This last week or so, we have been counting down to the LEGO Group’s 90th anniversary. Today, we have reached the 10th of August 2022, and the LEGO Group are celebrating! After looking over the last 90 years, I thought we might take a moment to speculate about the directions that the company might take in the future.
It is speculation
Some will be exciting
Some will be mundane
Some will, quite possibly, be terrifying to us.
The company is moving to get away from single use plastics in the next couple of years. Over the next year or two, we can expect to see the internal bags of elements made of paper, rather than plastic. This changeover for all machinery in the factories might take longer than intended, as the company will continue to struggle with ongoing demand.
Recycled PET will probably not be a viable material for LEGO Bricks, despite the demonstration last year. Perhaps we will see new materials identified for the manufacture of bricks. Personally, I am starting to wonder if there are experiments taking place at present: I find some newer 2×8 plates, such as found in LEGO Super Mario, have a different texture to older ones. Are they a different plastic? A secret experiment underway? Or am I just being overly sensitive?
Ultimately, I suspect the new plastic will have a different feel and sound to it.
In the meantime, we will probably start to see instruction manuals phased out – already they are starting to look more and more App Like, and less and less appealing to use. Increased simplicity of instructions has also meant that more pages are required for a given number of elements in a set.
We are seeing new factories being developed in Vietnam and Virginia USA, while factories in China and Mexico are being actively expanded. These factories will bring production closer to the target markets, reducing transportation around the world, and ideally be carbon neutral as they go on-line.
The LEGO Group announced a partnership with Epic Games, earlier this year, to develop a way for kids to engage in the Metaverse – the place we might interact and conduct our online lives. But perhaps things will extend beyond this: already, you can pay real money to buy virtual Real Estate, where you can develop your virtual property, and carry on your virtual life.
We have seen Digital building become increasingly legitimised over the last few years, particularly with the LEGO Group discontinuing support for LEGO Digital Designer, and moving over to Stud.io as the digital building application of choice. Will the opportunity arise for digital builders to create virtual homes for people to set up in their Metaverse address? Will you be able to use Non Fungible Tokens to ensure your house is uniquely bespoke?
In the meantime, whatever child safe Metaverse option is achieved through the relationship with epic will ensure a new generation of school leavers will be able to seek work as Metaverse moderators.
Equality and Diversity
Last year, the LEGO Group committed to eliminate gender bias from their advertising. We have seen a move towards balance in some themes so far but others such as Disney Princess have a way to go, from this point of view. However balance will be achieved, probably through the use of relatively androgynous models in some campaigns, such that gender will cease to matter.
We have seen improved gender balance in LEGO City sets over the last decade – with around 45% minifigures appearing Male, 45% appearing to be female, and the remaining 10% relatively nonspecific. We have also seen improvements in licensed themes, even where the source material is extremely biased – this trend will probably continue, but hopefully, going forward, new licenced material will have a better gender balance in the characters represented, so that we don’t just see the male lead characters, along with unremarkable background female characters produced as minifigures.
I wonder if we will se a change in the default setting of minifigure colour in years to come? Let us set 2028 as the year, as that will be the 50th anniversary of the minifigure. Minidolls come with a variety of skin tones. So do minifigures, at leastin the context of licenced themes. The release of a new medium brown in Harry Potter sets this year further enhances the range.
The Story goes that when minifigures were introduced, the skin tone was limited by the colours available at the time, and out of bright red, blue or yellow, black white or green, only one colour was really a viable choice: Yellow. At the time it was said that you could imagine them to have any colour skin you wish.
Now we have over 30 solid colours in the palette, can we really still say this? Research by the Womens Brick initiative has shown that most people of colour do not readily identify with the yellow skin tone, while the majority of white shinned people do. Perhaps the time has for LEGO city, Ninjago, Monkie kid and collectable minifigures to join friends, and move over to representative skin tones, while Creator 3in1, the last bastion of traditional themes, keeps the yellow minifigures?
We have seen visually impaired and hearing impaired minifigures recently, as well as an amputee – with a left sided prostheses. Perhaps we will see one with a right sided prosthesis. this year’s revamped minifigure wheelchair can now fit through a standard doorway, after having buildings inaccessible for a few years. A case of art imitating life?
The online Pick and Build page for purchasing new elements from the LEGO Group has been slow to add new elements. I suspect this will not improve, as the LEGO group would rather we purchase new sets, rather than just run out to purchase 50 squirrels on release day.
In a move that might see me becoming even more cynical, I wonder if this is also part of the reason that new sets are taking months to be added to Bricklink – the longer new parts take to get onto Bricklink, the more likely you might be to purchase that set in order to pick up that unique element. Or perhaps you will just get them 3-D printed? Life will find a way.\
Augmented Reality App enabled sets.
In 5 years time, Augmented reality apps will run on the 5 year old handle down phones of 2022. While today’s top end hardware was required to run VIDIYO if Hidden side reliably, in 5 years time, this will be old had, and present on millions of legacy phones worldwide. So long as the supply chain holds up.
The LEGO Group will continue to attempt to develop such apps, but I suspect the results will ultimately spin off into the Metaverse development.
In the meantime, non AR apps will surface. LEGO City missions could well be a hit. The lost encouragement for creative play is what a generation of parents laments, and this range could well bring it back.
The Future of Current Themes
Reboots or story endings have been teased for Friends and Ninjago next year.
In friends, our original circle have grown up, left school and headed off on their gap years. The theme is now strong enough to continue to run without these characters. The sets are strong, and there are now a generation of kids who might prefer minidolls over Minifigures. I think our heroines might return, but, as has been hinted this year, they are no longer essential to see a set sell. Perhaps we will see a new core? Elijah, Layla, Nandi,Evelyn, Priyanka, River and Sebastian all appear in multiple sets in 2002. Will they form the new core?
Ninjago is also set to see the existing story come to an end, with a reboot promised for next year. This does, to an extent make sense, as 10 years worth of lore and backstory can make the existing story relatively inaccessible to a new audience. A similar challenge was faced with Bionicle towards the end of its initial run. the stories had been rich and deep, which is great if you are watching them unfold, less so if you are playing catchup. We see great craft – flyers and rovers, as well as the
But what of Monkie kid? 3-5 seasons is probably a reasonable expectation. The theme has been aimed primarily at Asian audiences, and in Australia at least, the 2022 sets have only been available online, with no new sets getting to Certified stores, let along other retail outlets. This feels to me to be the closest thing we have at present to a ‘Space Theme,’ although tradition ‘Castle type’ Locales are also well represented.
How about LEGO Super Mario? I have been impressed at the way that the sets continue to evolve, developing new mechanics to enhance the appeal. The ability to collect fruit, and either eat it, or gift it has seen many of the sets move on from being purely competitive game levels to more general playsets.
In the meantime, we have seen Iggy, Lenny, Larry and Ludwig appear, along with Bowser Junior. this leaves Wendy, Morton and Roy – potentially 3 more waves, potentially 2. Is there scope for another starter set and character for an interactive digital brick? I dont really think so, but I think that once we have all 7 of the Koopalings appear, the theme will have limited life. But it has been innovative, and a true collaboration: Neither the LEGO Group or Nintendo could do it on their own. We may EVENTUALLY get a set of Nintendo minifigures, but I do’t think we will see more than Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toads of various shades and the Koopalings at minifigures scale. Most other enemies are too small to be able to craft (possibly Hammer Bros and Yoshi?) Wait, I take that back: that is probably 16 figures. Would you make Bowser as a Big Fig? Or just continue to use the brick built one we have now?
We will continue to see Disney/Lucasfilm/Marvel licences developed into sets. A new Indiana Jones film makes new LEGO sets seem likely, eliminating a possibility of a 25 year revival of Johnny Thunder/Adventurers in 2024. The new Amazon Rings of Power makes it seem unlikely to me that we will see a ‘classic’ castle theme, but possibly something that will tie in here.
The DC Super Heroes seems to be dying off, but the Warner Brothers arrangement seems likely to continue, with Wizarding World sets continuing. For a short while. Then it will be time for a hiatus, until the ext generation of fans will be ready. Hopefully we will continue to see LEGO Batman.
The LEGO Group trademarked Brick to the Future earlier this year. Will Marty McFly and Doc become the new Time Cruisers? I cannot help but think that they may have insrpired Dr Cyber and Timmy, Back in the day. There is a licensing arrangement in place with Universal, who own Back to the Future. Perhaps we will see more sets here. Or perhaps it is just a placeholder. Time will tell. [Credit to Jay Ong for starting this theory…]
What else can we expect?
This is of course all speculation. One thing is for sure…the LEGO Group will continue to produce LEGO Bricks. And we will continue to buy them. They will develop themes we don’t like. They will make Apps that we detest. But the age old values will remain, and most of us will continue to be fans, no matter how hard the company makes it for us.
What are your predictions for the next 10 years? Why not share them below, and until next time, have a happy International Play Day, and