Saturday, January 17, 2009

Short Memories (Part One)

It is easy to forget that approx. every 4-5 years the entire face of Lego's target market changes. The child who received his first Lego set at 6-7 years old is now five years older.

In my case, I became "serious" about Lego almost a decade ago. Those ten years have warped past me far too quickly.

I did not even have a family when I started. Now I have four kids, with one on the way, and a wife. I went from being able to afford virtually nothing, to having enough income to invest in digital camera and entire lines of Lego, to virtually nothing again.

The past ten years feels like nothing more than a snapshot, but it is packed with so many details.

Every time a Lego fan mentions Juniorization in relation to a current or upcoming set, I can't help but chuckle. If they had been around (or could remember) just before the first Lego Star Wars line was released, they would have far less to complain about now. Lego was on the brink absolute disaster when they took on the Star Wars license. They had seen red numbers in their books for three or more years. Juniorization was speculated to be part of the sales problem. Lego had decided to make the entire System line easier on little Johnny and Jane. Apparently, children had somehow lost the ability to read instruction manuals and could no longer manipulate multitudes of small blocks. So, Lego "fixed" this issue by making the blocks larger. They even introduced a new, larger minifig to fit into the larger philosophy. It just so happend, that as the new Lego philosophy was hitting the toy aisle, the Lego profit took a dip.

Now, if you can recall that Lego designs require up to three years to make it to the shelves, you might be able to see another part of the problem. Lego had made a mistake, but it would take at least three years to fix it.

Lego had invested a lot of money into researching how to make their Lego line more kid friendly. They had decided that there was an age bracket missing between Duplo and System. Enter: Town Jr., which escalated to 4 Junior, which became Jack Stone. The mission: fewer bricks, larger parts, easier builds.

Somewhere along the way, Lego realized that the System sets were their bread and butter (at least until they released Bionicle) and went back to more complex builds as quickly as they could. The turning point for Lego was the Designer line. It was a hit and quickly morphed into the Creator line which continues to please.

You really had to have been there to appreciate what we have today. If not for Lego Star Wars and Bionicle, the Lego company might have had to lock their doors ten years ago. They can still make mistakes though. Somehow that atrocious Mars alien (often called "jellies") should never have been produced. But, at least the sets were mostly nice. Can you imagine a Jack Stone Mars Mission?

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