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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 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 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 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 shadowmas (697397)
            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.
          • 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 dr_canak (593415)
            Exactly,

            The parent is right. In fact, to describe their tolerance as "narrow" is understating things. A lego piece made 30 years ago fits perfectly with a piece coming off the line today. I've bought 10,000's of legos over the years (basic, old school technic from the 80's, Mindstorm, etc...) and never once have I seen a piece that didn't work. And not only do they fit and work, but they fit tight and stay together despite a fair amount of abuse. Try any of the other block building toys out there and t
        • Expensive lego (Score:3, Interesting)

          by grahamsz (150076)
          One of my brothers friends had some real solid gold and silver lego bricks. His father was a goldsmith and seemingly just made them for fun.

          I think most of ours were inherited or from garage sales. Though i do remember when i first got one of the knights and castles models that had custom pieces - even back then i wasn't too happy about it.
        • by aywwts4 (610966)
          To Parent and Grandparent:

          http://shop.lego.com/product.asp?p=4496&CMP=AFC- FROOGLE&HQS=4496

          1000 peice lego tub (Of the generic non specific peices) for 20 Dollars

          A use your own imagination set at the cost of two pennies per peice. Not friggin bad, Cheaper than a ton of toys kids might play with for a few hours then get tired of/break/batteries run out/annoys the parents so the batteries DO run out :D
        • 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 ajd1474 (558490) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:47AM (#14126970)
        I think that's the difference. When I was a kid, my brothers and I got a new set of lego for every birthday and xmas. The thing was that after we built the model, it got pulled apart and went in with the rest of the sets. We wouldn't build singular model jets, or spacehips, or cars, or boats. We built entire cities, space centres, ski resorts, fleets of ships. We would literaly build until we'd run out of blocks. Then pull it apart and start again. But these were 3-4 week projects, and everything worked. Ski lifts that actually worked, tractors with ploughs that moved etc etc. We couldn't afford transformers, so we'd build our own out of Lego. We weren't allowed to have a proper electric trainset, so we got a lego one and build a dozen different train sets. That was and IS what is cool about lego. Our lego was the only toy we ever needed, because with a bit of creativity it WAS every other toy.

        Just recently, I started collecting all the star wars stuff that I couldn't have when i was a kid. Like the AT-AT, Millenium Falcon etc. And they do sit there and wont go in with the rest, because they are models in their own right. So you can have a bit of both.

        But really... the Harry Potter and Spiderman stuff REALLY sucks.
        • Back to Duplo (Score:3, Insightful)

          by JulesLt (909417)
          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 - y
    • by freeweed (309734) on Monday November 28, 2005 @12:57AM (#14126714)
      Go back to the basics. Hell, just go back to Space Police, Blacktron, Castle, and Forest legos.

      It's funny to see comments like this. When I was growing up, the original Space sets were just coming out. My older brothers complained that Lego was making far too many specialized pieces in order to help you construct their pre-prepared models.

      Plus ca change...
    • 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 Anonymous Coward
        I tried to find one of those same sets for my children. Unfortunately, they are all small, specialized kits.

        Huh? They still sell generic sets. Fry's recently had a huge wall of them for ~$20 per box. All bricks, no special parts.
    • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld&gmail,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 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 Chyeld (713439) <chyeld&gmail,com> on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:55AM (#14126989)
          Why do we have to turn everything in to a time limited, disposable, keep repurchasing nightmare?>

          Because eveyone has to eat, and few people are willing to work for nothing and rely on the soup kitchen.

          Sell Mindstorm kits at $50, have them fly off the shelves this Christmas. Have every kid in the world own a kit.

          Then what? What do you sell then? Or are you going to take the miniscule profits you made off the first run and continue to pay your employees off of it? Fat Chance.

          They have to continue to sell because they need your money to pay the cost of doing buisness. They charged $200 not because they were gouging, but because that's the price point where they thought they could make back the loss in repeat customers with direct profit.

          Now, I'm not taking their side on the issue, I'm not taking the stance that they should just return to 100% reusable cheap parts either.

          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', the problem is when the methods you choose in themselves are poor or unethical. In Lego's case, I would agree with another poster, they've failed in either case. That's why they are pulling back from the line. They can't see a way to sell it that won't cut their throat further down the road, so they are just slowly abandoning the line. It's sad. But it's the fate of hundreds of products out there and it's simply an economic fact that not everything the public loves is going to be something a company can make money off of in the long-term, at regarldess of price.

          • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:16AM (#14127200)
            Come on. They could easily sell a Mindstorms set for 50 USD and then release individual pieces like additional motors or a better main unit separately. We use Mindstorms at my university for simple robotics learnning. It's amazing how a 200 Euro kit contains basically just two motors, two sensors, an 8-bit ATMega chip and a bunch of Lego Technic things. If I had the time I'd make an ATMEga PCB myself and give the plans to the university - they'd save a lot of money, gain access to C programmable exercise robots and have the ability to give people enough parts to actually make something useful (a robotic arm with 1 DOF is not).
            The parts for the PCB themselves come in at about fifteen to twenty bucks, including a 16-bit ATMega. If we add a few motors, some wires and a bunch of simple sensors we might reach the fifty EUR mark, not counting bulk discounts. Even though the Mindstorms prices have dropped a bit 50 EUR is a damn good price for a kit that does much more than a 120 EUR Mindstorms kit. Mindstorms might be competitive if it was priced similarly (people don't have to learn C in order to program it), but not for the current price.

            Maybe I should tell the Prof to just give some E-Tech student twenty bucks to make a PCB design...
          • 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.
          • 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 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 Plunky (929104)
            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..

        • I bought a Mindstorm when i was in Sydney (2000). Although it is solid and still works, the fact is that there is only a certain amount of things you can build with it.
          The RCX is too bulky and heavy to build smaller nimbler things.

          Maybe the RCX as both the brain and brawn was wrong.
           
      • I agree with your comments on Lego's desire to keep the customer coming back for more, but notice how it backfired. The product has no long-term value. Worse, the marketing strategy defeats the main selling point -- creativity for the user. I was a big Lego fan as a kid, but now my kids have NO Legos at all. Evidently, Lego couldn't achieve happiness as a supplier of interchangable plastic bricks. Pretty soon, they will supply nothing at all.
        • I don't understand this! How can they be without Lego? Lego was my favourite toy as a child and I have made sure they have plenty of Lego today. There are plenty of sets that build more than what the instructions tell you. And if you don't like the sets currently available, buy some second hand! Every child deserves some Lego.
      • 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.

    • I'm not sure where i saw the article, but lego is responding to market changes rather than selling out. For years they tried to buck the trend. Its easy to tell when - just look at their stock price. Their stock went into a serious tailspin and they pulled out of it by playing the game everyone else was playing - brand liscencing.

      I'd rather have a "sellout" lego company than no lego company at all.
    • Hell, my wife was very surprised that they've just about singled out boys for LEGO sets now -- girl oriented LEGO sets no longer exist. She grew up on this stuff and now she can't buy them for her niece. We wont give our niece the sets we've got since uh, we need them for our kids! (hopefully in the future)

      LEGO needs to get rid of this insane brand-everything-with-something (Harry Potter, STAR WARS, FERRARI, etc) and get back to the basics. Include both genders. Give a stupid amount (20~) ways to put th
      • What is wrong with the Belville line of sets? That is very "girly". And I would think that girls would like the Harry Potter sets too. My daughter has enjoyd some Potter sets that come with lots of shiny pieces and small animals. Then there are clickits: Make your own necklace, bracelet, whatever, using special pieces in the Lego system. This is somewhat outside the line of regular construction sets, but in the same spirit and still compatible. And lots of fun.
    • 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.
      • It's getting kinda repetetive hearing everybody complaining that Lego is destroying creativity by offering all these special sets. They still offer a big bucket of bricks [lego.com] at a reasonable price. In fact the big ol' bucket is one of their featured products, meaning they are trying to sell it. It's just that the consumer has mandated all these special little sets with their wallets. Slashdotters may have enjoyed building big complicated things out of simple parts, but most kids don't have the patience for
    • 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 gandy909 (222251)
      I really think there were 2 basic problems. I live in the midwest, and I have NEVER seen them on a commercial as far as advertising goes... As a matter of fact, I had never even heard of them until I saw them mentioned here on /. a couple of years or so ago. Since then I began 'looking' for them in the stores I frequent. I actually saw one in a store...once. I belive it was at Best Buy, and it was kind of tucked away on a bottom shelf at/near the PSX/XBox/Gamecube section. My son has never mentioned t
    • by Psykechan (255694) on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:28AM (#14127090)
      There are some great sets that Lego still makes.

      The Designer [lego.com] series is top notch and a current favorite of mine. Sure there are some custom pieces here and there but the majority are hinges and cosmetic blocks that can be used in many interesting ways. The models are great too; I've got a T-rex by my monitor at work and a (sadly discontinued) crab sitting on my system at home.

      The Technic [lego.com] series is still going strong from the eighties. What's not to like?

      The City [lego.com] is like the LegoLand sets of old that you probably remember. There are a few other lines that are in the same vein but those little yellow people don't interest me as much as they did when I was a child.

      And the new Factory [lego.com] series are designed by fans. I'm strongly recommending that you check them out.

      Lego is a for profit company and will continue to manufacture what sells. Licensed products like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Dora the Explorer are making them money so they will continue to make them. They have had moderate success with their annoying Bionicle line so it is still being added to. All is not lost yet; Lego is still making some decent and interesting products, so go out and support those.

      P.S. You can also get buckets of regular blocks. Think about that the next time you want to buy that Star Destroyer.
      • Yeah, from all the complaining and naysaying going on in this discussion, you'd think that the only things Lego sells are Bionicle and Harry Potter. They still have a very good lineup of Technic, city, and box-o-generic brick sets (alas there's nothing really like the old space, pirate, and castle sets)

        Why do people not realize that these products exist?

        Because they don't sell. Lego advertises the licensed products and puts them on their limited shelf space at places like Wal-Mart because those are the fa
    • by Karora (214807) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:29AM (#14127231) Homepage

      My son has just turned 8, and he loves Lego. We buy new stuff regularly (and the odd tub of basic pieces) and he makes them up, pulls them apart and they all end up in that enormous soup of Lego blocks. He makes some amazing stuff from that primordial soup, none of it scripted, but he frequently does use some of those parts that came with the Spiderman sets, or the Harry Potter sets or the X-Pods or the Orient Expedition sets or the Star Wars sets.

      In fact I don't see that things have changed a whole heap, except that with a big pile of Lego now you can make a damn site more interesting things than I could thirty years ago when I used to babysit for some kids who had Lego (I had Meccano as a kid myself). I used to build houses (well, with bricks, windows and roofs what else are you going to make?) and the kids I was babysitting for used to play with them for the next few weeks. When their parents would tell them they were going out and they would have a babysitter they would destroy everything, in the hope that I would have some more fun with their lego and they could have some more fun playing with a new set of designs.

      Sure, so I never read the books and it was just purely creative play. My son's read all the instructions, but that just doesn't challenge him and he moves on.

      Lego, on the other hand, has substantially more variety than it did when I was a kid, and that means that what can be created is exponentially more varied.

      Great article though. It would be nice to see Lego producing some of the sorts of kits that are suggested at the end, and perhaps that is what the X-Pods do, and some of the other things that encourage the kids to build and rebuild in different configurations.

    • by NATIK (836405) on Monday November 28, 2005 @03:35AM (#14127245)
      I was on a tour of the Danish Headquarters of Lego last year, the speaker there told us that they felt the same way about it and wanted to return to the basics. Just last week i heard in the news that they are actually making money again due to their returning to the basics. So would say they ahve already done this, dunno if its visible all over the world yet, but atleast around here they are selling good again.
    • Well lego HAS been going back to the basics lately. The Designer and Technics series are pretty strong and have lots of very interesting bricks (hinges and such) that you can use in many interesting ways. My kids simply love to play with the bricks from the dinosaur and deepsea lego designer boxes.

      Perhaps you should take a look at these new series. They really are VERY good and allow for a lot of things you can make on your own. And btw, these new boxes already come with booklets showing schematics for arou
  • 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 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)
    • You are abslutely on the right track.

      When programmers "play" they may just want to do something that has nothing to do with programming or even sitting at a desk for that matter.

    • Most people aren't interested in programming their own toys.


      Sure, but it wasn't the "most people" that lego had in mind as targets when they created this mindstorm line in the first place :)

      Anyway, i'm pretty sure there are tens of thousands of people around who would like to program their toys. But for that we need at least one company that makes toys that can be rearranged for our needs and that can be programmed in a normal way.

      One thing where they went wrong imho is that they put the computing "power" o
    • I still have Lego bricks from my childhood, and they still mate with brand-new bricks. You're buying a lifetime product here. Expect to pay a little more for it.
      -russ
    • They're expensive for a very good reason. The manufacturing tolerances on those little bastards are absurdly tight, because they have to click together solidly, tightly enough that you can build something out of a few hundred bricks and not have it crack apart under its own weight, but loosely enough that they can be pried apart with the force an average 8-year-old can exert. That implies very demanding engineering requirements indeed. Take a look at those little bricks, and measure them. I can easily b
    • 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.

  • by CyberSlugGump (609485) on Monday November 28, 2005 @12:57AM (#14126717)

    No wonder Lego is in financial trouble--Someone is stealing them all [slashdot.org]!
  • why I lost interest (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Scudsucker (17617)
    I lost interest in Lego before Mindstorms, because all the sets I wanted - like the Model Team line or the high end Technics - cost over $200. They might have more sucess if they had the more popular models in stores and moved the higher end stuff to mail order status to reduce inventory and price. Instead of getting a phancy box with packs of individual parts, you get an instruction book in a plain box with a bunch of parts in zip lock baggies.
  • Poor analysis (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sopwith (5659)
    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 argu
  • This is a sin (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Newer Guy (520108) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:03AM (#14126740)
    I teach robotics with Lego products. Kids from three through High School love them! They even have First Lego League, where kids (and adults)compete by building robots to solve problems. Where are the next generation of engineers going to come from if American companies "greed out" all the opportunities to attract young people?

    I heard that in 2004, American colleges graduated but 40,000 engineers while Pacific Rim ones graduated 450,000. Not only that, when you consider that 1/3 to 1/2 of American students are actually forigners, the picture looks even bleaker!

    This is sad and pathetic! America needs a reality check lest we become an Engineering third world country!
    • Re:This is a sin (Score:5, Interesting)

      by geoskd (321194) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:48AM (#14126971)
      I heard that in 2004, American colleges graduated but 40,000 engineers while Pacific Rim ones graduated 450,000. Not only that, when you consider that 1/3 to 1/2 of American students are actually forigners, the picture looks even bleaker!


      Ok, this is the third time this month I have heard this statistic, but It's about time we cleared a little of the BullSh*t around this topic.
      The US graduates just over 40,000 engineers / ~250 Million individuals. This is about 1 in every 6000 people.
      The pacific Rim graduates about 450,000 engineers / 2.7 Billion individuals. This is about 1 in every 6000 people.
      The long and the short is that we are about on par as education goes, we are simply outnumbered on this planet at almost 30 : 1

      As for lego, Their main malfunction has been pretty much just as TFA described: Bad market analysis coupled with a changing market. Shame on them for not doing their homework and we can all move on.

      -=Geoskd
      www.geoskd.com [geoskd.com]
      • Considering the US has way more money to spend on this being "on par" with some poorer countries is not enough especially when a large chunk of the graduates are not USians.
    • I teach robotics with Lego products. Kids from three through High School love them! They even have First Lego League, where kids (and adults)compete by building robots to solve problems. Where are the next generation of engineers going to come from if American companies "greed out" all the opportunities to attract young people?

      If you'd put your toys down for a second and stop with your doomsday tantrum, you'd find out that the Lego Group [wikipedia.org] is actually a privately owned company based in Denmark.
  • $200 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rickliner (263200)
    What went wrong is they charge $200 for a toy. That's the only reason I don't have one.

    Yeah, you can find some on ebay for less, but who's counting those 718 parts?

    Over at legoeducation.com you can find school-oriented Mindstorms kits, and you can also buy each of the most expensive parts (RCX, sensors, motors) individually.
    • What went wrong is they charge $200 for a toy.

      And yet Microsoft had no problem selling their $400 toy last week.
      • by jcr (53032)
        Microsoft had no problem selling their $400 toy last week.

        And look how well that's turning out..

        -jcr
  • by sage2k6 (784361)
    My favorite Lego sets have always been the Kinetics set (the ones with the gears and pullies and blocks with holes). Those would've been so much more fun if I had a Mindstorm set...

    When I look at Mindstorm, it's anyone's first step into programmable machines and robotics. It's actually how they teach some Mechanical Engineering and Systems Design Courses at school. It's an extremely versitile tool for learning. The Science/Engineering summer camp that the faculty runs, some age groups have extensive portion
  • Battlebot (Score:3, Funny)

    by sqeaky (874667) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:13AM (#14126803) Homepage
    Someone made a "battlebot out of lego mindstorms, they didn't get past the qualifying rounds though, some about being smashed to peices?!
  • 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.

    • 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.

      Have to agree. And I don't think the cost analysis of the RIS brick was very good either. For a start the author seemed to completely forget or ignore the quality aspect. I've owned one of those "brick game" things and the quality is shit. But it's cheap so you throw it away and it's no big deal. OTOH, have you ever heard of an RIS brick failing (other than due to

  • Lego Has Problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:16AM (#14126816) Homepage
    I loved Legos as a kid. I still do. But there aren't many general sets. I love building the large models (especially the large Technic models) but there are basically none of those today. If I want to build a large set, my choice is basically a giant Yoda or a star destroyer. Both costing $100-$150. There don't seem to be any general sets any more (not that I've looked hard). When I was little I got a Technic set that I loved. It came with hundreds of pieces and an instruction book full of like 30+ models you could make (simple things: mixing machine, little car that steers, etc). Going through all those things gave you lots of ideas to make your own stuff.

    But let's talk about Mindstorms. I bought one when they first came out. They cost $200. That is a lot of money for a kid's toy (you can buy a Nintendo DS and two games for that). You can only program them with the Lego Mindstorms software which I found annoying and limited (I soon found the free C complier for it on the internet). I don't even think it would work with my Mac that I have today.

    What kind of sensors did you get? As I remember you got.. 2 touch sensors. Or was it 3. And two motors. They offered rotational sensors (cost extra), a vision system (costs a TON extra), etc. I just spent $200 on a Lego set (that didn't include enough pieces, if you ask me), I'm NOT going to go buy a $50-$100 camera for it (I don't know what it costs, wasn't available when I bought it).

    I think that was the last Lego set I bought. I used to love Lego. But there isn't anything like it today that I know of. Legos aren't the same. I remember building house kits, airplanes kits, a moon base with a monorail, the trains, and all sorts of other stuff. Today they seem to license half their product lines and there is almost nothing "normal" like I remember.

    Maybe Megablocks or one of the other "rip-offs" is better. I don't know. I never looked. But Lego priced themselves out of my market. A quick check on Amazon shows the set is still $200. What can I buy for $200 bucks? Let's look at some of the things I've been looking at lately. I can buy a little stirling engine [stirlingengine.co.uk] that will run off sunlight or the heat of my had for $140. Or for the same amount, I can buy a Steam Engine [ministeam.com] kit. A working kit that includes a whistle, governor, and more. Both of those leave me with $60 to spend (a video game, perhaps?).

    The older I got, the fewer Lego products I got as gifts for Christmas and such. While there were things I wanted, they just got more expensive. About the only models I remember wanting to build since I was maybe 10 or 12 (I'm currently 22) cost $100-$200.

    Between the proliferation of video games, other electronic gadgets, and issues like I mentioned above, I think Lego will be a gonner soon. My parents had a hell of a time finding me an Erector set when I was a kid. I don't know if that has changed, but between that and Lego, what is there for kids to build things with these days?

  • 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.

    • Re:Said it before (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TemporalBeing (803363)
      No, specialized bricks are not killing Lego. Personally, I would enjoy getting more of them, but as many others have pointed out - they are just too expensive. I love legos, and would (and am planning on it when I can afford to) buy a ton of them. I plan on having them around for my kids b/c they are great for the imagination, and such - but I'm not going to spend a ton of money on sets that don't have a lot of legos in them.

      I've seen several sets recently that I've been tempted to buy, but then I look a
      • I think they are part of the same problem. It used to be you could buy lets say....a space set, and get a lot of useful bricks that could be used in lots of other ways, so you did not need to buy a huge number of space sets. Now because of all the specialized parts, there are less generic ones, hence you need to purchase more.

        Which I'm sure goes hand in hand with the raised prices.

  • by mwyner (65962) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:25AM (#14126862)
    In a computer class I taught to middle school kids last year, I was the lucky recipient of a grant to outfit the whole class (7 groups worth of kids) with Mindstorms. I spent a semester teaching them not only the basics of Mindstorms, but how to program, how to debug, how to test, and all the other basics for computer programming. They had a blast doing the different projects, and I've never seen these kids so engaged before. Several of them actually wanted to come in after school and work on their robots which is unheard of. This is sad if Lego is cutting back on that and all but phasing it out.
  • 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

  • the only person I know who regularly buys legos, is a girl, who's obsessed with Harry Potter. Even though she's 30, she still buys every single Harry Potter branded lego set. Before you reply to this..ask yourself how many hundreds of dollars you've spent on Legos in the past few months.
  • by rasper99 (247555) on Monday November 28, 2005 @01:41AM (#14126929)
    Then there is always the having good software issue...

    Two guy I work with have a kids who are involved with other 4th and 5th graders doing a club thing with Mindstorms. One guy had me redo an unused five year old laptop from Win2K (which it came with) down to Win98. This is because he heard the software (even the newer version) works best under Win98. Most of my web searches seemed to confirm this information.

    If it doesn't work well under XP, which comes on almost every new PC, you aren't going to get a lot of good "word of mouth" advertising.
  • 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.

    • Re:Here's my 2 cents (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus (6935)
      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).

      Actually, Lego did something similar to this with their Spybotics [lego.com] system. I never really tried it myself, but saw it demoed in stores. If I recall correctly, you used it to build a little vehicle with a processor simpler than the M
  • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@gm a i l . com> on Monday November 28, 2005 @02:13AM (#14127048) Homepage
    One thing the author does not seem to take into account is the fixed cost of creating machines, factories, etc.. to build any blocks or other items specific to mindstorms. Even if the RIS is selling for 3 times the price of similarly equiped sets if way less people are buying the RIS it may not be worth the cost of keeping the factory running and other fixed (yearly) costs to produce that product line. The same issues come into play with the cheap chinese product he compared to the lego product. Additionally quality, place of production and other factors can all combine to make it considerably more expensive.

    Frankly I find the canibalization idea pretty hard to swallow. It just doesn't seem reasonable to believe that the same people using the RIS would otherwise be out there buying all the different specialized lego models. Most likely they would be the people out there buying the big boxes of assorted pieces if they were buying legos at all. The best explanations I can think of along these lines is that either LEGO was afraid of dilluting it's child friendly brand by marketing toys which might be too complex for some young children or that if feared connecting basic lego sales to something like mindstorms where more savy adult customers are involved might allow FischerTechnik to get a foot in the door. However, neither of these seem plausible.

    Ultimately I suspect the economics of selling mindstorms were just more complicated than the author realizes. He never quotes actual mindstorms sales figures, only a positive press buzz, so it is quite posssible they simply never achieved wide enough adoption to make money and there are large costs he never even considers. Marketing, deals with stores for promotions and other costs may all play a role in lego's deciscion.

    While I don't think we can really say what the whole story is without more data I think a more reasonable guess is something like this. Despite positive press buzz mindstorms simply don't sell enough to generate significant amounts of profit. While the development of mindstorms itself may be a sunk cost this means it simply isn't work lego's while to develop new addons, promote the product or otherwise devote further resources. Lego discontinued all mindstorm products other than the RIS because these other *mindstorm* products were canibalizing revenue from the RIS. Even though these other product lines may have themselves been profitable without the same sales as RIS they just wouldn't have as high a margin so if a reasonable fraction of people would buy a second RIS if they didn't have these other options lego might improve profitability by dropping these additional sets. If they don't think it is worth investing more money in the mindstorm line this has no real downside for them.

    As for why lego doesn't simply adjust prices to make the mindstorms sufficently profitable to justify further investment I suspect things are a little more complicated than the author suggests. The demand curve is likely far from linear which dramatic drop offs in sales if they push the price much above $200 and beyond what most people consider to be in the 'toy' range. So raising the price much isn't really an option but this doesn't imply that lowering the price would have similarly dramatic increases in purchases (the elasticity is far from constant). Likely in order to make mindstorm sales high enough to be worth significant R&D money they would have to lower the price so considerably that then mindstorms would directly canabalize regular lego sales (if you can get the computer set for an extra $30 who wouldn't).
    • In other words I don't think it is reasonable to believe canibalization is currently happening. However, given the issues of fixed (yearly) cost (I'm sure there is a better term) it seems reasonable that selling mindstorms at prices only slightly higher than regular legos would still be far less profitable than selling regular legos. However, once down into this range the mindstorms would start competiting with the regular legos for normal consumers. If this was the only way to make mindstorms sell enoug
  • 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?

  • Clearly, there is strong demand for Mindstorms sets, Lego needs Mindstorms sets to combat its diminishing market share, and Lego can produce Mindstorms sets cost-effectively as well.

    There are far to many statements like that in this article. Either the data/facts you are "analyzing" show that there is a strong demand or they don't. He doesn't have numbers to back up his assertions.

    He also throws in words like 'ought' & 'should' which have no place in any kind of analysis. This "analysis" doesn't even ha

  • Mostly (Score:2, Interesting)

    by havoc (22870)
    Most of what has been said is true. In addition to pricing issues, I believe that the expansion sets were not very well laid out. After purchasing my initial kit in 1999, I waited for the expansions to come with the other cool sensors, but the kits that came really didn't offer much (especially at their $50 price point). To get the special sensors I was going to have to special order them individually at an outrageious price. I did purchase a few Technic kits to canabalize for parts for my robots though. Th
  • 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.

    • Please mod the parent up. I feel exactly the same way about the direction lego has taken in the last 20 years.
    • Lego started its downhill slide a couple of decades ago.
      Ah, yes, Lego are dying. Have been for decades. Just like Apple and BSD.
    • by planetoid (719535)
      I remember when I was a kid, I'd build elaborate mazes out of legos, and then before closing the maze shut, I'd put a centipede in one part of the maze, and I'd find a big fat carpenter ant (I'd always name it Theseus) and put it somewhere else in the maze. Have lunch, watch a couple episodes of You Can't Do That On Television and Maya The Bee, and come back to see the results. I have concluded that centipedes will always win in a fight against a carpenter ant, but a carpenter ant still has a good chance
    • Re:IMNSHO... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by space2004 (768461)
      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 b
    • My kids didn't have this problem because they started playing Lego with the Lego bricks I had when I was a child. I didn't have the instruction booklets for that anymore and in any case, most of the bricks were missing. So there was nothing else to do but make own creations. And now they love doing exactly that. We now have several new boxes and they do make the creations in them according to the instructions but soon after they simply pour the bricks of those in the general brick boxes and start building t
    • Re:IMNSHO... (Score:3, Interesting)

      I think you're 'crestfallen' that your kid isn't like you. Nothing is preventing him from taking a modern LEGO set, tossing the instructions, and building wacky things with it. The new sets are great because all the new pieces they offer give you limitless options. Maybe you raised your kid to 'follow the rules' and he did, or maybe he's just the type that likes to have boundaries set.

      If anything, LEGO is guilty of offering too many options. They have the sets with tons of pieces, and the sets with just a
    • Re:IMNSHO... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by metamatic (202216)

      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.

      Not only did most sets come with instruction sheets as far back as 1964 or so, there were also books of additional instructions for making more stuff. By 1966 there were over 50 sets, including the LEGO train system. By 1970 they had gears and cogs, the forerunner to TECHNIC.

      So I think either you're in your 50s or older, or your memory is faulty. Or you did like Ralph W

  • 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 b
  • 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]
  • 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
  • I ditto the comments regarding the plastic airplane model plans and the overspecializtion of pieces, but I'm suprized the grey and black castle pieces haven't been brought up much. It was the one specialized piece that worked with the rest and allowed a lone kid to make large structures quickly, even with ramparts and swinging walls to allow the archer figures to be moved inside. Those were the days...

    I'm suprized they don't have a $100-200 kit that has a motor, video cam, and wheels, so one could wirele

  • It was limited (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dmonphire (934329)
    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.
    • That's what the guy said in the referenced story: that you need Lego literacy, and TLG didn't do anything to help you get it. So once you built the designs that came with the kit, you were done.
      -russ
  • 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.
  • I used to get Technics kits for Christmas, and I loved them. Sometimes I wish I still had my kits around so I could hack up something cool.

You can bring any calculator you like to the midterm, as long as it doesn't dim the lights when you turn it on. -- Hepler, Systems Design 182

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