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Lego Mindstorms: What Went Wrong? 278

Posted by Hemos
from the at-least-they-aren't-stolen dept.
latif writes "In recent years, Lego Mindstorms has generated more media buzz for Lego than all of its other product lines combined, but surprisingly, Mindstorms seem to be out of favor at Lego. The Mindstorms line has been cut down to a single set and Lego is not interested in marketing even that set. Lego has been in a lot of financial trouble in recent times and its neglect of a product line with solid sales potential might seem odd but this is not so. I have done an analysis of Lego's Mindstorms options and my analysis indicates that Lego has solid economic reasons for backing away from the Mindstorms line."
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Lego Mindstorms: What Went Wrong?

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  • Back to the basics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GreyWolf3000 (468618) on Monday November 28, 2005 @12:52AM (#14126692) Journal
    Lego has dumbed down their sets too much. When I played legos as a kid, we'd only buy "sets" so that we had more pieces to make our own creations. Nowadays, the sets they sell have all these wierd specialized pieces which make constructing whatever model they have prepared for you easier.

    The thing that made legos great was how much they used to enable creativity. Now they've gone the other way, and all the sets prevent you from making your own creation because of wierd specialized pieces.

    Go back to the basics. Hell, just go back to Space Police, Blacktron, Castle, and Forest legos. That'd be cool.

  • by Txiasaeia (581598) on Monday November 28, 2005 @12:52AM (#14126698)
    First, they switch out their creative product lines (I'm thinking primarily of the wonderful space sets they had 10-25 years ago) for Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Spider Man. Next, they slowly kill Mindstorms? I haven't bought any Lego since they dropped their space lines for branded crap, and if they continue with these poor marketing decisions, I doubt they'll be of any real influence by the time my oldest is old enough to play with Lego. (And don't get me started on how they've been screwing around with Duplo over the last couple of years!)

    On the plus side, at least they keep on churning out basic tubs.

  • by grahamsz (150076) on Monday November 28, 2005 @12:56AM (#14126710) Homepage Journal
    That was the best part. We had something like 3 of those large plastic totes filled with lego and another couple with technic and played with that shit for hours making huge contraptions.

    If i were a kid now i'm not sure i'd want to be able to build some crappy version of harry potter or some star wars model.
  • by GeorgeMcBay (106610) on Monday November 28, 2005 @12:57AM (#14126715)
    I love Legos* to death, but they are just too damn expensive. Normal, everyday people just don't like the idea of paying a hundred bucks for a couple of handfuls of plastic blocks, no matter how cool they are.

    On the more specific topic of the Mindstorms kit, the author of that article seems to assume everyone who might be interested in Lego would be interested in Mindstorms, which just isn't true. Most people aren't interested in programming their own toys. I know it is difficult for geeks to believe this (and I say this as a professional C++ programmer for the past 10 years), but it is true.

    *(yeah, that's right, I called them Legos, suck it down trademark Nazis)
  • Poor analysis (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sopwith (5659) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:01AM (#14126734) Homepage
    Yes, a Mindstorms set's production costs are probably 10% of retail, but this is the toy business, where production costs are not the main issue, and keeping on top of a fickle marketplace is.

    There are likely to be slotting fees that Lego has to pay on an ongoing basis to keep each of its products in stores, and no doubt Lego is trying to make the smart business decision of maximizing profitability by using that shelf space to sell products that have higher volume and the same level of profitability.

    No argument that it would be cool to have more Lego Mindstorms sets available, but unfortunately this ain't the perfect world, and things are never as simple as they seem from outside the corporation.
  • by SageMusings (463344) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:04AM (#14126746) Journal
    I tried to find one of those same sets for my children. Unfortunately, they are all small, specialized kits.

    My biggest complaint is the eggregiuos (sp?) price. Lego toys are WAY over priced considering they are just simple plastic blocks. If they cut the price, I would make sure the Christmas tree this year had plenty of Legos for my kids.
  • by Meagermanx (768421) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:05AM (#14126751)
    The real problem with Legos is they're too expensive for what they are. Little pieces of plastic shouldn't cost that much.

    And, sure, the original sets had class and style, but I would like to see sets based on cool current licenses. No, not Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, '60s Batman, Indiana Jones, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, 50 Cent. Those would sell at least as good as whatever Bionicle crap they're pushing nowadays. Well, maybe not that last one, but I think it would be funny.
  • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld AT gmail DOT com> on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:07AM (#14126762)
    That isn't dumbing down, that is attempting to force you to buy new sets instead of using old ones.

    If 60% of your legos are 'one use only' parts, then that's 40% more you have to buy before you could do as much with them as you could a decade ago. The problem Lego has is that their product was designed to last and is always 'backwards compatable' they are afraid of saturating their market and having what happened when I was growing up. Back then, they were having problems selling sets, not because no one thought they were worth anything, but because after about three or four sets, you never needed to buy any more unless Billy managed to sitck the entire set up his nose or down the heating vents.

    This is also why they are moving onto things like "Star Wars" and "Spiderman" instead of generic Space Police or 'build a city' sets. Even if you have all the pieces then, you want to buy the next set because you 'cant' build Spiderman without the 20 pieces they specially molded to make it look like Spiderman.

    Mindstorm is a perfect example of the problem. They had a $200 set, and once you bought it, there wasn't any hook to make you buy more. So no one did. It didn't matter that they made huge profit on that $200 set that would have probably been more like $20 to create. If you aren't continuing to buy, then they failed.
  • by cafeman (46922) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:13AM (#14126806) Homepage

    It's an interesting write-up, but I think the conclusions latif's come to aren't warranted. Firstly, all the speculation about Mindstorms price elasticity of demand are based on the assumption that strong consumer interest exists. Lego Mindstorms is competing against (read in the same price range) as Robosapien and the like. These toys are in a premium segment of the market - they're the "big gift" for Christmas and birthdays. Without having seen any sales figures, I'd be surprised if there were strong demand for Mindstorms - the price is just too high. It's anecdotal, but I've only ever seen a few (if any) mindstorm stock items on the shelves in any of the stores I've ever been into. And, they've typically been in electronics stores, not toy shops. That's not typically a characteristic of a high demand item.

    To be honest, it looks like someone's just completed an economics course and decided to try applying their knowledge to a real-world problem. I mean, the only point in examining price elasticity of demand in this context would have been if one had already established that Lego was losing money and were interested in determining whether or not Lego could raise prices without sacrificing sales. Same goes for the piece cost analysis. Which doesn't take into account the complexity of unique parts, I might add - Lego can achieve some degree of economies of scale with their common parts (6x2 / 4x2 bricks, helmets, etc). Mindstorms has a large number of parts that are only relevant for the Mindstorms line (such as gears, IR sensors, pulleys, etc). Production costs are likely to be higher, and because they're not piggy-backing on a fad (like Harry Potter or Star Wars), sales are also probably going to be lower.

    The assumption that Mindstorms is cannibalising sales is also a stretch, in my opinion. Far more likely that their association with movie brands such as Star Wars and Harry Potter creates substitutable products. Both those brands, as an example, are pitched at the same demographic. And, neither is strictly complementary, from a kid's perspective. Which would you rather - a complete line-up of Star Wars characters, vehicles, and environs, or a blend of HP and SW?

    In my opinion, the simpler explanation is that Mindstorms appeals to a very small niche - kids who think with parents who are trying to encourage learning and are willing to spend the time with their kids. Far more likely that they never achieved the scale of sales they were expecting, but because of the sunk costs associated with R&D and brand development, they're unwilling to kill the line entirely. Whether or not that's the economically wise decision depends on their unit revenue and long-run average cost of production.

  • Said it before (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:18AM (#14126825) Homepage
    Ok, I thought the "why are Legos sucking" discussion had been done to death here several times before.

    Specialized bricks are what is killing Lego!

    There, we may all go on with trying to catch up with all the new stories that just appeared...which are dated several hours ago.

  • by rkcallaghan (858110) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:20AM (#14126835)
    Mindstorm is a perfect example of the problem. They had a $200 set, and once you bought it, there wasn't any hook to make you buy more. So no one did. It didn't matter that they made huge profit on that $200 set that would have probably been more like $20 to create. If you aren't continuing to buy, then they failed.

    Geez, with businesses and people both thinking like this, it's no wonder we can't get anything anymore without a 2 year contract with DRM and a penalty for buying something else.

    Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare? Mindstorms failed because as you said, it took $20 to make and cost $200 -- they sold it above the price point the market was willing and able to bear. No one wants to pay 1000% markup.

    Sell your quality products like Mindstorms at a reasonable price and they will fly off the shelves, its Christmas even. The typical price point is somewhere in the $35-50 range these days for most things (a video game, a couple of CDs, etc..) and I imagine most parents would be happier giving quality legos than 50 Cent and Grand Theft Auto.

    ~Rebecca
  • by StarvingSE (875139) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:28AM (#14126881)
    I agree, I recently perused the current selection of lego sets and I definately noticed the lack of creative potential in the sets. I remember sets had included specialized pieces in the past, but even these were open ended enough to be used for a variety of purposes (for example, tiny plastic antennaes included with space sets that could be used for space stations, or radio towers in a town building, etc).

    What would you use the front windsheild piece on the TIE fighter model for other than a tie fighter? I guess you can be creative with it, but it will always make any spaceship built with it look like a TIE fighter knock-off.

    The article mentions that children are giving up traditional toys for video game at an earlier age. This is a sad state of affairs, and I feel that it will result in a less creative and less intelligent generation. When I was growing up, I had 8-bit nintendo, I had computer games, and I enjoyed them. But I also highly valued my time playing with lego and erector sets. These promoted creative, math, and engineering type skills. My point is that I had access to both mediums, and I chose to split my time between the two. I wonder what else is making children less inclined to play with traditional toys and more attracted to the "idiot box" as my mother used to call the Nintendo.
  • by coastal984 (847795) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:28AM (#14126884) Journal
    As has been echo'd before, Lego's attachment to these branded, specialized part themes is killing it. No longer and you mix and match your dozens of sets of legos to build completly new things that come from your very own imagination.

    I was in a club in high school called TSA (Technology Student Association) and one of the most popular events at regional, state, and national levels of competition is the System Control event, which 99% of teams use the Lego Dacta/Mindstorms equipment. However, with all these single-use model pieces, theres no real room left for the imagination, thus why it's dying.

    If Lego starts killing off these branded, model-building ploys and goes back to where they are strong - a tool to use the imagination, I think they will survive. I've been seeing some new stuff that looks promising, some firehouses and trucks and such, that reminds me of Lego of old, perhaps if they can go more that way (and back to other good ole themes, Pirates, Castles, Space, Submarines, etc - things that you can build the models once, then break them down and mix and match to build your own ideas) then they will be ok. If not, RIP Lego, a victim of bad decision making.

  • Here's my 2 cents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:44AM (#14126941)

    After owning a RIS kit for some years now + expansion kits, having gone to the Robotics challenge at LegoLand, and demoing the kit at various school functions, here's my observations about it:

    • Many kids are trained on video games where things have to be learned in a few minutes, or 85%-95% of them will put it back down and collect dust. Even though the default "brick" language is very good, getting the whole "system" set up (installing the software, IR programmer cable setup, setting up the "brick") and learning the language just to do something simple is going to put off a LOT of kids. Sorry, that's just what I've observed. Even in a GATE class, most are put off by the overhead, and certainly it overwhelms most of the teachers and parents these days. Sure, there are counterexamples, but we're talking about why isn't this kit as popular as some thought it should be... What would I do about it? Make a brick out of a Nintendo Game boy advance, where you can program it and plug it in without a computer. Make the user interface easier for first timers.

    • The intro examples are still too complex to "hook" most people into playing with this system, IMHO. Even the Legoland robotics contest didn't let you build everything and program everything from scratch, but had a few preset plans, as I vaugely remember.

    • IMHO, the brick is too heavy and bulky for autonomous, self propelling systems. To make a self-propelled robot, most of your legos in the kit has to go towards supporting the brick and servos. Much of the weight is due to the large number of AA batteries. Why doesn't Lego license other companies to make compatible bricks that are lighter in weight and more capable (open source vs. closed argument?)

    • Once you build a few robots and get more sophisticated, you rapidly run into limitations in either the servo output, brick programming, brick I/O capability, etc. Once someone is hooked, they have to go to third party languages, parts, etc. Most kids aren't THAT resourceful. Of course, a lot of nerdy kids can do it, and I've seen that, but, again, we're talking about why RIS isn't as popular as it can be. If you want it to be more populare, there has to be more expansion support (yes, even more than the old expansion kits)

    This kit has or had potential to hook kids into robotics, but IMHO they should emphasize extending a "video game" interface into real life peripherals (ie, doing something in a "video game" experience causes something in real life with Mindstorms something like augmented reality). Once kids see augmented reality with Mindstorms, then that can hook them into learning how to do the more complex things, like programming. Furthermore, open up the kit so other companies can extend the kit without threats of lawsuits from Lego.

  • by indigoid (3724) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:50AM (#14126976) Homepage
    Take a really close look at some Lego pieces someday. Then have a look at
    some other toys in your toy store. Lego's manufacturing tolerances are very
    narrow indeed, and they must be; if they didn't you'd not be able to
    put blocks together. Modern manufacturing has improved, to be sure, but they
    have been doing this for decades.
  • by Otto (17870) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:59AM (#14127002) Homepage Journal
    Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare?

    Because companies are in for the long haul.

    Let's say they take your advice, and build a Mindstorms lineup with the cool electronics bricks on the cheap. Say, $40 for the RIS with just the electronics and mechanical parts. Maybe a couple of add-on sets for more electronics and mechanical gears. Then say they go back to selling the big boxes of bricks again, like they had when I was a kid. You use these to build the models themselves, and the RIS stuff for the movement and such. Mark it all at a reasonable price so that for $100-150, you can get one fantastic set of Legos that will let you build anything you can imagine, as a kid. Nothing huge, but all the joy of Lego plus the learning experience of the Mindstorms gear. Easily done, and they'd make a killer profit. Everybody would get one.

    Then next year rolls around, and they go out of business. Those Lego bricks *last*. My sister's kids will be playing with the same bricks I had 30 years previously. As long as you don't lose them to the evils of the vaccum cleaner, they just freakin' last forever.

    Lego just has an unusual business. They're into selling timeless toys, but the problem with timeless toys is that they are actually timeless. They sold the big boxes of bricks 30 years ago and it almost killed the company. It's all down to profit, really. They make more money selling those crappy models with all the custom pieces and selling *less* of them than they did by selling the generic bricks on the cheap at a still substantial profit.

    Yes, we all want the big buckets of bricks and we all want the electronic coolness that is the Mindstorms line, but the fact is that selling those is not a way to achieve long term profitability. They're not trying to sell to you right now, they're trying to continue selling to you and your kids, and their kids, forever.

    Okay, so that sucks, but it does make sense from their point of view.

    One thing not seemingly mentioned anywhere is that Lego seems to have the notion building internally of starting up a different market for the older people into Lego. Us old people who still remember the big buckets of bricks can sign up for their catalog. I got one the other day, and yes, you can buy bricks in bulk. Not random sets, but sets of specific brick types, basically by the bag. It's kinda interesting, actually. For the Lego-philes, I recommend looking around their webpage and signing up for the catalog to see what's what there. Yes, the catalog is full of all the Harry Potter and Spiderman crap, but in the center is a nice foldout where you can just buy pieces in bulk. You could amass one hell of a large lego collection for a decent price by buying one bag of everything they have. Or if you have a specific idea, it would be great for making a large model of whatever type you like.
  • by BewireNomali (618969) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:06AM (#14127027)
    Dude, they do those sets for marketing purposes. Children are flooded with toys designed for the impulse buy... expertly tied into the latest kids movie or DVD and/or kids radio, etc. Lego can't compete on those terms... so they do cross-marketing to grow the audience and grab some mindshare. The kids who have a natural affinity for legos latch on - the others move on after the impulse buy.

    Our economy is such that, in general... it's the impulse buyers that keep makers of consumer products afloat rather than the loyal customer.

    Ny nephew is an atypical child, but he latched on to legos early, and now, at nine... he's expanded the size of his set tenfold and builds huge and complex constructs regularly. The reason he fell into it is because I was a huge lego guy as a kid and passed the love on to him. We often build things together - he sends me pix and we consult on design.

    Interestingly enough, many companies are having problems with keeping mindshare for the same reason. For example, the sports leagues (baseball, football, etc.) are facing an increasingly older demographic, as these generations have failed to instill their love for the sport in their kids and grandkids. The NFL speculates that 90% of their fans pick up the sport from a father or father figure. The implosion of the nuclear family and the lack of permanent father figures mean that generations of boys don't have an instilled passion for baseball or football... or whatever. Venture onto a kids channel during daytime hours and you'll be bombarded with NFL for kids and/or NBA for kids commercials et al.

    I think legos suffer from a similar problem. they are great toys that a child for the most part needs to be introduced to. Modern day toys are things that are designed to babysit kids for parents, as opposed to involving them and engaging them together. And that's if kids are playing with toys at all. The only toys my nephew has are legos. Other than that, he's a gamer. His friends are no different, except that they don't even like legos. They play games and ride bikes.

    This dude I knew once bought an old pocket watch at an estate sale. After a few tokes, while playing splinter cell co-op, he tells me that he's gonna keep the watch in his family... start a tradition. I laughed uproariously; it was the funniest thing I'd heard ever. I understand his sentiment though... now anyway. Part and parcel of a quickly evolving popular culture is a resetting of the mindset, like goldfish....

    I know I've gotten completely off-topic... but it's ironic that the very companies that seek to destroy that which is good in man for profit are the very same companies we work for.

  • by rewinn (647614) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:14AM (#14127052) Homepage

    When it comes to the play experience, much of the fun of assembling a robot is similar to the fun of building a city or an empire in SimCity or Age of Empires. Instead of gears and pulleys, you manipulate serfs or workers or whatever ... but otherwise it's all figuring out what thingies do what and how to combine them to do what-ever.

    Lego has the great advantage of being physical and tactile, but OTOH computer games do much better with graphics and sound. I feel the same sense of pride in a well-built empire as I do in a well-build Lego thingy ... and the computer game has the added element of competition (... and, ahem, cheat codes ... .)

    As to the impact on our educational system ... it may be unfortunate that the engineering skills Lego can teach are something America may be falling behind on, based on the number of engineers in our schools. However, the skills of organizing a complex organization (a.k.a. empire) may be just as valuable. Is it better to be a top-notch engineer, or to be the employer of a dozen top-notch engineers?

  • IMNSHO... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigt_littleodd (594513) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:25AM (#14127083)
    Lego started its downhill slide a couple of decades ago.

    Back in the (my) day, Lego just sold boxes full of rectangular blocks, mostly just red and white ones, with some gray flat plates and the occasional clear or triangular roof tiles. I made TWA jetliners, Apollo rockets (they had to be square, since I didn't have enough curved pieces), space ships, tanks, garages, bridges and tunnels for my Hot Wheels, etc.

    The sets didn't include step-by-step instructions for making any of these things. AAMOF, I don't remember any instruction sheets at all.

    Inspiration came from the pictures on the Lego box and the imaginations of my friends and myself.

    Years ago, I looked back at my Legos and realized it was probably the most influential toy of my childhood. Hence, I wanted to pass this glorious experience on to my son. I spent, along with the help of many relatives, literally thousands of dollars on Lego for my boy.

    We started with Duplo, then graduated up the Lego ladder. As time passed, the kits became, as others have noted here, very specific to themes, and highly specialized. Sometimes the pieces were so specialized that they would not work well with other kits.

    I watched my son assemble these kits, following the supplied instructions exactly. He was very good at it, and he was very happy with the results he got. He also got to be very good at troubleshooting where he put in the wrong piece in Technics sets. This was a Good Thing(TM), I thought.

    Then one day, while he was bored, I suggested that take apart some of his Lego and build something new from the pieces. He looked at me like I had three heads. He asked me where he could get instructions for assembling new objects, since he had already assembled all of the variations of the kits' instruction manuals.

    I was crestfallen. It confirmed right then and there that Lego Corporate had, over the years, managed to remove all the imagination and excitement of Lego and kids being creative with simple chunks of plastic.

    Then Mindstorms came out! I was so excited that I bought a set right away, plus a few (expensive) accessories for it. I gave it to my son, at the time 9 years old, for Christmas. Once he saw that it contained no instructions for specific projects he lost interest quickly.

    Some may read my post and judge my son to be an unimaginitive drudge without capacity for creative thought. He isn't that at all. But he has been conditioned by Lego, through Lego products, to treat Lego as a step-by-step construction project, much like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

    Lego might as well print on the box "No Imagination Required!" on all their products.

  • by Bushido Hacks (788211) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:29AM (#14127092) Homepage Journal
    Lego has a great product. There is nothing wrong with the product. It is not hard to develop or research because the blue prints can be derived from real life applications, like the Technic series was.

    The person who wrote the article stated that Lego assembly was "scripted" and "devoid of imagination". The only people who wrote that stuff are the people who HAVE not imagination. Generally, this can be attributed to the marketing agency which limits itself to a select few brand names or icons that they believe people will recognize and buy products related to the other icons or brands insted of the Lego brand. Hence, Spider-man, and Harry Potter get more recongintion than Lego. The people in charge of marketing did not help Lego, the helped the people at Marvel Comics and Time Warner. Accounting also has a hand in the destruction of the Lego corporation. These are simiple plastic peices that can be manufactured at any plastics molding plant. However, the accounting department decided that only China should be given the honor. Hence, instead of producing an inexpensive product, the cost of creating the Legos have increased.

    If consumers aren not happy, the investors won't be happy, and the Lego corporation won't be happy. It is a loss for everyone.
  • Bley (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmicoToni (123984) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:30AM (#14127096)
    That's not the only stupid thing they've done recently. In 2004 they decided to change their 50-odd year core colour palette.

    The light gray and the dark gray changed into a light blueish gray and a dark blueish gray, which were given the derisory name "bley" by the aficionado AFOL community (AFOL=Adult Friends Of Lego).

    All new sets since 2004 contain only pieces with the new grays, making it difficult for owners of existing sets to build anything without ending up with a patchwork of different shades of gray in their creations. The brown color was also changed into a more reddish colour.

    The official response from the LEGO CEO can be read here: http://f24.parsimony.net/forum61776/messages/97463 .htm [parsimony.net].

    As far as I am concerned, I think LEGO is aiming too much towards the market of "grown-up" children who are interested in robots and monsters. The Bionicle sets are cool, but they do not belong in the LEGO construction system. They don't even have studs, they don't interlock with the standard pieces. They sell well, good for them, but they are just one of endless companies to fight in that market.

    My feeling is that LEGO could rediscover its roots (and sell) by targeting once again the small children market, with small sets mostly made of standard pieces, as in the famed Legoland series, or the much-loved Classic Space series.

    The fact that LEGO is currently showing no sense of direction saddens me to no end.

    To conclude with a further tiny bit of information, if you want to find again the old sets that you loved as a child, you might find this site quite interesting: www.bricklink.com [bricklink.com]
  • by dyoung9090 (894137) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:35AM (#14127111)
    Legos don't die. That's half their fun. If the company goes bankrupt tomorrow and liquidates everything they have, renaming Legoland to Megabloktopia and dumping the Harry Potter franchise, there's more than enough Legos out there to sustain the hard-core Lego fans until the generic people step up production.

    Specialized bricks have their place. I agree on the one hand that many of them ARE one-use only crap. It's true. I used to love getting their space sets (seems like a popular choice here) and trying to make copies of space sets I already had, and sometimes ones that I just saw in the nifty catalogues that used to come out and for those, you usually needed a couple of those specialized pieces. Great concept... warring space empires ripping off each other's designs for their own knock-off vehicles.

    Then came the age of pirates. I loved the boats and still have a huge fleet of them, but the set that is both my most beloved and my most hated was that one where you made a small island fortress using three (I think... I'd have to dig it out of the closet) huge wall pieces and a cannon. I didn't have enough matching pieces to add on to it without it looking stupid, and using the walls for another project always looked a little stupid becuase they didn't fit in with the rest of my sets very well.

    And then I couldn't use my basic bricks because they looked out of place and kiddy (who has a solid blue townhouse next to their neighbor's solid yellow townhouse? And what pirate would be caught dead with a bright red castle?) Next the doors looked out of place so they went out of circulation... then the thick wheel units...

    Eventually I just gave up on legos altogether because basically I could make the set and have a fun shelf-saver or I could have a bunch of little dinky pieces that, when I was younger, I would have loved turning into lasers for space ships (since EVERYTHING became a laser for my space army's ships) but now exist as just feeder for the bottom of my tubs.

    Long story longer, the bricks didn't change... we did. With a little creativity all those one use only pieces probably can be used for all kinds of things... we're just too short-sighted to enjoy them without Lego giving us a couple of alternative ideas. I was blown away the time I saw someone place a fence upside down between two rows of holes and built up from there. My suggestion... give those one-offs to your kids and see how many cool things they can come up with.

    As for mindstorms themselves (so I at least appear to be on topic)... never tried them for the same reason I didn't enjoy the few Technic sets I tried... they weren't "pure" Lego. Although I'm sure this is news to some of you, but not everyone that plays with Legos is an engineer in training, some of us just liked having another medium to play in and trying to work the technic stuff into the stuff we were already building was more trouble than it was worth. Nobody is blaming Lego for the lack of support of Clickits or that morphing-boy-show lego set, both of which I think would have touched much larger markets than the robot-fan group.

    Oh, and while I'm complaining... I saw the Megablok's Narnia set, the Winter Rescue one, and could I be any more disappointed? Well, only if Lego had made it. There's the mini-figs of a few players and then almost everything else is one big one-use-only brick. It's bad enough they've probably scared Marvel out of the Construction toy market... now they're ruining the one thing that could have given Harry Potter legos some real fight.
  • It was limited (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dmonphire (934329) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:15AM (#14127197)
    The problem with mindstorms was that it was only entertaining for a certain amount of time. Once you learned the programming and how to make a robot that could follow a black line, there was really nothing else you could do that would be all that entertaining. Other lego sets have more flexibility once you get bored with what the instructions tell you to make.
  • by Paul Crowley (837) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:47AM (#14127271) Homepage Journal
    Maybe Lego are running Mindstorms into a siding because it turns kids onto programming and thus away from building real things with Lego?

    This is a bit of a reach, but I know that as a kid I soon lost interest in making real things once I learned to program. You can't save an earlier version of a Lego model before making a revision. And I know I'm not the only one.
  • Re:IMNSHO... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by space2004 (768461) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:47AM (#14127272)
    Interesting post... in particular the point about kids viewing lego as a 3D jigsaw puzzle. I think there's a lot of truth to that... but I'm not sure there's anything wrong with it. Different kids will have different motivations when they play... some may like the reassurance of having done something the "right" way. Some may feel more "grown up" if they follow the instructions. When I was a kid in the 70s playing with Lego I only had a fairly small set and didn't have any instructions. I always seemed to be missing the kind of piece I wanted... everything always seemed to come out sort of half baked. It was kind of frustrating, especially when I saw other kids with huge sets that had all kinds of exotic pieces.

    Also note that one can now design ones own Lego project on a computer (http://www.lego.com/eng/create/digitaldesigner/ [lego.com]), get a printout of the required pieces, take it to a Lego store and buy the parts needed to make it. So it seems Lego is trying to address the creative aspect as well...

  • by shadowmas (697397) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:49AM (#14127279)
    all the more reason to have lower prices. if they have done this for so long i'm pretty sure they dont have any problem manufacturing those pieces at a low cost.
  • Back to Duplo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JulesLt (909417) on Monday November 28, 2005 @04:30AM (#14127334)
    Like many here, I'd say I did the same - used to build any space-ship seen on TV in a somewhat square form. Even out of red house bricks if necessary (grey being rarer than it was before space lego). If you wanted a model, you'd get an Airfix kit instead - but they had far less appeal to me. I don't know how long I'd play with my Lego creations before pulling them apart into something else, but it felt more like drawing, than gluing and painting plastic. Modeling was more about make model, display model - you didn't even play with it after. I think that attracts a different personality type.

    Of course I think one thing that's really hit Lego has been computer games - the feeling I'd get playing the early versions of Sim City or Civ was pretty much the same as I'd get from covering the entire floor area with a Lego city. And like Lego the fun has been driven out of those games as they've got closer to reality in their graphics.

    Does the decline of Lego explain the rise of Visual Studio? Just click the components into place and there - you've made a program. Will be have .NET Harry Potter edition?
  • by Plunky (929104) on Monday November 28, 2005 @05:00AM (#14127399)
    Because companies are in for the long haul.

    Well Kudos to Lego for realising this at least. Many large companies seem to be in it for the money they can get on THIS years profit sheet, so that the directors can get large bonuses THIS year and $sys$ the long haul.

    Or maybe thats just because some industries (oil, music, ...) can see that they have no life at all in the long term.

    Gosh but I'm cynical sometimes..

  • by Znork (31774) on Monday November 28, 2005 @05:13AM (#14127422)
    "Because eveyone has to eat,"

    Yes, food is a time-limited, disposable nightmare. That doesnt mean you have to churn out time limited disposable nightmares to exchange for food.

    Specific players in an economy may gain by creating deliberately time-limited products, but the economy as a whole, and the wealth of society as a whole gets diminished.

    The classical example would be the broken window fallacy; the bakers broken window does not generate more employment and higher turnover in the economy. It seems that way when you only look at the economic chain following the window replacement, but in fact it merely forces the baker to buy a new window instead of buying a new pot, thus causing there to be the same number of windows but one less pot available in the economy.

    Money spent replacing something that gets destroyed or deliberately obsoleted without cause is not money coming from nowhere, it's money that would have been spent purchasing (and financing the creation of) something else.

    "Then what? What do you sell then?"

    Then you damn well sell something else or get a job, just like everyone else. A free market economy is not a corporate welfare system intended to support the profits of people who want to keep doing the same thing over and over again when they've already saturated their market.

    The very foundation of the creation of wealth in a free market economy is that the ever increasing efficiency in the economy is what is allowing everyone to accumulate as much material wealth as possible. Legos get so cheap that everyone can own them? Great, that's the whole idea of a free market, it's done its thing, legos are no longer a scarcity, we've all become 'richer', we now have the spare wealth that would have been spent buying legos available to buy something else. Now go over to maintenance mode on that old product and produce something new, attracting that newly available spare wealth so we all become even 'richer' again.

    "There is nothing wrong with trying to 'keep them coming back'"

    If you truly understand the fundamentals of the economics of the world then you will understand what is wrong with trying to keep them coming back with certain methods. Deliberate unnecessary obsolecense has very specific effects on the wealth of society and the economy as a whole. A sale gained for one by unecessary obsolecense is a sale lost for someone else, and ultimately a piece of 'wealth' that goes uncreated for us all. And so, it can be considered 'wrong', in the same way as any other deliberate destruction of someone elses property.
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Monday November 28, 2005 @05:34AM (#14127466) Homepage Journal
    Take a look at any microchip, even the little tiny ICs.
    They all have a much lower tolerance to faults and most sell for fractions of a pence.

    Lego isn't some technical miracle, its a molded plastic piece.
  • by inferis (84322) on Monday November 28, 2005 @07:22AM (#14127669) Homepage
    The price is not the problem. Parents are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on consoles and games, so why would a few sets of legos cost too much for them?

    The real problem is that kids aren't as creative anymore as they used to be. Playing an PS2 game is "easy", while building something with Legos requires thought and time. Most kids don't know better than to consume (blame TV, for instance) so playing with Legos is generally harder than playing with a PSP.

    I think.
  • by Simon Brooke (45012) * <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Monday November 28, 2005 @07:37AM (#14127701) Homepage Journal
    Mindstorm is a perfect example of the problem. They had a $200 set, and once you bought it, there wasn't any hook to make you buy more. So no one did. It didn't matter that they made huge profit on that $200 set that would have probably been more like $20 to create. If you aren't continuing to buy, then they failed.

    Look, this is arrant nonsense. I was 45 when Mindstorms first came out, and I don't have any kids. I was one of the first purchasers, and from what I've read 50% or more of all Mindstorms sets sold have been sold for use by adults - people who simply would not have bought other LEGO products. Furthermore, since I bought my Mindstorms set, I've bought masses of other Technic LEGO, and other stuff like rotation sensors, additional light sensors, additional motors, and so on.

    LEGO could develop a whole new audience with Mindstorms. They'd need to get rid of the awful firmware it comes with and bundle instead some of the many enthusiast-developed alternative firmwares (e.g. TinyVM [sourceforge.net], BrickOS [sourceforge.net], pbForth [hempeldesigngroup.com]). It would be nice also to have a USB or serial port, to make interfacing things like GPS systems easier. A more powerful processor and more memory would be great. But there is a big adult audience out there for mindstorms - people who want to tinker with robotics - and that audience has far more money to spend than kids have.

    LEGO are missing a trick here. They need to rebrand Mindstorms as an adult focussed product, add more compute power, and raise the price. They'd have a run away winner.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday November 28, 2005 @08:49AM (#14127852) Homepage Journal
    But to not see why people build obselence into their products is to have a fundemental misunderstanding of economics in this world. There is nothing wrong with trying to 'keep them coming back'
    Apart from all the resources that went into last week's product, which is serviceble but is now in a landfill for no reason other than that it's out of fashion.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 28, 2005 @10:29AM (#14128519)
    >Firstly, the only direct object that goes with the verb "to learn" is a skill or subject.
    >
    >Secondly, there is no such thing as "legos".

    Well, at least the GP post was insightful and contributed to the conversation. Yours was just another idiotic grammer nazi post. You know what ? No one cares. All you're doing is filling the forum with more garbage. It's no different than the FP and GNAA trolls. I got the gist of what the poster was saying and agreed with them.

    You certainly have the right to post whatever you want, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you should. Either contribute to the conversation at hand or shut up and read.

    Oh, and if anyone has a problem with the spelling or grammer in this post, see the 4th sentence of paragraph one.

    *stepping down off my soap box*

  • by Tassach (137772) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:04PM (#14130042)
    Learning to build with lego is like learning to program -- you have to start by copying someone else's design in order to learn how to put the pieces together to make what you want.

    A lego plan is valuable in the same way that "hello, world" is valuable -- it teaches you a technique that you can apply to your own designs.

  • by wandernotlost (444769) <[moc.cigamliart] [ta] [todhsals]> on Monday November 28, 2005 @04:21PM (#14131957)
    I love Legos* to death, but they are just too damn expensive.

    Okay, I just searched on Amazon for Lego, and the first thing that came up was the Lego Creator 1000-Piece Tub: Fun with Building (4496), which sells for $20.99. So you're telling me that $21 for 1000 little machined pieces that can be put together in millions of ways and that will last generations is too expensive? You must be spending all your money on crack.

    Sure, you can pay more for specialized things that create flashy toys that resemble other toys (for which Lego probably has to pay a licensing fee to the particular brand it resembles), or you can pay a lot for the Mindstorms kit that includes a microcomputer, but all this talk about Legos seems to be hogwash to me.

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