was losing money and were interested in determining whether or not Lego could raise prices without sacrificing sales. Same goes for the piece cost analysis. Which doesn't take into account the complexity of unique parts, I might add - Lego can achieve some degree of economies of scale with their common parts (6x2 / 4x2 bricks, helmets, etc). Mindstorms has a large number of parts that are only relevant for the Mindstorms line (such as gears, IR sensors, pulleys, etc). Production costs are likely to be higher, and because they're not piggy-backing on a fad (like Harry Potter or Star Wars), sales are also probably going to be lower.

The assumption that Mindstorms is cannibalising sales is also a stretch, in my opinion. Far more likely that their association with movie brands such as Star Wars and Harry Potter creates substitutable products. Both those brands, as an example, are pitched at the same demographic. And, neither is strictly complementary, from a kid's perspective. Which would you rather - a complete line-up of Star Wars characters, vehicles, and environs, or a blend of HP and SW?

In my opinion, the simpler explanation is that Mindstorms appeals to a very small niche - kids who think with parents who are trying to encourage learning and are willing to spend the time with their kids. Far more likely that they never achieved the scale of sales they were expecting, but because of the sunk costs associated with R&D and brand development, they're unwilling to kill the line entirely. Whether or not that's the economically wise decision depends on their unit revenue and long-run average cost of production.

Re:Someone just finished an economics class? (1)

divisivemind (888140) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127087)

Second the above.

Additionally, the production cost analysis was horrific.

Lego Has Problem (4, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126816)

I loved Legos as a kid. I still do. But there aren't many general sets. I love building the large models (especially the large Technic models) but there are basically none of those today. If I want to build a large set, my choice is basically a giant Yoda or a star destroyer. Both costing $100-$150. There don't seem to be any general sets any more (not that I've looked hard). When I was little I got a Technic set that I loved. It came with hundreds of pieces and an instruction book full of like 30+ models you could make (simple things: mixing machine, little car that steers, etc). Going through all those things gave you lots of ideas to make your own stuff.

But let's talk about Mindstorms. I bought one when they first came out. They cost $200. That is a lot of money for a kid's toy (you can buy a Nintendo DS and two games for that). You can only program them with the Lego Mindstorms software which I found annoying and limited (I soon found the free C complier for it on the internet). I don't even think it would work with my Mac that I have today.

What kind of sensors did you get? As I remember you got.. 2 touch sensors. Or was it 3. And two motors. They offered rotational sensors (cost extra), a vision system (costs a TON extra), etc. I just spent $200 on a Lego set (that didn't include enough pieces, if you ask me), I'm NOT going to go buy a $50-$100 camera for it (I don't know what it costs, wasn't available when I bought it).

I think that was the last Lego set I bought. I used to love Lego. But there isn't anything like it today that I know of. Legos aren't the same. I remember building house kits, airplanes kits, a moon base with a monorail, the trains, and all sorts of other stuff. Today they seem to license half their product lines and there is almost nothing "normal" like I remember.

Maybe Megablocks or one of the other "rip-offs" is better. I don't know. I never looked. But Lego priced themselves out of my market. A quick check on Amazon shows the set is still $200. What can I buy for $200 bucks? Let's look at some of the things I've been looking at lately. I can buy a little stirling engine [stirlingengine.co.uk] that will run off sunlight or the heat of my had for $140. Or for the same amount, I can buy a Steam Engine [ministeam.com] kit. A working kit that includes a whistle, governor, and more. Both of those leave me with $60 to spend (a video game, perhaps?).

The older I got, the fewer Lego products I got as gifts for Christmas and such. While there were things I wanted, they just got more expensive. About the only models I remember wanting to build since I was maybe 10 or 12 (I'm currently 22) cost $100-$200.

Between the proliferation of video games, other electronic gadgets, and issues like I mentioned above, I think Lego will be a gonner soon. My parents had a hell of a time finding me an Erector set when I was a kid. I don't know if that has changed, but between that and Lego, what is there for kids to build things with these days?

Re:Lego Has Problem (1)

Rac3r5 (804639) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127028)

thanks for ur little link on stirling engines. I have never heard of them till now, seems like a very cool concept..


It ain't rocket science... (1)

XB-70 (812342) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126820)

I've bought Mindstorms and a zillion other sets for my son. He loved assembling the other sets but never even touched Mindstorms. Reason: it was too complicated for him to get started on (even though I bought the books etc. etc.). The way to get Mindstorms on track is dirt simple: Mindstorms Wars!! A TV show showing how cool it is to build crazy contraptions that have to do something to either beat each other or perform some quest. Make the thing Open Source: to enter, you must submit your design online (available after the show). This way, any kid with a kit can download the software and build the EXACT same machine as on the show. Kids today don't have the luxury of the time we had. They need to be part of fads right quick. This might be an answer.

Re:It ain't rocket science... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126894)

Back in my day, you didn't need a television show to do this, all you needed was a friend (or friends). The building of crazy contraptions that beat each other came naturally.

Said it before (4, Insightful)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126825)

Ok, I thought the "why are Legos sucking" discussion had been done to death here several times before.

Specialized bricks are what is killing Lego!

There, we may all go on with trying to catch up with all the new stories that just appeared...which are dated several hours ago.

Re:Said it before (2, Interesting)

TemporalBeing (803363) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126956)

No, specialized bricks are not killing Lego. Personally, I would enjoy getting more of them, but as many others have pointed out - they are just too expensive. I love legos, and would (and am planning on it when I can afford to) buy a ton of them. I plan on having them around for my kids b/c they are great for the imagination, and such - but I'm not going to spend a ton of money on sets that don't have a lot of legos in them.

I've seen several sets recently that I've been tempted to buy, but then I look at the brick count and am like - that much, for that?! no way!. So I put it back.

Until they lower their prices, they'll likely continue to have problems. Of course, TV/movies/video games don't help either since they help kids build the ADD/ADHD tendancies instead of helping them be creative, get physical exercise, and help out in society like they should be doing.

Re:Said it before (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127012)

I think they are part of the same problem. It used to be you could buy lets say....a space set, and get a lot of useful bricks that could be used in lots of other ways, so you did not need to buy a huge number of space sets. Now because of all the specialized parts, there are less generic ones, hence you need to purchase more.

Which I'm sure goes hand in hand with the raised prices.

Legos Are For Dummies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126837)

I had TinkerToys when I was a kid. You could build full 3-dimensional structures with them. TinkerToys are to Legos as structural steel is to bricks. Legos to me represented the dumbing down of U.S. children - they were too stupid to use anything that could do more than stack.

It was easy to go from TinkerToys to modelling of chemical structures.

Mindstorms great for education (4, Interesting)

mwyner (65962) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126862)

In a computer class I taught to middle school kids last year, I was the lucky recipient of a grant to outfit the whole class (7 groups worth of kids) with Mindstorms. I spent a semester teaching them not only the basics of Mindstorms, but how to program, how to debug, how to test, and all the other basics for computer programming. They had a blast doing the different projects, and I've never seen these kids so engaged before. Several of them actually wanted to come in after school and work on their robots which is unheard of. This is sad if Lego is cutting back on that and all but phasing it out.

Re:Mindstorms great for education (1)

sarge apone (918461) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127100)

Agreed, we are trying to expand the use of Lego Mindstorms in New York City public schools. So many schools are just on the brink of discovering this, though - most schools have never heard of Mindstorms much less what it could do for their students. And it's not just the students who love it so much, the teachers really get into it, too.

But the kits are expensive - buying them requires a grant to the school or an administration's commitment of time and resources, neither are which are plentiful in most schools. Had a discussion with a participant recently who told me about OpenSource options to Robolab, which I find to be very buggy. I don't know where Lego was aiming from the beginning, but a serious focus to restoring the quality of their product could be what pulls them out.

Re:Mindstorms great for education (1)

paxswill (934322) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127120)

Maybe for those who are just starting robotics. I was thrilled at my first Mindstorms. I had to save for a while to get it, but I was hampered by only 3 mkotors and 3 sensors. Whne I started High school, I joined botball and was amazed at what else was out there. Yes, you see those Lego Pinball machines with tens of RCXs, but who has that money. Maybe multiple progressing levels, each with different capabilties with modifiable sensors. (Not those Scouts and Spybotics things)

Lego Killing Imagination is what is Killing Lego (2, Insightful)

coastal984 (847795) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126884)

As has been echo'd before, Lego's attachment to these branded, specialized part themes is killing it. No longer and you mix and match your dozens of sets of legos to build completly new things that come from your very own imagination.

I was in a club in high school called TSA (Technology Student Association) and one of the most popular events at regional, state, and national levels of competition is the System Control event, which 99% of teams use the Lego Dacta/Mindstorms equipment. However, with all these single-use model pieces, theres no real room left for the imagination, thus why it's dying.

If Lego starts killing off these branded, model-building ploys and goes back to where they are strong - a tool to use the imagination, I think they will survive. I've been seeing some new stuff that looks promising, some firehouses and trucks and such, that reminds me of Lego of old, perhaps if they can go more that way (and back to other good ole themes, Pirates, Castles, Space, Submarines, etc - things that you can build the models once, then break them down and mix and match to build your own ideas) then they will be ok. If not, RIP Lego, a victim of bad decision making.

perhaps you guys aren't the target market for LEGO (1)

512k (125874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126911)

the only person I know who regularly buys legos, is a girl, who's obsessed with Harry Potter. Even though she's 30, she still buys every single Harry Potter branded lego set. Before you reply to this..ask yourself how many hundreds of dollars you've spent on Legos in the past few months.

Branding targets the PARENTS, they are the buyers! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14127003)

I've spent $850 last month on Lego, and $1200 last year.

What did I buy? Last month, it was all Star Wars: a Death Star II (almost 3500 pieces!), a Millenium Falcon and a Snow Speeder. Last year, it was a mix of Star Wars and other technics sets.

Mind you, because of the specialized nature of a lot of the technics parts, until I bought the Star Wars stuff last month *I didn't have enough basic parts* to build random non-technics creations. Now I have more wings, flats and other spacy-parts than I know what to do with. 8)

I agree with the other posters, that Lego has become more specialized and that this is hurting its usefulness as a toy for imaginative kids. However, they are also faced with the problem of trying to sell more Legos to the parents kids who already have plenty. That just doesn't work for most parents, unless there is some 'super new, super cool' branded theme to the sets so that parents will buy them. Harry Potter or Star Wars are both brands that a parent will buy for their kid for Christmas. They are much more likely to get that than a police station or something.

Just my 2c.

Re:perhaps you guys aren't the target market for L (1)

PsiPsiStar (95676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127155)

I spent about $150 on construction toys for my baby cousins, but decided against Legos. I wanted toys that were more mechanically oriented.

I happen to own a Lego Mindstorms set.. (1)

MaXiMiUS (923393) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126928)

All I can say is: crappy programming setup, and not enough actual 'hardware'. I didn't spend $250 just to get a box of assorted plastic here people!

It's the software, stupid! (3, Informative)

rasper99 (247555) | more than 8 years ago | (#14126929)

Then there is always the having good software issue...

Two guy I work with have a kids who are involved with other 4th and 5th graders doing a club thing with Mindstorms. One guy had me redo an unused five year old laptop from Win2K (which it came with) down to Win98. This is because he heard the software (even the newer version) works best under Win98. Most of my web searches seemed to confirm this information.

If it doesn't work well under XP, which comes on almost every new PC, you aren't going to get a lot of good "word of mouth" advertising.

Here's my 2 cents (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14126941)

After owning a RIS kit for some years now + expansion kits, having gone to the Robotics challenge at LegoLand, and demoing the kit at various school functions, here's my observations about it:

  • Many kids are trained on video games where things have to be learned in a few minutes, or 85%-95% of them will put it back down and collect dust. Even though the default "brick" language is very good, getting the whole "system" set up (installing the software, IR programmer cable setup, setting up the "brick") and learning the language just to do something simple is going to put off a LOT of kids. Sorry, that's just what I've observed. Even in a GATE class, most are put off by the overhead, and certainly it overwhelms most of the teachers and parents these days. Sure, there are counterexamples, but we're talking about why isn't this kit as popular as some thought it should be... What would I do about it? Make a brick out of a Nintendo Game boy advance, where you can program it and plug it in without a computer. Make the user interface easier for first timers.

  • The intro examples are still too complex to "hook" most people into playing with this system, IMHO. Even the Legoland robotics contest didn't let you build everything and program everything from scratch, but had a few preset plans, as I vaugely remember.

  • IMHO, the brick is too heavy and bulky for autonomous, self propelling systems. To make a self-propelled robot, most of your legos in the kit has to go towards supporting the brick and servos. Much of the weight is due to the large number of AA batteries. Why doesn't Lego license other companies to make compatible bricks that are lighter in weight and more capable (open source vs. closed argument?)

  • Once you build a few robots and get more sophisticated, you rapidly run into limitations in either the servo output, brick programming, brick I/O capability, etc. Once someone is hooked, they have to go to third party languages, parts, etc. Most kids aren't THAT resourceful. Of course, a lot of nerdy kids can do it, and I've seen that, but, again, we're talking about why RIS isn't as popular as it can be. If you want it to be more populare, there has to be more expansion support (yes, even more than the old expansion kits)

This kit has or had potential to hook kids into robotics, but IMHO they should emphasize extending a "video game" interface into real life peripherals (ie, doing something in a "video game" experience causes something in real life with Mindstorms something like augmented reality). Once kids see augmented reality with Mindstorms, then that can hook them into learning how to do the more complex things, like programming. Furthermore, open up the kit so other companies can extend the kit without threats of lawsuits from Lego.

What about Fixed Cost (2, Interesting)

logicnazi (169418) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127048)

One thing the author does not seem to take into account is the fixed cost of creating machines, factories, etc.. to build any blocks or other items specific to mindstorms. Even if the RIS is selling for 3 times the price of similarly equiped sets if way less people are buying the RIS it may not be worth the cost of keeping the factory running and other fixed (yearly) costs to produce that product line. The same issues come into play with the cheap chinese product he compared to the lego product. Additionally quality, place of production and other factors can all combine to make it considerably more expensive.

Frankly I find the canibalization idea pretty hard to swallow. It just doesn't seem reasonable to believe that the same people using the RIS would otherwise be out there buying all the different specialized lego models. Most likely they would be the people out there buying the big boxes of assorted pieces if they were buying legos at all. The best explanations I can think of along these lines is that either LEGO was afraid of dilluting it's child friendly brand by marketing toys which might be too complex for some young children or that if feared connecting basic lego sales to something like mindstorms where more savy adult customers are involved might allow FischerTechnik to get a foot in the door. However, neither of these seem plausible.

Ultimately I suspect the economics of selling mindstorms were just more complicated than the author realizes. He never quotes actual mindstorms sales figures, only a positive press buzz, so it is quite posssible they simply never achieved wide enough adoption to make money and there are large costs he never even considers. Marketing, deals with stores for promotions and other costs may all play a role in lego's deciscion.

While I don't think we can really say what the whole story is without more data I think a more reasonable guess is something like this. Despite positive press buzz mindstorms simply don't sell enough to generate significant amounts of profit. While the development of mindstorms itself may be a sunk cost this means it simply isn't work lego's while to develop new addons, promote the product or otherwise devote further resources. Lego discontinued all mindstorm products other than the RIS because these other *mindstorm* products were canibalizing revenue from the RIS. Even though these other product lines may have themselves been profitable without the same sales as RIS they just wouldn't have as high a margin so if a reasonable fraction of people would buy a second RIS if they didn't have these other options lego might improve profitability by dropping these additional sets. If they don't think it is worth investing more money in the mindstorm line this has no real downside for them.

As for why lego doesn't simply adjust prices to make the mindstorms sufficently profitable to justify further investment I suspect things are a little more complicated than the author suggests. The demand curve is likely far from linear which dramatic drop offs in sales if they push the price much above $200 and beyond what most people consider to be in the 'toy' range. So raising the price much isn't really an option but this doesn't imply that lowering the price would have similarly dramatic increases in purchases (the elasticity is far from constant). Likely in order to make mindstorm sales high enough to be worth significant R&D money they would have to lower the price so considerably that then mindstorms would directly canabalize regular lego sales (if you can get the computer set for an extra $30 who wouldn't).

Re:What about Fixed Cost (1)

logicnazi (169418) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127069)

In other words I don't think it is reasonable to believe canibalization is currently happening. However, given the issues of fixed (yearly) cost (I'm sure there is a better term) it seems reasonable that selling mindstorms at prices only slightly higher than regular legos would still be far less profitable than selling regular legos. However, once down into this range the mindstorms would start competiting with the regular legos for normal consumers. If this was the only way to make mindstorms sell enough to justify further R&D they could be in a real bind.

Basically I'm imagining the market looks something like this. Right now we have a huge number of parents buying regular legos for their kids and a few older kids and adults buying mindstorms. While mindstorms sell for way more than their marginal cost their just aren't enough of them sold to make them very profitable. Most of the people who buy mindstorms still see them as a toy so wouldn't be willing to pay much more than $200 for them (demand would suddenly drop off). However, pretty much everyone who specifically wants programable toys is already buying them at the current price. Hence the only way lego could significantly increase the number of people purchasing mindstorms is by lowering the price until it enters the range of normal lego consumers, i.e., by pulling normal lego consumers up the ladder into mindstorms. Yet since running two production lines (or whatever) can be far more expensive than running one this might be a net loss for lego.

Still it is just a guess.

legos everywhere! (1)

ShaneThePain (929627) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127049)

2 lego articles in one day here? whats going on? CONSPIRACY!!!

The Competition is with Computer Gaming (2, Insightful)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127052)

When it comes to the play experience, much of the fun of assembling a robot is similar to the fun of building a city or an empire in SimCity or Age of Empires. Instead of gears and pulleys, you manipulate serfs or workers or whatever ... but otherwise it's all figuring out what thingies do what and how to combine them to do what-ever.

Lego has the great advantage of being physical and tactile, but OTOH computer games do much better with graphics and sound. I feel the same sense of pride in a well-built empire as I do in a well-build Lego thingy ... and the computer game has the added element of competition (... and, ahem, cheat codes ... .)

As to the impact on our educational system ... it may be unfortunate that the engineering skills Lego can teach are something America may be falling behind on, based on the number of engineers in our schools. However, the skills of organizing a complex organization (a.k.a. empire) may be just as valuable. Is it better to be a top-notch engineer, or to be the employer of a dozen top-notch engineers?

What went wrong? (0, Redundant)

spudchucker (680073) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127062)

Too f*cking expensive.

Eh. Dodgy Article. (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127066)

Clearly, there is strong demand for Mindstorms sets, Lego needs Mindstorms sets to combat its diminishing market share, and Lego can produce Mindstorms sets cost-effectively as well.
There are far to many statements like that in this article. Either the data/facts you are "analyzing" show that there is a strong demand or they don't. He doesn't have numbers to back up his assertions.

He also throws in words like 'ought' & 'should' which have no place in any kind of analysis. This "analysis" doesn't even have 1 (one) graph or bar chart.

His giant conclusion is that Mindstorm canabalized existing Lego sales... meaning about half the article was mental wankery.

It is a good effort... but lacking.

Mostly (2, Interesting)

havoc (22870) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127079)

Most of what has been said is true. In addition to pricing issues, I believe that the expansion sets were not very well laid out. After purchasing my initial kit in 1999, I waited for the expansions to come with the other cool sensors, but the kits that came really didn't offer much (especially at their $50 price point). To get the special sensors I was going to have to special order them individually at an outrageious price. I did purchase a few Technic kits to canabalize for parts for my robots though. The other issue I had with the kit, though this wouldn't have caused sales problems but would have been nice for the next generation of mindstorms, was that all my robots were built around the brick, motors and sensors. If the motors and sensors had been slighly less expensive and more readily available individually, I would have picked up more of them and if the main brick could have been smaller and seperated from the robot somehow (perhaps with a central wiring harness brick) then I could have built more robots without having to take one robot apart just to make another one. This would have help increase sales. I think that Lego should have embraced the other programming options for the Mindstorm.

Bottom line, smaller Mindstorm kits on store shelves for motors, sensors, gears, etc; Continued gradual improvements to keep the product line moving forward.

IMNSHO... (5, Insightful)

bigt_littleodd (594513) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127083)

Lego started its downhill slide a couple of decades ago.

Back in the (my) day, Lego just sold boxes full of rectangular blocks, mostly just red and white ones, with some gray flat plates and the occasional clear or triangular roof tiles. I made TWA jetliners, Apollo rockets (they had to be square, since I didn't have enough curved pieces), space ships, tanks, garages, bridges and tunnels for my Hot Wheels, etc.

The sets didn't include step-by-step instructions for making any of these things. AAMOF, I don't remember any instruction sheets at all.

Inspiration came from the pictures on the Lego box and the imaginations of my friends and myself.

Years ago, I looked back at my Legos and realized it was probably the most influential toy of my childhood. Hence, I wanted to pass this glorious experience on to my son. I spent, along with the help of many relatives, literally thousands of dollars on Lego for my boy.

We started with Duplo, then graduated up the Lego ladder. As time passed, the kits became, as others have noted here, very specific to themes, and highly specialized. Sometimes the pieces were so specialized that they would not work well with other kits.

I watched my son assemble these kits, following the supplied instructions exactly. He was very good at it, and he was very happy with the results he got. He also got to be very good at troubleshooting where he put in the wrong piece in Technics sets. This was a Good Thing(TM), I thought.

Then one day, while he was bored, I suggested that take apart some of his Lego and build something new from the pieces. He looked at me like I had three heads. He asked me where he could get instructions for assembling new objects, since he had already assembled all of the variations of the kits' instruction manuals.

I was crestfallen. It confirmed right then and there that Lego Corporate had, over the years, managed to remove all the imagination and excitement of Lego and kids being creative with simple chunks of plastic.

Then Mindstorms came out! I was so excited that I bought a set right away, plus a few (expensive) accessories for it. I gave it to my son, at the time 9 years old, for Christmas. Once he saw that it contained no instructions for specific projects he lost interest quickly.

Some may read my post and judge my son to be an unimaginitive drudge without capacity for creative thought. He isn't that at all. But he has been conditioned by Lego, through Lego products, to treat Lego as a step-by-step construction project, much like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

Lego might as well print on the box "No Imagination Required!" on all their products.

Re:IMNSHO... (1)

tonywong (96839) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127157)

Please mod the parent up. I feel exactly the same way about the direction lego has taken in the last 20 years.

What went wrong? Marketing & accounting, Not R (2, Insightful)

Bushido Hacks (788211) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127092)

Lego has a great product. There is nothing wrong with the product. It is not hard to develop or research because the blue prints can be derived from real life applications, like the Technic series was.

The person who wrote the article stated that Lego assembly was "scripted" and "devoid of imagination". The only people who wrote that stuff are the people who HAVE not imagination. Generally, this can be attributed to the marketing agency which limits itself to a select few brand names or icons that they believe people will recognize and buy products related to the other icons or brands insted of the Lego brand. Hence, Spider-man, and Harry Potter get more recongintion than Lego. The people in charge of marketing did not help Lego, the helped the people at Marvel Comics and Time Warner. Accounting also has a hand in the destruction of the Lego corporation. These are simiple plastic peices that can be manufactured at any plastics molding plant. However, the accounting department decided that only China should be given the honor. Hence, instead of producing an inexpensive product, the cost of creating the Legos have increased.

If consumers aren not happy, the investors won't be happy, and the Lego corporation won't be happy. It is a loss for everyone.

Bley (3, Insightful)

AmicoToni (123984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127096)

That's not the only stupid thing they've done recently. In 2004 they decided to change their 50-odd year core colour palette.

The light gray and the dark gray changed into a light blueish gray and a dark blueish gray, which were given the derisory name "bley" by the aficionado AFOL community (AFOL=Adult Friends Of Lego).

All new sets since 2004 contain only pieces with the new grays, making it difficult for owners of existing sets to build anything without ending up with a patchwork of different shades of gray in their creations. The brown color was also changed into a more reddish colour.

The official response from the LEGO CEO can be read here: http://f24.parsimony.net/forum61776/messages/97463 .htm [parsimony.net] .

As far as I am concerned, I think LEGO is aiming too much towards the market of "grown-up" children who are interested in robots and monsters. The Bionicle sets are cool, but they do not belong in the LEGO construction system. They don't even have studs, they don't interlock with the standard pieces. They sell well, good for them, but they are just one of endless companies to fight in that market.

My feeling is that LEGO could rediscover its roots (and sell) by targeting once again the small children market, with small sets mostly made of standard pieces, as in the famed Legoland series, or the much-loved Classic Space series.

The fact that LEGO is currently showing no sense of direction saddens me to no end.

To conclude with a further tiny bit of information, if you want to find again the old sets that you loved as a child, you might find this site quite interesting: www.bricklink.com [bricklink.com]

Wait, Legos are dying? (2, Insightful)

dyoung9090 (894137) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127111)

Legos don't die. That's half their fun. If the company goes bankrupt tomorrow and liquidates everything they have, renaming Legoland to Megabloktopia and dumping the Harry Potter franchise, there's more than enough Legos out there to sustain the hard-core Lego fans until the generic people step up production.

Specialized bricks have their place. I agree on the one hand that many of them ARE one-use only crap. It's true. I used to love getting their space sets (seems like a popular choice here) and trying to make copies of space sets I already had, and sometimes ones that I just saw in the nifty catalogues that used to come out and for those, you usually needed a couple of those specialized pieces. Great concept... warring space empires ripping off each other's designs for their own knock-off vehicles.

Then came the age of pirates. I loved the boats and still have a huge fleet of them, but the set that is both my most beloved and my most hated was that one where you made a small island fortress using three (I think... I'd have to dig it out of the closet) huge wall pieces and a cannon. I didn't have enough matching pieces to add on to it without it looking stupid, and using the walls for another project always looked a little stupid becuase they didn't fit in with the rest of my sets very well.

And then I couldn't use my basic bricks because they looked out of place and kiddy (who has a solid blue townhouse next to their neighbor's solid yellow townhouse? And what pirate would be caught dead with a bright red castle?) Next the doors looked out of place so they went out of circulation... then the thick wheel units...

Eventually I just gave up on legos altogether because basically I could make the set and have a fun shelf-saver or I could have a bunch of little dinky pieces that, when I was younger, I would have loved turning into lasers for space ships (since EVERYTHING became a laser for my space army's ships) but now exist as just feeder for the bottom of my tubs.

Long story longer, the bricks didn't change... we did. With a little creativity all those one use only pieces probably can be used for all kinds of things... we're just too short-sighted to enjoy them without Lego giving us a couple of alternative ideas. I was blown away the time I saw someone place a fence upside down between two rows of holes and built up from there. My suggestion... give those one-offs to your kids and see how many cool things they can come up with.

As for mindstorms themselves (so I at least appear to be on topic)... never tried them for the same reason I didn't enjoy the few Technic sets I tried... they weren't "pure" Lego. Although I'm sure this is news to some of you, but not everyone that plays with Legos is an engineer in training, some of us just liked having another medium to play in and trying to work the technic stuff into the stuff we were already building was more trouble than it was worth. Nobody is blaming Lego for the lack of support of Clickits or that morphing-boy-show lego set, both of which I think would have touched much larger markets than the robot-fan group.

Oh, and while I'm complaining... I saw the Megablok's Narnia set, the Winter Rescue one, and could I be any more disappointed? Well, only if Lego had made it. There's the mini-figs of a few players and then almost everything else is one big one-use-only brick. It's bad enough they've probably scared Marvel out of the Construction toy market... now they're ruining the one thing that could have given Harry Potter legos some real fight.

What went wrong? (1)

serbanp (139486) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127134)

High, never flexible price and, of course, the resurrection of its arch-enemy [meccano.com] from the death.

No love for Castle pieces? (2, Interesting)

ScottCooperDotNet (929575) | more than 8 years ago | (#14127139)

I ditto the comments regarding the plastic airplane model plans and the overspecializtion of pieces, but I'm suprized the grey and black castle pieces haven't been brought up much. It was the one specialized piece that worked with the rest and allowed a lone kid to make large structures quickly, even with ramparts and swinging walls to allow the archer figures to be moved inside. Those were the days...

I'm suprized they don't have a $100-200 kit that has a motor, video cam, and wheels, so one could wirelessly control the vehicle one makes. That'd even work for non-Lego hovercraft.

Silly Nerd, Legos are for Kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14127142)

Um, why do you care about Legos? Why on earth would you perform an analysis of any sort on Legos? They are plastic blocks. Do you need to know more? I thought is was, "Stuff that matters". Legos do not matter regardless of your delusions of youth.
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