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Was Bionicle the Last Great Toy Line?


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Since the late 70s toy lines have been able to become massive franchises and their own IPs. Stuff like Transformers, GI Joe, He Man, My Little Pony, and 90s anime card games. All of these toy lines had massive multimedia marketing, something Bionicle copied to its success. 

Since Bionicle ended I dont think I have seen a toy line utilize marketing to such a great extent, or become as big a Bionicle did. Licensed IPs seem to be the big sellers for toy lines nowadays. Does anyone else agree with me or have other thoughts about this? 

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I haven't played with toys in years nor do I keep up with the industry so I admit what I have to say isn't very informed, but the first thing that came to mind while reading this was an observation the writer of an article I read a few years ago about Barbie's declining sales .  Basically, the reason for the decline is as simple as kids don't play with toys as much these days.  Based on that, I'm willing to believe that yes, BIONICLE was the last great toy line, which I guess is a pretty cool thing to go out as. 

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I'd be willing to settle for being great toy line 😉 I'm sure there's bound to be something since 2010 that can rival Bionicle, and even if isn't, "Last" implies a certain finality to it; that there can never be another great toy line again, which I don't think is true. Even if more recent generations spend a lot of their childhood on the phone, toys will always have a place, and so I'd hope that future generations have their own great toys.

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For many, Ninjago was and is a great line. Within Lego there has been many lines that were popular in their own right and stuff like Monkie Kid seems to be going strong.

Let alone other toy brands, we're all out of touch man! From memory there's mystery toys (LOL Dolls?) etc. which have been pretty popular and evergreen stuff like transformers is chipping along. 

So, upon thinking about it, Bionicle is not the last long running Lego range- Ninjago now takes that crown (or heck city/town if we're being nitpicky), nor the last robot action figure line- Transformers takes that crown, but maybe in terms of hype marketing and multi-media approach, it may be rare to see again when many consolidate effort into a digital product or an isolated physical product.

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4 hours ago, Nato G said:

I feel like that question is very much a matter of opinion.

But within Lego itself, Ninjago was made in Bionicle's mould in a lot of ways, and it's still going strong today. 

 

3 hours ago, Axelford said:

For many, Ninjago was and is a great line. Within Lego there has been many lines that were popular in their own right and stuff like Monkie Kid seems to be going strong.

Let alone other toy brands, we're all out of touch man! From memory there's mystery toys (LOL Dolls?) etc. which have been pretty popular and evergreen stuff like transformers is chipping along. 

So, upon thinking about it, Bionicle is not the last long running Lego range- Ninjago now takes that crown (or heck city/town if we're being nitpicky), nor the last robot action figure line- Transformers takes that crown, but maybe in terms of hype marketing and multi-media approach, it may be rare to see again when many consolidate effort into a digital product or an isolated physical product.

To counter the Ninjago argument. Ninjago very much owes much of its success to being a lego theme, so it would very much fall into the broader category of the "Lego Franchise". There were people who exclusively collected Bionicle and never got into System sets, if you collect Ninjago there is a good chance that you collect non Ninjago System sets.

I think that the last new theme lego really put a bunch of marketing and hype for was Chima, I even remember seeing Chima ads in movie theatres! After Chima flopped after that first year I think Lego has been scared to really hype up a new theme since and has chose to have Ninjago be its main money maker.

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Not really. That is just a negative view. Ninjas just seem to be something that kids always like and easy for Lego to create. Power Rangers has several ninja themes and there's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ninjago originally had 1-3 testing years on shelves but a lot of people convinced Lego to bring it back and now it's a giant cash cow.
The biggest success behind Ninjago (after lego shelved Bionicle) is because it seems to be unlimited about what can exist in their universe?

After they brought it back they suddenly started to include elemental tornadoes, turning in pure elemental entities, modern city, mechs, airships, vehicles, cars, dragons, snake-train, a cyber villain and a lot of other stuff.

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I think an alternative argument could be made that oversaturation and a bigger competition field are the reasons for there being a lack of "great toy lines" of late.

In the 80's, when the entire of kid's television could be focused on "Saturday Morning Cartoons" a series such as TMNT, Transformers, the GI Joe relaunch, He-Man, MLP, etc. could have an entire captive audience. Toy companies had a vested interest in funding animated cartoons, and even characters that didn't originate in toys were heavily influenced by a push to market their action figures (see Marvel's Secret Wars comic line up which was a tie-in with the action figure line of the same name).

Then by the 90's a demographic shift occurred. Partially political interests saw toys to TV series as unfair marketing towards children and made a push for greater educational content on children's television in the USA. Disney and Warner Brothers both entered the children's animated TV market in the late 80's and capitalized on it in the 90's, with stuff like the Disney Afternoon, Batman The Animated Series, Animaniacs, etc. More and more of TV was focused on original characters, or old IP that was given a fresh take; and less on toy marketing. Not to mention cable/satellite TV networks such as Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network were dividing and expanding the children's TV market elsewhere without the same restrictions as their broadcast counterparts. By the mid-00's, Saturday Morning Cartoons were practically dead on most broadcast "free" TV networks, and all the remaining children's TV was edutainment on PBS or cable-locked series on the premium channels.

Bionicle came at the tail end of all of that, and it shows. Bionicle had to do multimedia marketing to even make waves, it had to have movies, comics, internet games, skateboard events, promotional mask giveaways, fan forums, etc. to even mimic a fraction of what Transformers or He-Man could do with just a TV series and comic line in the 80's. Bionicle worked hard to get into the public eye, and even then it sort of feels like at best its popularity is overshadowed by what those 80's toys could accomplish with their captive audience. By the time Bionicle had its own TV series with the G2 reboot, it was a drop in the bucket on Netflix and lost in the ocean of competitor series across multiple platforms (even a small fry compared to Lego's own Ninjago series at that point). That is without factoring how YouTube toy series such as Ryan's World has completely changed the way children are exposed to new toys, and how exposure from a child star "influencer" can be more valuable now than a high budget story. 

Its hard work to become a "Great Toy Line" now with how the competition has grown, and while I think we will see plenty of familiar names like Transformers or TMNT for years into the future, and Lego will probably continue to rely on Ninjago for the time being; it will be rare to see any completely original in-house toy IP such as Bionicle reach those same heights again. The toy lines that will remain big will probably come from mass media IP, think of like Star Wars or Harry Potter; or even to a lesser extent the tie in toys for Minecraft or Fortnite; because the IP creator be it a video game, TV series or movie franchise will foot the costs of exposing it to the public; then bring on toy makers as third party licensees. 

Edited by Xboxtravis
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On 9/14/2022 at 11:42 PM, Xboxtravis said:

I think an alternative argument could be made that oversaturation and a bigger competition field are the reasons for there being a lack of "great toy lines" of late.

In the 80's, when the entire of kid's television could be focused on "Saturday Morning Cartoons" a series such as TMNT, Transformers, the GI Joe relaunch, He-Man, MLP, etc. could have an entire captive audience. Toy companies had a vested interest in funding animated cartoons, and even characters that didn't originate in toys were heavily influenced by a push to market their action figures (see Marvel's Secret Wars comic line up which was a tie-in with the action figure line of the same name).

Then by the 90's a demographic shift occurred. Partially political interests saw toys to TV series as unfair marketing towards children and made a push for greater educational content on children's television in the USA. Disney and Warner Brothers both entered the children's animated TV market in the late 80's and capitalized on it in the 90's, with stuff like the Disney Afternoon, Batman The Animated Series, Animaniacs, etc. More and more of TV was focused on original characters, or old IP that was given a fresh take; and less on toy marketing. Not to mention cable/satellite TV networks such as Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network were dividing and expanding the children's TV market elsewhere without the same restrictions as their broadcast counterparts. By the mid-00's, Saturday Morning Cartoons were practically dead on most broadcast "free" TV networks, and all the remaining children's TV was edutainment on PBS or cable-locked series on the premium channels.

Bionicle came at the tail end of all of that, and it shows. Bionicle had to do multimedia marketing to even make waves, it had to have movies, comics, internet games, skateboard events, promotional mask giveaways, fan forums, etc. to even mimic a fraction of what Transformers or He-Man could do with just a TV series and comic line in the 80's. Bionicle worked hard to get into the public eye, and even then it sort of feels like at best its popularity is overshadowed by what those 80's toys could accomplish with their captive audience. By the time Bionicle had its own TV series with the G2 reboot, it was a drop in the bucket on Netflix and lost in the ocean of competitor series across multiple platforms (even a small fry compared to Lego's own Ninjago series at that point). That is without factoring how YouTube toy series such as Ryan's World has completely changed the way children are exposed to new toys, and how exposure from a child star "influencer" can be more valuable now than a high budget story. 

Its hard work to become a "Great Toy Line" now with how the competition has grown, and while I think we will see plenty of familiar names like Transformers or TMNT for years into the future, and Lego will probably continue to rely on Ninjago for the time being; it will be rare to see any completely original in-house toy IP such as Bionicle reach those same heights again. The toy lines that will remain big will probably come from mass media IP, think of like Star Wars or Harry Potter; or even to a lesser extent the tie in toys for Minecraft or Fortnite; because the IP creator be it a video game, TV series or movie franchise will foot the costs of exposing it to the public; then bring on toy makers as third party licensees. 

This is pretty much what I was thinking. It will definitely take a lot of work for a new in house IP to succeed in todays climate.

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Basically everything I love about Bionicle came from the fact that Greg was highly accessible on this site for the majority of its run.

In a sense, it would be like if Tolkien were alive today and available to answer all of the questions that fans had about the lore. Oh, you're asking about the Blue Wizards? Here's a short paragraph about what happened to them.

Greg was given an incredible amount of creative freedom, and kept the world incredibly coherent at all times, even working in several weird decisions by the set designers/execs as smoothly as possible.

Well, that and the first year, 2001, they managed to put together what was likely the most well-thought out and beautiful cross-platform multimedia campaign possible for the time. The Game Boy Advance game ends at the exact place that MNOLG begins. the comics drew you into the story, they had the McToran very close to launch, high quality CG animations, the pack-in mini-CDs, a full range of sets at varying pricepoints (with the absolute GENIUS decision to make the main heroes at the low end, with the Rahi being the more expensive, so that money wasn't the limiting factor to having the Toa). Hot dang that product development and marketing department deserves an astonishing amount of credit for a job well done.

The took everything that failed about Slizer/Throwbots and RoboRiders and threw it out, replacing it with near perfection.

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8 hours ago, Nukatha said:

In a sense, it would be like if Tolkien were alive today and available to answer all of the questions that fans had about the lore.

This is only accurate in the sense that Greg also regularly changed and contradicted things he'd previously established. Although in his case it's less rewriting the lore to make it more concise, and more him forgetting just stuff he's said before and tripping himself up.

I have great respect for Greg and his involvement with the theme, but I feel like everyone forgets that Greg was just one member of a larger story team, and he wasn't even the main writer in the beginning. We're at a point now where Bionicle has lost a lot of its magic and mystery specifically due to Greg canonising and clarifying things unnecessarily, long after the theme was over. 

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On 9/16/2022 at 7:35 PM, Alexander123 said:

This is pretty much what I was thinking. It will definitely take a lot of work for a new in house IP to succeed in todays climate.

Its wild to me, as somebody who only is loosely familiar with Ninjago; how there seems to be every few years a new controversy as people start complaining that Lego is holding back a season of the TV series or only releasing it in select markets.

If the TV series were the #1 marketing driver for the toys that would be dumbfounding, why only release it on weird schedules and then make it hard to watch? But it just goes to show how much the game has changed since those "Great Toy Lines" in the 80's; and that Lego has many alternative paths to keep Ninjago selling product without the TV series always being front and center. It further highlights though just how much work would be needed to get Bionicle back in the game again though with no one singular marketing path which can dominate the conversation really available anymore. 

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