We have been counting down to the 90th anniversary of the LEGO Group, which is now ( at the time of writing) only one more sleep away! We have travelled from the time that the company made wooden yo-yos and pull-along animals, and seen it pivot towards plastics and develop the brick. We have seen the Minifigure arrive and storytelling enter the fore. We have seen the company come back from the brink of financial collapse, to stabilise and start to grow.
As we travel through the 2010s, we get some new friends; storytelling becomes more animated, sustainability enters the agenda; and adult fans are asked for their ideas and become part of the acknowledged target demographic.
When Minifigures arrived on the scene in 1978, we were presented with three settings: Castle, Town and Space – The Past, The Present and The Future. Through the 1980s, these themes developed in their own ways, fairly independent of each other. During the 1990s, we saw the themes diversify in different ways: Space brought us a new hyperfluorescent faction each year; Castle changed a little less frequently, but introduced an increasing amount of magic. In the meantime, Town diversified: no longer the sole home of contemporary lifestyles, we saw different themes split off, containing subject material based on the contemporary real world: Divers, Paradisa, Outback, Race, Space Port, ResQ, Team Extreme, and Sports. The ‘core material’ – which we first saw back in 1978 – police, fire and construction – became increasingly juniorized. Having been further dumbed down for younger builders with the introduction of Jack Stone, and other 4Juniors sets, we saw a return to more mature material with LEGO World City.
However, both the 4Juniors and World City themes featured alleged models of modern vehicles that bore minimal resemblance to the real-world equivalent. After the LEGO Group’s financial crisis, a number of themes were discontinued, and the company set out to return to its core business. A revitalised town theme was introduced – but things were on their way to being a bit bigger; expectations were greater: Town just wasn’t going to cut it anymore: we were presented with LEGO City.
A few months ago, the LEGO Group announced their intention to eliminate gender bias from their marketing materials, ensuring that no set was going to be explicitly sold as a boy’s set or a girl’s set, but rather as toys for children. At that time we looked at the way that the marketing images in a number of LEGO® themes presented a degree of bias in their lifestyle ‘hero images.’
However, following this announcement, some people were concerned that it might spell the end of LEGO Friends. The theme was introduced back in 2012, as a result of focus groups suggesting that there was a large group of girls not engaging with LEGO Bricks. The theme is now enjoyed by boys and girls alike: embracing the everyday adventures in ‘real world’ settings.
The last time I was having a chat to adult visitors at a public exhibition (remember those?), something came up on more than one occasion: LEGO® Themes these days are not what they used to be. It used to be pretty simple – you’d build the set (and it was probably Town, Space or Castle. Unless you were a bit younger – then it may well have been a Pirates set) – and you’d pull it apart and build something else. It might be one of the alternate builds on the back of the box, it might be something completely different. It may not have even been related to the original theme.
These days, many sets thrive on 3rd party IP, and the majority of the in-house, story-driven themes are tied in with either an animated series or an overly complicated app.
For those of us yearning for a simpler time, in a world where things have become increasingly complicated, things are looking bleak! Unless you want to go straight to the 4+ sets.
Every year around this time, the LEGO Group presents its annual report: taking in all aspects of the company. The document always includes a small paragraph or two on which themes performed strongly in a given year.
While the metric used to define this performance has not been presented to the public, it gives us a good idea of the sorts of material that pepople are buying, and which themes are strong sellers. Prompted by some online discussion, I have gone back to 2011, and tracked down the strongest performing themes for the last ten years, as referred to in The LEGO Group’s annual report. What we found out may not come as a surprise at all. Or perhaps it will?
Join us while we look through the last 10 years – we will look at the themes directly referenced in the annual report, look at some of the highlights, and maybe even evoke some mild feelings of nostalgia along the way..
Anyone could have made it, really. The new Mindstorms Robotics Invention kit has been in the wild for a few weeks now: a new paradigm for LEGO Mindstorms, and I am curious to take a look at it sometime soon. Set 51515 is set to replace the 31313 EV3 as the LEGO Robotics set of choice at some point. Probably when the EV3 enthusiasts have all moved on to using Arduino…
But this wasn’t the problem I found myself with. So… when I was asked if I wanted any LEGO picked up, while a friend was out shopping,, I had a failing in my internal logic. I remembered that the third generation of Mindstorms, EV3 was set 31313. I also remembered thing that the new set followed a similar pattern, and it was the fourth generation.
And so I asked that if set 41414 could be picked up, that I would be grateful.
You may have noticed that some of the recent (coming in August to North America) releases of LEGO City and LEGO Friends have been cobranded with the National Geographic brand.
The new City: Deep Sea Explorers, as well as Friends: Jungle Rescue subthemes have been developed in collaboration with National Geographic to encourage children to explore the world, and consider their own ways to solve some of the problems that we are facing, going forward.
A couple of months ago, the LEGO Foundation Launched a pilot program to test audio instructions – a tool to enable visually impaired children to build LEGO® sets. In the current pilot program, Audio Instructions are available for LEGO Classic: 11001 Bricks and Ideas, LEGO Friends: 41365 Emma’s Art Studio, The LEGO Movie 2: 70821, Emmet and Benny’s ‘Build and Fix’ Workshop and the LEGO City 60207 Sky Police Drone Chase. I had a copy of 41365: Emma’s Art Studio, provided by the LEGO Group at my request earlier in the year, close at hand, so I thought I test the system out.
Here we are, and it is the twenty fourth of December. Since the first of December, we have been visiting the ways in which different LEGO® sets have been but together to celebrate the Christmas Holiday Season. Why have I been doing this? This year is the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first LEGO Advent Calendar. If nothing else I would have just reviewed an advent calendar from each year. But in fact I have found myself spoiled for choice. And I have left things out – I have not really tackled Brick built, non Santa decorations from the early days of the century; I have not mentioned the baubles containing seasonal micro builds; and I remain puzzled about the LEGO Japan exclusives from Christmas 2004. So today, I have chosen a subject that has been getting more and more interesting every year: The LEGO Employee Christmas Gift.
These sets have been produced since 2008, although the 2008 and 2009 sets appear identical, despite seperate set numbers. Initially a simple heart, the constructions have become more elaborate: with subjects having historical significance to the company – either through their direct subject matter, or commemorating a significant anniversary within the company. And you know how I love my significant Anniversaries. [ please note: if you read past the break, there is a spoiler shot of the Box for this year’s Employee Gift. The content will not be revealed.]