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Why Can't LEGO Click? 393

A reader writes "This article from contains a fascinating history of Lego, from wooden toys and the basic eight-stud brick to Star Wars kits and Mindstorms. According to the article, changes in the way children play has made the Danish toymaker struggle to adapt, while holding on to the values that helped build it's reputation. 'Once, for a brief moment, Lego changed the way kids played as well as the way kids learned to think. Lego hasn't been that kind of leader in a long time.'" The article itself paints a sad picture - LEGOs were such an integral part of my growing up, I can't imagine growing up without them. My favorite thing was to construct vast cities, and then launch billiards balls at them, pretending it was meteors coming down. Hurm. I think that may disqualify me from ever being put in charge of heavy weapons ordnance.
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Why Can't LEGO Click?

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  • My favorite thing was to construct vast cities, and then launch billiards balls at them, pretending it was meteors coming down.

    It's sad when a child has no friends... :-)

    • The threat of billiard balls against our cities is real. We cannot ignore it any longer. Which is why I propose we allocate $100 billion to build our Star Wars Billiard Ball defense system.

      Going into the twenty-first century, we want to ensure our nations economy and integrity are protected from the menace of Billiard Balls. After all, think of the children.
  • by anacron ( 85469 )
    Leggo my LEGO.

  • Logo Movies (Score:3, Informative)

    by null-und-eins ( 162254 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @12:01PM (#2230217) Homepage
    Just today the German news magazin Der Spiegel [] has a story about Lego cult and especially movies made with Lego characters. If yo don't speak German, just visit the box on the right of the page for the links.
  • by cporter ( 61382 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @12:02PM (#2230219)
    Do Lego... and a child... a big favor. Buy that child a Lego set. Buy them many. Son - Daughter - Niece - Nephew - Friend's kids, anyone.

    All of the intelligent, thoughtful, and creative people that i've met in my age group grew up with these toys, and they made all the difference in the world.

  • Big sack o' Legos - $25.00
    100 count sleeve of BB's - $2.50
    Battle testing lego spaceships from 20 ft. - Priceless
  • Given the LEGO I had to work with 30 years ago, is it any wonder that I envision all futuristic spacecraft as being all corners?
    • Re:LEGO spaceships (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rudeboy777 ( 214749 )
      Given the LEGO kids have to work with today, they probably envision futuristic spacecraft as being a single irregularly shaped plastic piece that's no fun at all.
  • Smash 'em up! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kenyaman ( 458662 )

    My brother and I used to build Lego cars (sorry, build cars from Lego brand bricks). We'd then smash them into each other until one or the other was destroyed. Whoever's car lasted longest won.

    My Mom stopped it because she was afraid we'd damage the bricks. A few months ago I saw in the store a kit where kids could build a couple cars and do a "demolition derby" with them.

    • My cousins and I used to do this, only when my aunt was not in the house, she'd get pissed if we did the smash tests. We'd have 5 minutes to rebuild before the next stage.

      Fun times. We ran them at eachother atop my Uncles bar in his basement.
  • When I was much younger, my parents would actually get to sleep late on Saturdays thanks to Lego. I'd spend way too many hours playing with it. My brother and I spent many hours battling each other, both by playing (i.e. "my missle totally takes out everything you have - scrap 'em!") and by building cars and smashing them together.

    I'm totally looking forward to my kids first experiences with Lego (they already like Duplo).
  • Every child should have legos! I remember when i was a kid, I got lego "technics" (i think the first set to have interlocking gears and such) its a great way for kids to learn machinery! (Heh, duct-taping a 9-volt and a motor ripped out of another toy to the gears was always fun)
  • "Almost every office and conference room at Lego contains a bowl of loose Lego bricks so that people can play during meetings."
    Seems like a precursor to the ad agency and dot-com concept for stimulating creativity while reducing stress. Wish my company did this. :)

    On another note, Lincoln Logs [] were created much earlier than Legos and have also fallen out of the marketplace. What a shame. :/
  • from house to house for almost 20 years so my kids can play with them and DAMMIT they WILL play with them when they are old enough! :)

    I can't imagine growing up without them either. At first I had the Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs but I enjoyed the Legos much much more. I see the new sets available like the Star Wars sets and would think that sets like these could limit ones imagination. They still look cool, too bad my kid is only 4 weeks old (although I almost bought two sets last week, LOL). Now the Mindstorms are something I should already own for my own personal enjoyment. Those are just too damn cool.
    • I never had Legos (asked for them every christmas, but oh well), however I did have tons of Construx. They were fun to use with transformers and make big spaceships or buildings and then destroy them. The pieces came apart much easier than legos.
  • Attention Span (Score:2, Insightful)

    by XBL ( 305578 )
    It takes a long time to put together a good Lego creation. Trial and error, following directions, and organization are all involved, and that can really take a lot of hours.

    Today's kids don't have the attention span to handle this stuff. They are obsessed with TV, computer, video games, and other lame little things that don't require much time or energy.

    Gee, I sound like an old man criticizing today's kids, but I'm only 22...
    • I'm within a year of your age, and I honestly think that it's not today's *kids* that are the problem. They don't seem very different from the kids I grew up with.

      The difference is opportunity. When I was young I spent time in daycare...not unusual, at all. But, in daycare, no matter if it was a private home with seven kids or the 30-or-greater group day care, the idea was to keep us out of the adult's hair. Legos tend to foster imaginative, boisterous, and frequently a bit noisy indoor play. Definetly bad for the adults. Much better to send the kids outside to play in the cul-de-sac or encourage quiet (but otherwise useless) activities like watching TV.

      I was highly thankful when my parents decided that I was old enough to watch myself and my younger sister when I was twelve. I had three years of glorious lego filled summers before I discovered girls.

      Wish all kids were that lucky, really.

      Oh, and video games, TV and computer do require time and attention span. For the most part it's not the kids' failing, it's that of the adults around them.

    • Re:Attention Span (Score:2, Insightful)

      by frlord ( 128277 )
      Is it the attention span of kids or the interference of parents? One of the things the article touches on but doesn't explore fully is the loss of self-directed free play for modern kiddees. How much of their time is scheduled? If they school in the morning and day care in the afternoon, soccer practice, band practice, homework, parent moderated playgroups and all that, how much time do they really have to just do what they want to?

      I remember growing up and having gaping hours of free time with nothing to do but entertain myself. This is why legos were such valuable toys. With Star Wars action figures, I already had the playset, and the figures, and I just got right to putting them through scenarios and role playing with them. With lego, you had to decide what kind of scenarios, then build them. Then you had to build characters. Finally you could make a story. This takes a good amount of time, and parents simply aren't leaving their kids alone for long enough to do it. Modern parenting has decided that kids time must be "constructive" and thus highly structured. I say nothing is more contructive than construction. Let your kids alone with a bucket of legos for a few hours. They won't be bored, and the skills they learn are probably going to be much more valuable than what they would learn during structured playtime.
    • True. Very true. But add to that another possibility, the parents. Kids of 8 - 10 most likely have parents around their mid to late 30s, who grew up in the 70s. This was the time when staying in and playing with lego/early video games/etc was going to get you bullied at school for being a nerd. And they pass that on to there kids. Your kids will hopefully be luckier, being 22 you grew up with the golden age of home computer games such as the Amiga and ST. Please pass that on..
  • by mikerbob ( 107717 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @12:07PM (#2230247)
    I've found that buying a set of just simple blocks is difficult if not impossible! When I say simple bricks, I mean the 2x4, 2x10, etc. not the 1x4, 1x8, etc that now come in the "buckets" that are available at .

    I had the luck of growing up near a Lego plant (then manufactured by Samsonite here in the US) and employees could by large bags of the bricks that were swept up from the floor of the plant for a dollar a bag. The bricks were dirty, many were misshaped. We had a Christmas tradition of dumping the newly delivered bags in the sink and washing each brick and sorting out the melted ones. I didn't knwo 'sets' were available until I'd moved on to the next stage: girls.

    Can't get a bag of bricks like that -- just those useless 1x pieces.

  • i think you mean ordnance

    1. An authoritative command or order.
    2. A custom or practice established by long usage.
    3. A Christian rite, especially the Eucharist.
    4. A statute or regulation, especially one enacted by a city government.

    1. Military materiel, such as weapons, ammunition, combat vehicles, and equipment.
    2. The branch of an armed force that procures, maintains, and issues weapons, ammunition, and combat vehicles.
    3. Cannon; artillery.

  • But why lego? (Score:3, Informative)

    by All Dat ( 180680 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @12:08PM (#2230251) Homepage
    Yes, lego was absolutely the best toy I had, even GI Joe and the vast armies of He-Man didn't give as much joy. :) (But it was close)

    Here's why.

    It was durable. ONLY lego could take the stress of being hit with billard balls, trampled on by feet, and being swallowed by the rubber godzillas repeatedly.

    It was reusable. I STILL have my lego today, my uncle's and aunt's have their buckets. and still my little nephews build cities, starships, and moon bases, tear them all down, and do it all over again.

    It was limitless. Didn't like the guys face? Change it, even the damn tiny HOOKS for the arms were tough to break. You could snap weapons in and out all day long, and it wouldn't let you down. Try that with a batman figure from today, see how long it lasts....

    I know that while lego may not be able to compete on a technical level with some of the newer toys, I still smile when I see my little relatives running around the basment with my LEGO, when just around the corner is the Playstation. I guess some things just don't die.

    Lego, you GO! :)
  • It's hard to imagine growing up without them. I was an only child till 13 and Lego's gave hundreds of hours of fun. I waited for the new space lego's like they where comments from Greenspan. Its no wonder they are not doing so well. They're up against Diablo2. Legos don't do it for the ADD generation.

    Lego's will not stage a comback until you wrap them with LEP's and embedded chips. Imagine the possiblities! Could you use them to build a simple AI and then give it a face and play with it? The robot Lego's have a chance if they jump on the latest tech. Then the kids would be all over them, again. Sh*t, I might too.
  • I was never a fan of LEGOs (for whatever reason) but I really did like to build things w/Construx.

    god only knows how many times I built myself into a box and had to have my mom come and try to get me out w/o breaking the new creation I made.

    I am beginning to wonder if my children will play w/any sort of building toy or will they be forever glued to their computers?

    Would you grow up differently not having the experiences that we did building things?
    • Re:Construx. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Christopher Thomas ( 11717 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @12:21PM (#2230339)
      I was never a fan of LEGOs (for whatever reason) but I really did like to build things w/Construx. god only knows how many times I built myself into a box and had to have my mom come and try to get me out w/o breaking the new creation I made.

      I used to amuse myself by building towers that reached the ceiling (at least three times my height in those days) :).

      Through much deviousness, I also managed to build a working Construx pendulum clock at one point... even if the hand went a quarter-turn around with each tick. (Show your kids the guts of an old-fashioned pendulum clock some day; I was endlessly fascinated by those as a kid.)

      The most challenging task, though, was to build construx mazes for my hamster in such a way that he couldn't push any of the panels out. The trick was to make sure that all of the panels attached from the inside of the tunnels, which imposed interesting design constraints.

      I had the good fortune to be exposed to many building toys as a kid. Construx is still one of my favourites.

      As a side note, two-by-fours and nails work too. Let your kids help build the tree-fort you're making for them :). Just take steps to ensure safety if the bottom floor is above ground level.
  • One of the things i've always thought was cool was the way lego directions were worded - or rather, not worded. I'd always put together the set as it was supposed to be first, then after that was finished i'd make spaceships and tanks and cars and stuff.

    The thing i liked about the directions was that they introduced a lot of spacial relationships - not just insert tab A into slot 1. On some of the more complex sets, you really had to take a minute to see, first of all what had changed from the previous picture, and second of all how did it get there.

    • They did more than teach spatial orientation. I had a forklift. It taught about gearboxes, rack and pinion steering and a bunch of other stuff.

      IIRC, I _couldn't_ _build_ the forklift the first time. It just had too much going on. When I actually DID sucessfully build it (without glossing over or simplifying any) it brought a GREAT sence of achievement.

      (And you could build a boxer egine out of the kit. (at least the crank shaft and the pistons) Verra Verra cool.)
  • Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davey23sol ( 462701 )
    I just wonder why reporters have to do this all the time. Sometimes a reporter just saying "boy, things are going badly for this company" is enough to start a company on a downward spiral. If others jump on the bandwagon, it means certain disaster. Sometimes, I am sure, articles like this are done because the reporter has a grudge of some sort. A lot of time it's just because that particular reporter has no background to write about their subject (did YOU see the interview done by the Los Vegas TV station? see it for a great example).

    You know.. everyone is doing badly now, so a lot of products are having some problems. A good amount of the blame for this is because of media "experts" saying "the bubble is going to burst in the next three months!" Look back... I think they said this every month for 3 years until it eventually came true!

    Just because a toy or any product isn't following in the current mold doesn't mean they are going to disappear forever. There are always comapanies and people the jump the current trend and continue.

    I doubt Lego is going anywhere soon. If I ever have kids (yuk) it will be on my toy list, because they're still one of the best creative toys ever. They're still one of the basic toys you think of when you think about childhood. They will always be around in some form. Look at the other classic lo-tek toys still around: the Etch-a-Sketch, dolls, bikes, roller skates, yo-yos, hobby horses, matchbox cars, etc.. etc... Lo-tek != bad.
  • No Heroes (Score:2, Interesting)

    Legos click just fine. Most kids have them and most kids love them. Since kids had amazing abilities to fantasize, Legos are perfect. The fact that parents don't yell at you when you destroy a creation is also a major plus.


    There are no names. No Barbie, no GI Joe, no Sonic, or Barney. The child creates everything. The problem is that there's no sense of community to share their creations with their friends. They say "Blascar blew Rennist to smithereens," And their friends say, "So?" Or "Who?"

    • That's apparently the whole idea behind this new line of "Bionicles" Lego is releasing. They've setup an entire universe full of heroes and villains complete with an ongoing story told on their website and such.

      I actually saw some of the toys from the line when I was at Toys'R'Us the other day .. they're basically these canisters of legos used to build these robots (sort of like the Throwbots line from last year). Each one has a name and a backstory and thus fits together into the larger world....

      But I really don't think it's going to work. Lego was far cooler before the advent of all these specialized pieces. I can remember me and my dad building a pirate ship out of generic Lego pieces with a cut up bleach bottle for a sail (later replaced by propellers after I played Final Fantasy 2e/4j). About a year later they started coming out with these pirate sets which contained basically a preconstructed hull and sails ... where's the fun in that?

      It's only gotten worse in recent years ... sets are having more and more specialized pieces severely limiting doing anything other than building what the set is supposed to be....
    • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @12:32PM (#2230415) Homepage Journal
      Well, gee whiz, how did kids ever play togther before there was TV? Your argument is ludicrous... if anything I think the problem with Lego is that it's not Lego anymore, unless you stick with the very basic stuff. Lego was originally large quantities of very generic pieces that would as easilt build a house, spaceship, car or dinosaur. Nowaways, most Lego sets are essentially models. You build the model, there might be some variations possible, but with all the specific pieces they have now it doesn't require any imagination. Also, one of the strengths of Lego was its limitations. There weren't pieces to cover every possible thing you might want to build so you had to learn both creativity and compromise. In more recent days, they make models that look like the things they look like (to paraphrase Homer Simpson) in part by making one-off pieces specifically for the target model. Sure, the resulting model looks better, but to me it violates the basic principle of what makes Lego the best toy ever. My kids have a lot of Lego, some of it is 30+ years old from my early childhood. They received several of the Star Wars sets, which are very cool, and in each case, the sets were built once, and then cannibalized for the latest original creation. Now the Star Wars sets do seem to have fewer non-generic pieces than other sets I have seen, but in my family's case, being able to create your own toys out of Lego is the highest requirement.

      I'm sorry if you feel the way you do, but in my book, if a child can't be creative without a TV show or something to draw from, he or she is going to grow up to be another boring person. My kids do watch their share of TV.. I'm not a purist in that regard, but their imaginative games, drawings, Lego models, etc, veer wildly into realms they create themselves. I think all children should have to drive and capacity to be like this. I have always steered them towards toys that lend themselves to creative play, which is what I myself was brought up on, and at the end of the day, with a toy box stuffed full of cool things, often times their favorite indoor toy is blank paper and something to color with.

      • You said it. I used some of the legos I had as a kid to prove that a mechanical design I had come up with would work.
        The design was never used for that project, but I've still got the model.
      • I normaly get one set of legos a year around November as a pre-X-Mass gift to my self.
        I stand there for a long time trying to figure out which set gives the best long term usablity in genaric bricks.
        I have found as you did that the Star Wars sets seem to be consistantly the ones I go for.
        They just have more usable peices for the price than any other set.

        Last year was rough so I bought 3 sets.
      • I think you missed the point. Crowhard was not stating the modern shared universe of play is 'better'. He was stating that it has driven out the previous modes of play.

        Kids today mostly share the same culture. It's as if they are all sitting in the same room with the same teacher/clown/entertainer. The shared culture is 'cool' to one's peers. Anything a kid creates by himself is not cool, because it doesn't have a marketing budget.
        Well, gee whiz, how did kids ever play togther before there was TV?

        That's the whole point. When TV and it's accompanying mass culture came along, they pushed out older modes of play and imagination.
        ...if anything I think the problem with Lego is that it's not Lego anymore...

        That's obviously the 'problem' in terms of decreased appeal to intelligent adults. However in terms of sales, the perversion of the original idea has been the company's salvation, as the article makes clear. In other words, the stuff you don't like is the big money-maker.

        I'm sorry if you feel the way you do...

        I didn't read Crowhard as celebrating this trend, merely describing it. To avoid confusion, let's define two different different goals: 1) Amuse and develop intelligent people. 2) Make money. Lego's problem is with #2 - they are losing vast quantities of money. To survive, they need to market new toys that make money. I think most people agree that the system of generic blocks was 'better' per criterion #1.
  • ...but every kid I've ever seen play with a Mindstorm has had their ideas of play changed. It's an awesome product that stretches the imaginations of kids and adults alike, in much the same way Lego Space did for me when I was younger. True, it hasn't had the commercial success of past Lego products. But I don't think post-MTV generation kids /want/ toys like that- so whether or not Lego builds products that do that is irrelevant to market success. What is relevant (at least to the thrust of the article) is that they are still building such products. People just aren't buying them.
  • I loved lego. My brother and I used to make lego ships with "invincible shields". Then we'd start fighting over whose ships would win, and I'd throw hot wheels cars at his. I guess his shields weren't so invincible after all!
  • ... the problem seems to be high prices and an overly consevative corporate culture.

    When I was a kid, legos were always more pricy than the "cheap knockoffs" that the toy stores also carried. Although I loved them, any money I earned was more likely to put into other building activities (ie model rockets, erector sets, etc).

    Mindstorms was probably the most innovative toy product to come around during the last 10 years, but it's always remained one of the most expensive. The problems the article detailed about getting the cost down seemed more like management problems than anything else.

    I know the company has a good thing going, but you always have to exercise foresight, research your customer base and be ready to take chances - especially in the toy industry.
  • We used to build vehicles and smash them into eachother. The goal was to build a vehicle that would outlast everyone elses vehicles structuraly.
  • The world went on without Transformers, I think it'll do fine without LEGOs. I'm sure some genius will think up of a toy that is fun but still academically accels the child... just wait and see...
  • To me, that was always the whole point of Lego. I don't like the special-purpose parts that come with the new "playsets", nor the sort of fixation with building "what's on the box" rather than building what you want from a collection of basically generic parts. The best thing about Lego was that if you imagined something, be it a giant fighting robot or a spaceship or a house, you could build it the way you wanted. The toys were intended to put you in the driver's seat and exercise your own imagination, not just to try and ape something designed by someone else. The newer stuff is designed with a "right" way to build it, and that just defeats the whole purpose.
  • I grew up with Legos. It's sad today to see these new fangled kits that only go together one way, have tons of specialized parts, and even attempt to have a "story" connected to them. That defeats the very purpose of Legos. My parents would buy me tons of Legos because they help with creativity, engineering, spatial reasoning, and imagination.

    What we're seeing is the transition from back in the day when Legos let you run wild with your imagination to the new day where kids need to be told what to imagine.

  • I remember I started getting angry with LEGO back around 1990 or so. They started introducing alot of specialized pieces like barrels, palm tree trunks, ship hulls, etc. The pirate ship sets are a good example. They had so many special pieces, that you really couldnt build much else with them.

    To me, most sets available in the last decade or so dont come with enough basic blocks. You can only make so many things by combining a pirate ship hull with a barrel and a palm tree.

    The castle sets probably started this trend, with their preformed walls and ornate decor. They looked good on the box, so they sold well. The original castle sets were alot of fun though, and took a while to put together.

  • LEGOs were such an integral part of my growing up, I can't imagine growing up without them.

    Lego was my favourite toy growing up, until I discovered computers. I would encourage all parents to supply their kids with Lego as a way to enhance their creativity and imaginations.

    My favourite thing to do with Lego was to try to construct Lego versions of things I saw in the world around me. Since I grew up on a farm, made Lego tractors and farm implements and things. Since I only had the basic Lego sets, things were primitive, but they looked (to me) like an accurate representation.

    Nowadays, it seems hard to find basic sets, everything is designed to build specific things for a theme. While the Star Wars lego is way cool, there is something to be said for the simplicity of the standard bricks.

    BTW what is it with the cost of Lego now? The stuff is really expensive. Was it always that way? Same thing with D&D books, how can kids afford this stuff?
  • I grew up with legos, from the first sets I eyed jealusly in my friends' houses, to the first set I actually got for Christmas (1976, it was a launch pad with a rocket).

    I kept collecting and playing with legos (space series first, tech series later) I think up until I was 14-15 years old, the last years were spent mostly trying to build funky stuff with the tech set.

    IMHO the problem with legos nowadays is that they are trying to cater way too much to the average kid of this decade, the kid that is force fed advertising from the time they are two years old, the kid for whom 'imagination' is such an unfamiliar word it's not even funny, the kid that thinks books are 'boring' (yes, I grew up reading lots of books, I remember I never really liked books with pictures, because they limited my imagination).

    Take a lego set produced in the seventies (or sixties) note how 'generic' the bricks are, even if you bought (like my parents did for me) the space series, the bricks for that series were just the same as the bricks for most other series: the colors were a bit different (the space bricks were mostly blue/black/grey, while, for example, the town bricks were more garishly coloured) but that was about it, you could build a castle with the space set if you felt like it.

    Look at legos now, hyper-specialized, so full of parts that cannot be used for anything else: you just build the model shown on the cover, and that's it: if you buy a 'tie fighter' lego set, could you conceivably build anything resembling a rebel starship with the included pieces? No way, you have to buy the other set for that.

    I see it as very unfortunate that today's kids don't seem to appreciate the freedom that the old sets gave you: yes, the finished product didn't look *exactly* like, say, the space shuttle (even if you could get very close) but they had a mindboggling flexibility.

    If I wanted a 'realistic' model, why would I bother buying a lego, I would just buy a die-cast, that looks even better, costs less and has the same function, given that today's legos can be customized so little.

    I would welcome a return of Lego to its roots, its roots without stupid commercial tie-ins (do we need a SW:TPM series of kits? I don't think so), its roots of giving you a box which contents could give you *months* of enjoyment (my parents were not very well to do, I got two sets of legos per year, one at Christmas and one for my birthday, but I've never ran out of stuff to do with them), letting kids have some original ideas, instead of, once again, force feeding them the finished product so that by the time they're adults any shred of creativity they might have will have long been destroyed.

  • Lego killed itself when the pieces got so specialized around the mid-90s, that a set's pieces was tied inextricibly with what the set was supposed to build.

    It seems to me that the earlier more generic pieces of the mid-80s Space and Technique sets were the perfect balance between your basic brick pieces and the more specialized connectors and decorative pieces.

    With the pieces today, it's harder to build something completetly different than the actual model the set was built for.
    • Lego killed itself when the pieces got so specialized around the mid-90s, that a set's pieces was tied inextricibly with what the set was supposed to build.

      That's my biggest complaint as well. I always loved the space sets, because you could do just about anything with them. Unfortunately nowadays the space has the greatest number of overspecialized "one piece hull" pieces.

      The Star Wars sets, on the other hand, look very impressive to me. They have very few specialty pieces. I just need some intelligent way to justify buying the $150 X-wing set...

  • I grew up playing with Lego (used to have a Lego starbase covering a table that was made out of a door, full of fighters and freighters and androids and fun stuff =). It seems from reading /. that a lot of other geeks/hackers seem to have loved these toys as well.

    The article indicates that Lego is falling behind the times and can't maintain the needed popularity. Also, it has very little presence in the online world. This gave me a small brainstorm and I'd like to run it past you folks.

    Since lego is a good toy for children (in my opinion) and teaches creativity, how about we combine it with some ingenious coding to teach software programming? Now, I have no idea how this could be done. I'm no programmer, though I think I have a grasp of the basic concepts. What if a game (more correctly a "Software Toy" a la Maxis) could be made, whereby the kids have certain small prefab "bricks" which are chunks of code, which they can rearrange and recombine to create a piece of custom software? The software might be a game (think of the enjoyment we had as kids from playing games we devised with legos. Then think of kids enjoying playing computer games they feel they "built"). The company could maintain profits by selling expansion packs with new "bricks", and "expert" versions for young teens which have smaller "bricks" (smaller and more basic chunks of code which require more combination and understanding). Maybe there would be an interface for kids to write their own sections of code to interact with the others.

    The reason I thought of this was, I was thinking of the parallels between building out of lego and programming. In both activities, you think of what you want to design, gather the neccessary tools and parts, and then enter Deep Hack Mode (or Deep Lego Mode) and build the thing. Does anyone think this idea is cool or is it just me? =) Could someone who can actually code tell me if this could work?

    • What I have always wanted is Lego CAD...I have seen a few attempt here and there, but nothing that was ever totally there or truely usuable. Can you Imagine what something like this well realized could teach a kid to do. Hell, the expirence in working 3D space on the computer would be amazing for a kid to learn(or me to play with) I have always found the 3D CAD/Modeling stuff clunky and hard to wrap my head around. If I could go to my computer and assemble the thing I wanted in 3D space as lego Pieces, then use a rendering function in the software to give it a real world look(take all those sharp corners off) WOW! And imagine something like this as a Level editing tool in Quake or Unreal!

      Just my over excited toughts.
      BTW anyone ever seen stuff like this I might have overlooked?
      • You're the second person to mention this, so I should point you to MLCad [], a Lego CAD program for Windows.
        You should start at [] to learn all about Lego CAD programs. Tons of good stuff there. There are parts libraries, rendering programs, and loads more.
  • ...are two fold. First of all, there is the Great Dumbening of American children that has to be playing a part. I know the entire LEGO enterprise isn't based on selling to children in America, but there must be a large chunk of cashflow slowly being strangled to death as we teach out children that using your imagination and thinking too hard is a terrible thing to do. Lego, being a toy based nearly 100% on imagination is naturally a victim of this.

    Of course, Lego has tried to keep up by creating more simplistic designs and using large, special use "blocks" to create less imagination-taxing objects, but it isn't nearly enough to combat our efforts.

    The second problem comes from Lego's pricing. I have seen the recent prices on the more interesting sets, and they can't compete. The really huge sets, the ones that look like a full day of fun to build, and they sell for over $100 at Toys'r'us. That is more than most playstation games. And when you make a kid these days chose between the instant, never ending gratification of Quake III Arena for the PS2 and a rinky dinky Lego pirate ship, he is going to pick the former every time. Kids these days are a lost cause for Lego.

    If Lego wants to stay competitive they will have to learn how to cut prices down to $20 for the large sets, which shouldn't be impossible (how much does Lego plastic cost to make?), and hope that all of us 20/30-something slashdotters will start buying them.

    • I have seen the recent prices on the more interesting sets, and they can't compete. The really huge sets, the ones that look like a full day of fun to build, and they sell for over $100 at Toys'r'us.
      If Lego wants to stay competitive they will have to learn how to cut prices down to $20 for the large sets, which shouldn't be impossible (how much does Lego plastic cost to make?), and hope that all of us 20/30-something slashdotters will start buying them.
      Most of that $100 price tag probably comes from the licensing fees for the objects the kits are supposed to resemble. You think Lucas is going to let them sell a huge X-Wing replica for less than a $50 cut per unit sold?
  • Legos were great toys back in the old days (early to mid 80s) because they were actually building blocks from which you could create anything. Now, however, the company has sunk into the abyss of movie tie-ins and thus created an unfortunate market segmentation effect which has reduced their appeal.

    Back in the old days I had a Lego Technic (model 1000) composed of gears, belts, shafts, motors, and various joints that allowed you to create an almost infinate variety of engieering marvels. There was in fact a segment of a physics curriculum built around the use of Legos to simulate simple machines (levers, planes, screws, etc.) as well as an introductory programming and robotics curriculum (geared tward middle schoolers) around lego LOGO (before the days of Mindstorms).

    Now when you buy a Lego Technic kit, it is intended to build one specific thing, and has detailed instructions for building that one item, rather than leaving it to the creativity of the child to build unique devices. The same is true of Mindstorms. While it's neat that the lego device is no longer wired to the computer, the mechanism for programming the Mindstorms devices is dumbed down for todays youth. Thanks to Russ Nelson, who, aside from doing great things for Open Source over the years, has a detailed site about the Lego Mindstorms Internals []. It's a shame though that Lego didn't do this sort of thing themselves, and fight harder to avoid descending to the level of selling lego models of movie-related toys, rather than continuing ot target their core audience.

    • You know what though? You don't have to follow the directions if you don't want to. We used to get those Technic kits as well when I was a child, and it was always the same thing. First I build the kit according to the instructions, play with it for awhile, then get bored and build something else completely different out of it. I especially remember the pnumatic kits, even though they didn't work all that hot, they were unbelievably cool to me. I remember trying to make a walking biped with that once, but then I discovered that the lego motor wasn't powerful enough to pump the pnumatic system (the main piston had a big spring on it)
      • The problem I have with the new kits is they're rediculously small. Of course you don't have to follow directions, but still, the variety of parts in most of thenew kits is so limited that you don't really have the flexibility to build all those neat things we used to build as kids. I don't know if it's a function of Lego just wanting to make more money (charging more for a less flexible product) or an underlying assumption that today's youth isn't creative enough to build something original, and so they don't bother to provide enough flexibility in terms of variety and quantity of parts to make that possible...

        I assume the larger more generic Technic kits are still available someware, but I havn't seen them in stores in many years. All I ever see are those rediculous movie tie-in kits with just enough parts to build the Jurasic Park Dinosour Pen, or the Star Wars Drag Racer, or whatever..

  • Definite market... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by singularity ( 2031 )
    As someone with a simply enormous Lego brick collection, I wanted to step in and mention one market that Lego is doing better about hitting, but still largely ignoring - adults.

    Lego has done better in the past few years with things like Mindstorms and some of the more expensive Star Wars models. To a large degree, however, Lego is missing out on some really devoted adult purchasers. A simple look at will show that there is a very strong Lego following among adults out there.

    And, please, Lego - I have been to Legoland Winsor. I realize there is a Legoland here in the States. Please do not bring anymore. It is not that I did not completely enjoy Legoland, but I see a Legoland USA failing much the same way that EuroDisney failed. I would hate to see you lose that much money on something that foolish.
  • "They are in what you get out of the brick."

    I remember buying (or making my parents buy) whole kits, like a bus or a race car, just for a particular piece. Now it seems the kits are all specialized pieces, and you have to buy the buckets to get a supply of regular blocks.

    My son builds trains, cars and aeroplanes out of whatever pieces of Lego or his sister's Duplo/MegaBloks he can get his hands on. I think a large bucket of blocks is in his future, because he keeps running out of pieces to build with, and I don't want the fact that you only get so many 2x4 pieces with the Mickey Mouse house & Garden set to be the limiting factor on his imaginative play.
  • One day I came home from high school, must have beenn in 1980, to discover that my mom had given away my cherished collection of Legos. I had about a cubic foot of various pieces. She had also given away most of my Star Trek Stuff (the Blueprints, Concordance, some models, and some of the books).

  • This place [] in San Francisco across the street from South Park has Legos at the bar!
  • It sounds from the evolution that they got away from from the original product line, and lost their way. They go heavy into the themed kits, until now they have super complicated stuff.

    When the best play is when you exercise your imagination. They took it from a toy for all ages to a smaller market, a toy for adults who play with blocks and other stuff. a smaller market.

    - - -
    Radio Free Nation []
    an news site based on Slash Code

  • You may be interested to know that, starting around the beginning of this year, Lego seems to have adopted a somewhat different attitude. Before, it seemed as though Lego was completely silent and indifferent to the wants or needs of the public. There seemed to be a decline in the quality of sets. They made a definite attempt to dumb down their sets so that they could be constructed faster in the hopes of catching the shorter attension spans of today's kids, which is why it's harder to get generic bricks in most sets. I think they shot themselves in the foot. Lego has always been about building, from instructions and your own creations.

    Things are getting better now. There's a lot of direct invomement from lego now in the online lego user's community ( It was scary, they simply started posting one day. Lego has also started offering older sets as part of a new "legends" line. Consider this: be r=10000

    There are also some larger models you can order now. There's a two foot tall dragon and a similarly sized lego person. This is the statue of liberty: be r=3450

    They're also getting ready to offer large numbers of bulk bricks in flexible quanitites. So it's much easier to get those generic bricks now in the colors you want, just not in stores. And there are larger model sets like a sopwith camel.

    Just have a look at the lego website. There's a lot of cool new stuff.

  • I don't know why the company is losing money, the product is still hugely popular with kids. My kids have a ton of it and all their friends do too. The new versions are excellent and match the times perfectly. Everytime the kids get a new Lego catalog, I look at the products and think "Here is a company that really gets it!".

    By the way, the plural of Lego is Lego, not Legos!
  • That's all that can save Lego now. lots and lots of pr0n.

    It's what is saving all the other struggling companies out there. Never underestimate the saving power of pr0n.
  • When I grew up I couldn't have the real LEGOs, because they were not sold in Brazil and my parents couldn't afford the price of imported toys. I had to do with cheap local imitations that never worked like they were supposed to.

    When, in my teens, I discovered the real thing, I was amazed by the sheer quality a LEGO piece irradiates.

    Shortly after my son was born we started giving him LEGOs. Now he is 10 and has buckets upon crates of all different lines. They are all interoperable. They are all backward compatible. The 0-3 years old set can be used seamlessly with the Mindstorms set.

    And I don't know if it is just chance or upbringing, but while my son has all the modern toys the article blames for LEGOs recent problems (GBA, Nintendo 64, a K6 II etc), he still spends many hours with LEGO, and he is not alone. He has some friends who will come to visit or stay overnight and they will cover the bedroom floor with all different kinds of pieces and build things for hours.

    So I can not agree with the article from personal experience. I do not think the kids are to blame for not being interested in free form play anymore. More likely the parents are to blame for not giving their kids the right toys. A two-year old that gets started with LEGO will probably be interested in LEGO forever.
  • Lego actually did things right. They made (relatively) cheap toys out of durable plastic that kids couldn't easily destroy. Now, that's come back to haunt them. When I was about 8, I got my first set of Legos. Every birthday and Christmas I would get more. And more.

    Now, don't get me wrong--the new Lego toys are schweet. I think they are far more awesome than the ones I played with. But they are more complex, and 8-year-olds don't have to use their imaginations nearly as much.

    My kids (once I have some) will certainly play with Legos. But they aren't going to be the new fancy ones--oh no. Instead, they will grow up on my Legos, thanks to my mum for storing them. Of course I'll buy some new sets for my kids; but since my old Legos are still "cool" and look great it seems silly to toss them or buy lots of new sets. In effect, building great, durable plastic toys is what go Lego into this problem. Kindda sad when you think about it.

  • Many posts have pointed out how limiting the kits have become. Perhaps Lego might be successful by marketing non-specialized pieces and publishing designs using the piecse online. Or perhaps providing a way for users to submit designs.
  • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:00PM (#2230611)
    When I was a kid, I adored Transformers robots. I mean, I was infatuated with those things. My brother and I would sometimes pretend we were transformable robots ourselves, contorting ourselves into mock-cars and mock-trucks and driving around the basement smashing into each other.

    I got as many of the "cool" Transformers toys as I could, but there was a limit to how many of them I could afford. But my mom bought me LEGO space sets as well, which I assembled dutifully according to the instructions whenever I got a large one for my birthday or Christmas and then disassembled to make other stuff. Eventually, I figured out that if I couldn't collect all the Transformers I wanted, I could make them myself.

    And I was good. Two "Autobot Clones" which looked the same as robots but turned into different vehicles were my favorite early effort. My last was a larger-than-the-toy Fortress Maximus, built out of every last black and grey LEGO brick I could find. It couldn't stand under its own weight, so I propped it against a wall to admire it. I never made a serious effort with the LEGO Transformers again, but they'd served their purpose.

    If only those LEGO sets didn't cost as much, I would have bought them instead of the TF toys. Why buy one action figure when you can get a hundred?
  • I would love it if I could pick and choose the lego parts I want, like a lego hardware store. I guess we would never convince them to have serve yourself bins in the toy store, but that would be cool. Then it would be possible to go there, pick the parts you want for your next lego project, and maybe pay for them buy the pound like screws at the hardware store. This would totally open the market up, at least in my opinion. I wouldn't even mind if I had a web site to do this at, I need 20 of these, 4 of those, 80 of these...!

  • I dunno, but it seems to me that one of the main things holding Lego back is the ridiculous price of the kits. I mean, for any kit consisting of more than about 6 pieces, the price is over $10. Mindstorms are generally over $100! Maybe halve prices and a lot of that market share will come back.
  • I preferred Erector sets to Lego...

    I preferred the little wrench to knawing a 1x4 from a 2x4 (did all of your Legos have teeth marks too?), and I liked building giant towers and such to little cars and boats.

    If you want a good toy set for the young neice or nephew, or even to keep on your coffee table for a diversion, you need to try the Kapla blocks [http]. They are a set of identical wood planks that you can build almost anything with. Because they're machined carefully, you can stack them pretty high before the natural defects dump them over. I first saw them at Miner's Toy Store [].

  • Basic Pieces (Score:2, Insightful)

    by furchin ( 240685 )
    I think that Lego's biggest problem is that by having so many themed sets, they have introduced many very specialized pieces that cannot be used except to build that set. Mind you I have no problem with certain specialized sets, but the pirate themes really stand out as having too many specialized pieces. I think that after the Lego Town sets, they went downhill. Town was good because it made use of normal pieces (albeit sometimes off from the regular colors) and the town blocks could be used to build other things. I guess it helps that lego blocks are rectangular, and go really well with making buildings :)

    So basically what Lego needs to do is to get away from all the custom pieces like boat hulls, and make sets from pieces that can be used for other projects as well. I always liked the sets myself, often building what was on the box, and using my general bucket of pieces to make enhancements on the set, or else another town building or something of that nature.
  • My love has been and always will be the "Space" lines; we know that castles and dinosaurs and houses don't really have little round nubs, but the spaceships of the future might; the same geeky love of scifi's possibilities for the future extended to lego.

    And that's one of the reasons I've never been a big fan of the generic brick sets; Legos are, essentially, a kids 3D CAD kit in solid form. When all you have is clunky squares, all you can build then is clunky square things, but wings, engines, lasers, cockpits... with those, you could make things with a real sense of design, and more 3D presence than drawing on paper.
  • When I bought my first x86 computer (a 10mhz 8088) MANY years ago, I could not afford a monitor. I bought the guts to an old monochrome monitor for $5 at a local electronics store and tried to use that. In a fit of insanity I built the case out of Lego.

    It was incredibly expensive. (I spent more for Lego than i would have if I had just saved up for a new monitor.)

    Now-a-days you can't even find the large buckets. It is all kits and gadgets. Everything is pretty much pre-designed.

    I guess this is what happens when you let marketing run things...
  • Did any of you folks consider that the article might be just so much nonsense? I've got an 8 year old kid who LOVES Legos, so I've got a great real-time lab for observations on whether Lego toys are accepted by today's youth.

    The article claims that the company hasn't adapted to today's kids realities. Uhm - Huh? So explain Lego Land or the Lego CDROM titles that my kid has played for endless hours, not to mention that he builds lego kits ALL the time. It is absolutely his favorite NONE!

    If my son is an example, Lego still has what it takes to make money, and they've come up with dozens of new and imaginitive products to keep my kid interested (why haven't I bought stock?? Hmmm..)

  • Lego was wonderful, and I personally spent tons of time in my childhood toying with them, but the really amazing geek-child toy was Fischertechnik. []

    I know some people are fans of Erector, some are fans of Tinkertoys, and others fans of Lego, but I've yet to meet someone who played with Fischertechnik that didn't end up loving it above all else.

    A while back I asked my Dad, "You know, I wish my kids would have something like that to play with." He asked me if I remembered how he told me to put the pieces back in the box, each piece in its own little slot, when I was a child? I did. He asked me if I remembered why he told me to do that?

    Because one day, when I had kids of my own, I'd want it for them.

    Dad, while finding it increasingly hard to find Fischertechnik in America (you can still get it, but it's not available in major department stores like it once was), saw the direction the company was heading, didn't like it, and knowing what a great toy it was thought ahead, way behind where my brother and I were thinking.

    He still has all of it. Every plastic and metal piece.

    I'm going home this weekend, and I'm going to build myself a crane with it. :)

  • Playing with lego's was one of the best experiences of my life. I had more than anyone I have ever met, mostly all free-form blocks, although I did get the battery pack and motors, but I ordered them from a catalogue, so they were very generic. I liked that they chose sizes for thier belts so that I could replace them with parts from the local hardware store.

    Enough nostalgia, on to the real stuff.

    To understand me, you need to understand how I solve problems. If thier are directions, I throw them away first thing, then I start tinkering. I do this when I work on my car, and I do this when I am programming. Knowing the answer before starting is never as much fun, it can be quicker, but nothing is learned aside from one fact. This is why physics labs bored me in college, not because we were not studying cool things, but because we were told how to do everything. We weren't given a problem and told to solve it, we were given a solution and told to explain the answer. This did not promote my interest in learning the equations which we discused in class. It worked well for the other students, many of them flourished in that environment, but it did not work for me.

    It was not until my last lab, where the lab manual had been lost and I was told to make it up, did I actually learn something from physics labs. The other ones were too canned to be interesting to me. Its because they did not fit into the lego mentality, experimentation is more than doing something someone else has done before exactly as they did it.

  • by dark_panda ( 177006 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @02:31PM (#2231161)
    We've all done it before -- stepping on Legos scattered all over the floor in the dark hurts like a bitch, stumbling from one painful pile to another, wrecking a whole day's worth of building while leaving your feet full of small indentations, all perfectly arranged and usually in an 2x4 pattern.

    Yes, stepping on Legos certainly sucked. (For some of us, I'm sure it still sucks.)

  • I remember and loved the first Lego Space Sets. They were the core of what me and my brother did: build unique looking Lego Space ships. I loved some of the special parts that they had then like the Rocket Nozzles and the space dudes. Now, I walk into a store and see Star Wars Legos and think they are even more cool. I do thing that the need to nix some of the special parts, or, if they are going to include them, include instructions for more then say the X-wing. I dunno if they do that, but if they did, it would then open up their minds and see well if I had two Xwing kits I could make a 8 engined X-wing or something like that. Oh and I saw the Bioncles and they suck in my opinion.

  • by Frodo ( 1221 )
    I didn't have any idea of Lego's existance until about 20, and I still survived and even have reasonable mental abilities, can tie my shoelaces, program my Perl and even was able to make my B.Sc. So I guess even Lego-challenged people can find their way in this sad world.
  • A former project architect earned my never ending respect when he pulled out a pile of Duplo and Lego to explain how our object oriented framework worked to a bunch of execs and managers. The fact that a grown man had a pile of childrens toys on his desk didn't seem to phase anyone, the fact that he had to resort to it to explain things to the execs was lost on no one. What can I say, you gotta put it in terms they'll understand.
  • When I was a child, my parents didn't spoil me with expensive computers and toys, but instilled a sense of the value of goods and encouraged my brothers and I to make toys or entertain ourselves out in the fields, hills or sea.
    This meant that when Lego (and to a lesser degree Meccano) turned up it was an outstanding toy. Lego packs for the next 10 years or so (for all of us) created a massive base for development of all types of creations - we made mechanical linkages before Technics came out, working wave and wind driven generators, a hideously inaccurate clock and once Technics came out we built a Babbage machine.

    By the time I got a Dragon 32 (like a Tandy to the west-of-the-pond types) I had no interest in playing computer cames, but in writing assemblers, games, word processors, etc.

    And now we are all in Mensa and have excellent jobs - you've got to get the brain development in early!

    My kids are getting Lego and books - and no computer games for years, so they can get the good start my siblings and I got.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire