Why the Obsession with Story Based Themes?

So, I was going to type up a lil rant in a topic before stopping myself and realizing that it could actually be a good conversation topic.

So, without further fanfare…

When did everyone become so obsessed with story based themes?

Lego, for as long as I can remember, never had themes with overarching stories. Episodic formulas were the name of the game until VERY recently with things like Chima/Ninjago/Bionicle, Lego has NEVER claimed to be focused on creating worlds with stories as opposed to making YOU create the story, so I’m curious about where this mentality came from in the younger fans?

Life on Mars/Mars Mission, Rock Raiders/Power Miners, Johnny Thunder, Alpha Team. Knights Kingdom… Exo-Force… These are all examples of themes that had “A story” in the sense that maybe things progressed year over year, but I don’t remember them ever being story driven like Bionicle or Ninjago are/were.

I understand Bionicle was the theme that saved Lego, but outside of Bionicle and now Ninjago I never heard people raving about how amazing the story of Insert-Theme-Here was.

So I’m genuinely curious, because while I can certainly empathize with the “Well they did this well so they should keep doing it” mentality, I also feel like people very quickly forget that it’s incredibly expensive to try and make every line have a story, especially when the vast majority of Lego’s target market really couldn’t care less. It’s also a point I keep seeing brought up here on the boards, “Line X is bad and I don’t like it because it has no story.” Well Lego never claimed to be a company that sells stories, they sell creative building toys where YOU make the story and the fun. That’s why we call them Lego themes and not Lego “Franchises” or Lego “Storylines.” The sets are themed around, well, a theme (Explorers, Secret Agents, Ninjas, Robots) and anything above and beyond that is… well, icing on the cake.

Maybe I’m just old and crotchety (I am), Maybe I just don’t care as much for Lego as I did in my childhood (I don’t), but I genuinely don’t understand where this angle of criticism spawned from when Lego Lines with stories have been the exception over the past 20 years, not the rule.

~Hawkeye

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ExoForce

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Edited, Thank you muchly

I think this is a big part of it. You say recently, but that “recently” is longer than the entire life span of many LEGO fans out there today. BIONICLE is old enough to vote in the U.S. now. A lot of fans that are into NinjaGo and other such story driven themes have grown up in the era where LEGO is known for grand story themes on top of their licensed themes. It’s all they’ve ever known, so for them to look back on something with a limited story like Johnny Thunder, or no story like City, they see it as archaic.

This of course creates the opinion original themes are better than licensed, and then an even more extreme opinion where original themes are put into a caste system where story themes trump non-story themes like Creator or City. Somehow having a story makes Chima better than Creator.

Creator may actually be one of the best LEGO themes out there just because of the sheer diversity in the sets. Everything from trucks and car models to modular buildings and little turtle packs are found in one theme. There’s no story to it at all, but the builds and engineering speak for themselves.

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I don’t necessarily disagree cause I DO acknowledge that my lifetime with lego is… well… Very long at this point, but I still don’t see how the idea of story driven themes became the expectation. Bionicle was a one off, ninjago was a one off… every other attempt at a story driven line failed, so I don’t understand this sentiment of “Original story driven lines are better” when the vast majority just… haven’t been that at all.

Ninjago and Bionicle are old, certainly, but that doesn’t change that they are exceptions to the rule.

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I do agree with many points of what you said. When I was a kid, I was mainly into the toys, and not the story. I basically flipped that over time, but if you told me Mars Mission or Power Miners had a story, I would’ve never believed back then when I was younger.
to be honest I’m not too old, seeing as I’m about a half year older than Bionicle

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a limited story like Johnny Thunder

It’s called Adventurers. Gosh have some respect.

Most of those old system themes from the 90s were given short stories in LEGO Mania Magazine and video games and puzzle books and all that. Even themes you didn’t know had a story like Insectoids actually have one. It’s entire story is from a puzzle book, but unless you had access to a lego store selling it in the late 90s/early 00s you’d never know.

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I liked Ninjago, I didn’t really like the other story themes that much, but I acknowledge that they released some good parts.

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Meh. LEGO story themes are few and far between, and actual quality ones (IMO) are even more rare. I enjoy having something to keep up with, but honestly I prefer using LEGO and their smaller stories and ideas as a springboard for my own abominations.

Honestly Hero Factory was a decent middle of the road theme, as it had enough media to contextualize the theme and events while leaving the story open enough to interpret your own adventures. It’s kept my imagination going to this day, and that’s something I can’t quite say about most other themes.

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I think it’s worth noting that stories can be extremely good starting points for creativity. People often build mocs and make art based off of ideas or concepts presented in stories, which fits Lego’s shtick pretty well.
People also just… like stories, I guess. Good stories sell toys, and good toys can sell stories. I remember as a kid I got a bionicle set because I saw a commercial and it looked cool. Then I went on Bioniclestory.com with my parents’ permision of course😆 And was blown away by the awesome story. It made me think the sets were even cooler, especially because I had never seen it anywhere else. It was way more interesting to me than regular city sets with no backstory.

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I do think it’s important to keep in mind where these complaints are coming from. Is it mainly here on the Boards? Or is it young members of the community across the various online hubs LEGO has?

Because if the “story themes are superior” mentality is concentrated here, on the Boards primarily, it could be argued that since TTV was cultivated off of Bionicle and sort of grew into the realm of online influencing (at least for LEGO), it could possibly be argued that TTV’s enthusiasm and focus on Bionicle, and later Ninjago, were influences for the younger fans that have joined the community very recently.

If you think about it too, a lot of the online LEGO content is made by primarily Bionicle or Ninjago-focused creators, or ones that once were like TTV. I discovered Jangbricks because of his Bionicle MOCs. Ben Cossy and CalanLoF are two of the most popular MOCers on YouTube, and even though Ben does a ton of great work with System, his claim to fame in the online world is his Bionicle content.

It might also be because Bionicle and Ninjago, the exceptions to the rule that they are, are (or were) probably LEGO’s two biggest, most popular, and most well-known themes of their day and age. Of course almost everyone is familiar with the good old LEGO brick, but I tend to think it’s the case that if you ask a younger fan to list off a LEGO theme it would be Ninjago most of the time, and Bionicle for a lot of the older fans.

Of course, in younger fans the opinions of influencers and their own familiarities might lead them to the idea that story-central themes are fundamentally superior. If I were a young fan whose primary LEGO experience was through Ninjago sets, the TV show, and YouTube videos about those things, I would want other LEGO themes to be similar to that.

Of course, I’m not a younger fan, so I can’t say for sure if anything I’ve said holds any truth in it. It would be great to get a perspective from someone who does see story-central themes as the gold standard.

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During the late 1990s and early 2000s was LEGO trying to get more didgitised so they could appeal to the kids of the modern times. LEGO also shifted their attention from the more creative kid to the more play driven kid most noteable themed to follow this change were Galidor and Jack stone.
At LEGO they hadn’t until 2003 monitored their incomes and outcomes and how much each typ of set sold individually instead they had just looked att how much all their sets have sold.

So how can we conclude this well I believe that the reason for us having such an focus on story is because of two reasons:

  • Reason one is that after the LEGO company reworked how the monitoring of their incomes and outcomes works. LEGO afterwards probably noted how the more story driven themes sold better than the themes who didn’t have any story.
  • Reason two is the fact that story and defined characters helps a child to play and imagine play scenarios easier than lets say from out of nowhere. Also the focus toward the more play driven kid is also a factor because it makes story the focus to favor play without sacrificing building experience the kids who wants to build.
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Short:

  1. A Story makes a theme sell a lot better
  2. Gives a child more play ability
  3. People can build MOCs based on what apared on the Story but never in set form.
  4. Even 90’s themes had stories. While not very complex, they still had stories.
  5. People can become more creative with such stories rather then non-story themes.
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But you also complained about lego retiring story-driven themes.

You should probably take a look at the company’s most popular themes as well as the entire current lineup, then you’d get an answer as to why these themes are going away.

And honestly the same points you made can be achieved in a licensed set. Not only can you still make your own stories and get good playability out of the sets, there is already some familiarity with it. Why would a kid want a ninjago set they when they could get a much cooler Star Wars or Jurassic World set? That’s how I view it at least. Licensed sets are a win for lego and for the consumer, and I don’t see why we’re complaining about there being only a few original story themes. At least you still have them, and you’ll probably get some more soon due to the retirement of Nexo Knights, (possibly) elves, etc.

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David, there something that Bionicle and Ninjago got that other themes don’t have is respect and love by their fans. Also he made this topic to shut you up on the whole og themes that you love so must that you are clearly didn’t know about Lego loves to do licensed properties for money reasons, and you should hate on them because if Lego do more of story telling themes than they still do trouble on the bankruptcy to 2004 that is the reason why Lego let go with George Lucas so Star Wars sets are made, and others come later, but reason why Bionicle was created and saved Lego is because it was a brainchild of a non-employee that who had cancer, and Lego at the were doing “Junior” style builds so they did the great story about biomechanical brings who saved their world from a evil warlord, than 2008 Lego got do more unique builds to their themes, and that how they still here today. So David please think clearly now.

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If you think about it, most story based themes aren’t as popular as basic themes. The only real story theme that hasn’t been discontinued yet is Ninjago. You would also have to look at how long non story themes like technic, city, and creator have been continued. Lego only keeps the themes that make them money, since people buy what they want to buy. And sinve no other new story themes have been released this year, it seems that Ninjago is different from other story based themes. It remains to be seen if Ninjago will live longer than bionicle, but, as far as I know, it’s going to be around for a long time.

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I feel like Technic is umderapreciated… It has been around since 1977 (the longest theme ever) yet people seem to ignore it… (Probably because it’s more made to appeal to older audiences.

Creator is a nice theme, but not many people talk about it very much as far as I have seen…

I think the stories make themes better. Like, any child can play with the story: do it in their way. Or they even can create their own, not caring if it could be canon or not, they don’t have to always stick to the story. That’s how I did when I was younger. Not only for children, but I believe that a story attracts adults who like to read/watch shows. Then they discover the sets, and start collecting them, IMO

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Technic was in the top four highest selling LEGO themes of 2018. I’d hardly call that ignoring it. =P

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Instead of turning the entire topic into why this video is fundamentally flawed (nobody’s going to appreciate that) and picking its entire argument apart, I’ll just state how instead of this video aligning with your opinion, LegoDavid, it appears as this video is your opinion.

Yeouch. I don’t know about you, but maybe “think straight, kid” is a tad bit harsh of a point to make, especially coming from a moderator. [quote=“Kini_Hawkeye, post:1, topic:47900”]
I understand Bionicle was the theme that saved Lego
[/quote]

This, I feel, is something that needs to be properly clarified upon. LEGO’s financial stability was still suffering even by the end of 2003, and while themes like Star Wars and BIONICLE helped stopped LEGO’s financial decline, it was evident to Kjeld that he couldn’t pull the company out of the financial hole it had sunken into. 2004 marks the first time someone outside of LEGO’s leading family has been in charge of the company, and while Kjeld still gets some power over what occurs inside it, it’s mostly beyond his control.

So yes, BIONICLE did save Lego from a financial collapse, but it didn’t rebuild it single-handed.[quote=“Likus, post:7, topic:47900”]
Most of those old system themes from the 90s were given short stories in LEGO Mania Magazine and video games and puzzle books and all that. Even themes you didn’t know had a story like Insectoids actually have one. It’s entire story is from a puzzle book, but unless you had access to a lego store selling it in the late 90s/early 00s you’d never know.
[/quote]

And this leads into the actual on-topic point i was going to make with this: boredom breeds imagination while entertainment stifles it.

For the older LEGO fans out there, how often when you were growing up, was the comment “I"m bored” met with “Then find something to do”? And so most of you were left with little choice but to either head outdoors into the great unknown and poke at ants for the rest of the day, or if you were lucky enough to own some LEGO, maybe go play with that instead.

The reason so many people are demanding story in their LEGO themes is because, simply put, most people don’t want to craft one on their own. Nobody wants to put up with the sting of boredom long enough to be imaginative or inspired to invent, why bother with that when you can watch youtube?

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