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LEGO theme strategy change?
Getting out of my dark age in 2009 I have 10 yrs observation about LEGO themes, and it is striking me that TLC is slowly leaving their “annual theme” concept.... and ending in large pool themes.
Divers from Aquaraiders and Atlantis... seems to have been included as a city subtheme. Jungle themes are City.
And then there is the licences ofcause. Harry Potter and Starwars. But even here all superhero movies are well “Superheroes”.
Am I correct in my observation?
If so... Why is that? Did the special one-two-yr themes become financially too expensive to roll out / brand? Did the increasing license push other out? Is it about shelf-spacing in the stores? Or?
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Recent discussions •
Although it is a shame, I thought some of the 1 year themes were great. Better than NK and Chima, although I guess there they also have media ties, and it is not worth doing media for short series.
Some people might ask why LEGO doesn't just make alternate models AND instructions for them for more sets. The main reason is that it's just a lot more work, and very time-consuming and expensive. Most of the time the alternate models on the back of instruction manuals were meant only as inspiration and not as an invitation to recreate them… as such, they weren't subjected to the same extensive development and testing process that the main models got.
As for the main question: I'm not sure exactly why LEGO's emphasis has been more on their long-running themes than on short-lived, flash-in-the-pan themes as of late. I suppose it's in part because keeping a theme around for longer offers a better return on investment, and now that LEGO's more confident in their ability to do so they like to take advantage of it.
Let's not forget that both Power Miners and Atlantis were "Big Bang" themes. As defined by "Brick by Brick" on p263, a big bang is "A homegrown LEGO theme that's built around an arresting story, one that shows a high potential for creating a worldwide sensation and generating lucrative revenue streams from the Web, television, and spin-off products, just as Bionicle had done for the better part of a decade.… LEGO launches a Big Bang line about every other year, and when it does, nearly every unit within the company… goes all out to get behind the line and deliver a hit."
So LEGO hasn't given up on the idea of developing themes like Power Miners and Atlantis — they've just gained the ability to stretch them further. Ninjago, Legends of Chima, Elves, and Nexo Knights were all developed as "Big Bang" themes. Back when Power Miners and Atlantis came out, LEGO didn't have the confidence to give these themes much more media attention than a 22-minute TV special, a few online games, and heavy promotion in the LEGO Club Magazine. But the success of Ninjago's original 44-minute special and the corresponding toyline (both of which were a step up from what Atlantis got) gave LEGO the confidence to keep pushing boundaries with subsequent "big bang" themes.
With many non-licensed themes lasting longer, it goes without saying that there is less shelf space and development resources available for short-lived themes. All that said… we have still had several other short-lived themes lately in years that there hasn't been a new LEGO movie out:
2013: Castle, Galaxy Squad
2014: (break for The LEGO Movie)
2015: Bionicle, Ultra Agents, Pirates
2016: Ultra Agents (continued), Bionicle (continued)
2017: (break for The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie)
The sort of semi-gap in 2016 can probably be explained by that having been the original planned release date for The LEGO Ninjago Movie before it was pushed back.
Perhaps what makes people reluctant to think of these as equivalent to Monster Fighters or Pharaoh's Quest or Agents is that in many cases, they are reboots of retired and/or long-running themes and not new IPs. But frankly, most of those short-lived themes of the late 2000s that <i>were</i> new IPs were still spiritual successors to older theme categories (Monster Fighters to Studios, Pharaoh's Quest to Adventurers, Atlantis to Aqua Raiders to Aquazone, Space Police to… Space Police, Power Miners to Rock Raiders, and Agents to Alpha Team).
Insofaras the OP, I would argue that a lot of the older themes stuck around for a decent amount of time. Remember Wolfpack Renegades? There were like 4 sets total but they were available for a couple years. I feel like it wasn't till the late 90s that they started to churn through subthemes at a faster rate. Those awkward Space Port sets that followed Launch Command, the original Res-Q, Insectoids, among others were all pretty quick from beginning to end.
I agree with the analysis but I guess a lot of the frustration here, particularly for fans familiar with the range of themes available since the 90s, stems from the lack of new unlicensed themes - to a certain extent 2016 when Nexo Knights were introduced - but mainly in 2017 and 2018. I think this specific time period of 2016-2018 feels like a stop-gap in original themes for slightly longer than most of us would like and are used to. Even in 2016 the second wave of Ultra Agents I think had distribution issues where it wasn't available in certain regions at all. Bionicle was also becoming (sadly) phoned in by this point.
Themes that TLG themselves regard as 'evergreen' (with landmark branches on the tree of creativity in the Lego House) have been very silent, short-lived, perceived as juniorised or a mixture of them all in recent years. Galaxy Squad was decent, but being left in the lurch for at least 6 years for another original Space theme definitely feels unusual - it's not like Sci-Fi has become irrelevant among the target audience so the easy place to point the finger is at Star Wars, perhaps Disney and their merchandising rights.
Regarding Pirates and Castle, it seems the most recent incarnations of the themes have been fast efforts that feel less Big Bang and more like throwaway generic good faction vs bad faction setups. Again, licensing may be getting in the way due to POTC, though Castle's only most recent blocker is NK.
I still think there's room for a fairly character-focused adventure setup that we saw in years of Adventurers and Orient Expedition. Or if not a sci-fi premise that distances itself from Star Wars starships but equally doesn't go too close to the mechs and oriental influence of Ninjago. Unfortunately, this theme will most likely require a cartoon to 'sell' it. Though I'd be very happy to be surprised and find a show that surpasses Ninjago.
(If you could build all three sets.)
For example, the European box for 31019 looks like this:
There are clearly three animals in the same scene on the back of the box but no warning that they cannot all be built together. There is no indication of the number of parts so even if the person was able to estimate the number of parts in each build, they couldn't tell if all three were included from the part count.
Whereas there is another version (US?) of the box where there is a small warning on the front of the box that it "rebuilds into a teddy bear or a squirrel":
If there's some odd legal, or other, reason that they have to do it for the US, why not just do it across the board? Are they trying to hide something? ;-)
Side note; I was in a Walmart recently that only had about 3 feet linearly of Star Wars sets.
Is it expensive? Probably not too much in comparison to both the other costs of launching a product into a new market, and the potential revenue. Once you've got the general design, and know all the details you have to add here and take there, it's not too much more work, and TLG no doubt has people very knowledgeable about this stuff. There'd be a bigger cost in maintaining seperate stocks of the different versions.
Interestingly, this could also help explain why new themes are a little rarer. Starting from scratch takes much more work than continuing on with something already existing.