So here's a bit of a long-winded editorial, and thus mainly opinion-based, but this is a serious question.
Basically, I was looking at some of the Hero Factory sets and even the new Bionicle sets, and I've noticed something curious about them: they're actually pretty good. HF sets aren't amazing, but they had an innovative new system that got refined as it went on.
So the sets have been getting better, but here's my problem: the story.
Lego's storyline for Hero Factory and, at least so far, Bionicle, have been lackluster at best. And worst of all, I'm going to go right out and say Hero Factory was a good concept. They had a large universe, plenty of characters that, with development, could have been very interesting, and heck, even some cool villains. But what they didn't have was detail. The characters were pretty underdeveloped, the storylines were uninspired and cliched, and they didn't really make the characters feel as unique as they easily could have been.
Now, this is where the usual "It's for kids" argument gets shouted. But let's look at stuff that's also for kids:
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Hobbit (Yes, the original novel was a children's novel)
Bionicle (Original Run)
Transformers (Specifically Prime and Beast Wars)
So, these are all stories from a variety of mediums that are, at their heart, "for kids." But what do they have in common? Detailed stories and universes. Avatar the Last Airbender has a lot of extreme detail. Even taking The Hobbit by itself, it's part of a large universe with lots of unique and detailed locations and fleshed out characters. Transformers Beast Wars and Prime both detail mythologies and histories for their characters.
And despite all these "complexities," kids still love them, and they make tons of money.
So this is where the titular question comes in: is Lego underestimating its audience? Transformers, Bionicle, and Pokemon are all very profitable franchises that have massive audiences. These complex storylines obviously sold well. Pokemon and Transformers are some of the largest grossing game and toylines respectively, and they have lots of detailed stuff behind them. So why does Lego keep simplifying its stories "for kids?"
In fact, I'm willing to argue that this simplification is detrimental to Lego's toylines. The complex settings for stuff like Avatar, Pokemon, and Transformers are what keep kids (and later collectors) coming back. They feel like they're a part of a bigger and alive universe, with its own unique mythos, characters, and way of doing things. By boiling down stuff to its simplest level, the universe feels boring, unreal. The world loses its sense of mystery and wonder, and becomes far less interesting to its target audience.
Kids are smarter than we like to think, and boiling a universe down to its simplest units just makes it uninteresting and dull to them. So is Lego underestimating kids by making these really uninspired stories? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Again, this is all just my opinion, but I think its worth discussing.
Exactly. A lot of people argue that G1 got too complicated, and lost its younger fans. I was one of those younger fans, and I kept up perfectly. It feels like Lego seems to be going with the "young 'uns are oblivious to everything unless its made absolutely clear to them" cliché, even though it really isn't true (in a lot of cases).
Alright. Before I get into this, I just want to let it be known (As people have been known to take these personally) that I am not aiming to personally attack anyone or anything. This is all my opinion.
For one, all of these stories do have more complex patterns. However, I find that with all of them, they have a premise that is very, very simple.
The Hobbit: Go on a quest to get back the stuff BIONICLE G1: Biomechanical robots with powers fight evil biomechanical robots with powers Transformers: Transforming robots fight evil transforming robots Pokemon: Find, catch and battle with animals that have superpowers
(I cannot speak for Avatar as I have not personally seen any of the episodes)
At the core of these stories is a simple narrative.
I know many people who watched these shows, read these books and played these games. (Me being one of them) They do have large and expansive universes with B-E-A-utiful lore. But, you have to dig. What sells the majority of these is how they are basically the same thing over and over. Pokemon is a game built around farming for mata Nui's sake, farming is repetition is farming. Even the show is the same stuff, episode after episode, season after season. It's quite egregious now that I look back on it. BIONICLE uses the same tropes and heroes and, really everything over and over.
The Hobbit is an exception here because it is just... Well, it's the Hobbit, what more can you say?
Another thing you have to consider here, what are the real demographics? How far into the stories do the majority of people get into?
The Hobbit is a great example. It was a book made for children that sold better among adults. Sure, kids read it too (I certainly did) but it did sell better with adults. You must also keep in mind the fact that it was published in 1937 which is an entirely different time from today, in terms of social maturity and, really far too many aspects for me to list here. And, believe it or not, the Hobbit's lore wasn't developed until Tolkien really decided to keep working on this world. He wrote the The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth. (These were finished posthumously) which were, essentially, lore. All lore. If we took a census of the people who read The Hobbit, how many of them would have even heard of these books?
BIONICLE is another example of this. Many older teens looked into the story, not the younger kids LEGO was actually marketing towards. Heck, it still requires some extensive digging to really be into the lore. The story was insanely complex near the end of BIONICLEs run which made it very hard to get into. I remember, I tried to get some of my friends into it in 2009. They had 0 clue what was going on, and I couldn't exactly explain it either.
Pokemon's lore requires even MORE digging. In fact, they don't really have that much lore (Okay, last time I checked it was 2012, but still) it's just a bunch of monsters you fight with. That's all you need. If there was some sort of over-arching, complex story between all those seasons with Ash, then I completely missed it because, again, it was really just the same exact episode structure repeated to death and beyond.
Now, here's a thing, you mustn't confuse a large story with a complex story. Simply because something has run for 10+ years, doesn't mean that it's a complex narrative. I'm positive that if you jumped into the Pokemon story right in the middle, you would have no trouble trying to figure out what's going on.
Transformers is something I really can't say much on, since it has been a decade since I regularly watched the show, and I only remember the first two seasons of the original show. However, I do know that it has had its fair share of generations, and that the first generation was very, very simple. Transformers is a complex franchise, and it has many facets to it. It has had several iterations which I would imagine makes it hard to really follow. (I call upon the mighty @Nyran to correct me if I'm wrong, because I'm probably being a large blasphmer ATM) I would like to see Hasbro's target audience to sit down and get really into the lore.
Simply because a franchise has a lot of lore, doesn't mean it's easily accessible lore.
What's more, people aren't looking for complex stories. People don't care, they just want their things. The majority of people simply do not even want tons of lore and complexities to get into. A kid, well, take one look at the way things are going (At least here in America) for kids. I am currently going to a STEM high school. There are more people here who don't know the difference between Their, They're and There, than there are people who love stories. Because they simply don't care.
LEGO isn't underestimating its fans, they're being realistic about them. If high schoolers in a nerdy school don't care about their education enough to make any effort, why would an 8-year old care about a complex story? BIONICLE doesn't need a complex story to sell because the majority of kids truly aren't that bright. I know I sound like a pessimistic little ******* but it's true. It genuinely surprises me.
Kids have the capacity to be smart, but they don't care about being smart. Kids don't care. In fact, most kids are repelled by the idea of a complex story. The nerd is still a minority, we have just learned to be louder, to seem like a majority, but the fact remains that many many people think of things that require any thought to get into, to be "nerdy" and "uncool."
LEGO isn't going to go through the trouble of setting up a complex story as the front driver for the franchise because it isn't worth it. They are still going to flesh out the story through the books, but those books aren't meant for the same people.
The only reason we know BIONICLE had a complex story in G1 is because we cared enough to look into it and become a part of it. Most people aren't like that.
So while I think that the stories are getting less complex, LEGO is not underestimating its fanbase. They're being very realistic about it.
Well, the way this goes is something along the lines of every new line, like, the live action movies, they're a new line, they're all in their own universe.
So, really, all you need to understand is one universe at a time in the multiverse. all the multiersal stuff is handled in the TCC(Transformers Collector's Club) Magazine, comics, and other EU stuffs.
The list of different "universal clusters" is as follows
Aurex—the Unicron Trilogy continuity family. Gargent—the GoBots continuity family. Malgus—the Animated continuity family. Nexus—the cluster where the TransTech world of Axiom Nexus resides. Primax—the Generation 1 continuity family. Quadwal—the "real world". Tyran—the live-action movie continuity family. Viron—the Robots in Disguise continuity family. Xobitor—the, uh, Robotix family. Yayayarst—the Go-Bots continuity family.
These Universal Clusters are then further divided into individual offshoot universes.
Hasbro, by simply making a new one every so often essentially create a reboot, while still keeping it in a sort of EU Meta continuity with the others, as in a number of stories, Multiversal Travel is a commonplace thing. Especially in Axiom Nexus.
Another simple, very generalized(with exceptions) way to put it:
I believe that what lego is trying to do is to make the story accesible to anyone who does not have acces to buy the books, since with G1 bionicle the only source of story outside the internet were the books and movies, and sometimes the books weren't available, or some of them got no translation to some languages such as spanish, I know this since my native tongue is spanish and back in the day I was never able to find any book in spanish that went past the 2004 storyline, and since the bionicle website is available in spanish I believe that the animations will eventually be dubbed to spanish, or will get at least subtitles. Does anyone knows about a site where I can read the IDW transformers series.
I have such an interesting background; from the school I go to, to the people I hang out with, people who aren't colloquially considered nerds are the minority. I mean, I go to a college prep school. Enough said there.
But I still understand that it is hard to get a product that appeals to everyone. If anything, I'd say Lego isn't underestimating their audience. They know that some kids just want toys that are easy to put together with a basic story to add imagination to. But they have the other side of people who aren't necessarily older, but want something more complicated. By going the 'basic' way, they don't necessarily do anything that really upsets or looses either audience.
And, Bionicle G2's been around for a MONTH. All the other lines people have mentioned have been around for years or decades. Seriously people, stop complaining about the story. I have no doubt that it will become more involved later on this year.
Before I get into my rant, I'd like to comment right here.
The comics are much better than the TV shows. That's why it's sad that not many read them.
Okay, now to the meat 'n potatoes.
Sooo... Toy lines for kids and their stories. So yeah, while Transformers is great and all, how many consumers actually bother to watch the show that gives the story for the current line. Many of the kids who buy the toys probably are influenced by their parent who watched the G1 show and played with the G1 toys. In fact, it really is the same with many of Lego's themes. It's what happened to the original Bionicle. The story of any theme is there to sell toys. If the story for toys doesn't help, then why have it? If you end the story, you discontinue the toy as well and start with something else. This is probably why kids could get into Hero Factory. As @Prehistoric_Echoes said, HF was actually an expansive universe. Kids could snap together their hero and have him fight evil-doers and protect others from monstrosities that the kid would build (which is why I liked HF a bit more than others). And it worked well for five years. Ninjago is a super-popular theme among Lego fans right now. Not only are the sets great, but if you look closely, the story gives a developed world that is easy to get into. Chima is, well, the concept is great, but it wasn't executed well so I won't go there. Although many Lego themes have these stories (some good, some bad), many kids just aren't getting into them. It was easy if you grew-up with Bionicle, but if you were an eight-year-old trying to step in at 2008, you had eight years of backstory to read in order to understand what the conflict is. You'd have to be a dedicated fan to be willing to spend that time. I've probably confused everyone right now, so I'm gonna go ahead and make my point. The current culture being steeped by society is one that expects everything to be handed to them. Sometimes kids expect the same, sometimes they go out looking for everything. The latter would love the old Bionicle and make his own story with HF. The former would just buy his toy then play on hi parents' iPad. The mindset of kids is changing, and in order to sell toys, Lego has to change to that. It's unfortunate, but not many kids like searching for the reasons why Brutaka looked great in 2006 then is described as mutated all of a sudden a year later. Things like The Hobbit have become classics among the culture. Some kids will grow up reading the books, others will stick to the movies. However I'm hopeful for the story of G2 Bionicle. I really think that Lego will head towards the grandeur of the original run. Keep in mind, the story has been coming out for only 22 days now. Let's not put the cart before the horse when it comes to Bionicle.
I don't think you can criticize the Bionicle G2 Story yet for being to simple seeing as none of the novels have been released yet. Plus it's only January there's still 11 more months until the end of the year the story could really pick up by then. Only at the end of the year will I make my decision about how I feel about the story.
I have no doubt that Bionicle will develop to become its own thing as it goes on. Likely to the extent where we get one heavily inspired technic set per wave (Lord Of Skull Spiders being an example of what to expect)
Easiest way to tell the progress will be to compare the Summer 2015 sets to the Winter 2015 sets and see the general transition of parts.
As for the story, I do believe Lego is underestimating the audience and dumbing down the story, likely intentionally as to catch new fans at a very young age and thus target more people.
Sets lacking proper names is an example of this such as 'Mask Maker', 'Skull Grinder', 'Skull Slicer', 'Skull Scorpio', 'Lord Of Skull Spiders', 'Skull Spider', etc... as it keeps the story more simply and easy to get into for fans.
I'm not going to go on some huge rant and ramble about this, everyone else here beat me to it, but I'd just like to add,
the first arc of BIONICLE G1 was just as simple as G2,
at least G2 has a concrete lead in, other than "god-ish guy get's knocked out by his brother-son-guy and six heroes show up from space and start fighting animals, because the evil guy is controlling the animals, also villagers and elders or something, and ~mystery~"
now it's "two brothers knock each other out and six heroes are called down from space by the village elders, and start fighting animals, because the evil guy is controlling the animals(probably), also villagers or something, and ~mystery~"
or, as I see it, even more simply put:
G1"heroes show up to wake up good sleeping guy, save villagers in the process"
G2"heroes show up to save the villagers, and wake good sleeping guy in the process"
I still dont see any sets in my country and I hear that people have a trouble finding them in their stores where they are already released. I think they underestimate our love of Bionicle and our willingness to shut up and give our money.
As for the story, what Kahi said in the podcast is quite wright. They just arent promoting it as well as they should and not in the way they should (story is tied in this aka no MNOG world building).