Why didn't Bionicle tap into the Transformers niche?

So, a good portion of Bionicle fans are probably somewhat familiar with Transformers as well. But one question that has been quite a lot in mind recently is why didn’t Bionicle tap into the same market as Transformers? Strange as it may seem, it seems like Bionicle kind of created a niche of its own instead of tapping into an existing one.
The similarities between Bionicle and Transformers are too much to ignore, yet I barely ever seem the being discussed around the community. I remember back in 2010 when I got my first Bionicle sets, a guy who was visiting our family saw our sets and asked “Cool Transformers, what do they transform into?” Or something like that. I am honestly not surprised that someone who is unfamiliar with Bionicle might mistake them for some sort of Transformers.
I am also quite surprised LEGO has never attempted any sort of “Bioformers” of any kind at any point, and it had to be the fans to came up with MOCs of that type. I mean, let’s be real… Transformers that you can actually build, take apart, rebuild, and transform sounds like an incredibly versitle idea for a Toyline… yet LEGO never expressed any sort of interest in that at any point.
Which is quite strange, considering LEGO does have somewhat of a reputation for being trend followers instead of trend setters. I mean, let’s be real, Dimensions and Brickheadz were pretty much just their version of Skylanders and Funko Pops.

I don’t know, this topic just really fascinates me, and I am really curious what you guys have to say about it.


I would assume they’d get sued or something


Can you elaborate? I don’t see any besides the fact that they are fictional alien robotic characters that fight each other

Well, I feel like you answered your own question in the next sentence:

If you were the Lego company, would you rather find a niche with no competition and completely dominate the market (basically what they did with bionicle) or tap into a niche of transformers and compete with Hasbro of all things, who is far more experienced with making transforming toys and has been doing that for many years? The answer is pretty obvious, I think.

It also has something to do with the fact that Lego is not made for complex transformation gimmicks. Of course there are people who are able to pull that off: ixrolloutix, StudentScissors and aranobilis98, for example, are great at building transformers (that actually transform) out of system. The problem is that MOCs like these are very fragile and fiddly by design and that goes against Lego’s policy of producing stable toys that are fun to play with.
As for bioformers, well, there are two ways you could go and both wouldn’t work for Lego sets: the builds are either too complex or nothing locks in place, which would make them bad transformable toys.

Like, can you imagine something like this as a set:

(MOC by DrscorpionX)

Very unlikely…

Also, regarding this:

I think that it barely has anything to do with Bionicle being similar to Transformers (I, personally don’t see many similarities). It’s more about “average” people calling all fictional robot like characters “transformers”.

Like, if you ask an average non-nerd person what those are:

You’ll most likely get the answer: “transformers”

None of them is, by the way…


Well, funny enough, I did manage to make a MOC that is small, designed in a set-like fashion, can transform, and is just as stable as any regular set:

If you ask me, this would work just fine as a LEGO set.

Well, on the flip side, the fact that Bionicle was such an isolated niche is also what kinda contributed to its downfall. Giving it a wider appeal to targeting both new people and people interested in robots/Gundam/Transformers in general would have probably been a better long-term strategy in my mind. I think appealing to as wide an audience as possible is the key to any successful franchise, but what do I know, I am no marketing expert.


I mean technically the third one is.


Did you just mistake a Gundam for a Transformer?! Are you crazy?!

Shoot, I knew that Unicorn was gonna be a bad example…
I made a fool out of myself again…
Uh… you saw nothing… imagine a Sazabi there


I think you’re forgetting the majesty that was Neoshifters (…NEO Shifters? NeoShifters?) and its lasting cultural impact :wink:


Too much competition. Plus no one will take Makuta seriouslly since DJD and Overlord are a thing


I actually have an opposite opinion on that.
The fact that Bionicle was unlike Transformers/Gundam/any other sci-fi franchise about giant robots was one of the reasons why it lasted for so long. The fans of said franchises would find Bionicle appealing and worth getting into because it was so unique and different from the things they already love. And, if it had been similar to those franchises, they would have treated Bionicle as “another Transformers ripoff” or “another Gundam ripoff” and wouldn’t buy it. Take Monkey Kid as an example. Many Ninjago fans treat it as a Ninjago ripoff, even though it isn’t.
Or, at least, that’s how I see it. I’m not a marketing expert either.


While a few more transforming sets would’ve been nice sure I feel like it kinda falls into that fatigue of just calling every robot toy a transformer. We could argue all day whether they should’ve gone broader but good or bad bionicle was different enough to stand out unlike the early transformers G1 robot toy boom.


This is a question I’ve wondered about a lot. I actually used to identify as a child, and my knowledge of what children think is that I always really wanted Lego sets that would transform.

The fact that Lego hasn’t gone farther is surprising, given that it’s not like Lego hasn’t flirted with transformation gimmicks before.

Anyone remember Alpha Team: Mission Deep Freeze? I think it’s the closest that Lego came to a transformation-themed wave. All of the vehicles have a secondary mode, marketed as an Alpha Mode. For instance, the Ice Blade:

becomes a helicopter:

Not all of the transformations were very complex (this is probably the best of them, and even here you end up with quirks like laughably short rotors), but I think it was a really cool (pun intended) idea. And that was back in '04.

Early on, it kind of felt like Lego was exploring transformation themes in Bionicle too. The Bohrok are the best example - the ball form was actually very well executed - but the Vahki actually used the word transform in their marketing.

Even as an adult, transformation was probably my favorite thing about some of the Hidden Side sets (of which I as an adult bought nearly the entire first wave), and I don’t even play app games.

If I had to guess, I think that Lego probably dummies out more elaborate transformation gimmicks because they tend to increase the complexity and fragility of sets that host them. They probably also take more time (and by extension, money) to design and implement. Still, that’s hardly insurmountable. I think if Lego ever really wanted to go headlong into transformation, they would probably do well to introduce some specialized parts that better facilitate it, which is, again, a cost concern (even though I think it would pay dividends down the road).

Legal issues shouldn’t be a major concern, because Hasbro does not and legally cannot own a monopoly on the mere concept of transforming toys. Lots of toy companies do it (and like I said, Lego has flirted with the concept). Heck, Hasbro has even tried to ape Lego before - anyone remember Kre-O? I actually liked Kre-O in theory, though not enough to buy them, but always felt certain that Lego could do it better. In any case, transforming Lego toys shouldn’t be treated as a rip-off if Lego just does it with sufficient creativity and originality.

Bonus fact: You’ll notice that Hasbro uses the word “convert” a lot in its toy packaging, rather than transform. Paradoxically, this is to defend their trademark on the word “Transformer.” If Transformer were a mere descriptor of what the toys do, it would be legally difficult to maintain as a trademark because it would far too general, so Hasbro maintains that it is the proper name of the race of alien robots. Therefore, the thing that they do is not transforming, it is converting.


Akamai should transform into a forklift.


I feel like the combo models and alternative builds were the closest they came to it.

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Eh, I wouldn’t consider the Unicorn a transformer. The modes, while different, are still both humanoids and retain the same general shape. Just my opinion tho


I agree with everything NOTaHFfan said, especially this:

And in regards to Bionicle’s “downfall,” Bionicle was a massive success. Sure, it eventually stopped selling, but at that point, it had already made Lego a huge amount of money, plus it ran for like 10 years, which for an original Lego IP was unheard of. So I think it’s really weird to talk about the original concept as if it was a failure.

They did pursue this niche with Exo-Force and later themes, like Ninjago. And in terms of long term strategy, it’s been 20 years since they launched Bionicle, and Lego is doing phenomenally, so… yeah.


Akamai should transform into Halo Reach forklift or bust


I mean…there are some Lego knock-off brands that make Transformers, not to mention the Construct Bots. Years ago,my brother got a buildable Megatron figure that honestly wouldn’t have looked out of place among a Bionicle display.


If you’re gonna be like that, the fourth one would also count.

I would kill to have this beauty released as a set.


LEGO wanted to make their product better than Hasbro’s. Your robots can swivel their body parts around? Big whoop. Our robots are fully modular. You can modify body proportions and faces. You can design your own functions. You can do whatever you can do with Transformers but better.