General Magma

Lack of original themes

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Certainly, I have nothing against licensed themes in general, but I think they're really taking over the LEGO world a fair bit too much.

It's been a recurring trend and I certainly hope it isn't about to get worse, but nowadays,
it seems as if LEGO has, for most part, ditched the original themes and puts most of their efforts towards licensed ones.
With LEGO being a great source of creativity, it seems strange that brands like Playmobil are more diverse with their themes.

You can't go and buy a normal viking or pirate ship, or a castle, or an old-fashioned spaceship, or a historical-themed set with classic adventurers anymore,
instead they're being condensed and turned into blender-mixes in the form of themes such as NinjaGO and Nexo Knights, giving original themes as much of a backseat as possible.
Even the one source of otherwise unlikely minifigures, the Collectible Minifigures line, is being overtaken by licensed themes, with this year seeing only a single "regular" theme that isn't, in reality, all that akin to the usual CMF themes.

It's understandable that they want to appeal to modern kids as much as possible, gathering more sales in return, but surely a large brand like LEGO would be able to spark interest in historical themes or regular space themes again.
2009 (it's been that long already? Good grief...) saw themes such as Space Police 3 and Atlantis, both great themes that introduced some interesting things and actually managed to stick to a main plan. Today's original themes feel more like genre-mixes.

I'd argue the same thing about LEGO's video games - original LEGO games seem to be completely gone. Instead of giving children of today a chance to experience original stories set in a LEGO world, they're churning out studded versions of movies they've likely already seen, one after another, and it's feeling more and more like a barrage of dollar-eyed-decisions now. The LEGO Movie had a good message, and actually displayed more of this implied creativity and originality than most themes. It did so with it sets, too, a rarity for LEGO these days. No Western theme, no Pirates, common themes that brands such as the aforementioned Playmobil still indulge in, so the demand for such themes can't be that low. Or have things truly changed that much, with the things we grew up with becoming so obscure to today's younglings that even themes like Castle can only be sold when castles are disguised as space vehicles on wheels with flying battle chariots powered by advanced technology accompanying them?


 

Edited by General Magma

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I completely agree with... I've been paying attention for the last 5 years or so and it's got more and more towards expensive cookie cutter licensed themes.

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I could mention that TLG's profit margins have soared to around 25% (for a frame of reference, Exxon Mobil's profit margin is around 5 to 6%).  I could whine and complain about how overpriced it is, but instead I'd like to just point out that they manage this because they know what they are doing... focus groups, sales trends... it all points to what sells better, and to be honest, from what I've heard, they have a problem keeping up capacity to meet demand (that means they could probably be charging even more).

It's sad, and I feel the pain.  I wish they were more magnanimous about the themes and sets for more advanced users, but they obviously know where the money is.  I simply don't care about the new sets as much as I used to; I still look to city for some sets (actually, more like the creator three in one buildings) and modulars.  They don't really seem to concerned with us train fans, sadly.

Edited by fred67

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3 hours ago, General Magma said:

Even the one source of otherwise unlikely minifigures, the Collectible Minifigures line, is being overtaken by licensed themes, with this year seeing only a single "regular" theme that isn't, in reality, all that akin to the usual CMF themes.

Agree, especially with this ↑

The CMF theme give us unique minifigures that LEGO wouldn't produce otherwise like Fairytales, Mythology, etc.... or minifigures from themes LEGO has barely adressed like History or Horror; heck, they even bring back old themes like Islanders, Western, Blacktron, etc. 

And this year, instead of releasing a regular CMF line, they released a Batman wearing a seashell bra :wacko::wacko::wacko:

Edited by Robert8

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I sympathize with all of this. Starting in 2011 or 2012, Lego begin sliding down the slippery slope that is licensed themes, and it's gotten so bad that nearly everything is licensed. Outside of City, everything is meant to be flashy and in-your-face. I miss the old "adventure" type themes. I miss classic Castle, Space, and Pirates, even if I didn't own too many of the latter two.

I would rather Lego to be about actual creativity and imagination than a giant influx of people who care more about the "Star Wars" aspect of Lego than the "Lego" aspect" (that's an example). Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely, in fact almost impossible, for Lego to revert to how it used to be for at least the next decade. It's sad, really.

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4 hours ago, LegoMonorailFan said:

For every point you've made, I feel the exact same way. And I'm sure many would say the same.

Same here. Every single point. :sad:

4 hours ago, General Magma said:

It's understandable that they want to appeal to modern kids as much as possible, gathering more sales in return, but surely a large brand like LEGO would be able to spark interest in historical themes or regular space themes again.
2009 (it's been that long already? Good grief...) saw themes such as Space Police 3 and Atlantis, both great themes that introduced some interesting things and actually managed to stick to a main plan. Today's original themes feel more like genre-mixes.

I believe 2015 was probably the last time we saw any traditional and/or smaller scaled action theme, with both the introduction of Lego's last incarnation of Pirates and the final wave of the Ultra Agents theme seen during that year. It's the smaller scaled action themes I miss the most, such as lines like Monster Fighters, Pharaoh's Quest, Dino, Power Miners, and Atlantis for instance. Then there are all the many subthemes of Space, an action theme category unto itself.

1 hour ago, Robert8 said:

The CMF theme give us unique minifigures that LEGO wouldn't produce otherwise like Fairytales, Mythology, etc.... or minifigures from themes LEGO has barely adressed like History or Horror; heck, they even bring back old themes like Islanders, Western, Blacktron, etc. 

Yup, because in a landscape of themes barren of any archetypical storylines or characters, the CMS line was our only relief. Now that well is even running dryer. 

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Just got to mention though: Ninjago, Nexo Knights, Unikitty and Elves are all original LEGO themes. TLG developed and designed these themes, the media that goes with them was developed to promote the toy. 

Though it is frustrating how much shelf space is taken up by Star Wars, superheroes and soon Harry Potter again. Those Brickheadz are the most vexing.

However, city has been really cool and creative. The Jungle Explorers are superb and the mining subtheme is looking rather cool. I think these have filled in where once you would have had a character driven theme. 

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One thing I'm not very happy about is the increase in licensed LEGO Duplo sets. I don't think 2-5 year old kids should be influenced that way. Especially a Jurassic World theme is not appropriate. Don't get me wrong a Dino set is great but not this license.

Edited by Sinthoras

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I agree, but then LEGO knows what sells. Blame the people that want (and buy) licensed sets.

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I've gotten into Power Miners on eBay recently. They came out in 2009. That year saw, Agents, Caste, Pirates, Power Miners and Space Police 3. Yes Space, Castle and Pirates all in the same year. Atlantis sets actually came out in 2010 and not 2009. According to Brickset that year had 479 'sets' (They count random things like glasses and cups.), 2017 had 840 sets and only Nexo and NinjaGo as themes. Sure we have minidoll sets and Friends and Elves are great, but we can't get a mini Space theme? Honestly Nexo Knights should just be a space theme. Maybe we will get Pirates next year for the 30th birthday of the theme, but they will just be rehashed like the last few times, or PotC.

I miss the days random themes without TV shows. Atlantis was fun, love Power Miners, I wish I was more into Space Police 3 as they are actually pretty nice mixture of old style and new.

I just miss having a wide range of yellow figures. I used to buy a few sets in pretty much every theme to get the minifigures, now that's not that difficult.

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5 hours ago, Peppermint_M said:

However, city has been really cool and creative. The Jungle Explorers are superb and the mining subtheme is looking rather cool. I think these have filled in where once you would have had a character driven theme. 

Now there you bring some great proof that Lego hasn't completely abandoned traditional action/adventure genres, as at least they seem like they are trying to reinterpret/incorporate them into a successful preexisting theme. I guess that may also tell you that Lego has determined that standalone themes based upon those genres just aren't viable currently. The only downside though, is that City's realistic, modern context means there's no room for more Sci-Fi/Historically based interpretations of those genres.

But still, with that reasoning, that's why I speculate that we might see a moonbase subtheme of City as a homage to Classic Space in the near future, as the current retail landscape just might not support a standalone Classic Space theme currently.

2 hours ago, Maple said:

According to Brickset that year had 479 'sets' (They count random things like glasses and cups.), 2017 had 840 sets and only Nexo and NinjaGo as themes

Wow. Put into that perspective, that's pretty sad, as Lego is releasing nearly twice as many sets than they did almost a decade ago, but with even less in-house theme variety. :sad:

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OK, I’ll bite… how is “Castle plus technology” or “ninjas plus superheroes” any less original than “astronauts plus police”? Excluding Ninjago and Nexo Knights from what you consider “original themes” seems completely arbitrary if you’re willing to count any incarnation of Space Police as “original”. Also, what about Elves? That’s just as “original” a fantasy theme as classic stories like The Chronicles of Narnia or Peter Pan.

Also worth noting that some reasons Playmobil can sustain more themes like you describe is that it’s a) a much, MUCH smaller player in the toy industry than LEGO and b) primarily aimed at younger children who don’t demand as much novelty/uniqueness as themes like Ninjago deliver. It’s more comparable to Duplo than LEGO System. And even then, Playmobil DOES have a growing number of licensed or mashup themes. I was in Hamley’s the other day and saw a theme that was some sort of space theme, but with a fire and ice dynamic? Like, ice-powered aliens and stuff. Almost gave me Chima or Mega Bloks Dragons vibes.

EDIT: I also think it’s weird how everyone expects LEGO to have a western theme as if it was ever a big part of who they are. They’ve almost NEVER had non-licensed Western sets.

Edited by Aanchir

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9 hours ago, Sinthoras said:

One thing I'm not very happy about is the increase in licensed LEGO Duplo sets. I don't think 2-5 year old kids should be influenced that way. Especially a Jurassic World theme is not appropriate. Don't get me wrong a Dino set is great but not this license.

I'm with you on this one.  I love that my daughter (now ~2.5) enjoys her Duplo so much.  I make it a point to get her generic sets (ordering on-line) and my wife and I make a conscious effort to shield her from excess branding and marketing, but the moment we walk in to the local toy store my daughter runs over to the Duplo aisle and EVERY SINGLE KIT is a licensed theme (mostly Disney).  

When we go to playgroups, I see kids fighting over the (licensed) figures and ignoring the bricks themselves.  Call me old fashioned (or older than dirt) but that's just wrong.  When I sit down with my daughter and she breaks out her (generic) Duplo animals its always "let's build a pool for the penguins" or "let's make a tree for the squirrel".  She names the human figures and makes up stories for them while building houses and trains and whatever else the story requires.  I watch other kids playing and the story begins and ends with "Hey I got Spiderman!" "Oh yeah, I got Micky Mouse" and the bricks might as well be uneaten Cracker Jack, the kids treat the (licensed) figures like a prize and barely notice the rest.

As for "regular" Lego Bricks, I hear your pain but appreciate the role licensed themes have had in bringing TLG back from the brink.  I must also admit that I have a pretty extensive collection of UCS kits.  Still, give me a nice generic Creator Expert kit over yet another licensed remake any day.  I'm not even that taken with the new Downtown Diner but I just ordered one anyway because I just couldn't get excited about building yet another snowspeeder (I have eight variations on this theme already and doing it in tan and calling it a sandspeeder isn't going to make the experience feel "fresh".)

 I do miss the classics.  There was a clean simplicity to the basic themes like space, pirates and castle that encouraged creativity and imaginative play in a way that even the modern, in-house IP successors like Nexo-Knights and Ninjago just seem to lack.  Too much of the narrative is directed; too much of the focus is on building "So-in-So's whatch-ma-call-it" as opposed to just building something that would exist in that world.  I appreciate that it's easier to market a tie-in, particularly if it ties to a recurring TV show, comic or frequently watched movie, but it's a shame that that same "iconic recognition" sometimes makes the Lego experience less open-ended.

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I think, as far as number of sets is concerned, you're missing that they added things like CMF - each series counts as 16 individual "sets."  It doesn't explain the whole difference.

In a nutshell, along with everyone else, I agree - TLG is following the money.  That's their prerogative.  I buy less and less every year because of it.  I don't need batmermaid.  In fact, the LAST figure we need is more batman (has any other figure been done as much?)

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3 hours ago, Aanchir said:

OK, I’ll bite… how is “Castle plus technology” or “ninjas plus superheroes” any less original than “astronauts plus police”?

Let's put it this way: I'm referring more to traditional themes, but at the same time, I also have an issue with the way things are just jumbled together nowadays.
Certainly, "ninjas plus pirates plus superheroes/power rangers plus whatnot" might have a factor of originality, but it feels somewhat jumbled as a way to reduce the number of themes by squashing them all together as one.
To me, it lacks vision. Perhaps "astronauts plus police" may not exactly fit into the category of 'most original (imaginative) theme ever' if you describe it that way, but it seemed to have a clearer vision, it was more focused on that vision
without a need to tick off boxes with as many different themes as possible, and through that, they could conceive imaginative elements that fit within the theme and didn't make it feel like they were trying to make room for more licensed lines
by cutting out their traditional in-house lines.

As for your comment on Western themes - it is true that it has always been a rare theme to begin with, but I find it rather strange that LEGO has now doubled the amount of sets they produce yearly since ~2010 and seems to have
a limited offering now more than ever. And when some of the only non-licensed themes we're getting are mixes of genres and themes, with no regular pirates, no castle and no other historical themes whatsoever, things are starting to get a little... Strange, for my taste. LEGO, and yet their iconic in-house themes are disappearing. Western was pretty heavily featured for a while in The LEGO Movie - even though it hasn't had a non-licensed theme since the 90s - and so were the other in-house themes I mentioned - to see them missing in action for such a while is just rather strange to me.

Your points about Playmobil are valid enough, but at least they still have their traditional offerings left intact alongside those mashup themes.

Edited by General Magma

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12 hours ago, MAB said:

I agree, but then LEGO knows what sells. Blame the people that want (and buy) licensed sets.

You raise a very good point, and I'd have to agree.

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All very good points and arguments.  My buying habits have changed in the past couple of years...away from licensed and more towards city/creator and Ideas.  I guess in my old age i'm getting back to my roots...

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2 hours ago, General Magma said:

As for your comment on Western themes - it is true that it has always been a rare theme to begin with, but I find it rather strange that LEGO has now doubled the amount of sets they produce yearly since ~2010 and seems to have
a limited offering now more than ever. And when some of the only non-licensed themes we're getting are mixes of genres and themes, with no regular pirates, no castle and no other historical themes whatsoever, things are starting to get a little... Strange, for my taste. LEGO, and yet their iconic in-house themes are disappearing. Western was pretty heavily featured for a while in The LEGO Movie - even though it hasn't had a non-licensed theme since the 90s - and so were the other in-house themes I mentioned - to see them missing in action for such a while is just rather strange to me.

For all my own issues that I take with "big bang" themes, yes, this supersedes them all. Despite nearly doubling their yearly set output, there's not one smaller scaled, minifigure based action/historical theme amongst them? :def_shrug:

Well, if Lego has indeed determined that such archetypical genres aren't viable as an entire set line at the time, perhaps a playset theme akin to the "regular" Collectable Minifigure line would instead be the way to go, if you know what I mean. :wink:

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14 hours ago, Maple said:

 Atlantis sets actually came out in 2010 and not 2009. According to Brickset that year had 479 'sets' (They count random things like glasses and cups.), 2017 had 840 sets and only Nexo and NinjaGo as themes. 

What do you mean by 2017 had only Nexo and Ninjago as themes? 

Regardless it looks like the number of original themes have actually remained fairly consistent through that period but licensed themes have grown significantly in relation. Using the same source Brickset:

2009 (because thats the year with 479 sets listed) (not including brickset listed 'themes': 'advanced models', books, gear, games, miscellaneous, power functions, promotional and seasonal). Original themes: Agents? Architecture, Bionicle, Bricks and More?, Castle, City, Creator, Duplo, Education, Mindstorms, Pirates, Power Miners, Technic = 13 Original themes and 3 Licensed themes (Indiana Jones, Spongebob, Star Wars)

2017 (not including brickset listed 'themes': 'advanced models', books, dimensions, gear, miscellaneous, power functions, promotional and seasonal). Original themes: Architecture, Boost, City, Classic, CMF, Creator, Duplo, Education, Elves, Friends, Nexo Knights, Ninjago (non movie), Technic = 13 Original themes and 12 Licensed themes (Brickheadz [most are licensed], DC Superheroes, DC Supergirls, Disney, Marvel Superheroes, Minecraft, Pirates Caribbean, Speed Champions, Star Wars, Lego Batman Movie, Lego Ninjago Movie).

If I've messed anything up let me know but it looks like nearly the same number of original themes through that period but the licensed themes have gone up significantly in proportion. So licensed themes have a larger representation but original themes are still present in consistent representation (even if its not specifically what one wants). As to the distribution of sets per theme I'll leave to someone else.

Just more reasons to MOC, the stuff the fans of neglected themes make is far better than anything Lego would produce anyway, looking at what the Pirate shipbuilders, Historic theme landscapers, Train builders and scale modelers make they're some of the most amazing things built with Lego. 

Edited by koalayummies

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2 minutes ago, koalayummies said:

2017 Total themes 27 (minus 'advanced models', books, dimensions, gear, miscellaneous, power functions, promotional and seasonal). Original themes: Architecture, Boost, City, Classic, CMF, Creator, Duplo, Education, Elves, Friends, Nexo Knights, Ninjago (non movie), Technic = 13 Original themes and 12 Licensed themes (Brickheadz [most are licensed], DC Superheroes, DC Supergirls, Disney, Marvel Superheroes, Minecraft, Pirates Caribbean, Speed Champions, Star Wars, Lego Batman Movie, Lego Ninjago Movie).

I think the sort of themes that many are mourning the lack of on this discussion are minifigure based action/adventure/historical/sci-fi ones. Nexo Knights and Ninjago just don't compare to the archetypical offerings that 2009 for instance gave us, as they are themes that mash historical and science fictional elements together. Also, they really didn't need a TV show to explain their narrative, as they were archetypically self explanatory to begin with.

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1 hour ago, koalayummies said:

What do you mean by 2017 had only Nexo and Ninjago as themes? 

Regardless it looks like the number of original themes have actually remained fairly consistent through that period but licensed themes have grown significantly in relation. Using the same source Brickset:

2009 (because thats the year with 479 sets listed) (not including brickset listed 'themes': 'advanced models', books, gear, games, miscellaneous, power functions, promotional and seasonal). Original themes: Agents? Architecture, Bionicle, Bricks and More?, Castle, City, Creator, Duplo, Education, Mindstorms, Pirates, Power Miners, Technic = 13 Original themes and 3 Licensed themes (Indiana Jones, Spongebob, Star Wars)

2017 (not including brickset listed 'themes': 'advanced models', books, dimensions, gear, miscellaneous, power functions, promotional and seasonal). Original themes: Architecture, Boost, City, Classic, CMF, Creator, Duplo, Education, Elves, Friends, Nexo Knights, Ninjago (non movie), Technic = 13 Original themes and 12 Licensed themes (Brickheadz [most are licensed], DC Superheroes, DC Supergirls, Disney, Marvel Superheroes, Minecraft, Pirates Caribbean, Speed Champions, Star Wars, Lego Batman Movie, Lego Ninjago Movie).

If I've messed anything up let me know but it looks like nearly the same number of original themes through that period but the licensed themes have gone up significantly in proportion. So licensed themes have a larger representation but original themes are still present in consistent representation (even if its not specifically what one wants). As to the distribution of sets per theme I'll leave to someone else.

Just more reasons to MOC, the stuff the fans of neglected themes make is far better than anything Lego would produce anyway, looking at what the Pirate shipbuilders, Historic theme landscapers, Train builders and scale modelers make they're some of the most amazing things built with Lego. 

The argument presented in the OP defines "original themes" as themes containing unique builds,  as well as a "classic" lego feel. Examples of this would be Atlantis, Power Miners, Monster Fighters, Dino, Pharoah's Quest, etc. If you look at it that way, the only themes that fit such criteria released in the past five years are Ultra Agents, Elves, and Pirates. For the past three years, we have had no new themes introduced that resemble these. "Boost" does not count. Further, CMFs, which used to be a great source of figures to pacify those of us who wanted these types of themes, has gone licensed and produced such enthralling products as TLBM Series 2. 

I think one of the main issues here is how the licensed themes are seemingly inescapable. Lego has gone wild with Star Wars products, and have somehow managed to put out over fifty Batman figures in a single year. It wasn't like that until recently. Now it's at the point where the licensed themes are churning out hundreds of sets a year, while...you know what...

2017

Advanced Models (5) + City (54) + Creator (21) + Elves (10) + Friends (46) + Ideas (1) + Nexo Knights (45) + Ninjago (25) + CMF (1) = 209 total sets

Brickheadz (22) + DC (10) + DC Girls (11) + Dimensions (11) + Disney (9) + Marvel (16) + Minecraft (9) + POTC (1) + Ideas (3) + Speed Champions (8) + Star Wars (68) + TLBM (35) + TLNM (32) + CMF (2) + Cars 3 (8) + Frozen (2) = 248 total sets

Here's this year:

Advanced Models (2) + City (35) + CMF (1) + Creator (15) + Elves (7) + Friends (18) + Ideas (1) + Nexo Knights (6) + Ninjago (31) = 116 total sets

Brickheadz (25) + CMF (2) + DC (10) + Disney (10) + Fantastic Beasts (2) + Harry Potter (4) + Jurassic World (8) + Marvel (14) + Minecraft (10) + Speed Champions (6) + Star Wars (38) + TLBM (7) + TLNM (1) + The Powerpuff Girls (2) + Unikitty (6) + Incredibles (3)  = 148 total sets

Yes, I took the time to do that. :grin:

As you can see, the Licensed Themes already have a pretty sizable advantage in terms of sets. However, the gap between the two grows significantly if you factor in total price. Practically every set over $250 last year was licensed, which heavily tilts the scale. Also, the fact that almost every new Lego theme released in the last five years has been licensed only indicates that that gap will continue to grow.

TL;DR: Licensed themes are coming to kill us all. Take shelter! 

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