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CONCERNING LEGO

18 September 2010

Here’s a topical list about Lego.

What I like about Lego:

1.
It’s still every bit as fun now as it was when I was young. Lego never gets old. The thrill of clicking bits into other bits and feeling that familiar snap as it attaches is brilliant. At the moment I don’t have the room or resources to make the ridiculous, extravagant MOCs (My Own Creations) that I have in my head, but that’s not keeping me from buying sets and enjoying putting them together (and pulling them apart again to store in plastic bags for safekeeping). I can’t wait to have my own Lego room in the future!

2. Lego’s beauty has increased a hundredfold since my youth. Look back to Lego from even the 90s and you’ll see gaudy designs, limited colors and clumsy shapes. Some constructions from the Explorers and Castle sets made me cringe on looking back. A lot of it from that era and before is great, don’t get me wrong, but Lego variety and colors have exploded in the past decade. There’s a huge array of colors nowadays with multiple gradients in the most important hues. Shapes are more diverse than ever, with a great many tiny bricks that add tremendously to the detail of sets and MOCs. Can you imagine a world without the cheese wedge?

3. A very recent trend has seen Lego expanding into interesting new avenues. The wildly successful collectible minifigures are an obvious example, as are the Lego board games that try to incorporate the creativity the building blocks are known for. On a broader scale it has always been exciting to see what Lego produces off the main grid. AFOLs (Adult Fan of Lego) have been thrilled to see a wide collection of sets aimed at a more mature audience, from the beautiful modular houses to hard-to-get scale models of Star Wars ships and recreations of American architecture. It shows not only the powerful diversity of Lego, but also its dedication to be more than just a ‘children’s toy’.

4. Some of the licensed themes have produced amazing sets. Star Wars has some of the most interesting, challenging builds out there (the Solar Sailor was fantastic in that regard) and some of the Indiana Jones sets are beautiful without compare. Heck, even the Prince of Persia sets get me excited!

What I don’t like about Lego:

1. Some of the licensed themes are less than great. Ben10 Lego, Spider-Man Lego, Toy Story Lego… it sometimes seems Lego is just shooting blindly trying to hit the bull’s-eye instead of precision firing at the target. Worse is that the emphasis on licensed themes has hurt some of the original ones. Lego’s own space themes withered under the direct competition of Star Wars (and have only recently with the Space Police 3 line been restored to some degree) and it has been rumored that a possible Pirates of the Caribbean theme put a stopper to Lego’s own (exquisite) Pirates theme.

2.
The diversity of tiny cheese wedge pieces had a parallel development in the opposite direction: some of the more child-oriented themes began incorporating huge, bulky, blobby bricks. Noticeably the Rock Raiders and previous Castle themes were apt to create huge trolls, rock creatures and other plastic monstrosities that just don’t have that ‘Lego’ quality to them. The current Castle set fortunately did away with all that stuff and went back to basics (though perhaps, a bit too basic? I wouldn’t have minded those castles and towers being a little more detailed and intricate).

3.
Though the collectible minifigures were great, their quality was noticeably inferior to what we’re used to from Lego. From cheaply spray-painted accessories to plastic that’s just not as sturdy as the original ABS. The molds are different too, resulting in pieces not fitting quite as snugly together as they should. The hinges of legs feel lame right out of the box instead of after decades of intensive usage. That really shouldn’t happen. Lego has always stood for quality. Especially with their patents falling away and competitors and knock-off brands hitting the shelves, Lego needs to differentiate itself more than ever as the ‘quality’ brand.

4. Of course, quality has it price and in Lego’s case, that price is steep. This critique is one that I’d like to put into perspective. I don’t mind paying for quality. Lego isn’t a cheap toy and it shouldn’t be cheap as a result. However, the prices we pay here in Europe aren’t steep in the ‘fair’ way, they are steep in the ‘extortion’ way. Look to the US to see significantly lower prices for the same product while Lego still makes a profit off of it. The prices in Europe are artificially maintained at a rather absurdly high level simply because the market is locked and no one’s there to challenge Lego. Couple this with the annual price hike and you’ll understand why I always wait for rare discounts or themes to become discontinued. It’s just not funny anymore to pay these king’s ransoms. And though I’d never want Lego to lower the quality so they can lower the price as well, I have a feeling the prices here are needlessly inflated and I’d like to stick a needle in that balloon just a little bit.

You should be cautious; I could talk about Lego all day, I’m not even joking.

Roderick