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How Innovation Nearly Killed LEGO


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#1 Offline Hapori Tohu

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Posted Jul 15 2013 - 09:45 AM

While we've already reported on Robertson's new book, Brick by Brick, GSR has uncovered another interesting interview with the author: How too much innovation nearly killed The LEGO Company. It offers a particularly interesting insight into the failed Galidor line and and how desperate the company was to create something new for the market. I recommend giving it a read!View the full article
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#2 Offline Erebus Toa of Darkness

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Posted Jul 15 2013 - 01:06 PM

I find it funny that according to the article. Bionicle was the only consistent moneymaker in their time of innovation. And yet here we are 4 years later and no more bionicle. Instead we have Hero Factory which honestly doesn't seem that enjoyable to build. And could take a 10 year old less then 10 minutes to build so then once they finish building the set they're running around screaming in the house again.
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"There was no way that was an ordinary Toa, no Toa moved like that. No Toa fought so relentlessly. This hooded thing had single handedly killed hundreds of his Rahkshi brothers. No that was no Toa.... he was a Reaper, Death himself.... Wielding a Sniper Scythe."

Shadow Rahkshi on Toa Erebus

#3 Offline Al the Chicken Man

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Posted Jul 15 2013 - 01:20 PM

Wow, I never knew that. Cool insight!


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#4 Offline Lyichir

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Posted Jul 15 2013 - 01:34 PM

I find it funny that according to the article. Bionicle was the only consistent moneymaker in their time of innovation. And yet here we are 4 years later and no more bionicle. Instead we have Hero Factory which honestly doesn't seem that enjoyable to build. And could take a 10 year old less then 10 minutes to build so then once they finish building the set they're running around screaming in the house again.

Or, less than 10 minutes later they're rebuilding their sets into something new. I find the Hero Factory system almost therapeutic to work with, since most parts are compatible with most other parts, making them ideal for tinkering until you've found a configuration you like. Contrast that with Bionicle, where not only did you need more axles and pins to connect most parts, but tinkering too much was just asking for your joints to snap.Also, keep in mind that, just like Harry Potter, Bionicle isn't around anymore for two reasons: kids were losing interest and the story was drawn to a close. Bionicle may have been a consistent seller during Lego's period of transition, but once Lego's other themes had caught up (especially the breakout success of Lego City), it ceased to be as significant to Lego's success. Hero Factory was a successful replacement in part because it kept the main pro of Bionicle (good for story- and character-based play) but eliminated many of the cons (prohibitively complex lore, prohibitively complex builds).


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#5 Offline Erebus Toa of Darkness

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Posted Jul 15 2013 - 04:17 PM

 

 

Or, less than 10 minutes later they're rebuilding their sets into something new. I find the Hero Factory system almost therapeutic to work with, since most parts are compatible with most other parts, making them ideal for tinkering until you've found a configuration you like. Contrast that with Bionicle, where not only did you need more axles and pins to connect most parts, but tinkering too much was just asking for your joints to snap.Also, keep in mind that, just like Harry Potter, Bionicle isn't around anymore for two reasons: kids were losing interest and the story was drawn to a close. Bionicle may have been a consistent seller during Lego's period of transition, but once Lego's other themes had caught up (especially the breakout success of Lego City), it ceased to be as significant to Lego's success. Hero Factory was a successful replacement in part because it kept the main pro of Bionicle (good for story- and character-based play) but eliminated many of the cons (prohibitively complex lore, prohibitively complex builds).

 

 

I find the lack of complexity in Hero Factory is what keeps me away from investing in it. Sure Hero Factory looks cool. But because the designs are so simple I kinda don't want to buy them. And parts only started breaking in 06 and got progressively worse due to a lock of quality that was never addressed. You look at parts from 01 and those things never snapped. Something that was starting to drive me away from Bionicle is that every set was essentially the same only with a different color scheme and Mask.

 

I'm pretty sure this was Lego's train of thought for awhile. "Here's an Idea! Lets make The Toa Mahri look like the Toa Inika. Except.... and bear with me on this! We change there masks and some colors and throw in the minimum amount of new pieces so that they are not 'exact' copies. And then when we come out with Toa Phantoka and Mistika lets do the same thing! Recycle parts to cut costs for new molds! Its Genius!"

 

Also the Bionicle story could have gone on a little longer. We still have plots that haven't been addressed and Multiple alternate realities that we could have delved into.


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"There was no way that was an ordinary Toa, no Toa moved like that. No Toa fought so relentlessly. This hooded thing had single handedly killed hundreds of his Rahkshi brothers. No that was no Toa.... he was a Reaper, Death himself.... Wielding a Sniper Scythe."

Shadow Rahkshi on Toa Erebus

#6 Online Kitania

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Posted Jul 16 2013 - 08:26 AM

I find the lack of complexity in Hero Factory is what keeps me away from investing in it. Sure Hero Factory looks cool. But because the designs are so simple I kinda don't want to buy them. And parts only started breaking in 06 and got progressively worse due to a lock of quality that was never addressed. You look at parts from 01 and those things never snapped. Something that was starting to drive me away from Bionicle is that every set was essentially the same only with a different color scheme and Mask.

Actually, BIONICLE parts easily broke before 2006. It happened all the time: I was a hyperactive little kid who snapped quite a few Mata joints back when those sets were still brand new, cracked masks, broke weapons, faceplates, etc. Even a few Mata torsos cracked and broke during moves (namely the section on the back where the long axel went for the gear operations). The only things that never technically broke on the old Mata sets, for me, were the weapons and that was likely more due to their flexible plastic (although many ended up bent over the years, giving you those ugly dark lines through them, and Onua claws that ended up this way and that).Yeah, I didn't take meticulous care of them as a little kid, but I was the target audience back then and if I broke some limbs, torsos, weapons and masks I'm sure plenty others did. (it wasn't a Herculean task). 

I'm pretty sure this was Lego's train of thought for awhile. "Here's an Idea! Lets make The Toa Mahri look like the Toa Inika. Except.... and bear with me on this! We change there masks and some colors and throw in the minimum amount of new pieces so that they are not 'exact' copies. And then when we come out with Toa Phantoka and Mistika lets do the same thing! Recycle parts to cut costs for new molds! Its Genius!"

I feel like you just described the Toa Nuva (2003) and the Bohrok Kal (2003, also, I believe?). Even though I enjoyed both sets since, I was a kid, and the few big flashy new pieces were enough for me (that and I will always love the Bohrok). This was sort of their formula for... the entire span of the series. 

Also the Bionicle story could have gone on a little longer. We still have plots that haven't been addressed and Multiple alternate realities that we could have delved into.

The story is likely one of the issues BIONICLE had in later years (that thing is so convoluted it's... just a mess, and there were quite a few issues I had with it just on personal grounds). Odds are it won't ever be "finished" to a full extent. But, since it's not finished, people who felt really invested in the storyline can write out the parts they want to see finished in their own creative works: sure it's not canon, but, IMO, it's a bit more fun to finish stories with your own creativity and ingenuity (or read the creativity and ingenuity of other writers within the fandom: it's likely going to be a proponent of what keeps everything alive after the fact, anyway). After all, LEGO is sort of about creativity, ingenuity and imagination.And while BIONICLE was a bit more consistent, if I remember correctly, it was more often than not competing with LEGO Star Wars quite closely throughout its years (and wasn't the sole reason LEGO bounced back, like some people will say).( I will miss my Harry Potter sets though; never could afford that Hogwarts ;~; )


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#7 Online Aanchir

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Posted Jul 17 2013 - 02:57 PM

"Recycle parts to cut costs for new molds! Its Genius!"

Reusing the same parts for different models is kind of the central idea of LEGO in general. Releasing new parts with specialized designs that ultimately perform the same exact function just to keep things "different" is the very antithesis of that idea. So... yeah.Also note that the time when TLG stopped introducing specialized new torsos for every new series of sets is around the same time that LEGO stopped making every series a set of six identical figures. (really, excluding the 2001 and 2002 versions of Pohatu and Onua, it would be easy to argue that every canister set series prior to 2007 could be considered "clone sets"). Considering how the Inika torso was easily the most versatile BIONICLE torso piece in the entire theme, I never had a problem with TLG reusing it, especially since you'd get series of characters with quite varied physiques in any given year (2009 was particularly outstanding in this regard, but the 2007 and 2008 sets were also easily every bit as diverse as the Toa Mata and Toa Nuva).Today, with Hero Factory, the whole theme is more or less based on a unified building system. And I like that. A lot of AFOLs have never felt action figure themes like BIONICLE and Hero Factory are "true LEGO", but the building system Hero Factory introduced in 2011 comes a lot closer to traditional LEGO as far as design philosophy is concerned than BIONICLE ever did. The majority of the builds comes from parts that are basic in their design, not specialized according to the particular series they originated in. Any type of shell can be attached to any type of beam using the same type of connection, rather than having so many armor pieces designed specifically to function as shins, thighs, shoulders, and torsos. And all things considered, with the direction BIONICLE designs were headed in, I'm certain that they would have eventually moved towards that kind of building system if the theme had continued for the long term.Anyway, I've picked up this book and read some of the chapters on BIONICLE. It's truly fascinating. I have yet to read the entire book, but it gives some remarkable insight into BIONICLE's development. For instance, BIONICLE heroes were made humanoid on account of the poor sales of the RoboRiders, whose non-humanoid designs were hard for kids to relate to.

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#8 Offline Nidhiki of the Shadows

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Posted Jul 23 2013 - 05:08 PM

[color=#008000;]Kind of a depressing story. Innovation is always stressed to be so good, and it almost killed off one of the biggest toy companies out there...[/color]

 

[color=#008000;]Probably why innovation with LEGO has been in steps pretty much. Part design and set design has improved slowly but it wasn't a big change like what BIONICLE/Movie licensed sets did. At least they found their niche.[/color]

 

[color=#008000;]-NotS[/color]


Edited by Nidhiki of the Shadows, Jul 23 2013 - 05:10 PM.

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#9 Offline General Scales

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Posted Jul 26 2013 - 11:03 AM

That's really too bad. I actually happened to like the Galidor line. Also, I would be more into Hero Factory if they had the complexity of Bionicle.

 

Man, I haven't posted here in awhile. :P


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#10 Offline Lyichir

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Posted Jul 26 2013 - 11:17 AM

That's really too bad. I actually happened to like the Galidor line. Also, I would be more into Hero Factory if they had the complexity of Bionicle.

 

Man, I haven't posted here in awhile. :P

But Hero Factory has almost as much complexity as Bionicle (that is to say, more complexity the larger a set is), and Galidor had next to no complexity...


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#11 Offline General Scales

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Posted Jul 26 2013 - 05:01 PM

 

That's really too bad. I actually happened to like the Galidor line. Also, I would be more into Hero Factory if they had the complexity of Bionicle.

 

Man, I haven't posted here in awhile. :P

But Hero Factory has almost as much complexity as Bionicle (that is to say, more complexity the larger a set is), and Galidor had next to no complexity...

 

True. I suppose I wouldn't mind a bigger Hero Factory set if I tried it out. The cool thing about Galidor was that even though they were really simple, they like real action figures, which is unique for Lego.


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#12 Offline ~~Zarkan~~

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Posted Aug 11 2013 - 08:37 PM

Just got the book out of the library and have been pouring over it. It has been quite an enlightening read: I had always assumed, for example, that Galidor was the first of Lego's many Licensing mistakes, so imagine my surprise to discover that it was an entirely internal creation, which received a (terrible) TV show only after TLG had come up with the toys. However, this revelation pales in comparison to the absolutely shocking origin of Bionicle's concept:

 

Spoiler


Edited by ~~Zarkan~~, Aug 11 2013 - 08:38 PM.

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#13 Offline renaldohoek

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Posted Aug 16 2013 - 04:11 PM

I don't think the problem was an excess of innovation, so much as it was innovation of the wrong kind; it was more akin to an egotism of sorts, with the belief that "Oh, we're LEGO, we can sell anything! Slap our name on some garbage and it'll make millions!" So, rather than paying attention to their customers' consuming habits and building a really innovative product off of that, they just made whatever they thought would sell.  Nowadays, it seems the company has over-corrected , given the massive influx of licensed themes over the course of the last five years or so, which could also bring financial repercussions as time progressed. @~~Zarkan~~: After reading that excerpt, I remember thinking to myself, "That is genius." It really explains why Faber was so devoted to the line--it was basically a stylization of his survival story.
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#14 Online Aanchir

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Posted Aug 18 2013 - 11:49 AM

I don't think the problem was an excess of innovation, so much as it was innovation of the wrong kind; it was more akin to an egotism of sorts, with the belief that "Oh, we're LEGO, we can sell anything! Slap our name on some garbage and it'll make millions!" So, rather than paying attention to their customers' consuming habits and building a really innovative product off of that, they just made whatever they thought would sell.  Nowadays, it seems the company has over-corrected , given the massive influx of licensed themes over the course of the last five years or so, which could also bring financial repercussions as time progressed. @~~Zarkan~~: After reading that excerpt, I remember thinking to myself, "That is genius." It really explains why Faber was so devoted to the line--it was basically a stylization of his survival story.

No, it definitely wasn't egotism. If it were a matter of egotism, then what LEGO would do would be to release the same sorts of products over and over thinking that they had always worked before and everyone would still love them because of the LEGO brand. Clearly, this wasn't the case. It was more a matter of desperation. LEGO just wasn't performing well anymore, and so the LEGO company basically decided that the only way to make more money was to change their product offerings into things that they had never tried before. A lot of the rhetoric at the time blamed the increasing popularity of video games for poor LEGO sales, so the LEGO company entered the video game market. LEGO was deemed too complicated for a lot of kids, so the LEGO company simplified some of their product lines with large, specialized elements (Rock Raiders is a good example). The LEGO company didn't think they could get girls to buy traditional brick-based products, so they created "dollhouse themes" like Belville and Scala that minimized building complexity.On a side note, I don't think the "massive influx of licensed themes" will hurt the LEGO Group in the long run. Lots of other toy companies have been creating licensed merchandise for decades without meaningful financial losses. Plus, the LEGO Group is no longer depending on their licenses like they were in the early naughts. LEGO Star Wars is still one of the company's highest-selling product lines, but so are LEGO Duplo, LEGO City, LEGO Creator, and LEGO Ninjago. And with the exception of a few Duplo sets, these themes are not tied to any licenses.

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#15 Offline Gatanui

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Posted Aug 18 2013 - 12:12 PM

Spoiler

[color=#990000;]That is so awesome and makes me love BIONICLE even more. :D[color=#000080;]-Gata Posted Image[/color][/color]

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#16 Offline Sumiki

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Posted Aug 18 2013 - 04:17 PM

[font="Palatino;"]I never knew that about Faber. BIONICLE just took a level in awesome.[/font]


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#17 Online Aanchir

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Posted Aug 18 2013 - 05:18 PM

Just got the book out of the library and have been pouring over it. It has been quite an enlightening read: I had always assumed, for example, that Galidor was the first of Lego's many Licensing mistakes, so imagine my surprise to discover that it was an entirely internal creation, which received a (terrible) TV show only after TLG had come up with the toys. However, this revelation pales in comparison to the absolutely shocking origin of Bionicle's concept: 

Spoiler

This is indeed an incredible revelation. I've been really impressed with the big reveal of Mata Nui's nature in 2008 ever since it became clear that the Matoran Universe was meant to be a biological analogue from the very beginning. In 2006, Makuta's essence was described as a virus, giving physical form to the "infection" from 2001-2003. In 2004, the chute system that connected the various parts of the universe was introduced, forming the universe's circulatory system, and Metru Nui was established as the universe's center of commerce: its brain, if you will. Even as far back as 2001, the island of Mata Nui formed the shape of a face, with the major locations named in various Polynesian languages for the parts of the face they covered.But it's all the more amazing to realize that there was one very specific reason the story was written this way. It sheds a whole new light on Christian Faber's dedication to the brand and on the uniqueness of BIONICLE as a story. Sure, the toyline had its roots as just a line of multicolored action figures, but its magic and mystery came from the fact that it WAS a "biological chronicle" — that secretly, the universe's entire function stemmed from its true nature as a living robotic entity.

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