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Toys The Almighty Buck

Lego Goes Back to the Basics: Building Blocks 717

Decaffeinated Jedi writes "Slashdot recently covered Lego's plan to stop producing its Mindstorms line in response to the Danish company's worst financial loss in history. While the original article linked focused primarily on Lego's plans to cease production on various toy lines, Yahoo News now has a follow-up article that looks in greater detail at Lego's plan for the future. 'We are returning to Lego's former concept,' says Lego owner and president Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. 'We're going to focus on building bricks as our main product, concentrating on little kids' eagerness to assemble.' Kristiansen goes on to blame the company's financial woes on its attempt to follow trends rather than focusing on its more traditional products. In turn, the company's plan for 2004 will include a renewed marketing push for Lego bricks as opposed to licensed products like the Harry Potter and Star Wars lines. Toy researcher Joern Martin Steenhold also notes the following in the article: 'All research, including my own, shows that computer games and other electronic games take up only 20 to 30 percent of children's play time. Boys play with traditional toys up until the age of eight or 10, and it is in the zero to seven age range that Lego has its niche.' Zero to seven? What about the Slashdot crowd?"
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Lego Goes Back to the Basics: Building Blocks

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  • First Post (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:05PM (#7952731)
    I always preffered unabashed Lego sets.

    Having 100 of each was great. The sets with instructions were fun, but it really was more enjoyable to be creative. That's what we should getting children to do anyways.
    • Re:First Post (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bigman2003 ( 671309 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:15PM (#7952888) Homepage
      Lego could probably be a very profitable company for a long, long time. All they need to do is sell plastic blocks (which they price very high). Their move of getting rid of the electronics, tie-ins, etc is a good one. I wonder if they will dump the theme parks too.

      20 years ago, someone at Lego thought that they should be a huge powerhouse company, with their hands in everything. Why not just be a medium sized company, making a few million dollars of profit every year with your core business?

      Walgreens pharmacy did a similar thing. It seemed like suddenly every single corner had a Walgreens on it- everywhere you looked, another frickin Walgreens. Now, craploads of them have gone out of business, and the corner is left with a VERY cheap building. They didn't do themselves, or anyone else any good by over-expanding. (My old neighborhood had an awesome coffee shop that leased a corner building. Eventually, the landlord sold the corner lot, the coffee shop went out of business, and nice shiny new Walgreens was built. 2 years later, it is an empty building, where once my favorite coffee shop, with a fireplace even, stood.)

      What does that have to do with Legos? Over expansion- the urge to be big, instead of concentrating on what works for you.
      • Re:First Post (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Suidae ( 162977 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:37PM (#7953125)
        I agree that the marketing aspect with Star Wars and other themed sets needs to go. I disagree with the idea of going back to nothing but plastic blocks.

        I spent hours working with the 'Technics'(sp?) sets they used to sell. These differed from the regular legos in that they came with a bunch of various sized gears, universal joints, steering knuckles, etc. The normal solid bricks have holes through which shafts may be run. I spent many many hours learning about gears, mechanical advantage, backlash, torque (I often wished for some metal versions of the plastic gears and shafts for high-load areas) and many other concepts.

        I'd love to see all this plus a few specialized parts so that I could build a kit with which I could build any number of remote control vehicles. (I've never played with the mindstorms stuff, I dont' know if they have this kind of stuff).
        • ...you will then be in love.

          I don't know about gears at this time, but you can buy just about anything else you might want for a HUGE number of projects without having to pay insane amounts of money to have items machined for you. As long as you stick to 'standard' items, you will be more then fine.

          The web-site is www.mcmaster.com

          Good hunting!
        • Re:First Post (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Afrosheen ( 42464 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:14PM (#7953567)
          When I was really young, around 9 or 10, I actually wrote a letter to Lego, begging them for a double-sided Lego brick. Either double-male or double-female, I drew pictures and everything. Lego, in their infinite wisdom, wrote back a few months later with some legalese bullshit about how they can't accept idea submissions from outside sources, particularly not children.

          This was nearly 20 years ago. I think they should've taken my advice instead of doing Star Wars co-marketing.
          • Re:First Post (Score:5, Insightful)

            by whittrash ( 693570 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @09:37PM (#7958410) Journal
            At Christmas I went through Target and checked out the Lego selection. It was pathetic. The legos I really wanted to see were Iraq legos, with Saddam in a Spider hole, Hummers, tanks, 4th Infantry Division Bradley Fighting vehicles, a prison and barracks, that would be cool. There were no space legos, no pirate legos, no medieval legos, no modern day legos (helicopter, ambulance, race car etc.). All they had were stupid NBA, Harry Potter, Star Wars and some useless NASA rockets and a bunch of crap. I didn't even see the bucket of plain legos which is my favorite. I have never, ever bought legos which were of a branded product (like Harry Potter or NBA), that isn't the point of Legos (Although the NBA arena they sell would make a very good deathmatch arena for wily humans vs. the alien robots or humans infected with dinasaur DNA). Legos are only useful when you can build an asteroid base with a small army of space pirates (who have a black flagged pirate space ship complete with sails) and they wage war with the Space Patrol and space miner Bill and his dump truck crew over a mining facility which always gets destroyed in a massive conflagration and has to be rebuilt in a new configuration. You can't do that with a Shaq lego set, all the imagination is cut off. They don't sell any of the right parts for a time machine anymore. And how am I supposed to build a fusion generator with my niece and nephew that overloads blowing up half the planet with the gimpy legos they sell now. No wonder they are losing cash.
        • Re:First Post (Score:5, Interesting)

          by bfields ( 66644 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:57PM (#7954001) Homepage
          I spent hours working with the 'Technics'(sp?) sets they used to sell. These differed from the regular legos in that they came with a bunch of various sized gears, universal joints, steering knuckles, etc. The normal solid bricks have holes through which shafts may be run. I spent many many hours learning about gears, mechanical advantage, backlash, torque (I often wished for some metal versions of the plastic gears and shafts for high-load areas) and many other concepts.

          I loved those things. In high school at one point we had a clock-designing project that I prototyped with the lego technics stuff; no hands or anything, just weight-driven thing with a primitive escapement and a big bar that swung back and forth to do the same job as a pendulum, all made out of lego.

          That's the sort of thing lego was great for--you could have a good time building the (very clever) models from the instructions, but then you could also go do crazy things of your own. I hope kids are still playing with those things for many years. Except for being a bit pointy, they were the perfect toy--fun in the best possible way, because you could always do more with them.

          --Bruce Fields

      • Re:First Post (Score:3, Insightful)

        • [...]
          Why not just be a medium sized company, making a few million dollars of profit every year with your core business?

        Basically, because the employees of the company, specially the management, has a mandate from the shareholders to maximise the profit. It justifies their (professional) existence, as it were. And they do it by saturating their own niche, then trying themselves in new niches. This most often results in their falling flat on their faces at some point or other, picking themselves up, an

      • Re:First Post (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:45PM (#7953215) Homepage
        Bullsh*t. Lego has to compete with all of it's little rivals that can now make perfectly compatable Lego knockoffs. Lego has always been the premium brand. It's little wonder that their sales would suffer during an economic slump when the dollar is weak. Blaming their current losses on current management is rather simpleminded.

        They need to continue to differentiate themselves from a sea of knockoff artists that can clone any simplistic kit Lego makes.

        I was actually looking forward to buying my son some of the more interesting modern Lego sets available these days. If they gut their line, I certainly won't be buying. There really wouldn't be a point.
      • Nth Post (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:45PM (#7953223) Homepage Journal
        20 years ago, someone at Lego thought that they should be a huge powerhouse company, with their hands in everything. Why not just be a medium sized company, making a few million dollars of profit every year with your core business?

        Back when Lego introduced a lot of the new stuff I couldn't see the point, as it limited the use of specialty items, which was IMHO unattractive. In my youth I made lots of stuff and spent uncounted hours developing my imagination with a few simple pieces. I'm sure my parents loved it, as it kept me busy and quiet while building things. Same applied to Erector sets, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. Provide the kids with the basics and their minds will do the rest. Provide them with limited toys and they lose interest in a short time and expect something new.

        There was also something like brown or red plastic girders and green plastic sheets which could be used to make buildings, houses, etc. which were really cool, but I can't remember the name of. I'd buy them if they were still for sale.

        Once again, brick and mortar prove most successful.

        • Re:Nth Post (Score:3, Informative)

          by 27B-6 ( 239669 )

          There was also something like brown or red plastic girders and green plastic sheets which could be used to make buildings, houses, etc. which were really cool, but I can't remember the name of. I'd buy them if they were still for sale.

          That was the girder and panel construction set [rcn.com]. I had one of those sometime in the mid or late 70's, I would guess, and I loved it! The link I provided was one of many from a quick Google search. I bet you could find one for sale somewhere.

        • Meccano (Score:3, Interesting)

          by uberdave ( 526529 )
          Here's hoping that Meccano [meccano.com] follows suit.
      • Re:First Post (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rilister ( 316428 )
        Well, I think the current business plan stemmed from fear of a commodity market. I read the reason that Lego moved to more and more complex sets with 'themes' is that their original patent on the Lego block expired in 1978.

        So, in theory, there's nothing at all to stop you setting up a factory producing Lego-compatible blocks. To counter this, Lego tried to build 'brand value' by having more and more specialized sets - making it harder to compete with 'real' Lego.

        Making just standard 4x2 blocks has very li
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:06PM (#7952746) Homepage Journal

    Boys play with traditional toys up until the age of eight or 10, and it is in the zero to seven age range that Lego has its niche.' Zero to seven? What about the Slashdot crowd?

    I'm 38 and still monkey with Lego. When I was sick at home for a few days I had a little contest running with myself. I had built a small Lego "bridge" that could span a piece of legal paper lengthwise (14") then would place a glass of water on it. If the bridge didn't hold then I had water to clean up. If the bridge held for 5 minutes I'd tear it down then 're-engineer' it with less pieces than before. All the regular bricks, no cheating with the longer pieces. :)

    When you're sick a bit of a mental challenge helps you forget the illness. (I was doing this with my Lego blocks from 30+ years ago but I have a lot of Mindstorms stuff too, it's leet)
    • by bconway ( 63464 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:14PM (#7952879) Homepage
      Zero to seven? What about the Slashdot crowd?

      I'd say that pretty much covers the maturity level of the posters here.
    • I'm 38 and still monkey with Lego.

      You're also the minority. :) Lego has to make profit, not cater to some people at some dork website. People assume Slashdotters represent the majority or something.
    • by uberdave ( 526529 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:41PM (#7953834) Homepage
      My brother's company had a lego tower building contest. His team won because they used an unorthodox strategy. All the other teams used the lego blocks in the standard orientation (bumps up, holes down). His team set the blocks on their side (bumps right, holes left), trading off a certain amount of lateral stability for greater gains in height. Perhaps you could use the same strategy in your bridge building?
  • by mpost4 ( 115369 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:06PM (#7952747) Homepage Journal
    is a return to the way legos were sold in the 80's, not in sets, yes there were those, but you could also just get a generic set. I have not see a generic set in the stores around here, they all are some set based on some movie game or some thing, but no generic set.
    • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:14PM (#7952875) Homepage Journal
      The great thing about doing this (going back to generic set sales) for Lego is that it drastically reduces their costs while also directing focus back where it belongs - on the open-ended nature of the toy. Instead of directing a kid to build Hogwarts or something, let them build whatever their imagination comes up with...
      • by tuffy ( 10202 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:25PM (#7952995) Homepage Journal
        The great thing about doing this (going back to generic set sales) for Lego is that it drastically reduces their costs while also directing focus back where it belongs - on the open-ended nature of the toy. Instead of directing a kid to build Hogwarts or something, let them build whatever their imagination comes up with...

        If the sets were built with generic pieces, a kid could build Hogwarts from the directions. Then, he could tear it down and build a bunch of completely different things that look nothing like the picture on the box. The first yellow castle set I got back in the late 70s was like this - packed with plenty of plain pieces and only a handful of specialized ones.

        Then, as early as the mid-80s, Lego started using specialized "castle wall" pieces that weren't useful for anything other than assembling medieval-looking buildings. It was a downward trend, though I didn't realize it at the time.

        • by DenOfEarth ( 162699 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:07PM (#7953489) Homepage

          I remember getting a lego grey castle set that I rather liked. The castle wall piece weren't too bad, as they simply acted as a window frame kind of piece that added a bit to the castle, yet they remained somewhat generic enough in that you could build a wall around it with generic lego brick pieces. The castle gates were also made with generic pieces too, if I remember correctly, so they were good.

          I saw my cousin got a 'bionicle' lego set for christmas this year, and it was ridiculous. I don't think there were more than a hundred pieces, and no more than a handful of them could be connected to something other than the piece they were supposed to be connected to on the picture on the box. The special piece thing has definitely gone way too far (even though the last lego set I got: a pirate ship, looked pretty damn impressive when it was all put together).

    • by broller ( 74249 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:15PM (#7952887)
      They come in buckets now. They were called Freestyle sets throughout the 90's, but I'm not sure what the series name is now. Check your local Lego aisle for buckets full of windows, bricks, etc.

      If it's individual kinds of parts in bulk you want, shop.lego.com [lego.com] still sells the service packs that they've always sold through the Shop At Home catalog, as well as the rest of their product line.

      For single special parts, or any other sort of non-set purchase, BrickLink [bricklink.com] is a great resource. That's where the resellers break down the sets they buy from stores and sell the parts individually. If you want 300 wigets in blue, bricklink is the best way to find them.

      • by samjam ( 256347 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:42PM (#7953188) Homepage Journal
        I bought an giant tub of lego, >2000 bits in it.

        It was mostly empty and most of the bits were one or two square size!!

        I was very angry!

        New lego in the UK costs about 100 GBP per kilo.

        Lego on ebay costs 10 GBP per kilo.

        For the summer I bought 15 Kilo of lego, enough for 5 children to play with (no, I dont have 5 children.)

        I bought it from ebay!

    • by damian ( 2473 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:41PM (#7953173) Homepage
      In Cologne Germany they have a lego shop where you can fill up cups of different sizes with lego blocks from a good selection and than pay by cup size. Similar to some sweet store.
    • Since profit margins are fatter for niche products, companies always want to get away from commodity business. But niche markets are either small, don't last, are fickle, or are some combination of all these things.

      End result: company not only loses much of the investment in the niche product development, but it tends to let the unsexy commodity business fall by the wayside.

      I too had noticed that over time, less and less Lego sets were "generic" ... just a bunch of mixed blocks that any idiot could
      • by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <yodaNO@SPAMetoyoc.com> on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:59PM (#7954645) Homepage Journal
        The problem is that commodity is not sexy. A company that makes the same product for 99 years doesn't need a marketing department and a high-profile CEO. They need a reliable distribution network, a consistent product, and a good reputation.

        I'm kinda worried about one of my favorite local beers. The owner's kid went off and got an MBA or something and they are expanding like crazy all over the place. While it's cool I can get my favorite beer in Florida as well as Philly, I just hope they don't go off and either Budwasser their product, or end up diversifying into a company that makes everything BUT the Lager I have come to know and love.

        Fast growing companies are like tumors. Very few learn to stop growing, and sooner or later they die from starvation after destroying the entire market.

  • FIRST Lego League? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GabrielF ( 636907 ) <GJFishmanNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:06PM (#7952748)
    I wonder how this will effect FIRST Lego League, the international robotics competition for middle-schoolers. FLL is a great program from Dean Kamen and the same people who run the FIRST Robotics Competition.
  • by addie ( 470476 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:07PM (#7952757)
    A corporation moving back toward imagination and away from limiting corporate tie-ins, don't see too much flowing in that direction these days. The "themed" Lego sets were the worst thing to happen to toys in my lifetime.

    I'm beginning to have faith that I may be able to buy new Lego for my future children, as opposed to having them play with my mess of a collection.
    • by palutke ( 58340 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:24PM (#7952981)
      A corporation moving back toward imagination and away from limiting corporate tie-ins, don't see too much flowing in that direction these days.

      I wonder how much of their decision is based on the licensing fees that Lucas, etc. were charging. I can easily see them saying "Your license isn't bringing enough sales to justify the money you want for it. Thanks, but no thanks.
      • As I understand it, they got that license pretty easily.

        Lucas really wanted Lego to make Star Wars toys, but Lego had never done a tie-in before, so they didn't ask. So when Lego turned around and approached Lucas, it was pretty easy to get.

        Some of the Star Wars Lego sets look interesting, like the AT-AT walker, but most are just a bunch of annoying custom pieces, from what I can see in the catalog. That's not appealing.
        • From my limited experience, just a few sets, the Star Wars kits really shied away from too many pieces, and some of the pieces they did add they reused among several sets (like the laser cannons, used on the snowspeeder and a few others)

          Also, they did show you ideas for alternate models w/ the same pieces...they still looked Star Warsy but were original, kind of like those "minirigs" back in the day.

          My main random grip w/ Star Wars sets is that they chose to paint artoo's features way on the top of his he
    • >> I'm beginning to have faith that I may be able to buy new Lego for my future children

      Slashdot translation:
      I'm beginning to have faith that I may be able to buy Legos for my future children so that I can play with them.

  • by Bagels ( 676159 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:08PM (#7952771)
    but when I was a kid, I remember having much more fun with K'Nex than with legos. K'Nex constructions were larger (some could take up the better part of a room, which kids find tremendously cool), more permanent, and they could have some really neat moving parts (Lego Technix notwithstanding). I played much more with my Big Ball Factory than with the Lego models that I had.
    • by TheOnlyCoolTim ( 264997 ) <.ten.nozirev. .ta. .kcorblob.mit.> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:19PM (#7952937)
      Two more:

      Capsela - Cool plastic spheres with gears and motors inside them and various wheels and such to attach. The coolest part was that they had float attachments so you could make boats. I made some of these into a robot for a final class project just recently.

      Old School Erector Sets - these things are valuable collectors items now. I seem to remember the instructions giving you basic structural engineering tips. The motor they had was badass.

    • I would combine them. I would create structures that incorporated Legos, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Set, and plain wooden blocks.
    • by Speare ( 84249 )

      Pixel Blocks [pixelblocks.com] have only one shape, but 20+ colors. They're designed to attach to each other in three dimensions, to form models or images.

      While they're still a bit expensive thanks to the company's small size and high overhead, they charge ~$7 for 200 pieces, instead of Lego's overall dime-a-piece average (~$7 fo 70 pieces).

  • by duffbeer703 ( 177751 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:08PM (#7952774)
    The problem with the Slashdot crowd is that not as many /.'ers play with legos and one might think. Most of us have jobs and lives that prevent us from playing with cool toys.

    On the other hand, Lego's problems lay deeper than a bloated product line. Lego toys are way, way too expensive. Even when I was a little kid twenty years ago, my parents bought me high quality knockoffs at Sears for like 1/3 the cost of Legos. I imagine that it's worse today.

  • Mental Age (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <slashdot@nospAM.jgc.org> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:09PM (#7952780) Homepage Journal
    > Boys play with traditional toys up until the age
    > of eight or 10, and it is in the zero to seven age
    > range that Lego has its niche.' Zero to seven?
    > What about the Slashdot crowd?

    Perhaps he was talking mental age? :-)

    Seriously though a key trait of the hacker mindset is, I think, playfulness. That shows up in the way hackers mess around with language and Lego. And that playfulness is a key aspect of learning. How many times have you hacked something together "just for the fun of it": in reality half the fun was that you were learning.

    The good news is that Lego is going back to the bricks. Great news Lego, that's just what we all needed!

  • Stupid LEGO pieces (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:09PM (#7952785) Homepage
    The problem with LEGO is the stupid pieces.
    Grab a random $20 kit at a store, it's full of special pieces with no real use.
    What happened to actual blocks? you get only a few if any in the average kit.

    I was going to buy lego for some children, until I realized I would need a moderate fortune to give them a decent assortment of basic pieces.
  • by p4ul13 ( 560810 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:10PM (#7952795) Homepage
    He is soon to be a guest on Krusty's Komedy Klassic.
  • Concentrations spans (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vpscolo ( 737900 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:10PM (#7952796) Homepage
    One thing lego always helped me do was learn to conentrate. I could spend hours just doing one thing. Kids now days seem to spend 5 minute son something then move on

    As the old saying goes

    "I'm sure my concentration span is...ooh look shiny thing"

  • I want basic bricks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:10PM (#7952798) Homepage
    It'd be nice if they were more affordable though (this is where that nasty global economy / foreign currency things comes into play :(

    Actually, I've been kind of surprised that Lego hasn't hit upon the idea of marketing kits directly to grown-ups, say a line of desk accessories (the pens struck me as lame).

    When I got a Fujitsu Point 510 pen slate, I didn't bother to get a stand---thought about making one out of wood, but instead chose to use my old Legos (I've since added a pen holder and a stand for a CD-RW drive to lift it up behind the Fujitsu Stylistic I did purchase a stand for (was running low on Legos)).

    Pictures of the Point 510 and stand should be here:

    http://www.tabletpcbuzz.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPI C_ ID=7109

  • by Slartibartfast ( 3395 ) * <ken&jots,org> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:11PM (#7952816) Homepage Journal
    I've always been interested in the Mindstorms, but never quite enough to buy 'em, always figuring "Some day, some day..." Well, it looks like "some day" has arrived, and I don't know which ones to geek out on. I'd like to:

    - Have something mobile
    - Have it be controllable via Linux
    - Have it do nifty things

    For those of you that've already bought/geeked out on/played with them, which models (that are still available) have brought you the most joy?
    • by kherr ( 602366 ) <kevin@p u p p e t h ead.com> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:43PM (#7953194) Homepage
      Mindstorms is all about three things: RCXes, motors and sensors. The RCX is the "brain" that you program. It has inputs and outputs.

      You want to buy as many Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention Systems [lego.com] as you can. Each RIS kit comes with an RCX, two motors and various sensors. The kit also includes plenty of wheels, axles and generic blocks for building just about anything. It's a good bargain. I own two kits and probably need more now that they'll be discontinued.

      The accessory kits have been somewhat of a disappointment for me, but it is how you get some different sensors. You can order discrete parts directly from Lego but you end up paying a lot.
  • by John_Booty ( 149925 ) <johnbooty@bootyprojec t . o rg> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:11PM (#7952820) Homepage
    I like the "back to the basics" idea. Today's Lego sets look way too specialized to me- too many specialized pieces, not enough basic Lego bricks- so there's a lot less creative potential. They also look way too expensive.

    I think that selling basic Lego sets again is a nice potential return to the things I liked about Legos as a kid in the early 80's. It would be nice if they could sell the basic sets in addition to the fancier licsensed sets and the advanced products like Mindstorms instead of canning those products entirely, but all in all I like this move.
  • by plover ( 150551 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:12PM (#7952849) Homepage Journal
    I read near the bottom of the article where they mentioned "forays" into other things such as the Legoland parks. I know that the last time I was in San Diego, I drove the family out to the park (my son was 14 at the time.) We saw the $40 price tags and decided it simply wasn't worth it (so we drove up Mt. Palomar to the observatory, which was indeed worth the drive.)

    I recall being surprised that the parking lot for Legoland was nearly deserted, until I saw the admission price.

    Anyway, I know I'll miss Mindstorms. I wonder what other lines they'll drop?

  • 0 to 7? Zero? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoorFrame ( 22108 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:13PM (#7952855) Homepage
    Gosh, that's going to be one unhappy baby. All it wants is something plush that maybe it can wrap its tiny fingers around while lying in the bassinet, and instead it's going to get a pile of hard, sharp angled blocks that it cannot possibly understand how to assemble. The odds of a zero-year-old choking on Legos, I would estimate at fifty-fifty.

    What a horrible idea.
    • Re:0 to 7? Zero? (Score:3, Interesting)

      'Zero' may be a bit of an exaggeration, but...

      You have obviously not seen the large-size block kits they make available for young ages. While still requiring adult supervision (I've learned from experience with my own kids that anything smaller than an elephant represents a potential choking hazard), they seem to be very well-regarded by the very, very young.

      Both my boys started banging around with the large blocks pretty much as soon as they were able to start gripping things. And they picked up on the
  • Good! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doesn't_Comment_Code ( 692510 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:13PM (#7952862)
    Legos were much better when they were simply blocks and YOUR IMAGINATION was what mattered. I've watched my little brothers put together newer lego sets where most of the pieces are designed to fit together in ONE SPECIFIC WAY. Everything is already planned out, and you are supposed to follow the directions (like a some-assembly-required toy).

    I'm all for plain old blocks again. And I wouldn't be surprised if that leads to higher revenues again.
  • by tuxette ( 731067 ) * <tuxette@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:13PM (#7952866) Homepage Journal
    Boys play with traditional toys up until the age of eight or 10, and it is in the zero to seven age range that Lego has its niche.'

    What about girls? (And there's supposed to be ingrained gender equality in Denmark hmmmf!)

    OK, the girls that play with Legos and stuff like that might get shunned by the the silly girls who play with dolls and maybe some parents want their little girls to wear frilly dresses and play with dolls and girlie stuff but 1) it was always more fun to play with the boys, and 2) who says you can't make a tea party set with lego blocks??

    • The big lego sets (that I got for Christmas every year) used to come with a catalogue. I remember seeing maybe two pages of sets that were blatantly girly (ponies and flowers and stuff, ew), and the rest of it was trains, cities, space, medieval, ships, and so on. 90% of the girls in my school who were into lego wouldn't have touched the girly stuff with a bargepole. (Too busy kicking my ass, for starters. :))

      Lego-building always struck me as being an inherently unisex occupation. Maybe it isn't, and my ch
    • From what I have seen, girls have no problems putting together plain LEGO pieces to make whatever houses or vehicles or other more fantasic structures they like. Even techical-oriented things like train sets are well received and considered great fun.

      So I would not be worried about this at all.

    • Gender-neutral play (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jmb-d ( 322230 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:18PM (#7953603) Homepage Journal
      I've got 2 test subjects, er, 21-month-old boy/girl twins at home, and we allow them to play with whatever toys they want to.

      Generally, they both play with (and share) the Duplo blocks (Legos are still a choking hazard), the Matchbox cars, the Mr. (and Mrs.) Potato Head, the Brio trains, my bass amp, and so on. There are also baby dolls (boy/girl twins, like them), various stuffed critters, and the Little Tykes kitchen our friends gave them. And books -- tons of 'em. Boynton, Little Golden Books, DK, Shel Silverstein poetry, Dr. Seuss, Pooh (AA Milne, not the Disney-fied crap), etc. They sometimes insist on taking a book to bed with them at nap time...

      Does my son play with the trains more than the kitchen? Seems like it to me.

      Does my daughter play more with the baby dolls? Again, seems like it to me.

      Do we "direct" them in their play, shooing them away from any particular toy or "suggesting" to them to play with something else instead?

      Absolutely not.
  • Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Remlik ( 654872 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:15PM (#7952890) Homepage
    This makes me very happy to hear. I'm 25 and my favorite lego series was the "Model Team" with the Semi trucks, jeeps, vans, helicopters and generally cool, LARGE fully functional models of real life vehicles.

    I recently rebuilt my model team semi and it now rests proudly on my desk. Right now they have a very nice lego Shuttle in the stores for $50 bucks (same price as most of the model team models back in the day, and even today on ebay)that I've been trying to convince my wife we need...hehe

    Its really disapointing to go to the store and see Soccer, Harry Potter, and Star Wars sets with little more than 20 pieces and some look alike action figures. Give the kids somthing that will take them a few hours to build and leave them enough blocks to construct something different if they should choose.

    Just this weekend I noticed some new sets out called "design sets" that were of normal everyday objects (one was a pontoon plane) and each set is capable of being at least 3 different things. (I assume they have docs inside which show how to convert as well..at least the last technic model I bought did)

    This is the lego I remember and love, and I think more parents would rather buy somthing that can be more than just a scene from SW or HP.
  • by MoobY ( 207480 ) <anthony&liekens,net> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:20PM (#7952954) Homepage
    Isn't Lego being a bit harsh on itself after a down year in sales? They were still profitable in 2002. I can't find the profit and loss numbers of the previous years, although statements have been made that 1998 was Lego's first loss year.

    I have a mindstorms set, I really like the technic boxes, and I'm amazed Lego's sole interest for the future would be in 0-7 year olds. All of the young boys (7-10 year olds) in my neighborhood and family still seem to be getting huge piles of Lego blocks ...
  • by gamgee5273 ( 410326 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:26PM (#7953005) Homepage Journal
    I have 10 Bionicle figures, 10 Star Wars mini-figs and all of the SW Mini sets. I have a ton of regular and "Space Lego" Lego bricks at home, my Mindstorms collection takes up a good-sized toolbox, and my wife and I make regular gifts of Lego (Duplo and the regular bricks) to the kids in our families...

    Obviously, we're above average in terms of Lego consumption... but one question has always bounced around in the back of my head: If my regular bricks from the 1970s are still as new looking as brand-new bricks, why would I spend more money on the same bricks for my kids when I can just give them mine?

    That has always been where Lego's corporate thought has failed them. Tinkertoys, while not the same brand nowadays as Lego is, broke... making you go out and get a new set. Very little of the Lego stuff breaks (it just tears into your bare foot when you step on one with all of your weight).

  • by TimeForGuinness ( 701731 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:26PM (#7953010) Journal
    Why doesn't Lego sell individual pieces in bulk. If you can go into a grocery store and by gummi bears by the pound, why not legos?

    They already have some Lego stores in the mall, I don't think it would be too hard to add a bulk section.

    Being able to buy a 1/2 pound of triangle, rectangle, or square pieces would be great if you are missing pieces or if you want to buy you kid or husband a heck of a lot of legos to foster their imagination.

    • by doon ( 23278 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:40PM (#7953157) Homepage
      They already have some Lego stores in the mall, I don't think it would be too hard to add a bulk section .

      The LEGO store I last went into, you could fill up 2 different size containers, with any of the basic blocks, pretty much mix and match. Next time I go down I was thinking about buying a bunch of Yellow and Black pieces for my Mindstorms kits..

  • by waxmop ( 195319 ) <waxmopNO@SPAMoverlook.homelinux.net> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:27PM (#7953016)
    I bought a few of the bionicles because they had some new pieces like ball-and-socket joints and lots of gears. The problem was that until you accumulate several kits, you're pretty limited. The typical kits has enough to build exactly one freaky alien warrior: two arms, two legs, a trunk, and a head. There's just not that much you can do when the pieces are so specialized.

    After getting several kits, though, then I could come up with more designs, like centipede monsters, etc, but I still felt constrained by how specialized the pieces were. It's hard to figure out an alternate use for the little brain piece that only connects with one other piece, for example The ball-socket joints and the gears were a nice addition though.

    Anyway, I'm glad to see legos returning to the original free-form ideal rather than becoming a glorified action-figure maker.

  • by jht ( 5006 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:27PM (#7953018) Homepage Journal
    Well, for starters, there's a lot more kids under ten than there are Slashdotters. Millions more.

    And the electronic products are expensive, relatively low-margin products that can only make them money if they sell lots of them. While Good Old Plastic Blocks are incredibly cheap to make, can be sold for a huge markup, and appeal to a lot more than just folks who want retro toys.

    I'm sure they'll still make some money off the licensed stuff for the time being, but licensed products have higher costs and since they're designed to be used for specific things they aren't really as interchangeable as standard Legos. And they cost the buyer more, too.

    Mindstorms may be wicked cool, but Lego needs to make a profit. They made lots of money selling plain old blocks, then they decided that they needed to grow into other areas to survive. It didn't work.

    I'll miss the cool stuff like Mindstorms, but in a couple of years when my son is old enough to play with Legos I'll be buying them for him. And he won't miss the robotics at all, I suspect.
  • by gobbo ( 567674 ) <wrewrite@IIIgmail.com minus threevowels> on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:28PM (#7953038) Journal
    I have a 6 and 3 year old, and we're moving from duplo to lego. I consider these essential toys.

    It drives me nuts to go shopping and see only pre-determined model sets, with all kinds of non-generic parts that, once inevitably added to the bucket, will not be used as intended, and in fact will get misplaced into other toy boxes and barely used at all.

    I don't appreciate paying the premium for a product design that comes broken in the box. The whole point of lego (in my 38 years of experience playing with it ;-) ) is its interchangeability of pieces and flexibility. Their recent design and marketing trend suppressed its fundamental characteristic!

    Lego is, in principle, back to basics, I'm happy to see them waking up to that again. I'll be one of the first to go and get a generic assortment box when I see them on the shelves again.
  • by ThinWhiteDuke ( 464916 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:31PM (#7953066)
    Do you know the difference between a clitoris and a Lego brick?

    If you don't, keep playing with Lego.
  • by mnmn ( 145599 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:35PM (#7953107) Homepage
    I remember LEGOs were getting more toy-like with bigger atomic pieces that were more specialized and you couldnt do much with it. In my castle set, there was a shark with just two pieces.. the shark and the upper jaw... so wheres the creativity about that?

    The technic sets were more creative, with little gears and small unspecific atomic pieces I could do neat things with. I never made what the original box intended.. but always had my own ideas usually a giant combined robot.. like transformers which could transform into a car.

    I saw that harry potter set and thought you really cant do much with that. That was a doll set not a building block set. The markets kicked some sense into their heads now and I hope they dont just build bricks but atomic mechanical pieces ... like that perforated metal set I forgot the name of.

    Gears, cogs, motors, rods, bearings, pulleys, screws.. things like that will help kids and motivate them to buy more sets for more pieces. Kids really REALLY dont want to build showsets of various movie themes unless they fall on the wrong side of the gender preference.
  • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:39PM (#7953150)
    They'll sell for a high price in eBay after a few years if Lego really stops making 'em...
  • by smackdotcom ( 136408 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:51PM (#7953296)
    Lego was by far my favourite toy growing up. Indeed, I played with the stuff so much that I am convinced that it has affected my thinking patterns, and in good ways. My visual-spatial sense is excellent, and my mind is forever trying to break down problems into modular pieces; or, seeing a collection of modular components, trying to figure out intriguing ways to assemble them into a larger system. In short, ladies and gentlemen, I think in Lego.

    That said, I hope that the Lego company goes about this the right way. The things I always wanted as a youngster were more hinges and other such articulated pieces in order to build things like spacecraft and vehicles with moving parts; doors and hatches that open, sensors that swivel, and so forth. Lego's strengths were always in the design of clever models that most of us would build at least once. You could learn some neat tricks by understanding how the model designers accomplished a particular effect using a small number of bricks. I agree with posters to a previous Lego story who criticized the overabundance of specialized pieces (anathema to the creative Lego builder) and the rather exorbitant prices of Lego kits.

    Perhaps Lego has decided that its future is no longer in robotics, but computers can play a role in its revival. Embrace the Internet! As so many slashdotters will attest, there are large numbers of people for whom Lego remains a unique creative outlet. Work to bring them together through the Net, and offer to sell them what they want through that same channel. More standardized, well-thought-out basic bricks, offered with the promise of volume discounts through Internet purchases. Parents who still enjoy Lego and can get access to their favourite toy in bulk and share their love of creating with a community of fellow builders will have kids who will get an early taste of the joys of building with little plastic blocks, and will thus pass on the hobby to the next generation.

  • What about girls? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phronesis ( 175966 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @12:54PM (#7953328)
    Boys play with traditional toys up until the age of eight or 10, and it is in the zero to seven age range that Lego has its niche.

    I am constantly frustrated when I try to buy Legos for my daughter. She loves building with Legos, but is not really interested in the kind of macho directions Lego has been going (fighting themes). Clikits [clikits.com] does not fit the bill, and it's almost impossible to find a store that carries Belville [lego.com] sets.

    Maybe if Lego would try harder and with more imagination to reach the other 50% of the zero-to-seven set, they's make more money.

  • I'm glad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:08PM (#7953497) Homepage Journal

    I watched my little nephew put together one of these "Bionicles" this weekend, and I was saddened at the way Lego had gone from being a building toy where you created something out of your imagination to being just an action figure with a gimmick: you get to assemble it yourself. I was actually surprised when I realized the toy he was building was "Lego."

    Now, I haven't seen the mindstorms; those probably fit more with the concept of encouraging creativity than the toy I saw Saturday. But I'm glad to hear they're going to start producing toy sets again and promoting them over Harry Potter and Star Wars action figures relabelled as Legos.

  • by Chibi ( 232518 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:10PM (#7953523) Journal

    As a child of the 80's, I'm generally ready to throw my hard-earned money at any company that is willing to help me relive my materialistic childhood. A couple of years ago, I wanted to pick up some Legos to relive some of my youth. I was shocked to see how expensive they were...

    Looking online at this moment, I can see there are tubs of random pieces for sale for as little as $6.99. Did I just happen to stumble upon some of the commercially tied-in Legos a few years back or something? Or are these tubs the cast-offs that are supposed appeal to people who don't want to spend as much?

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:16PM (#7953584) Journal
    The economy is hurting and Lego is damned expensive. Don't give me crap about value for money or the long live of lego bricks. It is pieces of plastic for crying out load.

    Sure lego is a great toy. I loved it when I was young and even like the idea of mindstorm. But even as an adult with a very reasonable income I find lego just a bit to much. What the lego company never seemed to have grasped is economy of scale. Make it as cheap as possible so that as many people will buy it as possible. Instead they charge a premium. This is a fine business tactic until the economy goes down.

    Compare premium airlines with the budget ones when the bubble burst. Compare big american cars with japanese car when the fuel crisis hit.

    Oh well good luck to them. Maybe if they go bust I can pick up some mindstorm in the bargain basement.

  • by WOV ( 652967 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:40PM (#7953822)

    The existence of basic Legos is absolutely critical to the fostering of a generation capable of survival in the coming century, and I am not engaged in hyperbole here.

    1. I work as a policy wonk, but have always had a technical bent; it's just enough that I will take apart the things that I own, or install my own software, or be mad when something is poorly designed. In a variety of other ways, I realize that the technologies I own did not happen to me and are not immutable. They are for me to use, they could have been made differently, and I fundamentally have control over them, to modify or reject them.

    This is a worldview formed before, really, I had ever touched a piece of software; formed entirely from playing with Legos for HOURS A DAY when I was little. I would posit that the United States' technological elite, people who really look at a computer program or a bacteria or a steam engine and think "I could take that apart and do that better", played with Legos far more than the general population.

    Cause and effect there are left as an exercise for the student, but the point remains that Legos are the preferred play object of the people who grow up and become our producers of technology; and if you think play is not that important to learning, attitude development, and general life outlook, you need to read some educational or vertebrate behavior research, or at least go watch some otters.

    So if we grant that they're centrally important (and if you would doubt this, why are so many of you so fond of them? Why does Slashdot have a Lego icon?) then their *composition* and *direction* is centrally important. Our kids should feel that helicopters, robots, dinosaurs are made out of simple parts that can go together different ways, that to find out how those parts go together you have to *try things out* and *maybe screw up*, and that you, at six years old, can make something new and cool that no one has seen before and be proud of it.

    The other option is just to have another pre-molded piece of plastic that works, for sure, first time. You're not sure why, someone else designed it, that's where technology comes from, I didn't have anything to do with putting it together because I can't do something like that, *fast forward ten years* what? Digital Rights Management? Biometric scanning in shopping malls? OK, I'm no engineer. These things happen, you can't change them. Is this a pill that I should take? If you say so, doctor, no point looking at it, machines are something other people make and understand and then I consume them as is, especially if they're trendy. *shudder.*

    I've had trouble for years articulating why it bothered me so much that Lego was moving towards more specialized pieces and more licensed properties; they were teaching passivity and damaging the kind of play that gave me what intelligence I think I have today.

    2. The tiny yellow Lego people of my youth existed in a shiny, functioning, Utopian republic, where there was no violence, no conflict, and the guy who drove the tow truck one day could - would - pilot the innovate Space Shuttle / submarine / dinosaur hybrid the next.

    Maybe not a viable image of the world for the long term, but a good first impression, and one that fixed in your head an early impression that what you did with technology was design better police boats and monorails and ice cream shops and in general make a better place in which to live your lives, rather than, say, Spam programs or chemical weapons. These are all habits of mind that I want my kinds to get early, far earlier than they grasp that they must follow the hot toy or trend of the moment.

    I had not realized that this was upsetting me until it appears to be moving towards a solution. Halleleujah.

    cc: Lego North America.

  • Educational? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jahf ( 21968 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:57PM (#7954003) Journal
    Will Lego continue their educational branch, and if so, will it still have a robotics product?

    I'm 32 and still play with and occasionally buy Mindstorms stuff. I was the first person, to my knowledge anyway :), in Alabama (where I lived at the time) to buy a Mindstorms set and drove 2 hours to get there at midnight to buy from a friend the day they hit the shelves.

    My last 2 projects involved cheating at games. 1 was made to automatically mash a button on a PS2 controller when it sensed a lightning flash in Final Fantasy X. The other jiggled my wife's Pikachu2 minigame until it was at it's happiest state. This isn't to point out how to cheat but rather how Mindstorms can be adapted to TONS of applications. I am looking forward to what my someday future children might do with them.

    I definitely see them as educational toys for the teenage crowd and I don't know of anything in the same price range (which means I would pay more) with the same flexibility.

    I understand Lego going back to the basics, I agree with many that they nearly specialized themselves into oblivion. I won't miss the movie tie-ins (my wife WILL miss the Harry Potter clutter though) and Bionicles was just too much to collect in the end (I tried). However, I really hope Mindstorms and the Technics line live on somehow.

    Perhaps Lego needs to branch an adult-focused (ahem, not -that- kind) company so that the 2 lines (3 if you count their educational branch) can work autonomously and not pull each other down but still partner when it makes sense.

  • Lower prices (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sandman1971 ( 516283 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:42PM (#7954468) Homepage Journal
    What Lego needs to do is lower their prices. Their prices are just ludicrous! 80-120$ Can for a box of Legos? Lower the price to 20-30$ and people will buy.
  • by Peterus7 ( 607982 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:50PM (#7954556) Homepage Journal
    I'd see something to the effect of...
    A: Lego Army men
    B: Lego Star trek (yeah, ok, they'd need copyright stuff, but I know that there'd be a proliferation of lego comic things... And I'd buy them just to take pictures of the red shirted ensign pieces getting killed in various ways.)
    C: Lego Warhammer 40k (finally, a cheap and fun way to play warhammer! Of course this would be directed at the younger crowd...)
    D: Lego D&D (Miniatures take too damn long to paint.)
    E: Lego Half life
    F: Lego programming department (so the /. people are appeased.)

    Too bad they'd never get the copyright stuff...

  • Legos growing up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @03:28PM (#7954929)
    I was a huge, huge Lego fan. I have most of the space sets from 1980 on to whenever it was I stopped playing with Legos, '87, or '88 I think. Still have all the catalogs, sets, and instructions.

    Occasionally in a fit of nostalgia I wander into the toy section to check out the new sets, and boy have they been dumbed down. When I played with Legos, I'd have sets that had 300 pieces. The bricks were bricks...You could put them together in just about any way you wanted, regardless of what the instructions said. Now the pieces are so specialized and few there's only one way to put them together, and you can do it in 5 minutes. It's not "space" and "town" and "castle" sets anymore. I don't think those even exist, and it looks like the offerings are mostly vehicles and micro-sets, so forget building your own town or space base. I think one of the reasons that Lego is doing so badly is that most people who played with Legos when they were kids are parents now, and see the same thing I'm seeing. I bet they have started looking elsewhere for stimulating toys.
  • by misuba ( 139520 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @05:19PM (#7955897) Homepage
    Think about it: it's easy to come up with multiple uses for a simple brick. Faced with the brown log-cabin wall pieces from the old Western-themed sets, well, what would you do then? A friend of mine was puzzling over that, and finally came up with a scale model of his old, ugly foam-and-corduroy couch (with a skeleton of Technic pieces). When you _do_ come up with alternate uses for highly specialized pieces, the results are really dazzling.

    As long as I'm being heretical, I'll say that the Star Wars sets are the best things that happened to Lego in ten years. Those models are much higher quality and piece count than a lot of what came before, they got lots of geeks like me involved in Lego for the first time in their adult lives, and many of the "specialized" pieces created just for Star Wars sets turn out to be very versatile and beautiful. (Printed designs on pieces have got to go, though, as does the entire ugly-as-sin Harry Potter line.)

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.