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What Happened with Lego (realityprose.com)
241 points by sarthakjshetty 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 173 comments

I recently got back into Lego via buying Avengers related sets. I'm in my mid 40s and our kid has moved out.

I didn't set out to do this, but I've found that assembling Lego sets and idly putting together my own creations has really helped with anxiety. Just being able to follow the instructions and sort through different bricks is an exercise in Zen and mindfulness that I hadn't realized would be so effective.

Similar with jigsaw puzzles my wife and I assemble together, Lego takes me away from work and life stresses for an hour or two. PC games are also a source of escape, and reading too. All of these seem more effective than watching TV or reading/commenting on Reddit.

I recently bought a Lego Avengers SHIELD Helicarrier second hand. It was already assembled but covered in dust. I've disassembled the whole thing and can't wait to spend a few hours putting together all 3,000 pieces :) https://rebrickable.com/sets/76042-1/the-shield-helicarrier/

I think my current favourite "set" was a "MOC" (my own creation) designed by someone else that I bought the pieces for. The pieces were bought from a Danish and a German seller, and were very easy to get via Brick Link. Behold, the Lego Rocinante from The Expanse: https://imgur.com/gallery/1sCBWNe

If you are looking for a hobby, getting into Lego is something I can recommend for those of us lucky enough to have disposable income. Once you start registering on www.rebrickable.com and www.bricklink.com you can catalogue your sets, see what your pieces can build, buy spare parts and discover thousands of amazing models designed by people all over the world.

Have fun building!

If you're looking for another Zen like hobby, try soldering. You can get a Hakko iron [1] for $100 and fun kits [2] for under $20.

Few activities put me in a state of peaceful tranquility like soldering in quiet solitude. Summer nights soldering with the window open listening to crickets in the background. Heaven on Earth.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANZRT4M/

[2] Elenco FM Radio Kit https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004YHZE0G/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_Fq...

What a throwback to my childhood! I spent countless late nights as a teenager in my parents garage soldering away doing exactly that. To this day, I love any chance I get to solder something. I don't get to do it as much as I used to with everything I work on being surface mount, but it makes the moments even better when I get to.

Thanks for the memory!

This is awesome! Thank you for the suggestion. I’ve wanted to get into old PCs, Macs, and consoles from the 80’s and 90’s but a lot of these machines have capacitors that need to be replaced lest they leak electrolytes all over the boards. Getting an iron and some kits is a great way to practice before attempting to fix an old computer!

I've never learned to solder and I bet my 10 year old would love to learn with me. I'm gonna get those kits. Thanks!

IKEA furniture assembly is also an option.

aren't the fumes bad for your health and can lead to MS and other nerve related disease?

Yep! As-such a lot of people like myself only solder in well-ventilated areas and/or use fume extractors, ie: https://www.amazon.com/Hakko-FA400-04-Bench-ESD-Safe-Absorbe...

Had a similar experience with gunpla. I put together a few model kits as a kid and liked it up until it was time to paint, glue and apply decals so I assumed model making outside of Lego was not for me.

Fast forward to mid twenties and someone on a podcast mentions how fun gunpla is because it's model making but it is only as complicated as you want to make it. So I bought a basic RX-78 for about $10 on Amazon and found it to be an incredibly relaxing hobby. I've now got my roommate into it and we're looking at putting together a portable painting booth so we can try our hand at custom paint jobs.

If the idea of assembling mecha that do not require glue, paint, and minimal stickers (i actually don't bother unless it's a larger one) sounds appealing it's worth picking up an HG set on Amazon and some snips (there's some $10 starter sets of tools out there that are decent).

I've got young kids, and regularly play with jigsaws and lego with them.

I also find both these activities kind of "calming" and satisfying. Sometimes I think I enjoy it more than the kids :)

My wife and I have found on several occasions we sit down with the kids to play Lego with them, then realise the kids left a while ago and we're still making our buildings/creations etc.

I also really enjoy just following the instructions and building a set. Very relaxing. But the sets started to pile up so I no longer buy any. I wish there was a good way to build a set, enjoy it for a week or so then return it. There is one LEGO rental company, but I never took a shot on them due to some bad reviews.

LEGO offers instructions for all their sets, so having parts opens new possibilities: https://www.lego.com/en-us/service/buildinginstructions Of course, there are some special parts (like robot joints), one can buy them online or improvise with existing parts.

That's not a bad idea. It'd require keeping pieces organized, but that's also kind of relaxing in its own way if you have the personality for it.

Actually, you could keep all the pieces mixed up in a giant bin. That's what we do. As my daughter said, "the fun is in finding just the piece you need"

I bought a couple big technic sets and enjoyed putting them together but I don't really have anywhere to display them. I'm thinking maybe bringing them to the office is ok. They're sort of in our industry. Would that be weird?

I think that would be really cool, and a good discussion piece.

I wanted to buy old buckets of Lego Technics pieces because for tiny electromechanics project they're perfect prototyping material.

I love assembling those Revell scale models, it requires some patience and craftiness but the results are rewarding.

Same here with 1:72 kits and dioramas. It's wasted on kids

I've been going through my childhood collection and sorting and categorizing into parts bins. It sounds horribly tedious, but it's actually very, very relaxing.

This is how I got into digging big holes and filling them with structures in Minecraft while listening to podcasts. It's a good way to reset.

I had fun soldering together Heathkits, and wound up with something useful at the end! (One was a PDP-11 computer, that I idiotically sold.)

Thank you for turning me on to bricklink! I wasn't familiar with that site and I was disappointing by what Lego was offering.

Lego owns bricklink so technically they still are offering this

Lego purchasing Bricklink happened fairly recently.

I'm hoping they don't screw it up.

What I'm really hoping is that Lego starts fulfilling demand for old sets (please start making classic space sets again), but I doubt it.

They really should do a Disney Vault type deal, and rerelease some of their back catalog periodically. They tried this once around 2000, and I was able to get a couple of classic Castle sets, but it was sort of a one-off.

In some cases, they don't have the molds to make some of the parts anymore, but even if they had to substitute some parts, people would buy them.

It's been four or five years since I've bought anything new from Lego; the few original themes aren't that appealing, and the licensed stuff is pretty tired as well (how many times do you really want to buy slightly different Millenial Falcons or Hogwarts Castles?).

I can't believe they would have problems reengineering molds for old parts.

The host of chinese high-quality knockoffs show this is possible, economical, and probably not even difficult.

I've heard the monorail space sets are so expensive because of the "lost mold" problem. I'd understand if the parts only existed in old video footage, but there literally are thousands to tens of thousands of examples of this, available on the open market for a pittance to a large multinational multimedia company.

I've heard there are people that invest in Lego, but who cares about these people? And if you really care about them, just release sets with small variations from the original.

I think they should go the upscale route, just release massive all-in-one sets of all the sets from a year, like 1979 classic space or the explorien.

Really cool article. My kids have just gotten interested in LEGOs, and I have to admit I thought they must have gotten more expensive, too. I think the authors point at the end is the best explanation for this perception:

> As I showed before, LEGO has had $100+ sets for a while. However, only recently have they produced sets even more pricy than that. When we were kids, the $100 set was the pinnacle of LEGO. It was the set we all aspired to own. It was the set we all went straight to at the store. Of course we rarely ended up with that set, but that was our dream.

> Now, the dream set is closer to the $400 range. It doesn’t mean that LEGO doesn’t make sub-$100 sets. They do, and more than ever. It just means that in comparison the $25 set looks a lot smaller than it did when the largest set was only $100.

At another point in the article the author points out these new mega sets aren’t really for kids, they’re for the adults, and Legos targeted at adults didn’t really exist 20 years ago.

> When we were kids, the $100 set was the pinnacle of LEGO.

dunno I remember 90s technic to be quite expensive, I had the 8880 Super Car and the 8851 excavator set and I think both retailed above that.

yeah I know op talks about basic lego but the new lego set, with their intricate pieces and purpose built part that only exist for one set, are closer to the technic boxes than the original bricks sets

I have the same feeling about prices, but I also remember the excavator as a big set. It’s only about 350 pieces. Even with the pneumatics, I can’t imagine a price above $100.

What changed since then is that the new Liebherr excavator has more than 4000 pieces.

I was forever saving for that 8880 super car. It had a real gearbox...

But it was just like saving for a Ferrari or something. A nice dream that was never to be for a 12 year old...

I think the author is just using $100 as an illustrative value, since earlier in the article the author says they owned a schooner and the price in their table is $126ish.

You mention that they seem to be targeting adults. While on holiday I came across the architecture range in a few tourist shops and was impressed, the sets look great.


Lego has also gone through some very aggressive marketing in the past 10 years to push themselves into the limelight more than they've ever been before. They've even hit strides with massively successful games and films.

I am glad they moved with the times and they deserve the success, while I lament the free form nature of the original limited palette it's great to see diversity in their ranges. So in amongst a sea of appalling franchised products not to mention homegrown eco-disasters like LOL dolls which seems to have a maximum waste formula, it's great to see them thrive, there will always be a place in my heart (and home!) for Lego.

BTW an adult lego fan is apparently an 'AFL' pronounced like apple :)

It's AFOL (adult fan of lego)

AFOL... That sounds cool!

It is cool, thanks for correcting :)

When I was a kid, we couldn't really afford legos. But one year my brother got a big plastic bucket of Brix Blox[1], a lego clone (but not compatible). They were just as fun as Legos to us. They weren't a kit, just a bucket of bricks to build what you want. I think it might have come with a little pamphlet of suggested designs, but we made spaceships and weird little rocket-boat things and little stormtrooper-ish guys to ride them. It's kind of weird how I can picture those little guys in my mind so perfectly all these years later. Pretty sure I could build one right now exactly as we did then, if I had some brix blox.

Edit: this is the bucket we had: https://www.cutetoyus.com/product_detail.php?c=town%20toy%20...

[1] https://www.retrothing.com/2008/07/brix-blox---leg.html

As a middle class kid in Spain during the early 80s we didn't have Legos either. Spain was barely starting to enter the international market after the Franco era.

But we had Tente which was amazing. I spent hours and hours building stuff (vehicles, space bases, robots, etc) and making up stories about these things.

See some images here: https://www.google.com/search?q=tente+toy&tbm=isch


The sets were fun for like 1 hour, but in the end all the pieces ended up in a huge bucket (actually a big wooden drawer hidden under my bed) and the real fun began.

Tente! Those were amazing too. I had some space and alien sets. I could never remember the name of the company. Thanks!

Did you guys have Meccano?

On the other nice things in childhood front, I was always jealous of a country with Chupa Chups.

Interesting side note: The Chupa Chups logo was designed by Dali in 1969. Check the 'Marketing' section[1].


LOVED Meccano - so cool to be able to build real machines and the screws and parts got a little rusty / rough if you weren't careful with them but damn I loved my Erector sets

Yeah we did have Meccano although I never had a set myself or knew anyone who did.

You didn't have Chupa Chups?

I also remember eating lots of square shaped Sugus although these are not from Spain.


In USA they were only available starting when I was few years old although mostly I remember their product placement in Zool

You can still buy buckets of Legos. If you're unsure what to get your kids (or somebody else's) give them a bucket of Legos, or something from the City line.

We've been fans of City line. A lot of cheap (under $20) sets that can yield more than one design. This stimulates the creativity and flexibility of kid's mind.

Executing instructions and building discipline develop fairly easily, as long as kid has some mental joy to imagine playing with finished toy.

But taking the next step in combining blocks into 'own' design takes a leap. Once the kid can design, the special sets are just as well can be substituted with the buckets or mixes or blicks from the old sets.

I see Lego (or similar blocks) primarily as imagination fulfilment toys, not much of finished product toys. Meant to be torn and morphed. Instructions are just an invitation!

I found a diving set from the City line that is roughly similar to the Aquanauts that I enjoyed when growing up. Even though I don't have kids of my own, I bought a set and gave it to kids in Kiribati when I went to Christmas Island for Christmas.


I've often wondered how many people prefer a bucket of bricks to the sets. I never liked the sets. I had a bucket of Lego and a bucket of Ramagon pieces and I had a lot of fun building my own stuff.

yeah. in my day there were sets but after my first (and only) one, i was left disappointed. “you can only build the one thing?” we didn’t have money for it so max value meant bricks, not sets.

Well you can take it apart -- annoys me considerably that my kids just put the suggested model together and put it on a shelf. I'm like "you're doing it wrong!", but they don't want to listen and it's their choice how to play with their toys.

Hah, I have the opposite "problem". I had tens of sets sitting on a shelf that I've built over a decade and my little one has been taking them apart one-by-one. As much time and energy I spent building complicated sets, I rather enjoy seeing how he reuses the pieces and components in new builds.

> “you can only build the one thing?”

No you can build anything you can imagine! You don't have to build it like the front picture or the instruction book. If you even turn the box around you'll often see alternative ideas on the back.

In Brazil, growing up in the 70's and 80's would mean your dream sets were branded Hering-Rasti. I never knew Legos existed until much later. Looking back I can see how hard they were trying to emulate Lego's designs but without the same level of quality.

They were super expensive and I knew it.

Some images: https://www.google.com/search?q=hering+rasti&tbm=isch

If you are in a better position now, then treat yourself to some genuine Lego, I get that the fun factor is similar, but do check out the engineering tolerance on the Lego bricks, it's been sustained over decades :)

Not sure about that. The Chinese-made Legos I’ve looked at have visible flash and sprue marks, which I never ever saw on the Danish-made ones.

Most of my legos growing up were made in Canada by Samsonite under contract from Lego. I don't think Danish made ones ever made it to North America. I wonder if they were very different?

That's a real shame :(

We didn't have anything like Lego at all, but we did have a locally-produced clone of Meccano (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meccano). This was a very pleasurable time sink, especially once you realized that you could just bend the parts into whatever shape you needed for some particular projects.

I remember being on the younger side of 10 we had these hand-me-down blocks from playskool. Melissa and Doug makes them for the current generation.

We got a lot of mileage out of them.

Most of my kits ended up in buckets anyway! More fun to build freeform from scratch

Same here. We had a few buckets of Sears store brand legos, and spend hours and hours playing.

This article is like 7 years old.

Also, Lego is great. The reuse value is tremendous. The blocks can be reused so many times to build something new.

I grew up with Lego. Didn't have a huge amount of them, but what I had, I passed on. The old blocks still work fine and it was an amazingly nostalgic feeling to see e.g. my Lego Fireboat (#4025) rebuilt. The first question after building it was the same as I had: "does this really float in water"...

If you have your old blocks, the instructions are around the net. It's nice to build something from ones past.

I have a different perspective: I’d say Lego is having a hard time keeping its core principle (building stuff) while going along with the times.

In particular Lego has a “Technic” and “Boost” series that in particular allows remote control, with motors, actuators and these recent years bluetooth hubs.

The first saliant point: Lego doesn’t sell the “Control +” bluetooth hub alone, and it’s been a while now that the piece has been in sets.

You’re SOL if you break/lose the one from the set, there is no legit way to get one if you want to use it on other creations in parallel, even if it’s arguably the central piece of a lot of constructions. It’s not listed with the other bricks in the order site, and it’s not handled by sites like bricklink.

Then Bricklink: taken over by Lego, they got rid of most custom parts and anything that was extending what you could do with lego bricks ahead of what Lego publishes.

Last, their whole latest Control + app has customizations for their specific sets. For the Top Gear one for instance there’s specific mini games and efen the motor control is slightly tweaked to have a “racing” effect. This goes pretty far astray from having generic playing tools.

In general their efforts in the Power Functions/Boost/Mindstorm/NXT/Control + area seem overly proprietary, limited and way too expensive for what we get. So much that at this point third party hubs are better than Lego’s in almost every respect especially ability to use vanilla Scratch), but get limited by Lego stalling the whole ecosystem. Why is there even 4 different systems doing the same thing, it’s insane.

I guess the people staying on more classic sets feel it less heavily, but for me Lego is really lost in how they want to move forward, now that kids playing with gears and programmed parts has become realistic and commercially viable.

I couldn't disagree more as a parent of a 5 and 3 year old.

I remember LEGOs being a big bucket of like 4 colors when I was a kid (80s) and never got too into them. Now there not just the designed sets but a whole community around the creative process, like Lego Ideas (fan made designs that get turned into sets for sale based on fan votes) and "3 in 1" sets where you can make 3 different things from the same set. My 3 year old loved the Queen Waterva "Build Whatever" set where there are instructions for about 20 different designs and he builds them with his brother over and over.

There is something to be set for giving kids an entry point for creativity. First they figure out how blocks go together, then they build things from instructions, then they play with them and break them and rebuild them and learn to be more careful. Then they notice how the sets always design walls or ships or legs and start to modify designs for their own needs.

A gentle introduction is best. If I dump 1000 legos in front of my kid he won't do anything, but if he has only 20 pieces I am amazed by the things he comes up with. I know some school actually use legos in the classroom for into robotics. It seems to me LEGO is doing very well engaging on multiple fronts and hitting different age ranges.

It’s a valid point.

Every kids are different, we went head first with the big bucket approach with ours, so any further set we bought were more to have a group of coherent pieces at a bundle price.

One side effect was that the stickers on the bricks made them weirder to reuse. Also sets with a lot of specific shape bricks (like slightly curved long flat and smooth triangular cover pieces for instance) can be reassembled in one or two configurations, but those weird pieces are also harder to reuse.

We had Star Wars set which were long and pretty boring (following instructions) to build for our kid, but he loved to try to make his own spaceships with the monochrome pannels.

I see the value of Lego’s current approach, and am glad it’s working well for you. I’d be even more happy if they were more commited to both approaches. Forcing themselves to have any single piece they produce to be available in their pick-a-brick section would go a long way.

PS: schools using Lego’s robotics introduction often use a 400$ set, released and never updated since 3 years. The compatible consumer variant is 300$ and the programming has to be done in the lego app. It is something, and it was super fun for kids to discover programming, we were interesting in getting it, but for instance their latest system (Control +) who technically could do the same things has no interface compatibility with the EV3 ecosystem. Nor does their “Boost” system for smaller kids, for that matter. At this point it looks like a dead end.

The best system right now seems to be using their deprecated “Power functions” motors and elements and plug them to third party central units like SBrick. It’s a situation that feels really weird to be honest, and I am left wondering why we ended up here.

I took a close look at Lego's robotics offerings. There didn't use to be many options where I live; Lego was the main one. Had my kid go to a couple of robotics camps based on Lego. They were good. But Lego price versus features was unattractive compared to alternatives that have recently become available. I ended up buying a kit that is similar in concept to Lego NXT and EV3 but more feature rich with more "real" programming choices and a lot cheaper. I kind of feel like Lego trades too much on their historical popularity and are falling behind in the educational robotics space.

LEGO made a set called X-Pods around 2005. Each one is a little pod with around 50 themed pieces (wheels, etc.). Because of the limited selection, making cool things is less about digging through a massive pile of LEGO bricks on the floor looking for "that one piece" than it is creatively thinking how each specific piece can be used.

More about X-Pods here: https://lego.fandom.com/wiki/X-Pod

I also like the idea of making "mini-scenes" with LEGO that depict a small slice of something with a small number of pieces. Here are a few examples:

https://flickr.com/photos/127745496@N03/27230802250/ (Harry Potter Waiting for the Knight Bus)

https://flickr.com/photos/iridescentnohow/8187261324/ (Back Alley in micro-scale)

https://flickr.com/photos/pbpancho/3081120968/ (Factory in micro-scale)

Fascinating stuff! I think that the author left out one crucial point: purchasing power. Per Pew Research[0], wages have not kept up with inflation. EDIT: Until recently! I do wonder if the creation. of a perception of increased expense has to do with the state of wages before the last decade.

[0] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us...

A bit of a nitpick but I think you are misrepresenting that link, it actually shows average wages rising a small amount in purchasing power, about 10%, over the time period analyzed.

Thank you for the correction! I was bamboozled by the charts :) I do still wonder if actual purchasing power has really kept up - the article does note that the increase in benefit costs may eat into wages.

My uncle bought me a set of limited edition gears for Christmas when I was seven or eight ... both my uncle and my father are engineers and it was several days before I got to touch my new toys.

This article debunks the idea that the per-piece price has changed but one of the things I noticed when my kids were little was that so many of the kits came with special-purpose parts. I don't remember any kits like that when I was young - you either got more pieces or less pieces in a kit. Even my gears were simply "available" to build into whatever my imagination came up with.

> I noticed when my kids were little was that so many of the kits came with special-purpose parts

I noticed that and I hate that change. Before a plane set was a plane, made of a lot of small parts [1]. Now, there is one or two giant hull piece that makes of the plane, with few traditional parts here and there [2]. This totally breaks the modularity of a set.

[1] https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51TtoiWamRL...

[2] https://shop.r10s.jp/shop-angelica/cabinet/imgdir/12/7557.jp...

There definitely was a period where there were a LOT of custom pieces, but in more recent sets they seem to be moving away from that. Things are still significantly more complicated than a set full of 4x2 and 2x2 bricks, but there's very few pieces besides maybe some minifig accessories that are genuinely unique to one or even a few sets.

The second one there isn't as bad as it looks in the photo. The main hull is made up of many separate pieces, as is visible in the instructions.[1]

[1] https://www.lego.com/biassets/bi/4493625.pdf

As the father of a Legophile, I can tell you that set is the exception, not the rule

Your “old”[0] set was actually introduced 4 years _after_ the “new” set[1]. Also, the “old” set has quite a few less parts: 297 vs 384. And the “new” plane is about 20% longer. And looking at the instructions, the hull is rather similar to build.

[0]: https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?id=909...

[1]: https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?id=587...

> Now, there is one or two giant hull piece that makes of the plane...

Making cheap custom parts like that is a feat of engineering. But has a negative effect on the imagination of the users of Lego...

I fondly remember receiving a bin of Lego roughly the size of a small microwave every Christmas during my early years. Inside was a green baseplate, a couple thousand assorted pieces, and a booklet with pictures for inspiration.

Years later, I searched everywhere for a "Lego set" similar to these bins but couldn't find anything. Modern Lego feels a lot less like a brick building toy and more like a fancier version of what you'd find inside a Kinder Egg.

I’m not sure where you looked, but walk down the Lego aisle at Target and you’ll find tons of them: https://www.lego.com/en-us/themes/classic

Canada, walking the aisles of Toys R Us.

Thank you very much for the link, this is exactly what I've been looking for. Seeing the kits actually brought a smile to my face :)

Look for the "Lego Classics" line.

Yep second. The Creator line is also good but centered around models but the kits are designed to build usually 3 different models out of the same kit.

I bought a set of classic bricks too just to have around for the odd idle day.

I've noticed that kits for younger children have more special-purpose parts—I'm assuming to make the builds simpler by having fewer, larger parts. The "older" the kits get, the less specialized the pieces become.

Modern kits have an absolute shitload of tiny parts, too. IMO that’s worse since at least the special parts can usually be repurposed. My kids kits have way more parts but are like half the size of my old ones. So, so many short 1x and 2x pieces. We’re drowning in those.

[edit] oh and smooth, nubless pieces, too. Also often small. They love to cover everything in those now. You look at a modern set and a similar one from 20+ years ago and the newer one looks much nicer, in large part because it’s clad in tiny little smooth bricks, while the old one had exposed nubs everywhere. One looks nicer on a shelf, one’s nicer for modding and play.

Sets with common, generic pieces are still available. But also, don’t be to quick to decry pieces as special purpose, Lego is good at clever reuse.

Making too many special-purpose parts around the late 90’s/early 2000’s is part of what almost drove them to bankruptcy. Making new LEGO moulds is incredibly expensive (plus the added logistics of producing and storing new pieces) and if they can’t reuse a piece it’s a sign of a bad design from a financial perspective.

And children are creative, they'll quickly find ways to use special purpose parts in interesting ways.

Yeah, exactly.

Is it just me or do all of the set links 404? I guess after 6 years some link rot is to be expected.

Dude, I hate to break it to you, but January 2013 was more than 7 years ago... yes, we are so old.

They 404 for me too. I think Bricklink recently got taken over. It's a shame all the URLs died, because there's a huge amount of work by a dedicated fan community that's lost now.

Bricklink did get taken over, yes, but these are Brickset links.

The linked site still works, the specific links are just dead. If you type the four-digit set number into the search box, the correct sets come right up.

I'd say Lego is the best deal on market for fun/price ratio. Just try go to any toy-shop and notice how bad everything else is.

Even if you going to buy RC car for kid - better buy Lego, it will be slightly more expensive but much better in quality.

Like programming - buy Lego Boost. 120$ for programming robot. Seems cheap for me.

Maybe for girls it's different, but my son do not want any other toys expect Lego.

I prefer Meccano. I'd rate Lego second.


I was checking out some of the Lego factories in China around this time and they were definitely making more than the “signature series” (what one thinks of as variations on the classic 2x8 bricks with no movie tie-ins).

Lego absolutely is world class but they are not “best in the world”. For plastic things made an Scale one can get better quality with Swatch and more quantity with McDonalds (the largest toy producer in the world.) At this same factory I saw a line where they were making kinder egg toys with not one, not two, but six different overmold shots of different plastic colors. Injection molding tools typically cost about $5,000 - that one cost about $2,000,000. It saved Kinder about $5,000,000 in labor that would have gone to paint and stickers.

What I did like about the Lego line was they were all using Arburg injection molding machines and DuPont ABS. Most factories won’t pay the premium for foreign plastics within China.

how did you find those factories?

So the price has remained constant, even if just reduced a little. That actually surprises me more than any other change; Hasn't the manufacture process changed? How the royalties on sets based on 3rd party Intellectual Property play into the costs? How the logistics costs impact the price? Has there been any impact on the Chinese knockoffs?

I recently bought some knockoff sets that are no longer made by lego. Not only they were cheaper than the second hand market which we can agree is crazy, but also they were cheaper than the retail price when lego sold them. I certainly don't notice anything wrong with the set quality, so I would expect the difference in price to be by not paying IP.

Yeah, I remember reading that Lego goes heavy with the IP licensing because that is the only thing they can do to differentiate; they can't patent or copyright the brick design, so knockoffs can copy any plain brick design.

They do a lot of license agreements for IP so they can have unique offerings. I bet that is a big part of the price.

The designs are copyrighted and the manufacturing is a trade secret. This is the only thing preventing makers like Lepin from selling in the US/EU market. They’d rather rip off a popular LEGO design rather than invest the time, money, and marketing to come up with their own.

I have a bunch of different knock-off brands and, although the quality is pretty good, none approach the quality of Legos. You would think that by now someone would have reverse engineered their manufacturing trade secrets to get the same quality. Or could it be that to achieve that level of quality the recurring cost is really much higher?

In addition to keeping the ABS chemical composition a trade secret they also replace their molds frequently. This keeps the tolerances high and the quality of the bricks consistent. But it’s costly. If you’re a competitor you’d probably use your molds 2x-3x longer to save money. In the short term you can pass the savings to consumers as a cheaper alternative. But since QC isn’t high you get the reputation as not being as good as LEGO.

That makes sense that competitors who can only compete on price can't keep up the quality due to mold wear even if they do know the recipe for the plastic.

Tangent note: I really enjoy the Lego Ideas sets. Love to see innovative ideas and the sets are great quality. https://ideas.lego.com/

Those are so amazing!

I think this article predates a drop in brick quality which happened in the last 5 years. I bought a number of small sets a few years ago and every single one of them had pieces that split up the side after very little use. This may have been around the time they were trying to use plant based plastics, or possibly having issues due to new factories, but I now have a perception that they are not as durable as they used to be 30 years ago.

I’m curious if this is reflected on bricklink prices. You’d probably have to be clever in how you do the analysis though.

I bought a number of small sets a few years ago and every single one of them had pieces that split up the side after very little use.

Strange. Our 6 y/o daughter has really massive amounts of Lego. She started collecting them after she switched from Duplo when she was ~3. She uses them intensively and we never had a single brick or piece break or split.

I wonder if there are counterfeit sets on Amazon et al?

Hmm, we've bought or received quite a few sets over the past five years, and I've never experienced a single piece to break.

Sounds strange to me, even if the plastic was of poor quality, the sheer smallness of a LEGO brick means it is mechanically very strong (square-cube-law).

Yeah, it was all 1x1 and 1x2 that split along the 1x wall. It’s the point with the most strain. I have older lego that split similarly, but those had at least ten times the play time, and a much lower percentage. I do hope they’ve sorted out whatever problem is causing, since I’d like to continue to share the pastime with my kids.

I’ve had some pieces break over time but you can order the pieces directly from LEGO and they will send them for free.


There's at least one instance where brown bricks had errors in manufacturing and could shatter. I've personally never had a problem with brick quality though.

Did you buy all your sets in one purchase? Sounds like you got a bad batch.

Yeah, most likely they all came from the same factory. Was from a reputable brick n mortor. Probably from the same shipment. There’s a chance they’ve sorted out the issues since. But it’ll take a long time for me to feel confident in their quality again.

It’s definitely one of the odder urban legends of the Hacker News set—that newer Lego sets are all licensed models that can basically be built only one way, but it’s good to see an article debunking it.

When I was a kid in the early 80s, we couldn’t afford all the toys and games that my brother and I wanted, but there was always room to squeeze in a LEGO set or two for birthday or Christmas. The rationale was, and I took it to heart, that I could build any _other_ toy that I might want. And I did. Knight Rider, GI Joe, M.A.S.K., even Transformers. Later, spy gear, project enclosures, rubber band guns, prosthetics, whatever.

I still have every LEGO I’ve ever received, going back to 1979 or so. As it happens, my parents moved across country the summer after my freshman year of college (which was fairly local to where I grew up) and they offloaded the trunks and totes to me, originally intending to save them until I was “grown up”, and I’ve hauled them around since, adding to the collection. Never even considered selling them off.

I’m not crazy about all the cross-branding these days and still have a soft spot for a bit of creativity in building real-life parts out of more standard pieces. Last week I picked up an early 70s set (#730) at a vintage store for $20. It’s amazing how basic the pieces are.

"In 1958, the modern brick design was developed". Very strange, because I definitively had Lego bricks pre 1960 in Finland. I even had some special bricks with wheels and lamps. I tried to operate the Lego lamp from 220 volt wall socket, but it destroyed the lamp and burned the wires.

Needs a 2013 in the headline. Also: All links are dead.

> New sets can sell for up to $500 retail

The current ceiling is $800 https://www.lego.com/en-us/product/millennium-falcon-75192

This is a very well researched article. Personally I liked when there were less type of parts and you could combine them with your fantasy. These days there is an overflow of types. Almost multiple special bricks for every set.

Me and my brother also played with Lego since late '80s (and we too didn't have many sets). Once we moved from "Castle" to the simple "Technic" ones, I kept dreaming about getting one day the Supercar set or one of the largest ones with pneumatics... and then in, my later teens, I discovered programming - which turned out to be the ultimate, highest form of DYI activity.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to watch people who kept working with Lego into adulthood; e.g., I spent quite a few hours watching Sariel's YT videos. Friction-operated automatic transmissions and whatnot...

The Lego clones are good and cheap. I'd get those for younger kids to get used to legos, because you won't care if they break or lose pieces if it costs 1/3 of the Legos.

And you can get more sets so the overspecialization of pieces and color suites isn't as bad. The chinese knockoff of UCS Millenium Falcon is like $250.

That said, LEGO is higher quality and worth it once the kid, or adult kid, is ready for it. Legos can kind of hold their worth if you keep track of the sets for completeness, but the lego knockoff is completely worthless on the resale market, and for good reason.

The article mentions that change in perception of costs in childhood vs adulthood, but there is another possible psychological (or sociological) factor: desire for increasingly complex (== more blocks) Lego sets among customers.

This is similar (obv. not identical) to the digital authoring tools available to everyone today were only available to sophisticated content creators in the past. Of course the digital tools I have seen a massive deflation in unit costs.

What would confirm this hypothesis is a graph showing the distribution of sets sold by # blocks per set, over a long period of time.

I’m surprised the article doesn’t actually investigate inflation vs perception. This is a common effect with pretty much anything that people last experienced a decade or more prior to looking at prices again. You remember the dollar amount of the price from a long time ago, then look at the dollar amount today and think “wow that’s so much more expensive!”. In actuality, inflation over that period was 20% or more, so of course it seems more expensive than you remember.

A $100 LEGO set in 2000 would cost over $140 today.

The UCS sets are not "play" sets and are definitely aimed at people who want to build them for display. They also mae up the bulk of sets over $150 which puts the price for play sets about the same when accounting for inflation.

Our family hobby is lego. We all collect sets and spend time as a family lego building. I did have some lego sets as a kid. But the sets now are amazing, and yes pricey, but the quality and enjoyment is worth it. Lots of great MOCs (My own creations) out there too that you can download the instructions for and order the parts on bricklink. It's an amazing community of Lego fans, young and old. We have a great lego city display and are getting in to lighting up sets.

When I was a kid I didn’t know there were sets. I had a big box of LEGO bits, and I made random things out of them. So I just assumed that’s what was supposed to happen.

My simple hypothesis for why Lego feels more expensive now: they are more expensive relative to other toys which have become cheaper (in every sense of the word).

The OP mentions that change in perception of costs in childhood vs adulthood, but there is another psychological (or sociological) factor: desire for increasingly complex (== more blocks) Lego sets among customers.

This is similar (obv. not identical) to the digital authoring tools available to everyone today were only available to sophisticated content creators in the past. Of course the digital tools I have seen a massive deflation in costs.

I can't remember the exact interview (I think it was a docu about the LEGO building designed by BIG on Netflix), where Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen told that the last decade LEGO is having a lot of competition from other toys, (game)computers and so on.

That's why they were forced to start selling themed series and to explore other audiences.

Edit: Netflix: LEGO house - home of the brick.

I don’t know where they come from but my nearby used book store sells gallon-sized ziploc bags filled with random legos. Most of them are old, which is awesome. You get the old space logo. I buy them on my way home. My kids have built almost a whole LEGO City out of these. Really wish LEGO brand sets these days were less thematic.

The secondhand market for Lego can be crazy.

A few years back The S*n would occasionally run promotions where they would give away free mini-figs. There was nothing particularly rare about them, and the packs were specially branded for the promotion.

A colleague of mine hoarded as many as he could and a year later was selling them for €10.00 each.

I just got out my 20-30 year old pile of about 100 Lego sets from my brothers and my childhoods and got my three year old engaged.

I proceeded to have this exact rant at my wife when looking up what today's equivalent of Ice Planet or Space Police would be. It's all just IP sets with a ton of custom pieces.

FWIW, I think it's actually a bit better now than it was in the 2000s. There is still some of it going on, but it's not like in the Bionicle decade where some sets had you practically just snapping the arms on an action figure.

For example, my kid got #76113 (Spiderman Bike Rescue) for a birthday present recently, and although there are little plastic webbing pieces there are obviously specific to Spidey, on the whole, the bike is built honestly; it uses standard pieces in clever ways to create the unexpected shapes and angles that make it look good.

And it's not like they didn't used to do this at least a little bit even in the good old days. Remember the LEGO castles with pre-fab wall and rock formation pieces, like #6090 released in 1995? Or the numerous pirate ship sets with big special hull and mast pieces, like #6268 and #6289, both also released in the mid-nineties?

At risk of being entirely biased by nostalgia, my sense is that the rarity of unique pieces is what made them so novel to me as a child. When many pieces are unique, they lose their lustre.

When I bought a set some years ago it felt like they just made as many unique pieces as they needed to get the look and feel of the design. I wonder if that's because with original IPs you can modify the design a little to fit the limitations of Lego.

I'm glad to hear it's improving.

I saw a lego set at costco the other day.

It came in a rather large box and seemed to be large almost bulk quantities of generic pieces.

I actually smiled since the assembly plans come from the kids' heads, not the comic franchise or space franchise.

A super long article to identify the really obvious?

- People who grew up with Lego over time are now adults and still a market.

- Lego can serve this new market as well as the original market which still exists.

I was about to answer with right I know, how comes my kids have almost zero interest in it. I used to play entire afternoons with it, especially the Technic kind.

neither of my kids have any interest in lego. not for lack of trying, they have several 10's of thousands of bricks, and enjoy the movies. I think it might be because they have zero interest in the licensed properties they promote.

I started lego in the mid 70s with my brother's Apollo lunar lander kits (pre-minifig), and enjoyed the heyday of the early 80's space ship kits.

the lego city line is very enjoyable to me as an adult, and has very few "special" parts.

I'm still sad that they haven't released a generic space set in almost 2 decades. Only branded stuff like Avengers. I'm sad about that.

Huh? Mars Mission, Power Miners, Alien Conquest, and Galaxy Squad were all 6-12 years ago; Atlantis is also nearly a "space set" in most of its design elements.

One of the Master Builder lines was space themed. The Lego Movie lines are admittedly halfway "branded", but also have a lot of space designs.

I’m building the apollo sets now: the lunar lander and the Saturn V rocket- definitely not “branded”? Also I think an ISS set was just released?

How much would it cost to 3d print a 100-piece lego-like set?

Everyone who i know with a 3d printer pretty much doesnt use it. It hasnt caught on at all.

You can't make anything near the precision tolerance of a LEGO brick with a 3D printer.

There are a decent number of Lego alternatives, with perfect brick compatibility for way cheaper prices.

I bought one of the Xiaomi sets when it was discounted, almost just to get spare pieces.

The quality (tolerance / fit) decreases very quickly with price.


It’s a fascinating analysis all the same, and it would be just as interesting to see if the patterns have held in the years since.

If someone creates a Lego sorting machine similar to the coin redemption machines at your local supermarket, they'd make a bazillion dollars.

I can see parents like myself lining up with buckets of Legos, walking out with baggies of perfectly sorted Legos.

Better yet, dump in all your Legos, and choose the sets that they came from, and have the machine resort them into their original numbered baggies.

This would legit kill the company, I hope it never happens.

Jacques Mattheij (who often comments on HN) succeeded in doing this:



my lego...it was parked in the attic along with about a cubic yard of comics i disenterred the lego when i discovered D&D the hindsight is killer if i took the comics as well [small fortune]

but i didnt i took the lego and spraypainted it to look like stone

for your D&D games? sounds cool to me

I was never a big lego user but as a child getting a new set of Lego was a celebration and not something that happened casually. For my kids it is just another toy they get here and there, sometimes on a whim while browsing for other things in the local Target shop or whatever. So I guess relatively it became cheap like all other commodities which are not a house. They usually just follow instructions and build it once and then abandon it, minecraft and sims replaced lego for doing more freestyle creative creations since it is faster and unlimited.

I never understood why one huge set couldn't build anything. These specialist sets that do one thing goes against what I want out of a set which is true utility and flexibility.

> why one huge set couldn't build anything. These specialist sets that do one thing

Do you understand how Lego works?

Or, to put it another way: I’ve got some great news for you: what you’re asking for exists and it’s even the largest toy manufacturer in the world!

Lego is simply a reflection of culture(s) at large. Years ago (read: when I was a kid), you played with Lego to take a pile of nothing and use your imagination to make something. There were no wrong answers.

Today, Lego is high-priced branded 3D puzzles. Here are the pieces. They go together in a certain way. There's only one right answer. Thank you for overpaying.

Sure the shareholder are happy. But as a barometer of broader trends is a sonewhat freightening trend.

> Today, Lego is high-priced branded 3D puzzles. Here are the pieces. They go together in a certain way. There's only one right answer.

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

It's all kits. Build the death star. Or whatever. Etc.

That's not creativity. That's a puzzle.

The majority of kits pretty much always (certainly from since I'm old enough to remember Lego catalogs) had "a model" to build, the "bucket of pieces" packs always were just a small part of it, and you always could use the pieces of the former to build anything (with some themes obviously having some less universally useful pieces)

Not when I was a kid. The co-branding kits came later. And have changed the nature of the product, as well as the minds of those who use it.

They’re all Lego pieces. Putting a picture on the box doesn’t make them any less creative.

So you play top dollar for a Death Star and you build what, a basketball? Why waste the money?

You pay top dollar for the 3,800 pieces—which you can assemble in any way you want, just like any Lego pieces in existence. I really am wondering if you’ve just never played with legos before? If not, buy a set—they’re a lot of fun, and you can start with a plain box of pieces for $5 to $10, no need to jump in the $750 deep end.

So as long as you're dividing by the number of pieces, then that means the sets cost less?

But actually the sets cost more, not less.

The article also seems to assume that the price increase is due to intrinsic manufacturing costs of adding more pieces, and is not simply a marginal increase in the wholesale price. In other words, there is no reason to assume the piece count is causal in the price from a materials perspective. There could just as well be a correlation that they know they can charge more when the piece count is higher.

I feel like you did not read the article. Price per set has not increased, per the article see: http://www.realityprose.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/reala...

Also, inflation, market forces, price of plastic, etc. I think their prices went up bit across the board around 2008 or so.

What happened is they realised that franchise licenses are much more profitable that LEGO Creator or LEGO City sets. Marketing and selling sets based on media franchises turns out to be a goldmine, and more creative and imaginative toys less so. That's why every blasted new set coming out seems like it's Star Wars branded, or Harry Potter, or facking Avengers... Likewise, it has shifted from an open-ended activity and mode of creative expression (see older adverts for Lego: https://s14-eu5.startpage.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=https%3... or https://s14-eu5.startpage.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=https%3...) towards more of a "build once according to strict instructions then set aside".

It's all quite sad. But then again, at the same time, the company was in dire financial situation under the previous management. There is some chance that without this pivot towards franchises LEGO would not even exist anymore (though I doubt it honestly).

They still make a large assortment of non-franchised kits. It's not like they're only selling Marvel and Harry Potter kits, even in the big box stores. I was suspect when I noticed this trend in 2007-10, but as I've grown up, the bricks stayed mature. Heck, they still make the 800 piece motorised technic dirt movers that I lusted over in LEGO magazine as a child.

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