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If you want to maintain separation, you should try and come up with a definition (like LegoDad42's above, or whatever), and be as consistent as possible.
Personally, I don't consider them minifigs. I also don't consider "Jabba the Hutt" a minifig, or R2-D2, or tons of other things. But that's because I decided for myself back in 2001 what defines a minifigure, and I've stuck with that definition, regardless of how harsh it's been.
Otherwise, everyone's definitions are different. Once you allow (for example) the B'Omarr Monk, then how many elements do you need before something's considered a creation, and not a "fig"? Does the robot from 5616-1 count? How about1969-1? Or (god forbid) 6889-1 or 6750-1? You're never going to satisfy everyone with whatever rule you come up with.
Anyway, my personal recommendation is to just follow BrickLink and leave it at that (not that that isn't without its own share of problems).
As for the brick built ones I don't feel they should be counted on brickset unless they represent a significant character in the theme. For example if they did a Lost in Space theme and did the robot from that as a brick built one instead of custom pieces I would still consider that a minifig, but things like SW destroyer droids and probe droids etc aren't a specific significant character.
1) Does the figure have a standard torso? (this usually covers quite a bit, but maybe more detail is necessary)
2) Does the figure have one or more custom molded body parts? (molded heads, mermaid tails, crab-claw hands, etc-- not just stubby legs or a custom hat)
3) Does the figure have a custom printed element? (head, torso, etc)
4) How many elements make up the figure?
5) Does the figure represent a particular character?
6) Does the figure represent a generic character? (soldier vs. "Bob the Soldier")
Then, everyone could customize in their profile how minifigs are counted. So, LegoDad42 might say:
If (1), (2) or (3) is true, and (5) or (6) is true then it's a figure.
And graphite might say:
If (5) is true, or if (1) and (6) is true, then it's a figure.
Something similar to that MIGHT be able to satisfy a lot of people by being very customizable, but probably would be more trouble than it's worth. It'd obviously be difficult determining the list of quantifiable attributes on which to judge! I already don't like the above list I came up with!
Includes 9 minifigures: Jabba, Salacious Crumb, Bib Fortuna, Gamorrean Guard, Oola, Han Solo, Princess Leia in Boushh outfit, Chewbacca and B'omarr Monk
Not that what Lego says is gospel, but I don't see a reason to deviate in this case.
Technically, I would say that a minifigure is something that consists of special molds/parts to make it more character-like. In the DS #10188, this applies to R2-D2 (the legs) and the assassin droid (the legs). I am not aware of any sets that have all the parts for an astromech droid without actually sporting it as a minifigure.
This does not apply to the DS interrogation droid or the mouse droid, which are made of comparatively mundane parts and could be built from dozens of sets which don't actually contain them as character. I always found it wrong when the latter two, or even worse the dianoga monster, were counted as minifigures. They are made of ordinary parts.
(Also consider that some sets contain minifigures which (I think) are not counted as such because they are part of a building or vehicle, i.e. headfigures of ships or the angels in the upcoming Arkham Asylum...)
In any way, I would like to suggest a different approach to the problem anyways. After all, it seems like a rather important decision regarding database design which shouldn't be made lightly. It may seem easy, but it might be a mistake to follow Bricklink's example. For example, Bricklink apparently does not consider the car characters from Disney's "Cars"-themed sets as minifigures, which I would consider inconsistent. Lego, on the other hand, seems to do it, and even has character overview sheets (what car to find in what set) in the instructions.
At this point, I suggest to consider what might have driven Bricklink's decision. Or rather, what might drive Brickset's design decisions. Bricklink is, I guess, mostly geared towards stock management, selling and so on. I assume that therefore, Bricklink's design takes into consideration how to handle inventories well, and I guess there is a connection between Bricklink's way to consider minifigures as subsets and not count their parts towards a set's total part count.
The Brickset database, it seems to me, is more geared toward collecting, and therefore serves a different purpose. This is what should drive the decision, imho, and not how Bricklink does it. I like it, for example, that on Brickset a set's part count includes all parts of a set, including minifigure parts (as opposed to Bricklink, see above).
I don't really have a good solution in the end. Just the suggestion not to hasten this decision, especially not because of one "irate" user. If I may be irate about something ;) it is much more problematic that there is so much missing information in the database, from images to part counts to availability information. And we're not even talking about wrong information yet. My suggestion would be to tackle this issue first, i.e. how to enable crowdsourcing to this problem or whatever @Huw has in mind. :)
P.S.: No offense intended. Brickset is great. The database is very helpful. It's late and my netbook battery runs low. Just trying to say that maybe this is not the most urgent of issues to quickly resolve. :)
For instance, I wanted a "fig count" because I wanted to know how many minifigs I had, not how many figures I had. I've got some Scala figures, Belville figures, Duplo figures-- heck, even some Galidor figures (as ashamed as I am to admit it). But, as a collector, I didn't want to count those in my "minifig count", because, hey, they're not minifigs!
Hence, perhaps the question ought to be: Why do you want BrickSet to keep track of minifigs at all? What is it that you want to do with that information?
From a "what figs come with this set?" perspective, I think BrickLink's Database is as good of an answer as any. In practice, I find that BrickLink will tell you that more things are figures than not.
From a "how many figures are in my collection?" standpoint, that's when it gets complex. What, as a collector, are you looking to know? As stated, I wanted to know (essentially) how many minifigs I could stand up in a big crowd-- to think of them as some sort of population or something. Hence, a lot of things were strictly out of bounds, because I didn't care about them. But it becomes another story entirely when you're interested in collecting all the "characters" from a theme, or otherwise.
I looked around a bit how brick-built minifigs (henceforth known as bribufigs) are handled at Lego, Brickset and Bricklink:
#10188 Death Star:
- Lego*: 24 minifigs: Lego counts mouse droid ("Death Star droid") and interrogation droid as minifigures.
- Bricklink: 24 minifigs, like Lego.
- Brickset: 22 minifigs, mouse droid and interrogation droid don't count as minifigs.
#4195 Queen Anne's Revenge:
- Lego*: 7 minifigs: Blackbeard, Jack Sparrow, Angelica, Quartermaster, Cook, 2 pirates.
- Bricklink: 9 minifigures: Like Lego and two skeletons which are actually ship decorations (but interestingly not the ship figurehead).
- Brickset: Like Bricklink.
#3815 Heroic Heroes of the Deep:
- Lego*, Bricklink and Brickset all count Plankton (a bribufig) as minifig.
*(When quoting Lego, I refer to the product summaries at shop.lego.com.)
- In the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, Lego apparently does not count skeletons as minifigures (see above and #4192 Fountain of Youth).
- Brickset in fact already inventories some bribufigs, e.g. Plankton in #3815, and the droid in #5974 Galactic Enforcer (I am assuming here that I didn't catch the database during a transition period), or robots from Classic Space (e.g. #6931).
- Bricklink is inconsistent in the way they inventorize bribufigs and minifigs (!): In #4195 Queen Anne's Revenge, two skeletons serving as ship decorations are in the minifig list. The ship head figure is not. Neither is the one from #4184 Black Pearl, although it's technically a complete minifigure. The statue in #5974 Galactic Enforcer, however, counts as minifigure.
- My point here is that if the mouse droid and interrogation droid in #10188, or the police droid in #5974 are considered as minifigs/characters or whatever, it opens up a number of further questions:
- Why isn't the dianoga monster a minifigure?
- Specifically for collectors: what do you actually consider "being in possession of those minifigs/bribufigs"; when you have the parts, or when you got it from the sets they came in?
In the end, I believe @davee123 is right in suggesting that Brickset can only profit from having its own definition, rather than blindly following Bricklink. Or Lego.
In the context of themes which have named characters (non-Lego franchises, for example), maybe it really is more helpful to separate between "minifig"/"minifigure" and "character", as @graphite suggests. For some (like me) stand for the classic/iconic Lego minifig (head, torso, legs). And I guess collectors are really more interested in characters in the first place, which would also cover themes like "Cars".
Then the only remaining question is what to do in themes where the minifigures don't have names, i.e. Town or so.
You could add a new figure sub-type and classify them as such: Classic; Maxifig (e.g. Hulk, Cave Troll etc); Brick Built.
This would make them searchable and distinguishable in the database and in the UI, either now or in the future.
As you know I import data from BrickLink daily so to exclude certain 'minifigs' I need to maintain a list of those to remove once imported. The list contains about 75 (I can post here if there's interest) and it's mainly those from themes that I've been photographing for the gallery, and Star Wars.
So, it's actually extra work ro remove them, and the irate user pointed out inconsistencies because I hadn't updated the list to remove brick-built minifigs from the Star Wars advent calendar, for example.
I guess some form of categorisation as suggested ^ might be the longer-term solution.
It seems silly to me to consider the mouse droid a minifigure. To justify that opinion, I would assert that if the nine common pieces appeared in a different set not intended to build a mouse droid, we wouldn't say that the set had a mouse droid.
Yet I do consider a battle droid a figure. That is because the pieces that comprise it were originally molded specifically for that purpose.
In the end, I personally don't think it's worth the trouble to devise a new classification.