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Has Lego Sold Out?

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the tab-a-slot-b dept.

Toys 425

Hugh Pickens writes "Matt Richtel and Jesse McKinley write in the NY Times that for generations of American children, Legos were the ultimate do-it-yourself plaything. Little plastic bricks, with scant instructions, just add imagination. But today's construction sets are often tied to billion-dollar franchises like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and invite users to follow detailed directions, not construct their own creations from whole brick. It's less open-ended, some parents and researchers say, and more like paint-by-numbers. 'When I was a kid, you got a big box of bricks and that was it,' says Tracy Bagatelle-Black. 'What stinks about Lego sets now is that they're not imaginative at all.' Lego loyalists are quick to defend the company. Josh Wedin, the managing editor of the Brothers Brick, a Lego blog, called complaints that they are less creative 'simply ridiculous,' adding that Legos always included some instructions, though he says he misses the alternative designs that used to be on the back of the box. But Clifford Nass, a sociology professor at Stanford University who studies how people relate to the physical world versus the virtual world, says some essential qualities were lost when Lego became more like other toys. 'The genius of Lego was, you had to do the work.' Learning about frustration, Nass says, 'is a hugely important thing.'" (And watch soon for a review of The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide, a book intended to help Lego users escape the tyranny of block-by-number instructions.)

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It's just training for future geekery (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375093)

The first step is to completely ignore the manual, and this is what they're teaching children. This is a skill I wasn't able to master until I was in college, but today's kids will have it done by high school.

Re:It's just training for future geekery (5, Funny)

alphatel (1450715) | about 2 years ago | (#42375125)

The first step is to completely ignore the manual, and this is what they're teaching children. This is a skill I wasn't able to master until I was in college, but today's kids will have it done by high school.

Today's kids are doing creative block-building online, and paint by numbers in Legos. What a strange, twisted world.

Re:It's just training for future geekery (4, Interesting)

Jetra (2622687) | about 2 years ago | (#42375143)

The irony is that Minecraft is lego, but they just released a Minecraft lego set.

Re:It's just training for future geekery (4, Insightful)

Soluzar (1957050) | about 2 years ago | (#42375373)

LEGO is expensive now, and I can't afford it... personally I see Minecraft as replacing my favourite aspects of LEGO. :)

Re:It's just training for future geekery (2)

Jetra (2622687) | about 2 years ago | (#42375383)

I know. There's a Lego store by us but a small 1 lb bag of bricks is like $15

Re:It's just training for future geekery (1)

Entropy98 (1340659) | about 2 years ago | (#42375403)

Going rate on eBay was $5 a lb last I checked.

Re:It's just training for future geekery (4, Informative)

Altus (1034) | about 2 years ago | (#42375421)

Now? Lego has always been extremely expensive.

Re:It's just training for future geekery (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 years ago | (#42375407)

Todays kids, adults, mothers, families, business entrapreanures, evangilists, everyone from all walks of life play minecraft. There is something in that game for almost anyone who can handle an interactive 3d world.

Really two varieties of Lego (4, Insightful)

Narrowband (2602733) | about 2 years ago | (#42375451)

Not all legos are equal, they have sort of diverged into two types: the traditional brick type (and in that I include even the specialized pieces, as long as they fit together in the traditional stud/brick mechanism) and the Technic/Mindstorms type, which use pieces more like girders that fit together with special connectors. The brick type has moved more in the licensing/set model direction, and those I sort of agree that the creativity seems to be missing these days. But I have to admit I'm glad they came up with a decent lego millenium falcon, which was absolutely perfect for my son for Christmas a year ago.

On the other hand, the Technic/Mindstorms type still focuses a lot on creativity, with alternate directions for different models included, and lots of resources available for idea books and programming and such. If you look on the Lego education site, they seemed to almost have moved in the opposite/more creative direction, with resources for bodging together Mindstorms electronic components with a metal frame & RC servo-based robotics construction system (vertex? Tetrix? I forget what it was called) that another company makes.

Bottom line, if you want to emphasize creativity, go Technic early, then maybe branch off to mindstorms.

Re:Really two varieties of Lego (5, Interesting)

NixieBunny (859050) | about 2 years ago | (#42375493)

We have at least a hundred LEGO sets from various of the "unimaginative" series from Harry Potter to Star Wars to the underwater things. They get built once according to the book, then they gradually get taken apart and mixed in with the giant bins of random LEGO parts. All these strangely shaped and colored parts mix together quite well, and my children have had no trouble whatsoever in creating weird fan-fic style mashup vehicles and action sets.

Buy plain bricks.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375095)

If you do not wish to partake in the pre-made kits, buy plain bricks and roll your own fantasy just like the old days.

Re:Buy plain bricks.... (5, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#42375257)

They sold kits in the old days. They even sold kits with various themes and special (non-brick) parts.

All of this nostalgia and angst is misplaced. These people are running off on a tangent based on some idealized notion of the past rather than what actaully happened.

Re:Buy plain bricks.... (3, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | about 2 years ago | (#42375391)

Yeah I remember space theme lego back when the space shuttle was still new. []
Plenty of themes back then: []

Re:Buy plain bricks.... (1)

Dupple (1016592) | about 2 years ago | (#42375481)

Even the themes are a relatively new thing in my mind. When I saw 'Lego Space', I immediately thought of the kit I had as a child []

I think there's some merit in the article, to me, Lego Space was too specialised, particularly compared to the model I had that had very few if any specialised bricks.

“When I was a kid, you got a big box of bricks and that was it,” said Tracy Bagatelle-Black, 45, a public relations consultant in Santa Clarita, Calif., north of Los Angeles. “What stinks about Lego sets now is that they’re not imaginative at all.”

I tend to agree with the above quote, I'm 45 as well. If you're younger it's likely that you would never know of the less sophisticated Lego. What's normal for one age is not normal for another. Who'd of thought?

Re:Buy plain bricks.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375419)

Agreed. I was playing with LEGO "kits" when I was a kid back in the early 80's. They weren't ever tied to a franchise but they did have a picture on the box and instructions on how to recreate the spaceship, or plane, etc in the picture.

Didn't ruin the creativity it just gave me ideas. Once I built it, I'd tear it apart and add to the pile of pieces from other kits and then make my own stuff.

Re:Buy plain bricks.... (3, Interesting)

JasoninKS (1783390) | about 2 years ago | (#42375455)

But can you even find "plain" kits any more? Seems like everything Lego I see is tied to a franchise of some sort. Even their "Friends" line is just buildings to put together.

Waste of space. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375105)

Doesn't the NYT have anything more important to publish than people bitching about legos? If you just want a bag of bricks, you can still get them. In fact, you can order them in bulk now, which wasn't offered when I was a kid.

Re:Waste of space. (4, Insightful)

malignant_minded (884324) | about 2 years ago | (#42375305)

No crap they sold out. Branding is now all they have left after losing their cases preventing competition [] The only way they can continue to compete with companies like MegaBlocks is to have exclusive rights to Star Wars or Harry Potter etc etc. Honestly how much justification can you have for $50 USD plastic blocks unless you are the only game in town with whats "cool".

Re:Waste of space. (1)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#42375371)

+1 this. Lego needed to move in this direction. Megablocks gained market share by sleeping with large franchises. In the face of rapidly shrinking market share, Lego had little other choice than doing the same.

Re:Waste of space. (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 years ago | (#42375425)

Or lego's as a company needed to die, and it needed to go the way of cheep boxes of 5$ bricks for everyone everywhere, or free lego's with your purchase, bonjour. Welcome to the greater good vs your own perpetual money machine, bonjour!

Re:Waste of space. (2)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#42375435)

Perhaps the snap-together models of today are not the true spiritual descendants of the original Lego, but Mindstorms are! Still lots of generic beams and bars... plus (if you want) programming too. You say lego has nothing unique, but what is MegaBlock's answer to Mindstorms? You may say Mindstorms are only for older kids, but my 7 year old daughter enjoyes them. Today she makes boxcarts mostly, but she was also pretty fascinated by the pneumatic pump and cylinder. Lots of room to grow into it.

Re:Waste of space. (2)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about 2 years ago | (#42375365)

Dude, everyone at the NYT went home for Christmas. All they have left in the building is two interns and a janitor.

Re:Waste of space. (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 years ago | (#42375429)

How to change career from basement dwelling slashdot ranters, to janitor, god, that would be some upward mobility I would love right now,

No! (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about 2 years ago | (#42375113)

Slash dot has sold out! *grin*

I've felt like this for years, too (5, Insightful)

Cyphax (262239) | about 2 years ago | (#42375115)

Ah, I agree so much. I had my fair share of legos when I was a child and the building blocks were nice and generic. Nowadays, all the pieces are molded to shape whatever you're supposed to make much better, resulting in a nicer looking whatever-it-is-you-were-making, but taking it apart, I wonder if there's much of a point in trying to make something else out of it, even beside the alternatives listed on the back of the box.
I'm glad I kept most of my legos for when my son's old enough for them. Other than that it looks like I'm stuck remembering the old days fondly.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (5, Insightful)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about 2 years ago | (#42375149)

of course there is. that molded 'specialty' piece is always a plethora of other things, you just have to attatch it to a hinge, or a side, or upside down and backwards. I played with legos all through my childhood, and the 'specialty' pieces from my 'Ice planet base' set, and my 'space shuttle' set always found new life in building space ships, giant robots, submarines, and a whole world of other things.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (1)

Zocalo (252965) | about 2 years ago | (#42375195)

+1 on this. It was always, and still is, possible to repurpose the speciality bricks if you where creative enough - even such aparent one trick ponies such as the forklift, if you put your mind to it (and maybe the scale of what you were building). If your mindset is that the speciality bricks are no use for general playing around with the bricks, then that's your problem not the toy's. The correct view is that they are encouraging you to be even more creative than you already are, which is the whole point of Legos, is it not?

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375173)

The boxes of generic bricks are still available, called bricks & more. And Lego creator is similar to the Lego I had in the eighties. But starting in the nineties Lego quickly lost appeal against video games and had to do something. With licensed sets and the Lego computer games they were able to stop the decline.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (2, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42375179)

resulting in a nicer looking whatever-it-is-you-were-making

It could be far better looking is it wasn't made of Lego.

And it wouldn't permanently have bits falling off it for kids to lose and parents to step on.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#42375213)

I don't see the problem. There isn't a lego piece out there that can only be used in one way. Instead, I see the increasing variety of pieces allowing for more sophisticated shapes and mechanisms.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375221)

In addition to the specialized blocks, you can buy a big tub of generic, plain-old-block legos. In my child's case, that means using the specialty pieces and the generic pieces in ways that are just as creative as ever. Most of the "sets" don't stay in the configurations suggested on the box for long.

The article is a bunch of nonsense that applies only with the assumption that ordinary blocks aren't available anymore. They are.

If there's a lack of imagination, it's in the parents who buy their child the "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings" sets instead of the big-tub-o-legos.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (1)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42375265)

They've had the molded pieces for at least 20 years now. They used to be more generic things, like pirate ships and such, but they were still molded pieces designed to make a particular object that came with instructions on how to make that object.

You can still buy just regular legos.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (3, Informative)

samkass (174571) | about 2 years ago | (#42375311)

Actually, that's probably just selective memory...

From a Q&A with LEGO [] :

Q: I would like to know why they are using so many specialized pieces in their sets now instead of using more "basic" bricks that allow for greater building outside the set the pieces came in. Why have Lego sets for the latest few generations been dummied down?

A: This is an impression that many people have but, in fact, the piece count has been reduced drastically and there's a move back to roots in Lego, not only for creativity but to save money. Lego went from 12,000 different pieces to 6,800 in the last few years-a number that includes the color variations.

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 2 years ago | (#42375385)

No, no it's not. Did you not read your own post? Nowhere does it state how many pieces lego started off with, nor when the great climb to 12,000 pieces happened, nor how long it stayed there, nor exactly how recent the switch to 6,800 pieces was, nor what percentage of those pieces are regular as opposed to special, nor any mention of change in percentages over time.

In fact your post could quite well support his point, and perhaps everybody bitching about it was the reason why lego went to fewer pieces. (realistically they're probably trying to save money).

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (-1, Troll)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#42375439)

I had my fair share of legos when I was a child

Did you have a sands pit and a waters pistol?

Nowadays, all the pieces are molded to shape whatever you're supposed to make much better

By nowadays you mean 20 years ago?

I'm glad I kept most of my legos for when my son's old enough for them.

I take it you threw the grammar book out?

Re:I've felt like this for years, too (1)

fufufang (2603203) | about 2 years ago | (#42375479)

Ah, I agree so much. I had my fair share of legos when I was a child and the building blocks were nice and generic. Nowadays, all the pieces are molded to shape whatever you're supposed to make much better, resulting in a nicer looking whatever-it-is-you-were-making, but taking it apart, I wonder if there's much of a point in trying to make something else out of it, even beside the alternatives listed on the back of the box.
I'm glad I kept most of my legos for when my son's old enough for them. Other than that it looks like I'm stuck remembering the old days fondly.

I think they have always sold them in theme sets. I think you didn't realise that they were in theme sets when you were young. I did not know that the pieces of paper that came with Lego were building instructions. I don't know if that was the case for you.

Here's the number one reason for Lego Failure. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375119)

Too much pain when you step on the stray ones at night.

It's not a complete loss (4, Insightful)

Vermyndax (126974) | about 2 years ago | (#42375121)

What happens in my house: my son gets a Lego set. He excitedly spends hours building them (or one hour, if it's a small one). then he plays with it a little. A few days later I find it in pieces and deconstructed all over the playroom. A few days later, something else comes out as he institutes his own creations and modifications.

It's not a matter of lacking the manual, as we have kept every manual for every set he ever received. He knows where those manuals are, too.

To me, it seems like Lego has stuck a good balance.

Re:It's not a complete loss (1)

Glenstorm (117502) | about 2 years ago | (#42375191)

Same thing happens in our home. Our sons (8 & 12) build the model then it gradually gets absorbed into the "scrap heap" and pillaged for parts for their own creations.

Also, I think that Lego has moved away from the single use pieces that only work with the designed set. This was more true in the 90's when I was a kid. I've seen a reversion to the basic bricks in the sets we've purchased in the last couple years.

Re:It's not a complete loss (1)

Double_Dark (856371) | about 2 years ago | (#42375193)

I would have to agree with this. My son builds the set but then goes and builds all sorts of other things from all the deconstructed sets he has.

And since when has Lego not done sets? (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 2 years ago | (#42375197)

I remember that my parents basically never got me just raw Legos. It was always a set that you could build a specific thing with, complete with directions. Sometimes I would, most of the time I'd just pour the pieces in to my ever-increasing pile and build whatever I pleased.

They weren't co-branded but they were still sets. And why not? It gives people a starting point, and can help for children that aren't as creative. If you take someone who has difficulty with creative tasks, and set them adrift with nothing and say "Work it out all yourself," they are likely to just get frustrated and give up. However if you give them guidance of what to build, but with the freedom to disregard that and modify as they like, then perhaps they start to learn and grow creatively.

Some constraints, goals, and guidance are reasons why games like Minecraft and Terraria are popular. If you just want unbounded creativity get Solidworks or Maya or the like. You can create whatever you can conceive more or less. However that's rather daunting. There's something to be said for having an environment that gives you some rules, constraints, and guides.

Who uses instructions? (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | about 2 years ago | (#42375227)

Completely agree. First off, one is fully entitled to throw their instructions away. One of the things I like about the playsets is that you get a diversity of interesting pieces to use. So you build it their way the first time, then it just becomes an interesting bag of parts.

Not to mention which, they do still sell bulk bricks, and bulk specialty pieces. So if that's what you want for your kids, buy it. Of course, if the same kids who lack the creativity to make their own designs have parents who lack the ability to do actual research, that I buy.

I liked building legos when I was a kid, and now my kids do. I built them a 36" square recessed table for them - just for legos - so they can build things and not have to worry about cleaning up, or about the legos falling on the floor. I love coming home from work and seeing how their designs have evolved. No instructions in sight.

Re:Who uses instructions? (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 2 years ago | (#42375395)

... I built them a 36" square recessed table for them - just for legos - so they can build things and not have to worry about cleaning up, or about the legos falling on the floor. I love coming home from work and seeing how their designs have evolved.

Nice. We need more good parents fostering creativity.

Re:It's not a complete loss (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#42375307)

This. It gets put in the same bin with the rest of the Legos. Just make sure you also get a Big Ass Generic Glob O' Bricks, too.

Unlike regular models (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375123)

Lego allow you to modify these things. And it may spur creativity in some kids.

When I was a kid, I was handed a set of just bricks and I was so overwhelmed, I didn't know where to start.

I guess with media today, bitching and finding fault where none lie is what pulls in page hits and links.

Does this belong on /.? (1, Flamebait)

jcr (53032) | about 2 years ago | (#42375127)

If it was a story about Lego, fine. An editorial diatribe against lego hardly qualifies as news that matters.


Re:Does this belong on /.? (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 2 years ago | (#42375459)

Go read the header! Slashdot is no longer news for nerds or news that matters.

I wish slashdot had an api that I could access all postings. Slashdot is decomposing right now. I think you would be able to exactly pinpoint the death blow by analyzing posting histories and seeing where the crossover point from informative-individuals-posting-information to clueless-individuals-posting-nonsense happens. We're currently in the middle of a surge of the emergence of long-time clueless lurkers starting to post now that the intelligent people have left and the threat of mental shame has decreased. Not to mention that real science articles have fewer postings and the majority of postings are now in opinion pieces.

Not the issue (5, Insightful)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#42375131)

They have had detailed instructions that you could follow for almost as long as Lego has existed.
The problem with today Lego I that they made they completely out of proprietary big pieces that do not really fit together any other way.

You used to be able to buy some castle set, with step by step instructions, but it was made with the exact same pieces as every other set out there. So at the end of the day you could take it apart and build that castle into a space ship. Now Lego is basically just action figures and video games.

Re:Not the issue (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375337)

Lego sets always coming with instructions is absolutely not true. I got my Lego sets while living in Germany in the early seventies. The only instructions were the pictures on the box and forgoing that, the amazing Lego displays in German department stores.
I remember getting back to the U.S. in 1975 and all my friends being amazed (and jealous) at my Legos.
It's when they started importing them into the states that instructions were included. Hmm, that says a lot right there.

They still make creative sets (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375137)

I thought the same thing about Lego's "they don't build the good sets anymore", but they still make the other sets, they've just expanded. My nephew could care less about the creative sets, but he buys the star wars sets.

Re:They still make creative sets (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375275)

He *could* care less, so he does care for them then?

I disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375141)

building what you like was always what you did *after* you've built the original model.

Otherwise why buy them? Just buy yourself a load of bricks and be done with it

Last time I went to the Lego Store... (4, Informative)

wilgibson (933961) | about 2 years ago | (#42375147)

you could still buy buckets of bricks, and the whole back wall was loose bricks for people that wanted to make their own bucket. I've been playing with Lego for thirty years. I always wanted to make what was on the box first, but eventually it became whatever the hell I wanted it to be. If someone wants to whine about children not being creative these days, I think Lego is the last reason they aren't creative!

Re:Last time I went to the Lego Store... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375175)

Hell yes. This exactly. Making cool sets is fun, but I always modified stuff, especially the space-related ones. I'd add guns and what not so my ships were more heavily armed. This article is much ado about jack squat. There is no issue here. You can still buy assorted bricks and I personally love the star wars and LotR sets. I think they're cool.

Re:Last time I went to the Lego Store... (0)

CRCulver (715279) | about 2 years ago | (#42375241)

For 30 years? Whenever people well into adulthood mention they play with Legos, I am reminded of historians' judgement that one of the Russian tsarevitches was in some way developmentally disabled because he still made paper soldiers at the age of 18.

Mostly, yes (2)

Maow (620678) | about 2 years ago | (#42375155)

When shopping for presents for kids it seems all of them have tie-ins to other products: Barbie, some movie, cartoon characters, etc.

Simple toys that exist on their own seem a rarity now (Spirograph, Rubik's Cube, Mechano (sp?), etc.) that I frankly hate shopping for something for kids.

Even Crayola products seem to be tied to Dora or whatever. Or come with coloured markers that seem to expire instantly, unlike crayons.

I don't remember it being so bad back in the dark ages when I was a kid. Was it Star Wars that brought us this trend? McDonald's Happy Meals? Where did it start?

Re:Mostly, yes (2)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 2 years ago | (#42375475)

I think Dora is the least of your worries in all that, at least she's educational and non-sexist. Actually a pretty good role model.

This article is the opposite from a few years ago (2)

Snowlock45 (613911) | about 2 years ago | (#42375157)

A handful of years ago Lego was going bankrupt and they were searching in vain for how to stop it. Then they figured out that open ended didn't sell so well. They created their Bionicle sets. Then they started the licensed sets with Harry potter and Star wars. It is the only reason lego even still exists. And now people decry that lego 'sold out'? Make up your minds...

Response to customers (1)

White Flame (1074973) | about 2 years ago | (#42375161)

Through various customer surveys, Lego found that most kids are just building what's in the main instructions anyway. It's a sad state of affairs, but not necessarily stemming from Lego themselves.

new kits provide more possibilities (1)

friesandgravy (1086677) | about 2 years ago | (#42375163)

My kids build as per the instructions once, when the kit brand new. After that the imagination takes over and they produce things that would be impossible with the traditional blocks alone. The new Lego sets are better than ever.

frist Ps4ot (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375165)


lego is so last generation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375171)

duplo (also a lego product) for the little kids, k'nex for the big kids (adults love 'em too -- great for some staff meetings and seminars).

Here we go again (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#42375185)

Lego have always included instructions with their sets. What has changed is the number of specialized pieces in a set. Some of these are single-purpose, replacing a bunch of bricks with a single large moulding, so some sets end up being less versatile.
There still are plenty of sets that consist mostly of standard bricks. What you end up with after buying a bunch of sets, is a pile of bricks and a pile of specialized pieces that can still be combined to your heart's content.

Many Corrections Required - "LEGO" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375187)

"LEGO" (all capitals) is the company, LEGO "bricks" are what they manufacture.

"Legos" is a meaningless word.

PS: "Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide"

Re:Many Corrections Required - "LEGO" (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#42375389)

Sod it, I'm off to play with my meccanos. Or is it meccanoes?

Old news (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | about 2 years ago | (#42375189)

It's been like this for a very long time. I remember playing with Lego when I was a kid- I had a box set with a big picture of a spaceship on the front. There were instructions for how to make the spaceship in the picture, as well as pictures of about 5 other spaceship designs with no instructions. You could make the one with the instructions, of you could try to make one of the non-instruction pictures, or you could go nuts and use the spaceshipy style blocks to make any futuristic structure you like.

Same went for some "submarine" themed sets, some "pirate ship" themed sets, etc. etc.

Not really newsworthy, is it?

As a proud uncle of a lego fanatic (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375199)

I can safely say that while all sets do come with directions, the bricks are still bricks and, once the main contraption is built, most are taken apart and the bricks are thrown into the 'misc' bucket and re-used at some later date.

There are some exceptions; I got him the Lego 42004 mini backhoe, and it's stayed together. Maybe half of the kits are put on static display like that. If you look at video of the 42004 then you'll see why; it is really quite ingenious.

One other big thing to point out in Lego's defense is their web efforts; they offer free Lego CAD software which, along with basic design in software, auto-generates instructions for building their creations, step-by-step instructions similar to what you'd see in an official Lego kit. More than that, kids can upload their creations to the Lego website and let others download them. Not only does that clearly encourage independent creation, it's shows kids how useful the Creative Commons model is :)

Last thing I'd point out: for families that can afford it, all serious lego roads eventually lead to Mindstorms, and that is even more encouraging of invention that basic Lego.

The authors are right; it is possible now to get a Lego kit, build by instruction, and exercise no imagination at all. But kids are kids and imagination comes naturally, so for me, I'm not worried.

I think it is a matter of perspective (1)

Whatah1 (2651417) | about 2 years ago | (#42375205)

This is not new; I used to build the pictured construct then "wreck it" and add the pieces to my collection while I had a friend who would built his models and then leave them assembled indefinitely.

I preferred the space series so I could build bigger and bigger ships, he liked the Robin Hood (Forrestmen) series because those kits looked really neat assembled and sitting on a shelf.

Now there's Minecraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375231)

Lego has outlived its usefulness anyhow. Minecraft has supplanted it as the ultimate sandbox building game, especially if you add in a couple mods.

Just dummed down for the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375233)

The licensed sets are more popular and have saved the company from going bankrupt. In most of their markets you can still easily find large boxes of bricks with no instructions if that's what your looking for.

Lego was not the ultimate do-it-yourself plaything (5, Informative)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 2 years ago | (#42375237)

That title must go to Meccano [] . With this you could build real things that worked and would not fall into bits at the first knock. With strips of metal held together with nuts and bolts you could create great things. I loved it.

Never had a box of bricks (1)

grumbel (592662) | about 2 years ago | (#42375245)

Back when I was a kid, some 25 years ago I never had an "open-ended" box of bricks, it was always sets of some fire station, police stuff, space ships, pirates or whatever with detailed instructions and all that. No different then what you have today. Some sets came with instructions to build different things from the same set, but that's about it as far as open-ended is concerned. Of course all those sets ended up being disassembled after they got boring and turned into something else, ultimately ending up in an open-ended box of bricks, but all those bricks started out as sets. And while you could just buy plain boxes of bricks back then, just as you can now, those didn't seem to be very widespread, I don't think I ever seen one in a regular store.

In defence of Lego... (4, Funny)

jkrise (535370) | about 2 years ago | (#42375247)

But today's construction sets ...invite users to follow detailed directions, not construct their own creations from whole brick...

Absolutely sensible approach. Today's child is growing up in today's environment, and will become a designer tomorrow. Today, if you create a design for which some idiot possesses a design patent, the latter will sue you for billions of dollars. If you have a brick with rounded corners, is glossy or black in colour, even God cannot save you from litigious thugs.The child needs to learn this lesson very early, and learn to 'behave' and 'obey' and 'conform' rather than be creative.

So Lego has researched and come up with designs which are not encumbered by prior art or patents; and given detailed instructions for kids to follow. 10 years from now, a design company would have about a 100 lawyers for every 5 designers. These lawyers would tell the designers exactly what to design, what not to design, and how not to be too successful and gain the wrath of patent holding Big Businesses.

I still think there is value (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375249)

When I was younger I was around at the beginning of the "lego sets" which are referenced above. Despite the fact that the majority of my legos came from these sets I think it's foolish to say that these sets hampered my creativity. First, building the lego set itself is a learning experience. Lego sets typically have many more types of pieces than the basic blue lego box and the instructions help teach good combinations of lego bricks to make interesting structures. Second, building the legos is only the first part of the imagination. Once I had the set built I of course would play with them - invent different worlds, make lego battles, etc. On occasion I would purposely "break" a piece of the lego set to simulate damage. I would have to figure out myself how to put it back together, and I did. Third, after building a good number of lego sets I had learned enough of the basic concepts that I began to experiment with putting things together without instructions. I would sometimes get new lego sets and never build them by the book, but rather just build something completely new. Just because the box comes with instructions on how to build something doesn't mean you have to follow it. After a while playing with legos I would say it's 50/50 whether I would build a new lego set by the book, or scrap the pieces and use them for whatever I wanted. Please note that the lego sets come with much "cooler" pieces from a kid's perspective and can actually encourage the imagination even more.

Still - this is just one late 20 year old's perspective and one is a poor dataset. Has anyone else had my experience?

We all outgrew them at one point or another (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375267)

It's every generations nature to think there's was better than what's now... music, cloth, tv, LEGOS, etc...

The sets back in the day had the same limitations, it depended on what you bought, I remember they released several new sets a year, some were large, some small, all had specialized parts and they didn't really mingle together color scheme wise (thinking back on that), but they were fun nevertheless, I think if you just want to build stuff without a manual they sell lego bricks by the bucket, or at least they used to. Most Lego "art" is built using such a bucket of bricks. Oh, we definitely didn't have lego art back in the day.

I complained about Lego limitations as a kid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375269)

I remember being angry as a kid because lego puts age-recommendations on the box. For example, some of the more Technic kits still indicate that its for age 12 - 16 , and I could have done plenty with it even at age 8. And the fact that my parents went along with it and refused to believe I was old enough to play with them just infuriated me even more. Those kits offer TONS of creativity!

Another complaint: I remember as a kid that the space-oriented lego sets (space stations, space ships, etc..) limit kids creativity to only space-oriented ideas of their own. They have to make dye with what they have, and would have a difficult time constructing a modern-day house using the same blocks because most of the pieces are oriented towards that kit.

The new MAKER generation is here (2)

MindPrison (864299) | about 2 years ago | (#42375271)

American kids (or any other kid for that matter) aren't as dumb and unintuitive as we may want to think.

Because of this, we have the "maker generation" today. These are kids of any age that build stuff out of anything they have laying around. What can be more creative than that? Lego is no different, except it was made with the very idea that you could make anything you want out of these building blocks. Just take a look at Lego Mindstorm to get an idea about what I'm talking about here. (And of course, google make magazine, and makers everywhere).

American kids are just as curious and impressive to me as they where back in the days where we used electronics kits to build stuff with. Many of the kids today make LEVELS for video games and that is just as creative or advanced as what we did back in our days. (I'm in my mid forties and grew up with Lego and Electronics).

Re:The new MAKER generation is here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375505)

American kids (or any other kid for that matter) aren't as dumb and unintuitive as we may want to think.

They're as dumb as they always have been. They'll grow up and support the TSA, Patriot Act, and other offtopic nonsense in an effort to trade freedom for security .

Idiotic article (1)

ildon (413912) | about 2 years ago | (#42375273)

Legos have had detailed instructions on building specific items in every set I've ever bought since the mid 80s. There's nothing inherently different about the licensed sets vs. the generic sets. They both give you exactly the pieces needed to build the thing on the front of the box, and license to do whatever you want with the pieces otherwise.

I Blew a Friend's Kid's Mind... (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 2 years ago | (#42375281)

I got an astounded "How did you do that?!" from a friend's kid a few years back, when I showed how to make a hinge I'd figured out how to make when I was 7 or 8. I found it works best if you use one of the thin Legos and snap just one dot in between two rectangles. The thin Lego will then freely turn and can be used for things like doors or rotatable spacecraft wings. Even back when they weren't so fancy, you could still do a world of things with them, you just had to figure out how.

On a slightly different note, I always thought the Mazda Miata looked a lot like the Lego cars I remember getting. I noticed the Miata usually comes complete with that bald Lego guy that you get with the Lego car, too, though the guy in the Miata usually has legs.

Father of a 2yr old daughter here..... (2)

Kr1ll1n (579971) | about 2 years ago | (#42375287)

We got her Mega Blocks when she was 1. They were just blocks, and a bucket. No promotional tie ins, no specialty sets. It amazes me watching her pull them out, and start building things that resemble our downtown, where I happen to work.

For Christmas, we went to get her the Mega Blocks for the 3-5 year old kids.
Toys R' Us only sold kits for things like Ninjago, Harry Potter, etc..etc.

Went to Wal-Mart and found that the plain old blocks in a bucket, with no promotional tie ins, were a Wal-Mart exclusive.

It is a sad state of affairs when you can't even get plain old blocks unless you go to Wally World.

Re:Father of a 2yr old daughter here..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375381)



Never had LEGO (3, Interesting)

ExRex (47177) | about 2 years ago | (#42375291)

My construction toy was an Erector Set, now long gone. These days Erector Sets in the US are rebranded Meccano sets.
Anyway, the thing about the Erector Set was that it not only exercised your imagination, as does LEGO, but it also exercised your manual dexterity, which LEGO does not. When you have to use little nuts and bolts to put things together you get good at manipulating small parts, which is excellent for improving hand-eye coordination, improving delicacy of touch and learning patience.
If you make things too easy for kids how are they to learn?

Betteridge's law of headlines (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375293)

No, it hasn't. [] Legos have always come with manuals, and kids have always been free to follow or ignore them. The only difference is that now the sets come with lots of specialized pieces that can't be easily repurposed, but there are still countless regular blocks that they can do whatever they want with.

A Higher-Margin Business (1)

big_remo (2800879) | about 2 years ago | (#42375343)

Lego still offers products that consist of a tub of nondescript bricks; I should know, as I bought a tub for a family member. Until they stop offering these and offer only licensed products, one cannot say that they are somehow in the wrong. The licensed products are likely more popular and more lucrative - of course they would try to milk these for all they can.

This arugment is old ... (1)

oshkrozz (1051896) | about 2 years ago | (#42375349)

I grew up with lego, yes when I was 7 I got my first set of little bricks that could ... when I was 8 I got set #575 the Coast Guard set .. it had ... one set you could build from the instructions (that was in 1978) it was just the start ... you built it, you got other sets you built cities, forts, mountain ranges transformers spaceships and so on the possibilities were endless. I myself had children and so I set to raise them with lego, Bionical came out and I looked at those sets scratched my head and thought what on earth can you build except what the instructions had ... so I didn't buy them at first and my boys went without until a fateful birthday party and they got a gift of one ... well I was proved very wrong, they created, they built and came up with spiders and monsters, giants and trucks with arms. Now there are so many options, you could buy the current trend (star wars, lord of the rings and so on) you can buy the box o bricks that is just a huge box of bricks you can even buy lego creator these sets have instructions for a few different models. Also you can buy the lego master builder that teaches kids how to really build in an a fun but educational way, they learn to build stability, realism, and structure in a set. Branding sets is not so much of a sell out as a step to creativity, it is what kids "want" but unlike the toy story action figures that sit in a box the lego harry potter sets that they got 4 years ago are now part of a space station and a giant mother ship with loading bays

Yes they did, yet not really (1)

JavaBear (9872) | about 2 years ago | (#42375351)

IMHO, the "sell out" to franchises were needed to attract the attention of the kids. And it is a great idea, because at first the kids do have to follow the instructions, sorta. But after that, they hopefully start experimenting, building bigger, and more complex structures and games.

Lego were in trouble, the franchises did indeed help save the company.

Just stay away from the branded Lego's (1)

PantherSE (588973) | about 2 years ago | (#42375357)

Just stick to Lego City or the other generic lego ones. Better yet, skip the boxes all together, pick up those cups that they have and start picking off the back wall. I personally think that gives you more bang for your buck.

The purpose of any business is to sell out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375377)

... and it seems Lego is doing the right thing:

If you (or your kids) want simple Lego-bricks, you can still buy them. Don't see any problem here.

Their patents expired (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about 2 years ago | (#42375379)

Lego "sold out" because their patents expired. Once their patents expired other companies (ie Mega Blocks) started making plastic bricks which where interchangeable with Lego blocks. Why should Lego compete on a product (generic brick) where their competitors are making the identical pieces for half the price. The expiration of patents are what brought us Star Wars Lego's and I for one love it, and find it a great reason to let IP expire.

It's about the parts! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375387)

I have a 4 year old.. he does it by the book the first time. Then about 2-3 days later it's stripped for parts...

We have Star Wars, Lego City, and Technical... they all become a mishmash of parts and he spends hours building his own ships!

My experience as a father (2)

wytten (163159) | about 2 years ago | (#42375399)

My 15 year old stopped with the legos about 3 years ago (I will always remember the day he had $20 of birthday money to spend and ultimately chose a CD instead)
At least in our house, after one of the fancy kits got built once, the instructions were promptly lost or eaten by the dog, and all the legos ended up in 1 giant bin. Then the real fun started (the creative part)

No, consumers have sold out (1)

robbo (4388) | about 2 years ago | (#42375401)

Lego would be bankrupt today if they were still just focused on generic sets. Today's kids need to have their imaginations spoon fed.

This started in the Mid 90s (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375409)

I do not think they "sold out" that much, but moved away from the model where they have "generic parts" (like a total of 100 or 200 types) which are used to construct all their models. You had grey parts for the spaceships and blue and white ones for the police sets, red ones for the firetrucks etc, but in general, it were the very same parts. (You just did not get wings with the firetrucks).

But somewhere around the mid 90s their models started to involve more and more "complicated" custom parts that more and more got bigger and as such replaced more of the generic parts. So instead of being able to "build everything" with your model, you were a bit limited to those 2 to 6 custom parts. You also got fewer generic parts with each models.
This went as far as entire sections of the underwater bases were pre-shaped as mountains on the ground-plates. Pure horror for creativity.

These days, lego is not much more comlicated than Playmobil or other pre-defined plastic shapes. The entire franchise-thing then only developed on top of that, but the trend had started with self-created space and underwater-themes way before the first Star Wars Lego came out (which was for Episode I at the end of the 90s). I think the franchised models are not bad in itself - the strong focus on those large pre-shaped parts is.
You can do one and only one thing with that molded nose of the spaceship (already 7 cm of the entire 23 cm model) and only one thing with that molded wing-area (another 8 cm of the entire model). You cannot use it to build a house (with sliding doors) or a fantasy car with 8 tires on each side or your ghostbusters-in-the-garden setup.

This article makes even my mod points redundant. (2)

BumpyCarrot (775949) | about 2 years ago | (#42375427)

This is the most ridiculous complaint I've ever heard. Greater variety in LEGO bricks? STOP IT NOW! EVERYTHING MUST BE RED 2X4!

I grew up with LEGO and I still regularly purchase, build and play in my late 20s. The new pieces are AWESOME. So are the new colours. Pick a brick and LDD make prototyping, buying and building your own creations a snap (though you have to manually generate a parts list these days). If that ain't enough to keep LEGO fun and interesting, trade in your kid.

Didn't RTFA because WTF.

A cheaper Mindstorm (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | about 2 years ago | (#42375511)

As others have said, Lego's had kits for decades. I was jealous of my cousin's off-road buggy kit from the mid 70s.

What I would like are less expensive computer-programmable and remote-activated pieces so that I can make those same buggies from the 70s but be able to control them via remote (or even via my phone with wifi!). Maybe to do a demolition derby sort of setup with my kids.

What are they talking about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42375513)

I had Lego sets with instructions nearly 30 years ago. This is nothing new. The writer and the submitter of this are obviously out of touch.

Is LEGO the problem, or retail stores, or kids? (1)

insnprsn (1202137) | about 2 years ago | (#42375515)

Honestly, I dont see this to be an issue.
I have 3 kids ranging from 11 to 4 who are very much into LEGOs.
My two daughters are into the LEGO friends sets, while all three enjoy the various Harry Potter and LotR sets as well ,havent quite got them sold on Star Wars yet:(, but in all cases, they build what the instructions say once, and then we never see that again. It gets broken down, and incorporated with the rest of their LEGOs.

So has LEGO sold out? They still have their original set series and assorted blocks, and options to create your own, and sets for the "billion-dollar franchises"
My kids truly enjoy building worlds with some of their favorite movies, using blocks or characters they can associate, but their creations are still original.

For Christmas this year each of my kids are getting a (small) LEGO set from one franchise or another, and a larger gift of 650 assorted blocks, no sets, no instructions, but we had to go online to get the latter.
I find Toys''R''Us to be less guilty of this, but most stores do not offer the LEGO original sets, or if they do its very small section on the shelves.

As for the kids, well i know mine enjoy LEGOs as they should, but for any kid who cannot do more than follow set instructions, their parents aught to throw away those instructions and teach their kids to enjoy imagination.

In my opinion, if there is any issue, it is in what stores choose to stock on the shelves.
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