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Has Lego Sold Out? 425

Hugh Pickens writes "Matt Richtel and Jesse McKinley write in the NY Times that for generations of American children, Legos were the ultimate do-it-yourself plaything. Little plastic bricks, with scant instructions, just add imagination. But today's construction sets are often tied to billion-dollar franchises like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and invite users to follow detailed directions, not construct their own creations from whole brick. It's less open-ended, some parents and researchers say, and more like paint-by-numbers. 'When I was a kid, you got a big box of bricks and that was it,' says Tracy Bagatelle-Black. 'What stinks about Lego sets now is that they're not imaginative at all.' Lego loyalists are quick to defend the company. Josh Wedin, the managing editor of the Brothers Brick, a Lego blog, called complaints that they are less creative 'simply ridiculous,' adding that Legos always included some instructions, though he says he misses the alternative designs that used to be on the back of the box. But Clifford Nass, a sociology professor at Stanford University who studies how people relate to the physical world versus the virtual world, says some essential qualities were lost when Lego became more like other toys. 'The genius of Lego was, you had to do the work.' Learning about frustration, Nass says, 'is a hugely important thing.'" (And watch soon for a review of The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide, a book intended to help Lego users escape the tyranny of block-by-number instructions.)
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Has Lego Sold Out?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:24AM (#42375093)

    The first step is to completely ignore the manual, and this is what they're teaching children. This is a skill I wasn't able to master until I was in college, but today's kids will have it done by high school.

    • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:28AM (#42375125)

      The first step is to completely ignore the manual, and this is what they're teaching children. This is a skill I wasn't able to master until I was in college, but today's kids will have it done by high school.

      Today's kids are doing creative block-building online, and paint by numbers in Legos. What a strange, twisted world.

      • by Jetra ( 2622687 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:31AM (#42375143)
        The irony is that Minecraft is lego, but they just released a Minecraft lego set.
        • by Soluzar ( 1957050 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @12:07PM (#42375373) Homepage
          LEGO is expensive now, and I can't afford it... personally I see Minecraft as replacing my favourite aspects of LEGO. :)
          • by Jetra ( 2622687 )
            I know. There's a Lego store by us but a small 1 lb bag of bricks is like $15
          • by Altus ( 1034 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @12:16PM (#42375421) Homepage

            Now? Lego has always been extremely expensive.

            • Legos were primarily meant for children. When Mom and Dad bought legos for these guys, they didn't wonder, or ask, how expensive the toys were. It was just, "Thanks Mom!" and dump the bricks to start building.

              Even those guys who found out what Mom paid for those bricks ten, twenty, or even forty years ago, had little understanding of the value of a dollar. Three bucks? No big deal - Dad gets a hundred and twenty dollars EVERY WEEK. Add inflation, today toy stores are selling sets for fifteen dollars an

              • You speak like that hundred and twenty goes as far as it did. It doesn't.

              • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @03:25PM (#42376469) Homepage
                No big deal? You don't know what you're talking about.

                Times may have changed since I used to play with Lego, but let me tell you what it was like. I didn't get an allowance until I was a teenager and even then it was only 25 cents a week. Mowing a lawn in those days was worth $1. Paper routes paid better, but the point is that none of this was available to an eight-year-old child whose creative imagination had exceeded what he could do with a small shoebox half full of bricks. When the smallest box of Lego bricks cost three bucks, any progress on that front entailed a lot of saving and self-denial in other areas.

                My friends and I used to pool our collections, of course. Our ambitions weren't entirely frustrated. And we would often get them as gifts, which is how we had any sort of collection to begin with. But no matter how hard we tried, we never had enough to really do anything. So did we, at age eight, understand the value of a dollar? Oh yeah, you bet we did.
                • by wrencherd ( 865833 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @09:04PM (#42378513)

                  I didn't get an allowance until I was a teenager and even then it was only 25 cents a week. Mowing a lawn in those days was worth $1..

                  You were lucky! We didn't have lawns when I was young.

                  We lived in a small shoe-box by the side of the road. Every night before bed our dad would thrash us and kill us and then dance about on our graves singing "Hallelujah!"

                  You try telling the geeks of today that, and they won't believe you . . .

              • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @04:02PM (#42376685) Homepage

                Meh, simple solution, a FOSS brick required. Free as in the design and many companies can compete for the supply. So FOSS LEGO promoted to replace proprietary LEGO and to make the creativity of design and assembly open to far more children from all over the globe.

            • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:16PM (#42375727)

              I have been told there is a reason for the expense. Legos are built to extremely tight tolerances, something up to 10 micrometers. Tight tolerances means everything is more expensive (the dies have to be swapped out more, quality control, etc).

              The reason for tight tolerances is that it has to be backwards compatible with all the other lego sets out there. They just have to fit.

              You could buy the alternatives, like mega bloks, but the creations often fall easily apart and don't have quite the same fit, even if the pieces are from the same tub.

              • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @02:58PM (#42376317)

                I personally consider mega bloks to be a ripoff. The quality difference is astonishing. I'm not saying that Lego is always perfect -- I've had some sets in the 90s where some blocks were markedly loosely-fitting compared to same shape/size blocks from other batches. I haven't seen any of that recently, though, and my daughter has several of the most complex Hogwarts sets. I've also recently got a nice large Technics motorized excavator for myself, and it's quite a step up from the smaller pneumatics one I had as a kid. The design is pretty damn good.

            • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @02:16PM (#42376053)
              Yeah, I remember as a kind one thing I wanted for Christmas and never got was a $100 Lego castle. This was in the late 80 early 90s. This also serves to note that even back then, Lego wasn't just a box of generic bricks. They had soldiers, weapons, horses, specialty mountains and trees.

              I remember lego space started out pretty generic, but over time the pieces got more and more specialized to the theme. Eventually you got these flying saucers [images-amazon.com] with big alien logos on the pieces that you couldn't use for much else. The only difference between now and then is you have Galactic Republic logo instead. This may be "selling out", but I don't see how it would have much of an impact on a child's creativity, as I got along just fine with the old imaginary brand sets.
          • by TiggertheMad ( 556308 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @03:31AM (#42379939) Homepage Journal

            LEGO is expensive now, ...

            Ok, I have to say this is simply flat out wrong. As a serious collector of Lego for over 30 years, I can authoritatively say that the price of Lego sets has held almost constant at ~ .10 per brick. Some of the newer licensed sets break that rule and go over that figure, but Lego has also introduced the Creator lines and similar sets with lots of basic bricks where the price falls well below the .10 a brick average.

            But don't believe me. Go check out the prices on Brickset [brickset.com], a site that has a massive comprehensive catalog of old Lego sets and instructions. I looked up a few random set MSRPs from the early 80s to make sure I was remembering the prices right, and it looks like I was dead on. Holding steady at ~.10 per brick over 30 years is an amazing feat, doubly so if you adjust for inflation.

            So, no Lego isn't expensive now. Its higher quality and less expensive than ever before. And Unlike 99% of the toys I had as a kid, it still works just fine.

      • by Jessified ( 1150003 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @04:06PM (#42376707)

        I don't know. I always built them with the instructions, just once and never again to see it as they imagined it, and then I never touched the instructions again. I'd then tear it down and do my own shit.

    • by Narrowband ( 2602733 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @12:23PM (#42375451)
      Not all legos are equal, they have sort of diverged into two types: the traditional brick type (and in that I include even the specialized pieces, as long as they fit together in the traditional stud/brick mechanism) and the Technic/Mindstorms type, which use pieces more like girders that fit together with special connectors. The brick type has moved more in the licensing/set model direction, and those I sort of agree that the creativity seems to be missing these days. But I have to admit I'm glad they came up with a decent lego millenium falcon, which was absolutely perfect for my son for Christmas a year ago.

      On the other hand, the Technic/Mindstorms type still focuses a lot on creativity, with alternate directions for different models included, and lots of resources available for idea books and programming and such. If you look on the Lego education site, they seemed to almost have moved in the opposite/more creative direction, with resources for bodging together Mindstorms electronic components with a metal frame & RC servo-based robotics construction system (vertex? Tetrix? I forget what it was called) that another company makes.

      Bottom line, if you want to emphasize creativity, go Technic early, then maybe branch off to mindstorms.
      • by NixieBunny ( 859050 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @12:31PM (#42375493) Homepage
        We have at least a hundred LEGO sets from various of the "unimaginative" series from Harry Potter to Star Wars to the underwater things. They get built once according to the book, then they gradually get taken apart and mixed in with the giant bins of random LEGO parts. All these strangely shaped and colored parts mix together quite well, and my children have had no trouble whatsoever in creating weird fan-fic style mashup vehicles and action sets.
        • I played with Lego as a kid, some 50 years ago and my daughters, adults now, played with them as a kid. As you found, those 'unimaginative' kits get added into the mix to create things that neither the plain brick variety or kit pieces alone could make. When someone is sick, the blocks still come out. When the grandkids come ( someday ), they will have an ungodly number of bricks.

          BTW, I am not a Lego purist. I have added Duplo ( Lego too, I know ) and Mega-blocks. The Mega-blocks are cheaper, but they

        • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:00PM (#42375651) Homepage Journal

          Read the directions? Huh? You're kidding, right?

          I'm a guy. I never need directions, behind the wheel, or playing with Legos. It would be unmanly to start now!

        • All these strangely shaped and colored parts mix together quite well, and my children have had no trouble whatsoever in creating weird fan-fic style mashup vehicles and action sets.

          I second that. I am writing this in the attic, where my tech stuff is surrounded by a hard to traverese landscape of brightly coloured bricks. Even the most specific ones get repurposed: the telephone as a showerd head, the life bouy as a toilet seat.

          And the kids still love the standard bricks. Last time I went to Cologne, where

  • Waste of space. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:27AM (#42375105)

    Doesn't the NYT have anything more important to publish than people bitching about legos? If you just want a bag of bricks, you can still get them. In fact, you can order them in bulk now, which wasn't offered when I was a kid.

    • Re:Waste of space. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by malignant_minded ( 884324 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:55AM (#42375305)
      No crap they sold out. Branding is now all they have left after losing their cases preventing competition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lego_Group#Trademark_and_patents [wikipedia.org] The only way they can continue to compete with companies like MegaBlocks is to have exclusive rights to Star Wars or Harry Potter etc etc. Honestly how much justification can you have for $50 USD plastic blocks unless you are the only game in town with whats "cool".
      • by Kergan ( 780543 )

        +1 this. Lego needed to move in this direction. Megablocks gained market share by sleeping with large franchises. In the face of rapidly shrinking market share, Lego had little other choice than doing the same.

      • Perhaps the snap-together models of today are not the true spiritual descendants of the original Lego, but Mindstorms are! Still lots of generic beams and bars... plus (if you want) programming too. You say lego has nothing unique, but what is MegaBlock's answer to Mindstorms? You may say Mindstorms are only for older kids, but my 7 year old daughter enjoyes them. Today she makes boxcarts mostly, but she was also pretty fascinated by the pneumatic pump and cylinder. Lots of room to grow into it.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        No one else has come up with anything half as good as their Technics stuff though. That was always their strong point for me. Complex machines with hundreds of parts, but easy and quick to reconfigure.

    • Dude, everyone at the NYT went home for Christmas. All they have left in the building is two interns and a janitor.

  • by Cyphax ( 262239 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:27AM (#42375115)

    Ah, I agree so much. I had my fair share of legos when I was a child and the building blocks were nice and generic. Nowadays, all the pieces are molded to shape whatever you're supposed to make much better, resulting in a nicer looking whatever-it-is-you-were-making, but taking it apart, I wonder if there's much of a point in trying to make something else out of it, even beside the alternatives listed on the back of the box.
    I'm glad I kept most of my legos for when my son's old enough for them. Other than that it looks like I'm stuck remembering the old days fondly.

    • by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:32AM (#42375149)
      of course there is. that molded 'specialty' piece is always a plethora of other things, you just have to attatch it to a hinge, or a side, or upside down and backwards. I played with legos all through my childhood, and the 'specialty' pieces from my 'Ice planet base' set, and my 'space shuttle' set always found new life in building space ships, giant robots, submarines, and a whole world of other things.
      • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
        +1 on this. It was always, and still is, possible to repurpose the speciality bricks if you where creative enough - even such aparent one trick ponies such as the forklift, if you put your mind to it (and maybe the scale of what you were building). If your mindset is that the speciality bricks are no use for general playing around with the bricks, then that's your problem not the toy's. The correct view is that they are encouraging you to be even more creative than you already are, which is the whole poi
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Joce640k ( 829181 )

      resulting in a nicer looking whatever-it-is-you-were-making

      It could be far better looking is it wasn't made of Lego.

      And it wouldn't permanently have bits falling off it for kids to lose and parents to step on.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      I don't see the problem. There isn't a lego piece out there that can only be used in one way. Instead, I see the increasing variety of pieces allowing for more sophisticated shapes and mechanisms.
    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      They've had the molded pieces for at least 20 years now. They used to be more generic things, like pirate ships and such, but they were still molded pieces designed to make a particular object that came with instructions on how to make that object.

      You can still buy just regular legos.

    • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:56AM (#42375311) Homepage Journal

      Actually, that's probably just selective memory...

      From a Q&A with LEGO [gizmodo.com]:

      Q: I would like to know why they are using so many specialized pieces in their sets now instead of using more "basic" bricks that allow for greater building outside the set the pieces came in. Why have Lego sets for the latest few generations been dummied down?

      A: This is an impression that many people have but, in fact, the piece count has been reduced drastically and there's a move back to roots in Lego, not only for creativity but to save money. Lego went from 12,000 different pieces to 6,800 in the last few years-a number that includes the color variations.

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        No, no it's not. Did you not read your own post? Nowhere does it state how many pieces lego started off with, nor when the great climb to 12,000 pieces happened, nor how long it stayed there, nor exactly how recent the switch to 6,800 pieces was, nor what percentage of those pieces are regular as opposed to special, nor any mention of change in percentages over time.

        In fact your post could quite well support his point, and perhaps everybody bitching about it was the reason why lego went to fewer pieces.

    • Ah, I agree so much. I had my fair share of legos when I was a child and the building blocks were nice and generic. Nowadays, all the pieces are molded to shape whatever you're supposed to make much better, resulting in a nicer looking whatever-it-is-you-were-making, but taking it apart, I wonder if there's much of a point in trying to make something else out of it, even beside the alternatives listed on the back of the box.
      I'm glad I kept most of my legos for when my son's old enough for them. Other than that it looks like I'm stuck remembering the old days fondly.

      I think they have always sold them in theme sets. I think you didn't realise that they were in theme sets when you were young. I did not know that the pieces of paper that came with Lego were building instructions. I don't know if that was the case for you.

  • by Vermyndax ( 126974 ) <[vermyndax] [at] [galaxycow.com]> on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:28AM (#42375121) Homepage

    What happens in my house: my son gets a Lego set. He excitedly spends hours building them (or one hour, if it's a small one). then he plays with it a little. A few days later I find it in pieces and deconstructed all over the playroom. A few days later, something else comes out as he institutes his own creations and modifications.

    It's not a matter of lacking the manual, as we have kept every manual for every set he ever received. He knows where those manuals are, too.

    To me, it seems like Lego has stuck a good balance.

    • I remember that my parents basically never got me just raw Legos. It was always a set that you could build a specific thing with, complete with directions. Sometimes I would, most of the time I'd just pour the pieces in to my ever-increasing pile and build whatever I pleased.

      They weren't co-branded but they were still sets. And why not? It gives people a starting point, and can help for children that aren't as creative. If you take someone who has difficulty with creative tasks, and set them adrift with not

    • Completely agree. First off, one is fully entitled to throw their instructions away. One of the things I like about the playsets is that you get a diversity of interesting pieces to use. So you build it their way the first time, then it just becomes an interesting bag of parts.

      Not to mention which, they do still sell bulk bricks, and bulk specialty pieces. So if that's what you want for your kids, buy it. Of course, if the same kids who lack the creativity to make their own designs have parents who la

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )

        ... I built them a 36" square recessed table for them - just for legos - so they can build things and not have to worry about cleaning up, or about the legos falling on the floor. I love coming home from work and seeing how their designs have evolved.

        Nice. We need more good parents fostering creativity.

  • by jcr ( 53032 )

    If it was a story about Lego, fine. An editorial diatribe against lego hardly qualifies as news that matters.


    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Go read the header! Slashdot is no longer news for nerds or news that matters.

      I wish slashdot had an api that I could access all postings. Slashdot is decomposing right now. I think you would be able to exactly pinpoint the death blow by analyzing posting histories and seeing where the crossover point from informative-individuals-posting-information to clueless-individuals-posting-nonsense happens. We're currently in the middle of a surge of the emergence of long-time clueless lurkers starting to post n

  • Not the issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:30AM (#42375131) Homepage

    They have had detailed instructions that you could follow for almost as long as Lego has existed.
    The problem with today Lego I that they made they completely out of proprietary big pieces that do not really fit together any other way.

    You used to be able to buy some castle set, with step by step instructions, but it was made with the exact same pieces as every other set out there. So at the end of the day you could take it apart and build that castle into a space ship. Now Lego is basically just action figures and video games.

    • The actually acknowledged that they had that problem a few years ago, and since they have been moving back towards generic pieces instead of these specific pieces. It might still be worse than back in the day, but things are certainly improving.

  • by wilgibson ( 933961 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:31AM (#42375147)
    you could still buy buckets of bricks, and the whole back wall was loose bricks for people that wanted to make their own bucket. I've been playing with Lego for thirty years. I always wanted to make what was on the box first, but eventually it became whatever the hell I wanted it to be. If someone wants to whine about children not being creative these days, I think Lego is the last reason they aren't creative!
  • by Maow ( 620678 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:33AM (#42375155) Journal

    When shopping for presents for kids it seems all of them have tie-ins to other products: Barbie, some movie, cartoon characters, etc.

    Simple toys that exist on their own seem a rarity now (Spirograph, Rubik's Cube, Mechano (sp?), etc.) that I frankly hate shopping for something for kids.

    Even Crayola products seem to be tied to Dora or whatever. Or come with coloured markers that seem to expire instantly, unlike crayons.

    I don't remember it being so bad back in the dark ages when I was a kid. Was it Star Wars that brought us this trend? McDonald's Happy Meals? Where did it start?

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      I think Dora is the least of your worries in all that, at least she's educational and non-sexist. Actually a pretty good role model.
  • A handful of years ago Lego was going bankrupt and they were searching in vain for how to stop it. Then they figured out that open ended didn't sell so well. They created their Bionicle sets. Then they started the licensed sets with Harry potter and Star wars. It is the only reason lego even still exists. And now people decry that lego 'sold out'? Make up your minds...
  • Through various customer surveys, Lego found that most kids are just building what's in the main instructions anyway. It's a sad state of affairs, but not necessarily stemming from Lego themselves.

  • Lego have always included instructions with their sets. What has changed is the number of specialized pieces in a set. Some of these are single-purpose, replacing a bunch of bricks with a single large moulding, so some sets end up being less versatile.
    There still are plenty of sets that consist mostly of standard bricks. What you end up with after buying a bunch of sets, is a pile of bricks and a pile of specialized pieces that can still be combined to your heart's content.

  • It's been like this for a very long time. I remember playing with Lego when I was a kid- I had a box set with a big picture of a spaceship on the front. There were instructions for how to make the spaceship in the picture, as well as pictures of about 5 other spaceship designs with no instructions. You could make the one with the instructions, of you could try to make one of the non-instruction pictures, or you could go nuts and use the spaceshipy style blocks to make any futuristic structure you like.


  • That title must go to Meccano [wikipedia.org]. With this you could build real things that worked and would not fall into bits at the first knock. With strips of metal held together with nuts and bolts you could create great things. I loved it.

    • Moreover, Meccano taught important lessons that Lego could not: understanding engineering tolerances. Lego bricks just snap together, and unless you are building something pretty infeasible that's generally the end of it. Meccano was all about lining up plates and brackets by eye (the holes were bigger than the screws), making sure things weren't too loose or too tight, ensuring that load-bearing parts were properly cross-braced, and so on.

      On the other hand, Meccano was pretty perishable. It didn't take lon

    • by Animats ( 122034 )

      That title must go to Meccano [wikipedia.org].

      Meccano is still available. Toys-R-Us carries it. I have a Meccano set I use for prototyping linkages. It's not unusual for first-round engineering prototypes to have some Meccano parts.

  • Back when I was a kid, some 25 years ago I never had an "open-ended" box of bricks, it was always sets of some fire station, police stuff, space ships, pirates or whatever with detailed instructions and all that. No different then what you have today. Some sets came with instructions to build different things from the same set, but that's about it as far as open-ended is concerned. Of course all those sets ended up being disassembled after they got boring and turned into something else, ultimately ending up

  • by jkrise ( 535370 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:47AM (#42375247) Journal

    But today's construction sets ...invite users to follow detailed directions, not construct their own creations from whole brick...

    Absolutely sensible approach. Today's child is growing up in today's environment, and will become a designer tomorrow. Today, if you create a design for which some idiot possesses a design patent, the latter will sue you for billions of dollars. If you have a brick with rounded corners, is glossy or black in colour, even God cannot save you from litigious thugs.The child needs to learn this lesson very early, and learn to 'behave' and 'obey' and 'conform' rather than be creative.

    So Lego has researched and come up with designs which are not encumbered by prior art or patents; and given detailed instructions for kids to follow. 10 years from now, a design company would have about a 100 lawyers for every 5 designers. These lawyers would tell the designers exactly what to design, what not to design, and how not to be too successful and gain the wrath of patent holding Big Businesses.

  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:51AM (#42375271) Journal
    American kids (or any other kid for that matter) aren't as dumb and unintuitive as we may want to think.

    Because of this, we have the "maker generation" today. These are kids of any age that build stuff out of anything they have laying around. What can be more creative than that? Lego is no different, except it was made with the very idea that you could make anything you want out of these building blocks. Just take a look at Lego Mindstorm to get an idea about what I'm talking about here. (And of course, google make magazine, and makers everywhere).

    American kids are just as curious and impressive to me as they where back in the days where we used electronics kits to build stuff with. Many of the kids today make LEVELS for video games and that is just as creative or advanced as what we did back in our days. (I'm in my mid forties and grew up with Lego and Electronics).
  • Legos have had detailed instructions on building specific items in every set I've ever bought since the mid 80s. There's nothing inherently different about the licensed sets vs. the generic sets. They both give you exactly the pieces needed to build the thing on the front of the box, and license to do whatever you want with the pieces otherwise.

  • I got an astounded "How did you do that?!" from a friend's kid a few years back, when I showed how to make a hinge I'd figured out how to make when I was 7 or 8. I found it works best if you use one of the thin Legos and snap just one dot in between two rectangles. The thin Lego will then freely turn and can be used for things like doors or rotatable spacecraft wings. Even back when they weren't so fancy, you could still do a world of things with them, you just had to figure out how.

    On a slightly differen

  • by Kr1ll1n ( 579971 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:53AM (#42375287)

    We got her Mega Blocks when she was 1. They were just blocks, and a bucket. No promotional tie ins, no specialty sets. It amazes me watching her pull them out, and start building things that resemble our downtown, where I happen to work.

    For Christmas, we went to get her the Mega Blocks for the 3-5 year old kids.
    Toys R' Us only sold kits for things like Ninjago, Harry Potter, etc..etc.

    Went to Wal-Mart and found that the plain old blocks in a bucket, with no promotional tie ins, were a Wal-Mart exclusive.

    It is a sad state of affairs when you can't even get plain old blocks unless you go to Wally World.

  • Never had LEGO (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ExRex ( 47177 ) <elliot@aj[ ]e.net ['our' in gap]> on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:53AM (#42375291) Homepage
    My construction toy was an Erector Set, now long gone. These days Erector Sets in the US are rebranded Meccano sets.
    Anyway, the thing about the Erector Set was that it not only exercised your imagination, as does LEGO, but it also exercised your manual dexterity, which LEGO does not. When you have to use little nuts and bolts to put things together you get good at manipulating small parts, which is excellent for improving hand-eye coordination, improving delicacy of touch and learning patience.
    If you make things too easy for kids how are they to learn?
  • IMHO, the "sell out" to franchises were needed to attract the attention of the kids. And it is a great idea, because at first the kids do have to follow the instructions, sorta. But after that, they hopefully start experimenting, building bigger, and more complex structures and games.

    Lego were in trouble, the franchises did indeed help save the company.

  • Lego "sold out" because their patents expired. Once their patents expired other companies (ie Mega Blocks) started making plastic bricks which where interchangeable with Lego blocks. Why should Lego compete on a product (generic brick) where their competitors are making the identical pieces for half the price. The expiration of patents are what brought us Star Wars Lego's and I for one love it, and find it a great reason to let IP expire.
    • by morari ( 1080535 )

      I'm not so sure about that. I recall my brother and I getting a bunch of really cool looking Mega Block sets one year for Christmas. There were colors and shapes we had never seen before, and neat themes like dinosaurs and moon bases. In theory it was all compatible with the absolutely huge amount of Lego blocks that we had in our combined collection. What we quickly found out however was that Mega Blocks were cheaply made. They barely locked together with each other tightly enough to build with, let alone

  • My 15 year old stopped with the legos about 3 years ago (I will always remember the day he had $20 of birthday money to spend and ultimately chose a CD instead)
    At least in our house, after one of the fancy kits got built once, the instructions were promptly lost or eaten by the dog, and all the legos ended up in 1 giant bin. Then the real fun started (the creative part)

  • Lego would be bankrupt today if they were still just focused on generic sets. Today's kids need to have their imaginations spoon fed.

  • This is the most ridiculous complaint I've ever heard. Greater variety in LEGO bricks? STOP IT NOW! EVERYTHING MUST BE RED 2X4!

    I grew up with LEGO and I still regularly purchase, build and play in my late 20s. The new pieces are AWESOME. So are the new colours. Pick a brick and LDD make prototyping, buying and building your own creations a snap (though you have to manually generate a parts list these days). If that ain't enough to keep LEGO fun and interesting, trade in your kid.

    Didn't RTFA because WTF.

  • As others have said, Lego's had kits for decades. I was jealous of my cousin's off-road buggy kit from the mid 70s.

    What I would like are less expensive computer-programmable and remote-activated pieces so that I can make those same buggies from the 70s but be able to control them via remote (or even via my phone with wifi!). Maybe to do a demolition derby sort of setup with my kids.

  • My daughter (4) loves them. And interestingly, they are a lot more like the Legos I remember from my childhood (early 80s) than the kits I see now. Very few specialized pieces, much more of the generic block that you then turn into something interesting. The instructions that are included are very similar to how I remember, and some of the larger kits also feature the alternate builds that I again remember.

    The topic poster has a point though. Wander through the Lego section and ooh-aah over the cool kits, b

  • by Blic ( 672552 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:00PM (#42375649)

    I'm in my 40's and all the kits had instructions when I was a kid. There were odd kids that just built what was on the cover and then never took it apart. That singular lack of imagination had nothing to do with the Legos themselves - most of us dumped all our kits into a big bucket and then just created our own stuff...

    However you could accuse them of selling out with all the co-branding. When I was a kid they were space sets and medieval sets, not Star Wars or LOTR sets. All the movie tie-in crap is annoying but a sign of the times I guess...

    One way in which they can fail is, as other folks have mentioned, specialized parts. There's a fine line between making something new and different and cool, and making parts so specialized that it becomes hard to build other things out of them. But you know, I'm sure the purists were up in arms when my space kits in the 70's and 80's had wing-shaped parts and other such monstrosities. And maybe some proto-nerd of the era went on his local BBS and whined about how they were destroying Legos, that they weren't allowed to be anything other than cubes...

    • by jbplou ( 732414 )

      The thing is they have the Star Wars and lord of the rings sets. But they have a castle set that is like it always was. I was at the Lego store and they have 2 lines of space sets that aren't tied to any movies or franchises.

  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:10PM (#42375701)
    While my daughter was growing up, I had a random choice of what to step on if I went walking barefoot around the apartment in the middle of the night. I could step on a Lego, which is quite painful, or step on one of her goldfish that had jumped out of the tank. If you can see in the dark, pick the Lego. They won't die if you squash them and you don't have to explain to a little girl how you killed her pet fish. She is 40 years old now and still reminds me of this. You would think people would move on... Personally, I think the fish was depressed.
  • by foeclan ( 47088 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:11PM (#42375709)

    I always put the set together the way the instructions say once. It's a good way to see what techniques they use for certain things (building trees with some of the recent sets, for example). After a while it gets recycled back into the bins of Lego to be reused. I'll often buy a set specifically because it has new pieces or minifigs I want. When I was a kid, I'd often start with one of the spaceship or boat sets and just keep adding pieces. Ended up turning a tugboat into a 4' long freighter once. :)

  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:40PM (#42375883) Homepage Journal

    The Tyranny of "block-by-number" kits... That Lego fans choose to buy more often than not because they want to build the deathstar, Millenium Falcon, whatever as shown on the box.

    If they wanted the "big box of blocks" experience they can still buy them, and now there are Lego stores that sell bulk Legos - something unheard of when I was a kid (early 70's/late 60's).

    Some people want the end-product (the item on the cover of the box), some want the process (the frustration the one researcher noted), and some want to raw material to build what is in their imagination (the big box of blocks) - none is the only "true" reason for Lego.

  • by 9jack9 ( 607686 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:48PM (#42375927)

    Yes, Lego has completely sold out. Actually, that's not true. That implies that that there was a time that they hadn't sold out. It's a for-profit company. They are in it to make money. Nothing wrong with that, but that is what they are, first and foremost.

    They will do what they need to do to survive. In their opinion, they cannot sustain their business by using the value proposition of 40 years ago. As much as I admired that value proposition, I personally agree with them. They could not survive turning out the basic building blocks, or even more advanced building kits, or even robotics kits. They wouldn't have the market share, or the advertising appeal, or the patent protection. They are fighting for their existence every day. They've got constant competition for kids' time and for M&D's dollars from endless and ever-increasing sources, and competitors willing to race them to the bottom every step of the way.

    There was a time that Lego said, "we'll never make Lego guns". That is long gone. There are Lego guns, ray guns, knives, swords, scimitars. Heck, space ships with laser cannon. They've made endless marketing deals with entertainment conglomerates in order to stay relevant. They have not yet found their bottom. They have not yet found where they will not go to stay in business.

    To me, as much as I still love the company, and the product, they've lost their soul, and they are walking dead guys, however successful they are currently. The color palette is out of control. The types of pieces have grown to be absurd. Although there is still play value, it becomes harder and harder for any pile of n Legos to have general playability. If you have a Luke Skywalker, and a wookie, then that is your story palette. It becomes that much more challenging to make a house. If you have the batmobile, it becomes difficult to make a regular car.

    One could hope they'll split the company, and spin off a company focused only on the basics for ages 0 through 10, without marketing tie-ins, and another company focused just on robotics, and let the main company battle it out in pop culture land. But it will never happen.

    Perhaps the 3D printer world will take over the basics niche. I could see a not-for-profit doing very well making it easy for people to print their own sets for their 1 year olds or 5 year olds.

    Just my 2 bricks.

  • This is funny (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xeno man ( 1614779 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:56PM (#42375959)
    Picture a world where Lego did not sell all of their kits and just sold plain blocks. There is only so much you can do with plain blocks and sales would slowly go down. The recession hits and that is the final straw and Lego declares bankruptcy. Slashdot readers post stories about playing with Lego as a kid but complain how Lego really hasn't innovated with the times and those old corporate fossils we doomed to fail if they couldn't adapt.

    Now we swap back to our world where Lego is constantly innovating to make kits that work with 95% of existing Lego pieces, tie ins with current pop culture, even Lego video games that are actually good and we need to complain how Lego isn't the same as it was 20 years ago. Go figure.
  • by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:59PM (#42375981)

    What a load of rubbish, Lego sets have included detailed instructions to make the specific thing on the box for decades! The main difference now is that sets are tied to specific films like Starwars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter and so on rather than just generic themes like space, pirates, castles etc.

    How is this pirate set from 1989 [brickset.com] any worse than this Pirates of the Caribbean set from 2011 [brickset.com]?

    It may be a movie tie-in but you've still got to build the thing yourself and you can take it apart and put it together again any way you like.

    • I was a kid when that first pirate set came out, and to me, that was a step down for lego. The pirate ships series had the hull in massive brown sections that only had a few studs for connections, and weren't really modular and reusable. The pirate ships were pretty much the only models that, once made, weren't then pulled apart an reused, because the hulls couldn't really be reused for anything but ships.

      So no, I wouldn't say there's much difference between the two.

  • by Splat ( 9175 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @02:26PM (#42376113)

    As a 30 year old guy who has gone back into his old childhood Lego sets recently, as well as recently bought himself some new ones I uh, feel sadly qualified to comment on this story. My recent purchases were one LOTR set, and a Lego City set. In response to the lack of "creativity" in these sets, it's not the sets that have gotten less creative. It's the engineering in the brick placement amongst everything that has gotten better.

    If you compare the brick selection and design of say, a 2012 LOTR set vs my early 90's Pirate sets you can easily see this. The 2012 sets use a number of small, angular pieces from what I've noted, that fit together in creative ways that the early 90's sets could only dream of. The pieces in question in the 2012 sets did indeed exist in the early 90's set, so it's not a case of simply making "less flexible" pieces.

    You can tell that the designers of these sets have gotten really, really good at their jobs, in no doubt likely as a result of the difference in computing power between the early 90's and now. To suggest that the sets have gotten less "creative" is asinine. Have we gained more themed and licensed sets? Absolutely. However, the pieces they are equipping these sets with are simply fitting together better and looking more streamlined. You've still got your 4x2 bricks, your 3x3 plates, there's just less usage of them as the primary shape of a vehicle/building, and they are enhanced by the smaller 1x2 45 angle bricks say that really help bring out the details in the design.

    In the end, they're still freaking Lego you can put together any way you want. It's simply the brick selection has changed for the better.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @05:37PM (#42377209)

    I cannot really pinpoint the moment, but somewhere in the last 30 years (i.e. when I started playing with it 'til now) they did.

    I was into LEGO. Big time. It was pretty much all I played with between the age of about 6 and 14. And I built everything with it. Every cartoon that had its own toy line? Forget buying those, I build them. I built pretty much everything with them, including a Battlestar (of course with two working Viper launchers). Repairing the launchers when the rubber bands ripped was a hassle and a half, but it WORKED!

    Fast forward to today. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but I miss the "generic" parts. They don't exist anymore. There are at best a few filler parts between the "special" ones that work out for that piece that they're supposed to be built to, and for that ONLY. You cannot simply take them and build something of your own imagination with it, it just doesn't work. They don't even fit in other ways than the "intended" one.

    And, bluntly, LEGO was never about how anything was intended to be. It was about how I WANT it to be!

  • To address the "well, Lego sets always had detailed instructions, at least since the 1980's," well, maybe that is so. But many sets from the 1970's did not include detailed instructions. E.g., a store would typically have a bunch of general purpose sets like Set 190 [toysperiod.com], plus some model-specific sets like Moon Landing [toysperiod.com] and Brick Yard [toysperiod.com].

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