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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 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:38AM (#42375179) Homepage

    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 jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @11:50AM (#42375257) Homepage

    They sold kits in the old days. They even sold kits with various themes and special (non-brick) parts.

    All of this nostalgia and angst is misplaced. These people are running off on a tangent based on some idealized notion of the past rather than what actaully happened.

  • 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 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 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 Cinder6 ( 894572 ) on Sunday December 23, 2012 @01:34PM (#42375839)

    I think this story is a non-issue. I recently built the Millennium Falcon [lego.com] for work (yes, you read that right). It's an expensive set, but I was surprised that it only had two non-standard pieces (those comprising the cockpit). You could easily make something else with the pieces, if you so desired, or you could follow the instructions (which seemed barely more detailed than when I played with the Space Police sets) and make a cool, recognizable ship.

    The only way I would think that Lego has sold out would be if a significant number of the pieces in any given set were non-standard and hard to incorporate into a custom design. Maybe that is a case and the set I built was an outlier, but it seems the option is still there to built whatever you want. In other words, Lego seems to be pretty much like it was when I was a kid, only with more brand recognition.

  • 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 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 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 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.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351