Okay, so to preface this, grew up in the 2000s-early 2010s, so if you like you can write all of this off as just the ramblings of a nostalgic “Old man” that doesn’t like change.
In many ways lego has begun to feel… hollow, to me. Now, this can obviously be explained by “You’re just not interested anymore!” and in a way, yeah, I am, but not for the reasons that you would think. I would also wager I’m not the only one who does.
In many ways, modern lego (by modern I mean, post 2016-2017 or so) simply has lost its appeal to me. Before anyone says I’m just nostalgia blind, I find the 20th century sets (man that’s weird to say) to appeal greatly to me as well. M-tron, Knights Kingdom 1, Aquazone, all of that appeals to me just as much as say, mars mission or Fantasy-era Castle. I never even saw those sets as a kid, let alone played with them or had any emotional attachment to them. The reasons for this are not going to be what many think I’m going to say: no it’s not a lack of story themes, or a lack of what I in particular want, no I think the reasons why is that lego feels, in many ways, like it’s phoning it in.
Now, what do I mean by this? Let me explain. When I say phoning it in, I don’t mean the builds are lazy, incompetent, or not creative. Not at all, in fact I find many of the sets mind-bogglingly impressive in what they can accomplish. No, what I mean is that lego no longer needs to try with it’s branding and themes, it no longer has put in the effort to make sure things will be a success.
Let’s elaborate upon this. Now, many lego themes are lego’s ‘version’ of a given idea. Agents/Alpha team was its take on superspies, Space was well, sci-fi in general, etc. but now, lego has the licenses to many of those properties. It doesn’t need to come up with its own take on sci-fi, they have star-wars now, they don’t need to come up with their own spies thing, they have mission impossible (if they ever take the time to use it).
Notice how, whenever Star Wars released a movie since they acquired the liscense, space disappeared for a little while? The last space set from the original, contiguousrun of space since the 70s was Life on Mars. When did it release? 2001, and the first space theme after that was Mars Mission, which began in 2007. What happened in the meantime? The Star Wars prequels. From 1999-2005. The last space theme so far was Galaxy Squad, and what happened not 2 years after it’s release? The first of the Sequels, and Star Wars has not slowed down since.
Simply put, lego doesn’t need to put in any of the effort, they don’t need to put in the work to develop, market, and sell their own themes beyond Ninjago and Monkie Kid, and those are both such monolithic entities in their respective markets, and they don’t step on any licensed toes. There’s a reason City/Ninjago have become such black holes, sucking in all the other themes, because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
Counting on Lego’s website, I count 16 themes that are not entirely licensed. (Architecture is it’s own weird thing. That’s: Boost, City, Classic, Creator 3-n-1, Creator Expert, DOTS, Duplo, Friends, Mindstorms, Minifigures, Monkie Kid, Ninjago, Power Functions, Powered up!, Serious Play, Technic and Xtra.
Now, let’s trim these down a bit shall we? Boost and Mindstorms, are both their own thing, and are single set lines, so let’s cut them. Serious play is just an excuse for Businessmen to play with lego, and aren’t really sets in the traditional sense, cut it. Xtra, power-functions, and powered up! are all essentially add-ons, cut them.
That leaves us with city, classic, Creator 3-n-1, Creator expert, dots, duplo, friends, minifigures, monkie kid, Ninjago, and Technic. Out of 40 themes laid out on the website (Vidyo is dead best as we know, and “lego Originals” Is just that wooden minifig), traditional lego themes, that are not licensed, make up 27.5% of the roster.
There is no space, no castle, no pirates, nothing that isn’t “generic” for lack of a better term beyond City, Friends, Ninjago, and Monkie kid. That’s only 10% of their repertoire.
Lego doesn’t make their own products anymore, outside of Ninjago and Monkie Kid, they make merchandise for other more creative companies, and it simply just feels hollow.
But please, what are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Please, tell me below!
Addm: To be clear, I’m not anti-licensed theme, I just think it’s a problem past a certain point. It’s like tracing a drawing. You can be extremely proud of the quality and complexity of your trace, but in the end you’re just copying someone else’s design work.
Addm 2: To elaborate a bit, I don’t think Lego necessarily needs to make more “story” or even “premise” themes, they just need to not just duplicate what others are doing.