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Mukaukau Nuva

Why G2 Failed

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Naturally, we can surmise that Bionicle G2 ended for the same reasons all LEGO themes do—the theme was underperforming sales-wise. We can ballyhoo around exactly how badly G2 sold to warrant an early expulsion, but in my opinion the degree to which it failed to sell isn’t the important part. What everybody wants to know is why it failed to sell, or what factors the theme had that may have contributed to why it didn’t meet financial expectations. Most discussions surrounding why G2 failed are centred around G2’s story—don’t get me wrong, this is important. Yet, while we’re talking about the profit potential of a product (a product that isn’t a story, mind you), we should keep our thoughts reticent of the fact that most consumers who buy the sets don’t care about the story. Therefore, we should expect that the reasons why the sets failed to sell are unrelated to the story.

I posit a few major reasons why the G2 sets underperformed; naturally, I have no evidence beyond the sets themselves and marketing materials already made public. However, even from those, we can gleam some picture of what didn’t work. For the most part, I’ll be staying away from directly comparing G2 to G1. When I do, it will only be to G1’s first two years (2001-2002); the only two years G2 got. Even then, I’ll only try to bring G1 up when discussing something about G1 that is demonstrably true (e.g. that the sets came in canisters, for example).

The first factor is simply a lack of (effective) marketing. I’m not the first to mention this. G2’s primary marketing outlet was the Netflix show Journey to One. Ninjago was LEGO’s first (successful) foray into this medium, which demonstrated that TV shows were the way to hook kids on a long-running story. Heck, Transformers proved that in the ‘80s. There’s one caveat here though—on Netflix, the viewer must actively seek out the program. As a result, no kid is going to search for Journey to One without already having heard of Bionicle beforehand. As a result, Journey to One isn’t bringing new kids to the line—it’s trying to convince already-interested kids to stick with it. At that point, you’re relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth to generate interest. Contrast this to 2001-2002, which used traditional print ads (posters, cardboard standees), an online presence as a part of the fledgling internet (Bionicle.com, Bioniclestory.com, and the MNOG), a promotional campaign with McDonalds (the Tohunga), and a short comic book series. It all served to generate hype, and it worked.

Even so, this says nothing about the quality of the marketing that’s being implemented. Journey to One does not actually seem to be poorly received (its IMDb score sits at 6.4/10 as of this writing, a smidge higher than the 6.1/10 held by the most eminently watchable Bionicle movie, Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui) (1). However, many reviews were simply lukewarm (2). Even among the positive ones, not many of those reviews were enthusiastic—they recommended watching the show to support the theme (3). At that point, the show isn’t pulling its own weight—the brand is promoting it, it is not promoting the brand. Bionicle G2 also took on a concerted light-hearted tone. While not necessarily a limiting factor, a more mature tone had already become what was expected of the brand. Besides, that tone was part of what made the early years so much of a success. 2001-2002 marketed itself as a big kid’s toy (but a toy nevertheless). It was cool to like it, not hokey. The marketing (and sets) were designed with “Bionicle Boy” in mind; a kid who was going to show off how cool these toys were to other kids (4). With a campier tone, LEGO limited their ability to replicate that success.

Additionally, what marketing G2 implemented was inconsistent. Its bright colours, campier tone, and less-lore heavy bent signaled out the theme as aimed at a younger audience—kids the same age as the ones who bought the original sets in 2001-2002. However, the theme also attempted to court older fans as well; using the name “Bionicle,” using the original six Toa’s names, having the masks of said Toa resemble their G1 counterparts, as well as hosting contests on BZPower, stronghold of the original G1 fanbase. While this double-barreled strategy could have worked (subsequently pulling both new and old fans together), what resulted was mixed messages. AFOLs were pulled in by the recognizable names and faces, but many felt they weren’t catered to by the rest of the marketing. Kids, on the other hand, may have felt left out, considering that Bionicle was not made into their brand—an older brother’s brand, perhaps, but not there’s.

The second factor is that the new sets were sold at a poor price point, which isn’t discussed enough as a contributing factor to both G2 and G1’s demise. The 2001-2004 canister sets were cheap, about $8, depending on the wave (5). LEGO sets are an expensive toy as a rule, but one could enjoy most of what a wave had to offer with just one impulse purchase (as all of the old sets were clones), but if one wanted more there was more available (different masks, weapons, and colours for customizing). The 2015-16 Toa were all too expensive for an impulse buy at $20, so the first purchase was a big commitment; you either had to be aware of the theme or like it already, or you were taking a big risk wasting a lot of (your parent’s) money on a set you didn’t like. It wasn’t as easy to test the waters with the newer, bigger, (better?) Toa.

Now, at this point, I’m sure someone out there is screaming at me about the Protectors. Yes, the Protectors were priced at an impulse buy price point. Why, you might be asking, does it matter so much for the Toa to be cheap when other cheap sets are available alongside them? Well, the problem has to do with disappointment. When you’re a kid in the toy store, and you’re looking up at that awesome big red Tahu with the swords and the lava board, you get disappointed when all you can afford to buy is the weeny red Protector next to him, who doesn’t have a unique mask and doesn’t even have a name. Your purchase doesn’t feel important, because you feel you’re missing out on the main draw (the Toa). The 2001 Toa didn’t have this problem because they were the main draw, and they’re the sets you’re expected to buy and be interested in.

The final point is not so much a nebulous point as it is a very specific one. That being, G2 suffered from poor set-wave configuration. 2015’s winter wave tried very hard to recapture the feeling 2001 had—there were six Toa sets to choose from, along with a variety of little dudes. However, the subsequent summer wave was a huge misfire. Of all the G2 sets, it was the Skulls most reported to be shelf-warmers. And with good reason—skulls and spiders are cliché choices for theming villains, fit for Hallowe’en but not a great deal else. The same could be said of the beasts from 2016’s summer wave; Hero Factory had done a whole wave of Kaiju-inspired beasts only two years prior. By contrast, the Bohrok were arguably the best-selling wave from 2001-2002. This might not seem like a big deal (after all, all the other sets are quite solid), but what made G1 so successful in 2001 and 2002 was the one-two-three punch of the original Toa, the Bohrok, and the Toa Nuva. G1’s sales were declining ever since 2002 (6). Therefore, we can assume with reasonable confidence that these sets (especially the later two) sold very well to the point of overperforming (after all, the 2003-2004 canister sets weren’t bad, or at least they don’t read that way to me).

Both 2001-2002 and 2015-2016 staggered their hero and villain waves (starting with a hero wave, and this is extremely important. The original Toa sets sold very well, to the point it would be unreasonable to say they sold out in many places (7). As a result, when new fans who were brought into the theme by the equally-popular winter wave Bohrok needed hero sets to fight them, the summer wave Toa Nuva sets were just what they needed. But without an equivalent to the Bohrok (both as villains and as just plain fantastic sets), G2 didn’t give consumers enough of a break between the original Toa wave and the revamped Toa wave. There wasn’t demand for the 2016 Toa as there was for the Toa Nuva because the original versions were still on shelves. Putting it this way, G1’s first three waves were all best-selling, well-received sets in their time. Yet, between G2’s first four waves, only two of them (the Toa waves) were marketable, and thus they were the only two that could even hope to be successful.

Make no mistake, this was a death-by-a-thousand-cuts. Bionicle G2 probably could have afforded to make a one (maybe two) of these mistakes and survive as a less-than-stellar but still pretty successful theme. Rather, I think it’s a combination of all the factors that made it fail—much like how it was a combination of factors that lead the original Bionicle series to succeed. And none of this is to say that Bionicle G2’s sets were bad. I’m also sure that one of these factors probably did more damage than the other two, or that there are factors at play that I didn’t mention that we may not even know about.

Whether Bionicle G2’s failure also served as the end of original constraction lines is still to be determined. We haven’t seen another LEGO original IP constraction line since G2 ended. Maybe that will change; maybe it won’t. In any case, there’s still a lot to be said about G1 and G2 that hasn’t been covered yet.

Bibliography (in alphabetical order)

(1) a. “Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui.” IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387658/?ref_=tt_sims_tt

b. “Lego Bionicle: The Journey to One.” IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5075942/

(5) a. “Bionicle—Toa Mata.” Brickset. https://brickset.com/sets/theme-bionicle/subtheme-Toa-Mata

b. “Bionicle—Bohrok.” Brickset. https://brickset.com/sets/theme-Bionicle/subtheme-Bohrok

(7) Breen, Bill, and David Robertson. Brick by BrickHow LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. Crown Publishing Group, 2013. https://books.google.ca/books?id=OsyEX0nPkygC 

(6) Farshtey, Greg. “Post 7953744.” Official Greg Discussion Archive, 14 Nov. 2013, 

(4) Robertson, David. “How Bionicle Transformed LEGO's Company Culture.” Inc, 20 Jun. 2014,

https://www.inc.com/david-c-robertson/how-bionicle-transformed-lego-s-company-culture.html

(3) RRproAni. “Bionicle: The Journey to One review (spoilers).” Deviantart, 8 Mar. 2016,

https://www.deviantart.com/rrproani/journal/Bionicle-The-Journey-to-One-review-Spoilers-595398632

(2) “Quick Thoughts on Bionicle: The Journey to One.” Jangbricks, 4 Mar. 2016,

http://www.jangbricks.com/2016/03/quick-thoughts-on-bionicle-journey-to.html

Edited by Mukaukau Nuva
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One of the massive issues with the villain waves was that they stopped basing them on animals. Many of the villains of the original bionicle universe had an animal theme to them. Rahi, Rahkshi, Visorak, Barraki, Phantoka and Mistika. All of these had an animal theme to them. But what separated them was the fact that they felt distinct enough from the animals they were based on to make them interesting. What would stick out more in your mind? Sort of snake people (rahkshi) or just straight up skeletons? The reason it was great the way they did them was that it allowed for a world that felt separate from our own. This kind of creativity was common with the old technic system. This was sort of attempted in the early wave of G2 but it wasn't really that distinct from actual spiders and also was quickly discarded as an idea by the time of the second wave of that year. Why did this happen? It's because CCBS is not designed for animals which is one of it's greatest flaws. This can be highlighted in the 2011 hero factory savage planet wave. When animals were successfully created they required much larger piece counts (scorpio comes to mind) to feel even somewhat satisfying as figures. After 2011 not much attention was given to quadrupeds (creatures which walk on four legs) because CCBS with it's standardised piece system simply doesn't allow for cheap quadrupeds or textured and shaped moulding. Look at lord of skull spiders. That was a mostly technic set. CCBS is part of what the problem is. Whilst it has brought many great innovations I feel it has unfortunately standardised constraction to the point where the creativity has been largely sucked out of it. At least in terms of retail sets. Lego simply needed to find a way to incorporate quadrupeds and distinctly moulded pieces into the sets but they never did that.

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It's time to move on.

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On 9/18/2019 at 9:00 PM, masterchirox580 said:

CCBS is part of what the problem is. Whilst it has brought many great innovations I feel it has unfortunately standardised constraction to the point where the creativity has been largely sucked out of it. At least in terms of retail sets. Lego simply needed to find a way to incorporate quadrupeds and distinctly moulded pieces into the sets but they never did that.

I've heard it said on the TLG forums that constraction is, by its very nature, standardized. Even if only half of each wave is humanoid--and it could be a great deal more than that (looking at you 2009)--it means that the same humanoid body plan has been recycled at least three times over each successive year. Take a long running franchise and that's a lot of sameness.

Bionicle in its earliest years had a lot of redundant parts to try to reduce sameness; the Rahkshi lower leg, the Metru lower leg, and the Vahki lower leg all performed the same function (albeit at different lengths and styles). Sure you can recycle using different colours, make minor modifications to pieces, etc. to make the sets feel different. But at the end of the day it's either going to build like the same figure or look like the same figure.

CCBS gives you the kind of freedom the regular LEGO system has by creating a new standardized system, but since kids are only building the same humanoid designs (even in their MOCs) there's only so much play value its going to have, especially since the lack of redundant parts for 'flavor' makes it feel all the more samey. Both CCBS and Bioncile's Technic ad hoc system have their strengths and weaknesses--in an ideal world constraction could improve on those weaknesses and develop a new system that is both compatible with them and supersedes them.

ATM constraction is at a low point. IIRC the only theme using it is the Star Wars licence (which has been famously selling the same blobs of bley plastic for years now with only minor modifications and improvements). Which is both perfect in that it is perfectly suited to what constraction has been up to this point, but also disappointing because it means constraction might not get to move on in the years to come.

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I mean for me it was a mixture of the sets being kinda build-one-and-you've-built-them-all (also, no gears. That was sad.) and a world that was somehow less immersive? Even though I only barely scraped the surface of G1 lore, it was amazing that there was this rich, complex story world. The web serial for G2 was cute, but in comparison the world-building felt kind of flat.

And despite everything, here I am, eagerly awaiting G3, if it ever comes to be. ^_^

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On 9/15/2019 at 4:21 PM, Mukaukau Nuva said:

The first factor is simply a lack of (effective) marketing. I’m not the first to mention this. G2’s primary marketing outlet was the Netflix show Journey to One. Ninjago was LEGO’s first (successful) foray into this medium, which demonstrated that TV shows were the way to hook kids on a long-running story. Heck, Transformers proved that in the ‘80s. There’s one caveat here though—on Netflix, the viewer must actively seek out the program. As a result, no kid is going to search for Journey to One without already having heard of Bionicle beforehand. As a result, Journey to One isn’t bringing new kids to the line—it’s trying to convince already-interested kids to stick with it. At that point, you’re relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth to generate interest. Contrast this to 2001-2002, which used traditional print ads (posters, cardboard standees), an online presence as a part of the fledgling internet (Bionicle.com, Bioniclestory.com, and the MNOG), a promotional campaign with McDonalds (the Tohunga), and a short comic book series. It all served to generate hype, and it worked.

 

There is apparently an explanation for this, and it's a doozy. I don't have the quote on me, but back when DeeVee was a lego ambassador, he claimed that he had been told that G2's marketing budget was slashed considerably at the last minute. The reason for this was that lego needed the funds to undo what I would argue was their dumbest business decision since greenlighting Galidor: canceling Ninjago at the height of its popularity.

You will recall that Ninjago was canceled in 2013, and was revived the next year with a much smaller number of sets. 2015 was when the theme once again kicked into full gear, with two separate subthemes, each with a season of the television show. And that year was also the year Bionicle G2 launched, conspicuously with extremely bare-bones marketing considering how much Lego had initially hyped up its return.

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I have slept for so long. My dreams have been dark ones. But now I am awakened. Now the scattered elements of my being are rejoined. Now I am whole. And the Darkness can not stand before me.

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Because the media (the short episodes and...that was all really) wasn't particularly great, the story moved a bit too quickly for many to keep up with, and Lego had a lot of other lines and things happening around the same time that left it a bit overlooked.

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On 9/20/2019 at 3:29 AM, Taka Nuvia said:

I mean for me it was a mixture of the sets being kinda build-one-and-you've-built-them-all (also, no gears. That was sad.)

That describes 2006, not G2. If anything, the Masters and Uniters were arguably the best sets we've ever had, not only having good posability but also gear functions, which wasn't balanced out in G1 very much. The villains tended to suck, but even then, they still had functions.

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Rule #1: Always listen to Kek.

Rule #2: If you break rule #1, kindly don't.

Rule #3: EVERYBODY TYPE IN THE CHAT "AVAK IS A STUPID TRIGGER"

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5 hours ago, Sir Keksalot said:

That describes 2006, not G2. If anything, the Masters and Uniters were arguably the best sets we've ever had, not only having good posability but also gear functions, which wasn't balanced out in G1 very much. The villains tended to suck, but even then, they still had functions.

Huh, now that you mention it... maybe I was thinking of the small ones (Protectors?)? Or I'm just not that much a fan of the CCBS system ^_^

(side-note: the Toa Inika had those cool rubbery masks and strange heads and light-up weaons, which my younger self thought were beyond cool. So I could be a bit biased. =D)


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