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How Hollywood Tie-Ins Saved Lego

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the need-more-massive-lego-sets dept.

Toys 193

MBCook writes "The New York Times published an article on Saturday profiling Lego, and how tie-ins with movies have helped save the company. 'Even as other toymakers struggle, this Danish maker of toy bricks is enjoying double-digit sales gains and swelling earnings. In recent years, Lego has increasingly focused on toys that many parents wouldn't recognize from their own childhood. Hollywood themes are commanding more shelf space, a far cry from the idealistic, purely imagination-oriented play that drove Lego for years and was as much a religion as a business strategy in Billund.' The article also mentions coming Lego Stores, a Lego board game, how Lego now allows sets with violence (like a gun for Indiana Jones), and how since 2004 Lego has cut part count nearly in half by encouraging re-use of parts and stopping one-off pieces."

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193 comments

FIRST! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343547)

YA YA YA FIRST

4 Pages? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343569)

Try this link [nytimes.com] .

Re:4 Pages? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344033)

I, for one, welcome our Lego overlords [thekeltners.net]

Lego Star Wars (4, Insightful)

Khan (19367) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343595)

That's the product line that has REALLY saved The Lego Group. The sales figures for that line alone are staggering. And as an AFOL, I can verify that the design quality and playability of their recent products have improved substantially. My kids continue to go back to their Lego collection to play with long after the novelty of the latest toy that they've received for their birthday\Xmas\whatever has worn off. As a friend of mine has always said, it's a thousand toys in one.

Re:Lego Star Wars (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343969)

My kids continue to go back to their Lego collection to play with long after the novelty of the latest toy that they've received for their birthday\Xmas\whatever has worn off.

You're using Windows, don't you?

Re:Lego Star Wars (3, Funny)

Fael (939668) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344617)

How can you am so sure?

Re:Lego Star Wars (2, Interesting)

steelfood (895457) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345195)

And as an AFOL, I can verify that the design quality and playability of their recent products have improved substantially.

That's because of the reduction in one-off pieces as described by the article. I've noticed it independently myself, that there are a lot fewer specialized pieces in the products. There are still a few piece I'd like to see go the way of the dodo, but its' much better, all in all. And piece quality has gone up since '04 as well, closer to where they used to be.

The thing that killed Lego in the early '00 was the lack of creativity. The themes were stale and the individual sets bland. The large amount of special pieces is strongly correlated with the decline in creativity. But after some major changes, including the redesign of new themes and re-release of classic themes, its popularity has shot back up again.

BTW, Lego Star Wars has been around since '99. And back in the early '00, there were more licensed sets, inclusing Spiderman and Harry Potter. TLG was doing crappily despite having these lines. So I'd have to disagree with you and TFA that the licensed themes turned the tide. More than likely, they're what's keeping TLG in the black and making up the bulk of the sales. But the turn-around was due to more general product improvements across all of the lines.

So, in short... (2, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343597)

So, what you're telling me is Lego sold out. And for the Harrison Ford retirement fund--I mean, movie, no less.

Re:So, in short... (5, Insightful)

InMSWeAntitrust (994158) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343649)

Hey, in the business world you have to adapt to stay ahead. It's preferable to sell out than to go bankrupt . It may blacken the CEO's soul, but if whimsical toys powered by imagination don't sell, why stay the course and become the next GM?

Re:So, in short... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343907)

why stay the course and become the next GM

To get a ginormous handout from the tax payers and continue running your business into the ground, of course!

Re:So, in short... (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344141)

There's usually more options, though. In a lot of cases, selling out isn't done to avoid going bankrupt, but just to make more profit than before--- the alternative would've been to be still-profitable, but smaller.

Re:So, in short... (2, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344431)

They're not selling out, they're cashing in!

Re:So, in short... (1)

rickkw (920898) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344683)

Wow, are you suggesting GM is powered by imagination and that's why it does not sell? I guess high quality energy efficient Japanese cars must be so lack of imagination that causes them to be selling like hotcakes!

Re:So, in short... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29345383)

...if whimsical toys powered by imagination don't sell, why stay the course and become the next GM?

Because if GM had been selling cars powered by imagination their profits would have been out of this world.

Re:So, in short... (4, Informative)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343699)

Actually, no; a) they still make in Denmark with one of the highest safety standards in the business b) reduced "one off" special parts actually is a return to the spirit of building it yourself c) all the build it yourself stuff is still available d) you can still buy basic kits and they are as good as ever.

There is one thing; the violence and Star Wars shit but you don't have to buy that for your kids. I don't. This is a major change (the didn't make green bricks for a long time so that nobody could make tanks and so on) but it's not the main or nearly most crucial element of Lego.

Re:So, in short... (2, Interesting)

Keen Anthony (762006) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344363)

I grew up with Lego, and I can't express the joy it gives me to walk down a toy isle and see a healthy thriving Lego line. As you said, you don't have to buy the themed Lego sets (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Space Police, etc). They are awesome, and if you're going to spend money on toys for a kid, Lego toys allow a child to explore his imagination better than static action figures. My preference is still for the Lego CITY set which are more inline with the Legos I had as a kid. These sets are very elaborate. You can get a Malibu beat house, an entire downtown street corner, a passenger plane, etc. And you can combine sets. You can have the perfect setup for your own SyFy channel weekend movie. You just need a city set, a shark, and some sort of space alien.

If I have any complaint about the themed sets is that when I was a kid, a Lego sets gave you a main advertised assembled form plus a couple of alternate forms. This is still true today in some Lego sets, but in the themed sets like Indiana Jones, you get pieces that were clearly designed with one function in mind. For example, the Indiana Jones Shanghai Chase set gives you the two car from that scene in "Temple of Doom". You can't really use the pieces to make anything else but those cars.

Re:So, in short... (5, Informative)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345343)

How can they say that Lego sets have violence *now*, when I have a 1989 catalog with plenty of pirates models, with guns and canons?

Re:So, in short... (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343803)

A lot of the tie-ins are kind of meh; but the "cut part count nearly in half by encouraging re-use of parts and stopping one-off pieces" aspect makes everything better, and the bad aspects pretty much irrelevant.

"POOP"s(Piece Out of Other Pieces [blogsome.com] are, along with wholly inflexible merely decorative elements, pretty much the biggest enemy of Lego as a reconfigurable imaginative toy. Instead of getting a bag of bits that can be the model on the box, or any number of other things, you just get a snap together model. Might as well come with hobby glue. If that is the case, the quality of the model on the box really matters; because that is more or less what you get.

With the sharp reduction in one-off overdetermined crap, the goodness or badness of the model on the box matters a whole lot less, you can always just treat it as a kit of parts and rebuild it. The only thing that ends up really mattering is whether the color scheme of that particular tie-in is close enough to what you want.

If movie tie-ins are what it takes for Lego to stay solvent(and volume sales almost certainly are, I don't even want to know how expensive Lego sets would be if they went from doing high-precision ABS injection molding to short-run high-precision ABS injection molding), that may well say something unfortunate about the buying public; but(as long as the sets aren't made of worthless pieces) that doesn't really harm old-school enthusiasts. If anything, the more sets sold, the more bricks will show up in big Ebay lots, or on Bricklink [bricklink.com] .

Re:So, in short... (2, Informative)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344445)

I knew the days of lego greatness were over when a friend showed me his new lego rescue helicopter. It had a screw in one of the parts.

A screw.

That day, a part of me died.

Re:So, in short... (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344243)

Hey, they can sell the family jewels as long as it lets them keep selling Technic.

Re:So, in short... (4, Interesting)

Quothz (683368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344453)

So, what you're telling me is Lego sold out.

I wouldn't say that. Lego is renowned as one of the best companies in the world to work for: They treat their employees well, pay them well, give them good bennies, and don't nickel and dime 'em. They don't shift jobs to countries where they can exploit workers. If selling out their brand name lets 'em avoid selling out their employees, then I'm all for it.

Imagination still useful (5, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343605)

My son is 6 and right smack in the middle of the kids they are shooting for. He is obsessed with Star Wars, and loves playing Lego Star Wars. He's collected a few sets now for birthday, Christmas, etc. We have a lot of fun building the kits to the directions, but spend just as much time figuring out new things to build. There are a lot of different shapes that go well beyond the idea of a 'block' and I think it involves a lot more imagination to figure new ways to connect them.

It's something we can do together and have a lot of fun with it. When he's a little older we'll start working with the Mindstorm kit together.

Re:Imagination still useful (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343741)

When you mean "we"... do you mean "you" and your kid sitting on the side, watching? ^^

Re:Imagination still useful (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343827)

No - I mean he and I with big piles of legos around us and we are each putting stuff together. When he builds by the directions I help him find pieces if he gets stuck looking for them. We have all his kits in plastic bags, sorted by color which can make it tough to find certain pieces. He does a great job building.

Over the summer his cousin brought some Bionical sets to a family get together so now he really wants some of those. He has one Indiana Jones set - but he's never seen the films and isn't really into it. (When we went to the Indiana Jones stunt show at a local theme park he was bored and kept asking when it would be over and when we'd get to do the Star Wars ride.)

He does like the mission mars sets though.

My daughters like them too - but there really aren't too many girl themed sets that are very good.

Re:Imagination still useful (1)

magnusrex1280 (1075361) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344071)

"When you mean "we"... do you mean "you" and your kid sitting on the side, watching?" was a joke, about you planting to play with the Legos even more than your sun.

Re:Imagination still useful (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344111)

I probably enjoy it as much as he does - but not more.

Re:Imagination still useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343839)

Imagination still useful...He is obsessed with Star Wars

Ah, Star Wars, that well known example of reality based science fiction. :)

Re:Imagination still useful (2, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343945)

When the first Star Wars movie came out I was 8 years old. I was completely taken by it. I had figures, comic books, trading cards, etc. It might not be reality based but it is the pirate/cowboy fantasy of a few generations. My son has a ton of fun running around the house with a light saber, or tie fighter - pretending to be someone from the movie. What's been really weird to watch is how the current show and more recent movies make the storm troopers the good guys. My son spends a lot of time pretending to be a jedi or storm trooper that is busy blowing up robots. When I was a kid we were busy pretending to be Luke or Han blowing up storm troopers.

I think one reason (among a few) that the new films upset so many people is that these really are kids movies, and a lot of the upset people weren't kids any more.

Re:Imagination still useful (2, Informative)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344089)

You might try sooner with something that strucks me a bit as "Mindstorm Duplo" ;) (yes, I know those aren't Duplo bricks...)

http://www.ni.com/academic/wedo/ [ni.com]
http://www.lego.com/education/news/default.asp?pagename=press_kit&l2id=17_1 [lego.com]

Re:Imagination still useful (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344135)

I've never seen those before - they look awesome. Thanks!

I really like Legos (1)

siriuskase (679431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343655)

I wish they were around when I was a kid. When my kids were kids, I used to play with their Legos all the time. I don't play with them anymore. Maybe when I have grandkids, I'll play with them again. Playing with legos when you don't have kids is probably weird.

Re:I really like Legos (5, Interesting)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343873)

Not when you are playing with LEGO Mindstorms NXT [amazon.com] . I got my set ( the older version ) when Ed Nisley, writing for Dr Dobbs at the time, recommended them as a way to learn about embedded programming. Here is a great example [cnet.com] of how awesome the robots can be.

Re:I really like Legos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29345091)

And you can compete in First Lego League robotics competitions using the Mindstorms also. . I coach a team. It's a blast and a great way to get kids interested in engineering, programming, problem solving, etc etc.

Re:I really like Legos (5, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344021)

Who gives a crap!!? Go out and buy yourself a set! Be a kid for a little while. Don't hold yourself back because of what others might think about you. And if you want to justify it to yourself in some way, then consider there are far worse things you can spend your time and money on... cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, porn, guns and on and on. Most "adult" things are also considered vices. I see nothing wrong with doing something fun that is harmless and nice.

And if it helps you to feel less weird, "give it away" to some 'needy kids' or to a school, a day care, a church or some such place.

Re:I really like Legos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29344863)

Porn?!

Re:I really like Legos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29344923)

I object. I can watch porn for free online and the only damage it causes is the death of kittens. I never liked cats...except catwoman...meow.

Re:I really like Legos (1)

naoursla (99850) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345213)

Playing with Legos as an adult is not weird. It is AWESOME!

For one thing you can build really awesome giant detailed models because when you need a certain brick that you don't have, you can JUST BUY IT! You can either buy a new set or go someplace like http://www.bricklink.com/ [bricklink.com] to buy specific pieces (there are people who run businesses where they buy sets and break them apart just to sell on bricklink).

There is a huge underground industry supporting adults who play with Legos and clubs made up of adults (like http://sealug.org/ [sealug.org] ). There are even Lego conferences for adults.

If you think that playing with Legos as an adult might make you happy then you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

Marketing (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343663)

So they confirmed that in order to sell something you need to create a desire in the mind of the children. Welcome to the Marketing world.

Legoland California (-1, Offtopic)

arh9623 (49521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343665)

I'll be at Legoland California in a week or so, for my honeymoon. Does anyone know of anything that can't be missed? Are there any models or kits exclusive to the park?

Where's Technic? (5, Interesting)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343667)

The tie-ins are tolerable even though they're still horribly dependent on using special pieces. What I want to know is why have they gutted the much more interesting Technic line? You rarely see the sets that are still produced on the big retailers shelves in the US anymore.

Re:Where's Technic? (1)

TJ_Phazerhacki (520002) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343829)

Technic has been pretty much completely overshadowed by Mindstorms. The good news is that you can still find some fantastic older Technic sets on line (ebay and the like) and Technic can play extremely well with Mindstorms.

Mind you, the Architecture line is what has me the most excited lately, even if they are very much a linear Lego experience.

Re:Where's Technic? (1)

British (51765) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344761)

I'm 33 years old. My mom hid my christmas present from me in the house, which was the 8880 super car. I was 18 at the time, working on my first real car. I do miss hard core Technic. Gears, axels, levers and such are quite educational to a future mechanical engineer.

Re:Where's Technic? (1)

TJ_Phazerhacki (520002) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345007)

I lusted after that thing as a kid, and now it's rare enough I can't justify paying for one on ebay. It always looked amazing in the pictures!

Guns in lego are new? (5, Insightful)

IronMagnus (777535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343669)

Wait... a gun for indiana jones is new? When I was a kid (20 years ago), we had pirate sets with guns in them... medieval sets with swords and cross bows... weapons everywhere.... how is violence in lego anything even remotely new?

Re:Guns in lego are new? (4, Funny)

synthesizerpatel (1210598) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343723)

Space sets had those nifty bazookas too. But even so, with the large Technic guys I can make ninja swords out of an axel and a grey spacer.

I've said too much.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (3, Interesting)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343889)

Space sets had those nifty bazookas too. But even so, with the large Technic guys I can make ninja swords out of an axel and a grey spacer.

Bah, that's nothing. When I was a kid (in the late 60s) one of my friends had an old bazooka - a REAL one. Okay, no projectiles, just the launcher. We used to fight over who got to use it when we played Army.

We also had old canvas army jackets (REALLY cool if it had your actual surname on it, versus the usual random surname), locking ammo boxes, stuff like that. Most of our dads were, or had been, in the military - and a lot of that stuff seemed to wander home. My dad didn't bring home infantry stuff, so while I had a camo jacket I was in awe of the kid with the bazooka.

I also remember eating a lot of just-expired C-rations. Those, I think, were legit. We used to fight over who got the one with a particular dessert we liked (most of the actual meals were crap, excepting maybe the beans and franks). Didn't get to keep the cigarettes though.

What's any of this got to do with legos? Nothing, but hey - you brought up bazookas. And I believe I still owned some Legos back then. Okay, well it's time for my medication.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (4, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343941)

Dude, this is a conversation about Lego. You can't just go on and on about using actual army gear when playing as a kid and not expect an off-topic mod...

And I believe I still owned some Legos back then.

Okay then, never mind.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343795)

Yup, my old yellow castle set had knights with halberds.

Damn, I feel a wave of nostalgia coming on...

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

Ghost Hedgehog (814914) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343805)

Lego normally only had weapons that were more then 100 years old, like the pirate guns.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343895)

LEGO's policy for a long time was to feature no "modern" weapons, which allowed things like swords, crossbows, blunderbusses, and laser bazookas. I believe the policy went out the door some time ago with the Wild West themed sets and their revolvers and rifles.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344507)

I have to say, I respected Lego for its policy of "We don't make war toys". It was an admirable thing for a company in this day and age. I'm sorry to see they've stretched that pretty far, but I think I'd be sorrier to see Lego fade away entirely. I just wish they'd bring the old sets back.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345075)

So pirates (with swords, pistols, and cannons), knights (with swords, catapults, and axes) and space marines (with bazookas, space-fighters, and massive laser cannons) are all OK, but an archaeologist with a revolver and a whip is not?

I struggle to see the problem. If they were making Lego Abrams main armour, with infantry support armed with M16s, I might see your point.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343937)

Sounds like the person who wrote the article didn't understand what they were talking about.

Yes, little plastic weapons for the lego men to hold are nothing new. But the closest to actual violence in Lego sets was the pirates sets - there's never been a set, for instance, where you build a replica assault rifle that fires real projectiles.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

m1ss1ontomars2k4 (1302833) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344085)

Nonsense! That Mindstorms set with the rubbery projectile was pretty damn dangerous if you ask me!

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344395)

there's never been a set, for instance, where you build a replica assault rifle that fires real projectiles.

Of course there was! But you had to be really inventive to put it together right, and the muzzle velocity wasn't exactly that high even then. Not even enough to break a glass door. (Thankfully... :-)) The best approach was probably to do something a bit like a tennis machine, except with smaller projectiles. Lego men heads worked a treat!

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

silly_sysiphus (1300705) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345331)

True, but if you ever had the Danish-market sets*, you could get the Pirate sets which had the little cannons which actually shot projectiles...GREAT fun. *(could have been available elsewhere as well, but the US sets didn't have them...and since my family is Danish, I'd pick up sets every time we visited when I was a kid)

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

Keen Anthony (762006) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344403)

There were also the medieval sets which included swords among other things. But as with the pirate sets, the box art still looked like the Lego men were having fun. The Space Police sets today look more serious.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (3, Insightful)

BoppreH (1520463) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343967)

Don't forget that every single child that has played with Lego have at least once ripped off the characters members apart.

Re:Guns in lego are new? (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345031)

I actually had a heck of a time trying to take the arms out of a few of my characters, the legs and heads on the other hand were made to change.

That's just the trick isn't it? (5, Interesting)

BaronSprite (651436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343671)

While it is annoying to have 500 different versions of ____ summer movie theme represented in toy form, the best trick that lego has going for it is that you can usually rip it down and change it into something else when you are bored of it. LEGO recognizes that their product can still fit in with the imaginationland scheme while still appealing to a current market trend, so why not?

Re:That's just the trick isn't it? (1)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343809)

I was annoyed that they didn't have a Boogie Nights [imdb.com] movie tie-in legos.

Dirk Diggler and Roller Girl on the set!

lego mirrors real life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343721)

When I was a child in the 50's and 60's, legos were primarily just bricks. You got a big mass of them, and could make whatever you could imagine. Sure, there were instructions about making this or that, but nobody I knew ever paid them any mind. We just explored and tinkered.

The last time I saw a lego set a few years ago, I was horrified. It was all specialized parts and heavily tailored to make one very specific thing. I'm not say you *couldn't* make anything else, but it had clearly gone from being an open ended exploration tool to a "let someone else do the thinking for you!" toy.

Which seems to exactly reflect what has happened to our culture in the meantime.

ObGetOffMyLawn: get off my lawn.

Re:lego mirrors real life (1)

siriuskase (679431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343743)

You can still by the bricks. You can even by compatible bricks from other manufacturers. But, these special kits really do help Lego stay profitable. Is that a bad thing?

Re:lego mirrors real life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29343787)

"by".

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Re:lego mirrors real life (3, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343897)

Some sets are that way - but most are still incredibly flexible. There are a lot of cool things that can be done with the new sets that couldn't be done with the old. There are a lot more mechanical parts in the basic sets now. My sons Imperial Shuttle kit had some very cool gears and other parts to allow the wings to move up and down. The hinged doors are pretty slick, etc. We've been able to incorporate that into a lot of fun designs of our own.

It really still is an open ended toy for exploration, especially once you have 4 or 5 kits worth of pieces on hand.

Re:lego mirrors real life (2, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344113)

You might THINK that there are a bunch of specialized pieces that are tailored to make one specific thing, but that's not necessarily true. Yes, there are more different kinds of pieces and some are rather unique. But it is actually hard to find a particular piece that isn't also used in other sets. It may be painted differently or be made of a different color, but that's the way it goes. These more unique pieces enables even more creativity, not less. Go browse "www.mocpages.com" and just look at what people have made using these "specialized pieces." They make everything you can imagine from them. One of my favorite Lego creations of all time is the Futurama Lego set someone created. (Just Google for Lego Futurama) It is most certainly NOT an official Lego set. It uses a lot of specialized pieces and is extremely creative work.

Lego may have started out being "blocky" and only good for making houses with roofs at 45 degree angles, but it is much more than that now, and it is largely thanks to the availability of these "less basic" parts.

Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (1)

lobiusmoop (305328) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343739)

Yea, and Al Gore invented the internet. Sure....

Could it perhaps be that marketing people took over and pushed up the price of what amounts to pieces of cheap mass-produced plastic that dragged down the company in the first place? To me there's something wrong in needing to jump through so many hoops to sell something so simple and appealing as building blocks.

Re:Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (1)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343875)

Could it perhaps be that marketing people took over and pushed up the price of what amounts to pieces of cheap mass-produced plastic that dragged down the company in the first place?

I'd love to buy some of the bigger pirate ship and castle sets from when I was a kid, but even if they re-released them at the prices they charged a decade and a half ago I wouldn't want to shell out that much for them. I know they have to pay real wages because they don't manufacture in China, but damn. I'd think they could easily cut their prices by 25-50% and still be making a tidy profit.

Re:Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343959)

They can't really lower their prices when 25 to 50% of the profits probably go to Hollywood for the tie-ins.

Re:Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (4, Insightful)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344083)

. I'd think they could easily cut their prices by 25-50% and still be making a tidy profit.

Probably not whilst delivering the quality and safety that they do. If you look at some of the Meg@#$%# lego clones, have a feel at how they fit together; See how the bricks start breaking up and how Lego seems to last and last, you know what I mean. In the end the Lego is cheaper because it lasts and it still gets used. When I get told that my kid "needs" a rescue helicopter or something instead of buying it, we just build it together.

When I buy random cheap Chinese toys I really feel I could be poisoning my child. I don't think the manufacturer wants to poison my kids any more than I want to do that to his, but I'm sure he has little way to control the quality of the quality of the plastic coming in and no come back if he does find someone has done something bad. Look at the chinese milk scandal [wikipedia.org] . The key thing there is not that the milk companies were cheating and failing to test. Someone was deliberately working around their testing. With that kind of garbage; better buy Lego.

In this case; you get what you pay for.

Re:Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (2, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344547)

You're absolutely right. My lego pieces from nigh on two decades ago still fit and hold. The very few occasional weak pieces have failed, but the rank and file pieces still fit and still hold their colour. Nobody but nobody can tell me that Lego bricks were shoddy. A toy that lasts, and is still played with, for 10-20 years is frankly worth paying the premium.

Re:Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (4, Insightful)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344605)

I'd think they could easily cut their prices by 25-50% and still be making a tidy profit.

I'd rather have them keep the uncompromising, legendary quality instead. I encountered exactly 1 bad brick in 10000$ MSRP worth of Lego. I think the fact that the set will not break or wear out in 5, 10, 15 years is a big consideration for families which have more than one child. I have a lot of Lego bricks that survived my entire childhood and are still in very good shape, even though I used to play with them very frequently. The Technic line is essentially precision machinery made of plastic.

Re:Tie-Ins Saved Lego? (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344663)

Could it perhaps be that marketing people took over and pushed up the price of what amounts to pieces of cheap mass-produced plastic that dragged down the company in the first place?

Making pieces of mass-produced plastic is easy. Making the pieces to extremely strict tolerances and ensuring that no set is incomplete or has broken pieces is hard. Making those pieces survive 5 years of heavy use with litle wear is really, really hard. That's why Lego is more expensive than the crap excreted by Chinese factories.

Lego still retains its magic! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343825)

While it is true that movie themes have kept Lego afloat and even boosted its popularity significantly, once someone gets into Lego, it becomes something else entirely.

When I was a kid, Lego was mainly for building houses for the little people to live in. Our cultures have changed significantly since those days. Our homes are constantly filled with sound and music and noise of one kind or another. Everything needs to flash, bang or pop to get our attention. Star Wars and even Indiana Jones movie themes have lots of flash, bang and pop. "Playing house" or building a farming scene is just not something that most kids are interested in with all the color and excitement found on TV and in movies. "Simpler times" have gone out of fashion for now and I predict it will return again one day, but not until the 80's are finally dead and behind us.

But once a kid (or an adult, let's be fair -- a LOT of Lego fans are ADULTS!) builds his first model, he will want to build another. And while building those models, he will want to change it or improve it in some way. Eventually, that same child is building his own creations. So while the popular movie themes are a great hook, it almost never stops there!

And here's another thing -- it may be "movie themes" but it is also VIDEO GAME themes that will sell Lego sets. For some reason, Lego missed the boat with Halo and MegaBloks got the rights to that theme instead. (It's a damned shame because I see MegaBloks as cheaper and of lesser quality) But it is partly the Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones that brought interest in Lego for many. The games are outstanding and you don't "die" in the same ways and you build things as you progress through the games. They are genuinely enjoyable and the fun associated with those games ALSO bring interest to other Lego products as well.

But again I say, once the first set is build, the joys of building things then becomes more of the focus and the real magic of Lego is realized.

And one last thing I thought I would add. Lego teaches things to kids... to people really. It encourages a kind of engineering and architectural thinking. It also encourages ordered and organized thinking. There are elements of puzzle solving (especially when one is trying to make one's own creations) and most of all, it encourages patience, concentration and focus. And the reward of "look what I made" is ever present. These are things that are being lost and eroded with today's ADD/ADHD population. Most of us don't have anything medically wrong -- we just don't have patience and focus. Lego can strengthen the mind of the young and old with these kinds of lessons.

And it's fun!

Re:Lego still retains its magic! (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343999)

These are things that are being lost and eroded with today's ADD/ADHD population.

I'm more of a ADD/SUB guy.

Re:Lego still retains its magic! (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344563)

I've always seen myself as an ADD/GURPS guy.

Black Seas Barracuda (1, Interesting)

No Lucifer (1620685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29343939)

(This is coming from someone who, as a kid, saved up for a year to buy the Black Seas Barracuda and subscribed to "Brick Kicks" magazine)

I used to question the movie tie-ins with LEGO. Then I helped my friend build the LEGO Millenium Falcon for his kid... and it was a blast. It made me realize that the fun of LEGOs was putting them together, destroying them, and building something new. The tie-ins don't really ruin that. If it keeps LEGO around, it's a good thing. You can still buy non-tie-in LEGOs (and it looks to me like the new City LEGOs sets are really cool).

Now, LEGO needs to make the next step and allow people to build their own kits online. I think that would be even bigger than LEGO Star Wars.

Re:Black Seas Barracuda (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344595)

I have a dream: that my little children will one day live in a world where they will be able to buy kits online, not designed by marketer, but by the contents of their creative character.

Imagine designing a kit in a Lego CAD program and then automatically exporting the BOM to an order form that takes a screenshot of the finished item, a manual and contents list and produced a boxed, bagged set that is immediately shipped to you.

Seriously Lego, where are you?

Re:Black Seas Barracuda (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345135)

They had a Lego CAD type program not long ago on the website but I can't remember if they dropped it. I still have the Lego Creator game from years back in my cd shelves too but it didn't have an export function.

15kg lego in the basement (1)

pinkishpunk (1461107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344051)

Guess we where privileged to have been kids while lego still made brick that wasnt gigantic and unique to a single model. Over the year it has sadden me to see how lego packages have been taking up less and less space of the toy stores, when I was a kid a whole section where filled with it, back then one could go there and find smaller cheap packages also, gone are those days. It prob never was cheap toy but the prices they are asking for very few bricks this day are just ridiculous, the only thing today that resembles the packages of the past are those special edition starwars boxes where you actuale gets bricks instead of prefabricated modules.

Lego Movie? (1)

rrwood (27261) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344059)

Hey-- why hasn't there been a Lego movie? Given the brand appeal and the richness of the settings possible, a Lego movie would kick brick-ass....

Re:Lego Movie? (2, Informative)

el3mentary (1349033) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344253)

There have been several Bionicle movies now, I have the first one on DVD.

Re:Lego Movie? (1)

rogermcdodger (1113203) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344999)

They have recently (last month) signed a deal to produce a movie based on the LEGO license.

Stay in business by overcharging and exploiting (0, Flamebait)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344129)

So they've managed to stay in business by the power of marketing and the irrationality that people display when buying for kids. Have you seen what a lego set costs these days? It's no wonder cheap rip offs that don't even work as well are getting a slice of the action.

Re:Stay in business by overcharging and exploiting (1)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344549)

So they've managed to stay in business by the power of marketing and the irrationality that people display when buying for kids.

They actually created a product that people want to buy. Is that a bad thing? Coupled with the fact that you can still buy the 'unbranded' sets and that they are reducing one-off non-reusable pieces, it's a good thing.

Have you seen what a lego set costs these days?

There is a reason. The quality of Lego is legendary, so much that they don't even advertise it any more. The parts are manufactured to tolerances comparable with precision machinery. For example, when you place 10 bricks with holes side by side, you can run 12-unit axles through each of the holes, and they always align perfectly. In a new set there are no bricks that don't "stick" together, and the plastic wears down really slowly. I have encountered exactly 1 bad piece in 10000$ MSRP worth of Lego (and they replaced when I e-mailed the customer service).

It's no wonder cheap rip offs that don't even work as well are getting a slice of the action.

Poland is not a very rich country and yet Lego still dwarfs all other brands combined by sales volume... I don't see too much "action" for cheap imitators.

Re:Stay in business by overcharging and exploiting (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344573)

Every toy that says "Made in the EU" is expensive, but they're generally good quality.

When I was a child (90s), every toy that said "Made in Taiwan/China" was cheap shit and wouldn't last.

What toys have I kept? My Lego (Denmark), model railway (Britain, Germany), Mecanno (France), Warhammer (Britain), and K'NEX (USA).

I think the Lego and Warhammer is still made in Denmark/UK, and they're both expensive, but the others are now made in China, and the quality seems to be as it used to be.

I call BS on the whole thing... (1)

cowmix (10566) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344311)

The movie tie-ins are pure genius and uniquely Lego.. They have a good sense of humor and the new Lego sets are fun. As a 35 year Lego guy, it find the new stuff simply awesome.

The irony is that the Star Wars Lego sets are MORE Lego like than their 'original' sets they put out now. The piece on the Star Wars sets are more interchangeable while their "Mars" series has these HUGE molded pieces that can not really be used outside of the ship you are 'supposed' to build.

However, if you want to find something that sucks the soul out of Lego.. look no further than Bionicle.

Violence in lego is not new. (1)

Fuzzums (250400) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344329)

Back in my days when there was knights lego, they already had swords...

Re:Violence in lego is not new. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29345313)

We even managed to do napoleonic wargaming - cuirassier units would use knight armor pieces and we used pirate set pieces.

Non-Violence was Missed on me (4, Interesting)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344411)

Pretty much everything I made out of Legos was war-related. Tanks and planes mostly, but I made some pretty cool howitzers back in the day. They'd fire the four-side black rods with a couple of rubber bands.

Playing out Hollywood's imagination instead (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344533)

Just felt compelled to make another comment. From the article, there was one statement that really stuck in my craw. And it was the one that said with these Hollywood themed sets, kids will be playing out Hollywood's imagination instead of their own. It's true but it's not. With action figures and vehicle toys from the movies, that will definitely be true. But with Lego toys, it's not as true. Why? Because you can't make things with action figures and vehicles... not easily anyway.

And here's a factoid that people are overlooking -- children are QUICKLY losing their imaginations. We live in a different world now than we did 20-30 years ago. There are FAR fewer creative toys that are popular these days. Playdoh and crayons have really lost favor among kids. Why? I could guess a lot of reasons, but one of the more significant reasons is lack of interest from parents. In present times, parents are still playing their video games and aren't the slightest bit interested in what their kids create or draw. This is a huge shift. And without parents being interested in what their kids are doing, the kids are less inclined to doing anything creative at all. Whatever the cause, children and people in general are losing their creativity.

But while Lego, as a purely creative toy, has lost the interest of children, themed Lego has a chance of bridging the problem of lost creativity.

Re:Playing out Hollywood's imagination instead (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344651)

You couldn't be more wrong if you TRIED. There's nothing wrong with kids' imagination, the problem is that everyone from their parents out to are forcing them to spend every waking moment in some "structured recreation" style BS and nobody tolerates kids actually making noise and messes anymore. Creative toys are basically the exact opposite of this and encourage kids to ask "why" and not settle for "because I said so", that's where the real problem is.

Re:Playing out Hollywood's imagination instead (1)

SuperMonkeyCube (982998) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345185)

Nice handle, oddly appropriate in this case. Do you even have any contact with children?

(Don't answer that - it was rhetorical and I don't really want to know. Ask yourself what kind of kids you interact with and decide for yourself.)

Granted, helicopter parents may totally funnel children into too much structured activity, but there are still lots of kids that have plenty of creativity. I don't see any problem with crayons yet, or Play-Doh, as long as the situation keeps kids from the sort of one-upmanship that would preclude it. If one older kid brings a DS or a PSP with him to a group, it can distract kids from playing with the simple stuff for a while. On the other hand, if that's what the group is doing, (crayons or clay or even blocks!) I've yet to see a real shortage of creativity. My oldest can be a problem for the a similar reason - he's almost always got a Bionicle or two with him, and not a spec, out-of-the-package one. Most of his Bionicles are borrowing heads and weapons from other guys, changed color schemes, extra weapons built with standard LEGO or Technic parts, or hybrids.

If you doubt the creativity of kids, try listening to them. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised, or maybe you have a bunch of dumbbells in your neighborhood. As far as the parents go - parents that play video games are probably still in the minority. Most of the parents that my wife and I know IRL watch a lot of "Big Brother" and "American Idol" and "Brooke Knows Best" and "Dancing with the Geico Cavemen Spectacular". Most of my serious video game playing adult friends fall into the "Kids? I haven't found a spouse I can tolerate yet!" category. I didn't count people who only played Wii sports for two hours at a party.

Another thing that strikes me is that you can't have a class of 20-30 kids in school and expect all of them to whip out dogs in a spaceship to the moon or a cow with wheels on it with their 8-pack of Crayolas. Some kids aren't going to be at the same place intellectually, some kids aren't going to have the same cultural context, some kids are only going to draw pictures about stuff they learned in Sunday school because their parents won't let them watch TV or play with the heathens next door, some kids don't read and will only generate TV related imagery, and so on. Kids are creative, but they're not all going to be at the same place - and I'm basing a lot of this on my own formative crayon time in the 70's. This is not a new problem. Do you suppose that James Naismith and Johannes Gutenberg had to listen to crap from city leaders about how basketball was keeping kids from being creative when playing outside with a ball and the printing press kept kids from embellishing their folk tales and oral history?

Lego/Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29344627)

Few know that Google used Legos (and later cheaper Lego clones) to build their initial server cases since the legos let them quickly prototype boards and insulate them without building custom enclosures. And GOogLE even contains LEGO. Coincidence???? I think not.

But it's still sooo educational... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29344797)

When you can learn about physics by building things like this :

http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2007/09/07/stephen-hawking-lego.html

money (1)

nixish (1390127) | more than 4 years ago | (#29344925)

So basically it is saying that Money has saved Lego?

Re:money (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 4 years ago | (#29345041)

No, what saved Lego was lucrative merchandising tie-ins with Hollywood, expansion into video games, and brutal reform of a very slack internal corporate culture.

Which Is Why I Lost Interest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29345199)

... years before I otherwise would have.

Lego was a lot better before Hollywood owned it. The huge set lines like Aquazone, Exploriens, M-Tron, Ice Planet, etc. were really fun and fairly theme-agnostic. Those 'one off parts' were some of the more useful things you could find. (Can anyone really fault the transparent orange chainsaw? What about all the different colors of windows, or the giant dome windows that used to be available? Even the giant, axle-equipped base mentioned above was good for anything that happened to be large, heavy, and needed to roll around.) Also, instead of Bionicle, you had Technic. (Mindstorms doesn't count because it's ridiculously expensive and practically can't be found in stores here.) As early as 1999-2001 with the new Star Wars sets and Bionicle, all you could find in stores were overpriced Hollywood themed boxes and kits full of useless Bionicle bits, and the prices just kept going up. I'd already accumulated a decent bin of Lego, though, so I suppose it didn't matter much.

Still, the older sets, which weren't as sleek and didn't have big Hollywood names but did have great models, great parts, and great themes, beat just about any of the movie themed sets just for the sheer flexibility. (Not only that, quality control really slipped. The last sets I picked up, all three of them Star Wars, had pieces missing.) One of my nephews showed me a Spongebob Squarepants themed Lego kit that he built, and I thought to myself, "The only thing that's missing is a pile of sprues and some rubber cement." Perhaps I'll gift him an old Aquazone sub, if I can find any complete kits.

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