Today, we see the latest Ideas set 21317 Steamboat Willie hit the shelves. The LEGO® Ideas team have done a great job in preparing this set for release in just under six weeks since the set was announced to be entering the development phase – a new record for the crowd sourced platform. It turns out, however, that they have been hiding something from us…
Introducing the New Nostalgia+ Resilience Builds.
While reviews of 21317 started to surface a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the press release came out, I have had the opportunity to review another similar, but philosphically different set: the Steamboat Willie Resilience Build, 21317R (300 pieces, 2 minifigs, 1 cat $AUD44.99/$USD29.99/£GBP34.99).
Its design origins are plainly shared with 21317 Steamboat Willie, but this is a simpler build: while we start with a simple staggered hull – moving through black red and white, everything above the deck appears to be made of whatever colour could be brought to hand, with the possible exceptions of teal and Spring yellowish green. There are a few fairly subtle differences between this build and the actual Ideas set: the paddlewheel is slightly different, and rather than use the complicated “Technic and String” arrangement for the crane seen in the Ideas set, we see a more traditional ‘click hinge’ crane, often featured in Town and City sets. The cat is not the same as the one seen seen in the film, but is far less threatening. I presume the goat has been left out because of its relative scarcity. This version does not feature the moving smoke stacks as you push it along, but does feature smoke made from ice cream scoops. While it is a fragile arrangement, it is visually effective, and helps to build character in the person assembling the set as the smoke falls down for the 8th time this afternoon.
While the overall visual effect might initially be thought of as a bit of a mess, it did invoke a feeling of Nostalgia: reminding me of those builds I started as a child. The builds I could never quite make appear as they did in an Ideas book, or postcard from LEGOLand, because I lacked the parts in the necessary colours, quantities, the correct window frame or indeed the appropriate parts at all. I was always proud of such builds, and my parents claim that seeing that look in my eye as I showed them my creation always brought them joy. Certainly it taught me that I should do my best, with what I had available.
And, as with the end result of my childhood builds not quite being perfect, I was happy to pull then apart and set out to improve on it, or build something else. I was expecting to give this set 3.5 Arbitrary Praise Units out of 5, but have bumped it up to 4.5, after hearing about the new Nostalgia+ Strategy, which was inspired by the Ideas set.
It turns out that the nostalgic feeling that I experienced while building this set was carefully engineered as part of the new Nostalgia+ strategy, a company wide strategy aimed to help AFOLs aged over 45 to reengage with the current generation of LEGO sets.
Looking Back with Nostalgia+
I had the opportunity to speak with Project Head, Attilla Jogtuyu, about Nostalgia+ at an exclusive Media Event in Auckland, early on Monday morning, and asked about what lead to the development of the Steamboat Willie Resilience Build…
“Nostalgia+ is not so much a theme, as a philosophy which we are setting out to incorporate across many current themes. We have surveyed several thousand AFOLs, and many were only too happy to provide us with insights as to how we could improve our offerings for them. Nostalgia plays a large part for them in purchasing LEGO Sets, especially in the established markets of Europe, Asia, the USA and Australia. This feeling reminds them of simpler, happier times in their lives, before they had to worry too much about such as mortgages, employment or bringing up their own children. Since then, much has changed within LEGO that has resulted in a level of disconnect with this older generation of fans: the increasing role of licensed themes, strategically focussing on business growth in China, and the increased availability of more and more exclusive and limited edition models, that mere mortals could only dream of owning. At this stage, Nostalgia+ is being rolled out across several existing themes and consists of three pillars: Resilience builds, Monochrome Builds, and Instructions.”
“Nostalgia+ aims to roll out product incorporated into existing lines, and we will have some new releases of our own later in the year”
The first two: Resilience and Monochrome (RB and MC respectively) have already been discussed at this morning’s event, but look out for an announcement about the new Instructions philosophy later in the day.
The Resilience Build:
“Consider the Resilience Build – 21317R, (others are set to follow later in the year): many people of your generation had to make do with the parts that they had: perhaps starting with a nicely colour blocked base, but as elements in the storage box ran out, random colours and ultimately random parts would be added into the build. If you couldn’t get it perfect, then that was okay: you’d admire it, take some photos and pull it apart, either setting out to improve on it, or to build something else. This building style was also the focus of an advertising campaign for Universal Building sets between 1976 and 1983.
“The Resilience Builds takes the concept of building the prescribed model, but without any exclusive parts or colours required to develop the set. As such, the build bears a strong resemblance to the Marquee model – in this case the monochromatic 21317 – but is not such a gorgeous display piece that you feel guilty about pulling it apart and using the parts to build something else. Play is extremely important to the LEGO group, and merely putting together a model to leave on the shelves for years is what the Resilience Builds are designed to combat: Be satisfied that you have built the best you could with what you had, and be happy to pull it apart and build something else. We are excited to be joining with Disney to be working on strengthening the resilience of generations to come.”
I asked Itsa Jøchsen, a Senior Designer working with the Nostalgia+ team if the use of a monochrome palette in Steamboat Willie was also part of the nostalgia strategy.
“We were all taken by surprise when it came to the enthusiasm of fans for the colours used in the Steamboat Willie Ideas set, but I suppose we should not have been. An interesting finding the the AFOL Nostalgia+ Focus group research was that many adults remember their fondest childhood memories in black and white. Especially those aged over forty five, who had limited access to colour television during their childhoods. Many of these same fans were calling out for a return to the Classic Themes of Space Town and Castle, inspired in part by last year’s Minifigure40 celebrations.
“While we appreciate the sentiment here, this year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of Fabuland. Over the course of its 10 year run, many new colours made their debut in Fabuland sets. As such we are currently planning to re-release sets from the first years of Fabuland, using a newly developed gray scale colour palette. We intend to release many more of these tonal variations on medium and dark stone gray – but ultimately, there will not be more than 49 shades of gray produced by the LEGO Group. Even one more than that would contravene our core brand values.
Jøchsen continued ” Expect to see some new, gray scale Fabuland Sets released in the second half of the year. If the pilot is as successful as we think it will be, we shall look at expanding the range over the next twelve months.
“The first of these sets, as you have already seen, will be released today, in parallel with Steamboat Willie 21317 – but only in those markets where Nostalgia plays a significant role in influencing the sale of sets: Europe, UK, USA and Australia. You can find 21317R in the online LEGO store here…
There we go. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I am highly excited by these new developments as part of Nostalgia+. I really enjoyed the resilience build of Steamboat Willie: it challenged me aesthetically, and as a human being. I would love to know your thoughts! Are you excited by the potential development of smaller instructions, or by the resilience builds? How about extending the monochrome/ black and white/ gray scale colour palette. Leave you thoughts below, and tell me how you feel nostalgia should be incorporated in LEGO.
I hope to bring you some further news about the Nostalgia+ developments with regards to LEGO Instructions later in the day. In the meantime, share this exciting news with your friends and colleagues. Until then,