Could Lego Return To Its Roots?

I know the title is kinda confusing, so let me explain. Many people (at least, people on the TTV Message Boards) have leveled criticism at Lego for feeling really repetitive in recent years. Like, licensed themes and the cash cow that is Ninjago have really taken over the face of Lego. They’ve tried to create more original themes like Nexo Knights, Hidden Side, and Monkie Kid, but they all seem to be quickly consumed. But many people pine for the old days where Lego had a variety of themes-Bionicle, Exo-Force, Agents, Power Miners, Adventurers, Aqua Raiders, Atlantis, Pharaoh’s Quest…the list keeps on going. There were licensed themes back in those days, but it never felt like anything was trying to replace anything else.

Only…that’s kind of what has happened. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I’ve concluded that the 2014-2016 time period was where Lego started to get to the state it’s in now. Like, the early 2010s were a continuation of this trend of varying original and licensed themes coexisting. Ninjago and Superheroes felt like just normal, run-of-the-mill themes that would come and go like everything else did. But then after Ninjago was un-cancelled, its popularity somehow seemed to increase even more. And the licensed themes…with the growing popularity of the MCU, and Star Wars getting a resurgence in popularity with the new movies and TV series, that didn’t do any harm to the licensed themes.

But now it feels like City, Ninjago, Star Wars, Superheroes, and now Harry Potter are all there are. We’ve still got Monkie Kid, but that just feels like a side show. So…is it possible that Lego could somehow phase out all these licensed themes, and wind down Ninjago to put it to bed like they did with Bionicle? I’m honestly not sure. Marvel and Star Wars are getting lots and lots of new projects in the next few years, and with Ninjago, it’s really hard to tell when/if it will end. Even if Lego does manage to put all these themes to an end and bring out an onslaught of new, original themes, I don’t think it’ll happen for a while still. :frowning:

Thoughts?

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I, personally, don’t want ninjago to end. It’ll basically be how bionicle ended for you guys. But I agree, there should be more original themes these days.

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General Disclaimer

Going to preface this by saying I really don’t know jack about LEGO, its business models, how well it’s doing financially, etc. I’m a BIONICLE fan on a forum that’s having a resurgence of official-enough BIONICLE content. So if there are any glaring factual errors I make about LEGO as a company, that’s where they’re coming from.

LEGO is… very weird. As a company, as a product, as a plaything, it exists in a very strange position; respectably said, it’s certainly made a niche for itself. Because, the majority of people who buy LEGO are fans of LEGO. I realize that sounds very intuitive, baseline blindingly obvious, even. Let me explain.

Let’s say you’re mainly a fan of Star Wars. Not super hardcore nerdy about it, but you certainly like it well enough that you want some Star Wars figures and models, make a bit of a collection of it. Now, as a relatively casual fan of Star Wars, you’re looking for fairly accurate representations of the characters or vehicles you like. For instance we’ll say you want a figure of Captain Rex. So you go to Amazon to find a figure of him, and you come across two products: Hasbro Black Series Captain Rex for about $20, and LEGO AT-TE that has a mini figure Rex for about $50. Which one are you more likely to buy? The Hasbro toy, of course. It’s the character you actually want, for cheaper, without all the extra stuff you really don’t care about.

9 out of 10 times, non-LEGO fans will go for the non-LEGO representation of that character or vehicle or what have you. The 1 time that doesn’t happen is because they’re already, to some capacity, a fan of LEGO. Maybe they’ve stuck with it their whole life, or maybe they had a handful of sets as a kid and they’re looking to get back into it. Either way, as I see it, LEGO’s business model is predicated on either kids getting into LEGO early and sticking with it, or pre-existing fans staying fans and buying their products in perpetuity. It doesn’t appeal to the general public except in a token fashion.

And again, in all respect to LEGO, they’ve done an excellent job of making a niche for themselves. They’ve cornered the market on buildable, not-exact facsimiles of playsets and characters and vehicles. But, the way I see it, they’ve backed themselves into the corner of that being the only thing they can do. Straying away from that business model, even in some small way, will inherently be disastrous.

Now, take that conceit and apply it to their two macro-lines: IPs and licenses. IPs appeal only to LEGO fans, while licenses appeal to LEGO fans and fans of that particular license. Admittedly it might only be a very small subset of fans of that license that would buy a LEGO set of the license, but that’s still more people buying that licensed product than would buy the IP product.

Yes, technically LEGO could dump all their licenses and invest all that money into IPs, but if that doesn’t outright bankrupt them within a few years, then at the least they’ll never again be as big as (I assume) they are at the moment. For LEGO, the financially viable, financially lucrative business model is the licensing route that they’ve taken. Frankly, whenever Ninjago ends (because I honestly can’t see it being an evergreen theme forever like Transformers or My Little Pony seem to be), I think that will be the end of the big LEGO IP themes. There’ll still be smaller IPs that come and go after a year or so, maybe some that will last three years, but that’s it.

Again, I’m just some mook on the internet that doesn’t know nothing about anything. But that’s the way I see things.

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Well, that’s kind of what I’m getting at.

Back in the day, there were IPs and licenses that coexisted, and Lego seemed pretty well off. Licensed themes are not inherently bad: it’s the fact that they’re all Lego has to offer. And when Ninjago ends…there probably will end up being another big story-based IP somewhere down the line, but there’s nothing wrong with having shorter-lived IP themes. That’s what I think so many people liked about the pre-licensed themes era. There was a wide variety of IPs, many of which were imaginative and well-made, and never outstayed their welcome. That way, it kept us guessing about what might come next. So Exo-Force just ended? Hm, I wonder what comes next? Another mecha theme? A jungle adventure one? A futuristic sci-fi theme? Back then, we could never be certain what Lego had up their sleeves.

But now…we absolutely can. The 2022 leak season is starting, and nobody is surprised by anything. There’s oversized motorcycles for Ninjago and superheroes, and more Star Wars stuff that seems mostly OT-focused (who the **** wanted a UCS Landspeeder?), more City Police stuff, more Ninjago dragons, more superhero mechs…in other words, the same stuff we’ve been getting every year.

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no!
don’t tell me in the 3 days i haven’t been on lego.co.uk they
announced the my little pony theme?!

As much as I personally don’t really care for most of their products currently available, I’ll be lying if I said going back to their roots will make them continue to grow, especially now. Back in the day, they used to be a lot more of an “independent” friendly neighborhood toy company, just doing their own thing. But now, because they have grown so much, so has their corporatization. Their current CEO seems ridiculously stressed out because they constantly need to grow each year more than the previous one. But, to be fair… what’s the point in growing any further? They already pretty much hold the monopoly in the toy industry. If they keep wanting to grow so much, they’ll eventually become just like Disney… another soulless megacorporation that only cares about profit.
Their latest financial report revealed that their profits have grown with +36% more compared to last year, mostly because of their recent new “Adult” line of sets, which, for better or worse, seem to resonate with the people they are targeting. I couldn’t care less about those products myself, but if they’re profitable, of course they’ll keep making them over what we, dedicated fans of LEGO themes, would prefer to see.
From their perspective, now that they’ve successfully branched into the “Adult” market, and those people seem to have enough disposable income to spend 150$ on a LEGO replica of a shoe, why should they go back? Why risk appealing to kids, whose budgets are limited and interests change as fast as lighting, when they’ve already got a established audience that will buy every random “Adult” thing they put out?
Sadly, I think it is already too late to go back. Unless maybe the oversaturation of this new market starts making them to loose profits, I don’t think they’ll go back to what they were 10 years ago any time soon. Granted we might still see the occasional experiment like Monkie Kid whenever they try expanding into a new market or test a new phone gimmick, but those will probably be few and far between.

There might still be a little hope with the World Builder platform, but honestly, after my Pirates of Arvodia project got taken down just because I wasn’t 18 years old yet, I wouldn’t have much faith in that either.

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No doubt because they’ve capitalized on the success of the licensed themes such as Star Wars and Marvel. Again: I don’t take any issue with the themes themselves. My problem (and many other people’s problem) is that they seem to be taking control of Lego.

…and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why. I can kind of understand having a Lego model of some fancy car, but an Adidas shoe, of all things? Who on Earth was chomping at the bit to see Adidas get the Lego treatment?

And that’s actually another thing that seems to be taking over Lego: the nonstop models of large, non-minifig-scale cars.

Gee, I dunno. Maybe because Lego is a TOY COMPANY?

And that’s another thing: it seems like everything has to have an accompanying app to it. Ultra Agents did it, Hidden Side did it, Vidiyo did it. Even the Super Mario sets-the starter course set didn’t even come with instructions. You had to access them from an app.

From. An. App.

Does Lego has any idea how stupid of an idea that is? As widespread as technology is now, there’s a chance that a kid that the set is aimed at doesn’t have a phone or iPad (I know some people from church that absolutely refuse to buy their kids any kind of electronic/video game device). So if they get this set that doesn’t come with any instructions, they’re just gonna have a pile of Lego pieces that they have no idea how to assemble. Also, what if the app gets taken off of the app store? Uhhhhh.

Perhaps, but that program actually kind of worries me. The fact that they’re asking fans to pitch their own ideas for original IPs…could that mean Lego themselves is running out of ideas? And maybe that’s a contributing factor in the rise of licensed themes and rehashing of Ninjago?

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i wanted Lego drip…

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LEGO is a physical toy, which, sadly, in this day and age, is seen as an expensive substitution for videogames or mobile devices. Making the instructions digital seems completely counter-intuitive to me.
I did buy one of the Mario sets on clearance, and didn’t even bother building it because it had no physical instructions… I just dumped all the parts in my LEGO box and called it a day.

Oh, don’t worry, they’ve run out of ideas years ago. Ever since Ninjago’s un-cancelation they’ve either dumped all their (limited) ideas into Ninjago, or just tried and failed to recapture the success of Ninjago, instead of attempting something completely new and unique.
On one hand, I am happy that they give us, the fans, and opportunity to submit our own ideas to them, but even if we successfully do, I feel like the 50-year old executives working at LEGO will still find a way to screw it up. I’d say that’s another one of their big problems… They seem to have no idea why some of their themes are successful and why others fail.

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Oh wow that’s a bummer, I did not know that happened.

This post might just be my new personal record for longest ramble post

This is a fascinating topic to me as a fan of Lego as a whole. First off I would agree with @LegoDavid and all the statements so far, Lego is too far gone to go back now. AFOLs can spend more money and time on Lego so TLG will keep investing money into said market and yes that means more licensed sets banking on nostalgia or mainstream pop culture and movements and more expensive sets.

As a collector of vintage Lego however, to say “return to it’s roots” is different than what @thewimpykid says when he mentions Atlantis etc. I grew up with both 80s and 2000s Lego so I feel like I can speak of those two “roots.” And what it would entail attempting to return.

The 80s was simple. Town, it appealed to girls and boys, no emphasis on cars or emergency services. Plenty of house sets, a pretty steady flow of diverse set ideas and the Idea books showcase the potential of Lego at the time.
Space was simple exploration, no guns, only flashlights and video cameras and sets with probes, laboratories and mining equipment. Later space developed factions but initially there was no baddie barring aesthetics *cough Blacktron but still no story has handed to you initially.
Castle is an interesting one as it’s inherent conflict was the first blurring of Lego’s values, however it still had no particular goodie or baddie and had several neutral sets. Endless play potential.
Pirates when it came along was controversial having guns, artillery and well, being about criminals on the high seas. Still it was another theme with diverse play potential.

Now, into the later 2000s circa 2005 the same archetypes are repeated with perhaps more emphasis on conflict and the first forays into licensing with Spider Man and Batman etc. I love Mars Mission, Power Miners, Dino Attack, Atlantis, Aqua Raiders, Space Police III, Fantasy Era Castle, Knights Kingdom, all of that stuff. But we did see a gradual progression of simple more grounded themes not doing persisting. Less children relate to space as “We’ve grown use to wonders in our century” space is no longer interesting, castle and pirate the same. Why? Perhaps juniorising of these subjects, Pirates is a shocker as it is perceived as a little kid idea but is a fairly brutal piece of history. Yet it has become ordinary and boring. Castle, many cannot relate to and why bother when a video game can hand a detailed story to you? Lastly Space has become ordinary as we’ve remained grounded, with progress being slow in said frontier and once again why care about science and exploring when you can have a plethora of video games that provide immersive worlds and instant gratification along with conflict?

So Lego cannot return to the simple “create your own story, build anything with what you have” idea as the internet and video games is it’s primary competition. That is basically the point of this ramble. I love Minecraft and to a lesser extent Roblox, those two games fill the same space Lego inhabited for many kids. Roblox is free and offers a catalogue of games and Minecraft for the cost of one moderate sized Lego set has a infinite world with action and creative potential. And both of those games offer social opportunities and story telling scenarios. When compared with these or other games, Lego does not have much of a one up over them.

Lego, is not a story telling company, Bionicle and Ninjago are exceptions that they got lucky with thanks to exceptional hired people. They rely on their iconic status at this point, that people will buy Lego because it is a Lego, it is a rite of passage for a child to own some Lego. I’ve observed second hand Lego being sold and there is an increasing trend for children to grow out of Lego by age eight. I see bulk lots with sets from 2019 being sold. So Lego is going to go with what sells and they found Space, Castle, Pirates and even more mundane City sets to not sell. It may have been partly flawed execution on their part with the last examples of each range being rather dull but it has driven them to go with what works whether that be brands like Marvel or the evergreen Ninjago with it’s motifs borrowed from all those dead ranges.

So can Lego return to its roots?
One cannot be absolutely certain but if we look at events after 2014 I think it will not be returning to it’s “roots” any time soon. Children seem not interested in “make your own story” type mediums or at least ones which they cannot experience first person. Afols will continue to buy big sets and licensing, we will continue to get a steady flow of tribute sets to the themes of the past but little more than that I think. Lego will lean more into the hipster nerd market and grab more licenses. Kids growing up now are simply already invested in established stories like marvel not a simple story like Atlantis or Power Miners. Those 2 to 3 year themes can hold some children’s attention and can be somewhat successful but it is a lot of effort to design a new range and cycle through them. They could go back there if they really wanted. But they will wait for something to break before they go back that formula. Another thing which they can still do is make City appealing to a broader group, they can still move the emphasis from emergency services and vehicles. I believe that would be a successful move. So City can return to it’s roots but the other themes are much less likely.

Once again the future is not clear so perhaps they will try another Chima or Nexo Knights and it will stand next to Ninjago for a time being.

:cookie: for those who read this entire disjointed ramble of my nostalgia blinded self! :crazy_face: :dizzy_face: :poop:

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if lego were to return to it’s roots,
all i would want is a story theme.
any story, any original story,
that’s not ninja based.
don’t get me wrong, ninjago is
pretty cool, but i want to see something
new and fresh.

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I can relate to this a lot. My two youngest brothers, aged 10 and 12, just recently shocked me when they said they plan on selling their Bionicle/Hero Factory collection in order to buy a better laptop. All my brothers used to be huge LEGO fans, buying tons of Bionicle and Hero Factory stuff, often much more than I got to get. They didn’t MOC with them as much, but they certainly played very much with them for quite a while. They used to just take them all off shelves, put them on the ground, and have a huge battle scenario (often to my dismay, me having to clean up after they were done). But they haven’t done this in a while, and while when they first said they want to sell them, I was socked, thinking about it now, it should come as no surprise. Both of them basically spend all their free time playing Roblox (not just playing, but they also have a passion for creating their own Maps in Roblox Studio, so there’s your LEGO substitution), so at this point, all their LEGO stuff just stays on the shelves, taking up all their space. I offered to buy it from them (the thought of LEGO sets that have been in our house for years suddenly being given to someone else kind of pains me) but the amount they ask for them is pretty insane… So I better get to saving my money if I want to save all those sets, lol.

Yeah, as it turns out, it is obligatory for the users of the platform to be at least 18 years old. This seems incredibly stupid to be, because as far as I am aware, most people who are into original LEGO themes are actually people in the 13-25 age range. It seems like this is for legal reasons, but what is weird is that LEGO Ideas, which works in a similar way, allows users to submit ideas even if they are 16. So this is all super weird to me.
It’s like they’re expecting professional adults who work in design or something to give them ideas… which is just… wrong. LEGO has always been more or less a nerdy hobby, so at best you should be expecting a bunch of nerdy kids to come up with those ideas… not some professional college students.
Well at the very least, they still said I can re-join and re-submit to the platform once I turn 18, which will be in about a year. So not everything is lost I guess, but by the time I turn 18, I probably would have already blown my chance to get my theme bought by LEGO. And given some of the recent company choices that have happened since I made my project, I am not sure I can even trust them with my creative talent, knowing that my idea might as well be just exploited by a greedy corporation whose main interest is profit, not creative storytelling.

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All companies are this way. It’s a rude awakening. Let it radicalize you

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You know what else is missing from Lego these days? Alt builds and combiners. Lego used to encourage them a LOT, but late into the 2000s, they kinda gave up. Exo-Force shows this dropoff in an almost cartoonish fashion: in 2006, EVERY set had an alt build. The very next year, there were far fewer alt builds, and by '08, there were NONE.

What this tells me is that Lego, at this time, started to move away from a part of their brand they’d previously marketed more heavily. It became less about encouraging kids to come up with their own ideas by starting them off with alt builds and combiners, and more about selling a prepackaged idea of what the set should be. And I think that’s the same vein in which licensed themes have taken over: it’s about selling Lego as a toy of something in particular rather than Lego itself.

Part of that is change in Lego itself, part of it is just how business has changed in a more media-saturated landscape. Corporations are turning more and more to familiarity as marketing in all media, and it’s clearly working. Selling something new requires a higher marketing budget than selling something people have already bought. Combine that with the out-of-touch mindset of a room full of old men who have never consumed any media in their entire lives, and you have a recipe for artistic stagnation.

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they consume lego media, don’t they?
it’s like cooking for yourself, creation, then consumption.

Even though everyone on these boards and everywhere else is constantly repeating:

Bionicle G2 didn’t fail because “kiDs ThEse DAyS Don’T lIKe bIoNIcle!” It failed because it was poorly executed and not very well marketed!

And that’s another thing: people like to say Ninjago gets repetitive, but it’s got nothing on City. Every year we get a nonstop barrage of police-related sets. Police cars/chases, police stations, police helicopters…ugh. Sometimes they try to mix things up with “mountain police” or “sky police,”* but ultimately it’s just the same thing over and over again. And somehow every year feels even crappier than the last.

*What’s next? Volcano police?

Perhaps not, but a lot of the themes I’m talking about weren’t exactly that. They had established characters and worlds for kids to make use of. Like, think about it. Star Wars and Harry Potter are preestablished themes with preestablished stories and characters. Kids can buy the Lego sets and reenact those stories-or they can make up their own stories with these characters. Other current themes like Ninjago and Monkie Kid do that too-creating their own stories and characters kids can play around with. And it doesn’t even have to have an “epic plot,” either. Remember Power Miners, how it had its own characters with their own personalities, but next to no real story? That was because it was creating a world for kids to explore.

I know those themes don’t sell as much as we (or possibly Lego) would like, but I’d really like to see another take on these. Maybe the 90th anniversary set can give us hope?

I remember when I was a kid, I used to try and build some of these “alternate models.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to figure out how to build them-but maybe I’m just stupid. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Most of the time, the instructions were on Lego’s website, which sadly limited accessibility.

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At least, the Exo-Force ones were. And some of the early Harry Potter sets had partial instructions for alternate builds. But other than that, I don’t know of any “official” instructions for any other theme’s alternate builds.

EF had more alt models than a lot of other themes (pretty much every '06 set had one), but those themes saw a similar dropoff in combiner models. Bionicle exemplifies this: tons of combinations got instructions in the early years, but from '03-'06, there were fewer and fewer combo models, and by the time of the Inika, there weren’t even partial instructions for combiners across the various canister sets.

This wasn’t some universal phenomenon across every theme, but it was a neat thing Lego encouraged which briefly flourished before being confined to the pages of the official magazines and the odd set of instructions on the website.

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As someone who is only in for the parts, I hope we get more licensed themes. Licensed themes are the reason we get the same character in at least three different scales, resulting in more variety in parts. Characters like Boba Fett get to be minifigures, brick statues, torch lights, ccbs figures etc. Though this same argument can be applied to unlicensed themes like KKII where you get minifig scale and constraction scale, LEGO is far more likely to do this with licensed characters due to perceived consumer popularity.

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