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What can and cannot be done

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What can and cannot be done

Postby Metatron » Sat Oct 18, 2008 1:01 am

Someone wrote to me privately about a post I made in this forum. I find the subject suitable for public discussion. So, here is my reply to that person. Every word that is below is my content and mine alone. I don't even quote the other person in my reply - I paraphrase.

Just sayin'...

-----

You make the same sort of claims that people have been making on behalf of the Lego company for years. I used to read the same claims in Rec Toys Lego, then on Lugnet, Bricklink, and most everywhere else for that matter. Molds are expensive, the plastic is expensive, the engineering is precise to the point of madness, etc etc etc - all kinds of good reasons that suggest making plastic toys is a nearly impossible task.

And yet dozens of manufacturers manage to make all kinds of plastic crap.

Here's a funny thing: we now have brick hobbyists that are making and mass manufacturing their own elements. Now I am sure it's hard for them to do these things - I don't know exactly what is involved but I imagine there's several layers of complexity to navigate before arriving at a product that is ready for the marketplace. And yet they are pumping out dozens of amateur designed elements. Look at Big Ben Bricks or Brick Forge! Maybe they could make a killing making some kind of autumn colored foliage knock-off design. You know, almost but not quite the same as Lego's - something that is actually original in some details but functionally very similar. That would be perfectly legal. Competition is a wonderful thing.

And here's another funny thing: this is what Lego does as its main internationally renowned business. They make little plastic modular toy elements.

I simply don't believe that it's that hard for Lego to do whatever they want to do.

Yes, I understand that profit motive is a factor. There is also marketing as an expense of doing business. And sometimes a company does a thing because it creates good will and excellent word of mouth advertising too. It just depends on the balance they wish to attain.

If they want to, Lego can achieve anything it wants to in order to better serve the adult brick enthusiast community.
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Postby Blueandwhite » Sat Oct 18, 2008 12:36 pm

Honestly, does this need it's own thread?

Personally I think your being quite harsh on our Ambassadors. Aaron was very respectful in his posts explaining the limits of the ambassador program. If somebody PMed you, perhaps they felt that this was a topic that should be discussed privately. Your earlier remarks have been highly chiding and in some cases downright sarcastic. I understand that you want autumn folliage. Still, there are better ways of voicing your opinion.

A PM should stay private.
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Postby Quickblade22 » Sat Oct 18, 2008 4:35 pm

I see what this is getting at. You are unhappy with the lack of colors and elements produced by such a large company with seeming limitless resources. In some cases I could say "join the club". I understand the frustration in wanting colors or pieces that are not available, but things are not made in a day. As a Chief Smithy and represenative of Brick Forge, let me try to explain to you the point of view of a customizer, and what I believe to know about some pratices at TLC.

First of all, you have your customers. Alot of people in this particular community are "purists" (like Blueandwhite), meaning that they would not use anything other than official pieces. I understand and respect that. Even if Brick Forge were to produce a "leaf like" piece (not a bad idea), many woud be loathe to use it. That's where the customizer comes in. Speaking soley for Brick Forge, I can say that their policy is to "fill in the gaps". Armothe and Red Bean are huge fans of TLC and design things to enhance Lego, not compete. In a recent discussion with Armothe, I had an oppurtunity to ask him about making custom pieces. I would love to have every idea I gave them come to fruition, but that simply is not probable. Although by requesting and not demanding, a few of my ideas may hit the BF store. :wink: I started a thread for people to ask requests, and what I found out is that the variety of things people want exceed the capabilities of what can be produced. Imagine if every customer had just 1 request passed along. It would take an incredible ammount of time to process every idea and compile a list of what should be created. The Ambassadors have huge responsibilities, and just fielding requests alone would be insane. The cost is a big factor. I was hoping in my interview with Armothe that upon finding out what the cost to produce a piece was, I could get a few ideas made. Unless I come into a huge ammount of money, I can't expect that to happen. Now here is the part that is debateble. I've seen various customs made all over Brick Shelf. Brick Forge is any thing but amatuer. Little Armory and Brick Arms are highly crafted products as well. The task is difficult otherwise I'd be in the business as well. Here are my suggestions to you. You can either start your own customization company, or you can contact Armothe or Red Bean at Brick Forge. If you have enough money, (and I'm talking alot) you may be able to reach a deal with them to produce the piece you desire. Either way, you will not be able to do this in a short ammount of time.

Now I know this particular topic was started on a color request. Sounds simple enough right? I have a hard time myself understanding why TLC does not produce more colors for more pieces. I am under the understanding that color is cheap to produce. I was told by someone in the know that inventory problems would arrise. Sounds like a weak excuse.....but I am sure that the involvement is much more than you or I can imagine.

Here is what you can take from this post. We the customers and fans can get alot of things done, thanks in large part to the Ambassador program. Getting crappy with Ambassadors or the company is not the way to do it. Things take time, otherwise we would have everything we wanted the next day. If you do take either of my suggestions, I'd be interested. Knowing the quality of Brick Forge and the other high end customizers, if a piece was produced that could match even them, you'd have 1 customer lined up already. There is way more involved than simply asking and receiving what we want. I hope this post has at least opened your mind to a few complexities of what a customizer, an Ambassador, and ultimatily a large company can achieve in a given ammount of time. My whole purpose in a color request was to get people behind the idea, not demand that we get more. What's next even should we get Autumn colored foilage? I will be pressing on different colored horses and so on and so forth. That's the nature of the customer, always wanting more. Be dissapointed, but understand that things take time, and only through continued requests will they come to pass.
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Postby Tower of Iron Will » Sat Oct 18, 2008 11:41 pm

Well said, Quickblade. Another point to consider is that when "we" make requests like autumn foliage it's hard for LEGO to gauge interest in a quantifiable amount. There could be executives asking the question how many sales could we be counted on and compare that with their breakeven point (the point at which they start to make a profit). Although the response for the Castle advent calendar was loud and immediate, I'm thinking it could be less for autumn foliage even with a small group of supporters with me included. LEGO execs need to be convinced it will sell to a wide group, not just FOLs.

My suggestion would be this; we suggest a new option like new foliage to the ambassadors and then do our part buy buying up the existing flowers and trees at the LEGO stores. Will this convince LEGO? It might. Point is LEGO will never have everything we want but we can always respectfully ask.
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Postby lord azreal » Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:35 am

Right, I really dont understand this.
You are complaining that TLC is not giving us what we want, yet they just released the market village, advent calender, dwarves, orcs, classic style soldiers, square castles, and are speaking of elves. why? because we asked (most probably anyway)

If TLC was to implement new parts it would be brought out in sets that we would buy as well as children would buy.

In essence this could mean that TLC would release the parts we need but implement them into new set designs (im invisaging the elf line to have autumn foilage trees etc :D ) but it does not mean that they are doing it entirely for us.

so for you to say that TLC is not meeting our requirements is just wrong, since when have we been the target market for lego? of course TLC has aknowledged our existence and is doing its best to tailor for both audiences, but we should realize that we cannot just ast so selfishly and demand this and that, thinking we are the only concern of TLC. I think they are doing their best to please us but if they were to target it entirely at us it would mean more gritty realism in sets that would extinguish the original and largest target market.

I do not think we should be complaining about anything to be honest, TLC has brought out of 99% of what we want, other items are provided by customizing companies such as Little Armory or Brickforge, to request one piece in a different colour and to make so much fuss over the lack of colours is in my opinion very selfish, are we not happy with what we already have? or are we just children and never satisfied with what we get?

show some thanks for what we get before demanding more
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Postby Metatron » Mon Oct 20, 2008 2:34 pm

Blueandwhite wrote:Honestly, does this need it's own thread?


It's a different topic.

Blueandwhite wrote:Your earlier remarks have been highly chiding and in some cases downright sarcastic.


I have to disagree. I may be critical and I may prod, but surely a mature person like Aaron doesn't need or want my approval. I will stand behind my earlier assertions that nothing I said was a personal attack. Surely I can question aspects of what it is to be a Lego Ambassador without necessarily being seen to attack Aaron personally...I readily admit ignorance to detailed knowledge of the program and Aaron was very forthcoming. Anyway, it's his life and his choices.

But I digress, it's all actually off-topic in this discussion in my view.

Blueandwhite wrote:A PM should stay private.


I much prefer all discussion take place publicly as I have nothing to say that I wouldn't gladly tell the whole forum. The other writer had his reason for the PM and I respect that. I have my own motives and I respect that too - and that's why I clarified up front that everything I was about to write came from me. What I posted was all mine.

Quickblade22 wrote:As a Chief Smithy and represenative of Brick Forge...


Can this be clarified further? I don't know what that means. FWIW, I have bought and am enthusiastic about Brick Forge products.

See Metatron comments here:
http://bloks.hyperboards.com/index.php?action=view_topic&topic_id=1330

Quickblade22 wrote:Now I know this particular topic was started on a color request. Sounds simple enough right? I have a hard time myself understanding why TLC does not produce more colors for more pieces. I am under the understanding that color is cheap to produce. I was told by someone in the know that inventory problems would arrise. Sounds like a weak excuse.....but I am sure that the involvement is much more than you or I can imagine.


Yeah, I fully agree here. And I also find that excuse weak.

Very very weak.

I think the mere existence of Pick-A-Brick very strongly puts the lie to any asserted inventory issues. They could do it and they should do it. But will they?

Quickblade22 wrote:My whole purpose in a color request was to get people behind the idea, not demand that we get more.


There is no reality to the possibility of my "demanding" anything from Lego. They are going to do whatever they want to do. I am just here to say that they can do just that - exactly what they set out to do. They absolutely have the means and the infrastructure - esp. for a mere color changed element.

lord azreal wrote:so for you to say that TLC is not meeting our requirements is just wrong, since when have we been the target market for lego?


I don't make that first claim. And I have stated my enthusiasm for the sets that they release, here and elsewhere. I own the vast majority of castle themed sets that they have released through the years - probably well over 75% of them and with many multiples (but I am not a completist and I don't keep track). It's not important and I don't want to stress the point overmuch, but what you have done here is created a straw man - an argument that you pretend I made so that you can easily defeat it. But, I didn't make that argument so its beside the point of the discussion - so why pose the straw man twice? You know what people? Maybe I'm not the combative one here...or not the only one in any case...

I know that Lego claims that we are not a target audience. I've heard that claim many times over the years. But I think that many of the larger element heavy sets are designed - at minimum - to make both kids and adult enthusiasts happy. And what about things like PAB, the Legends line, and MOC, etc? Aren't those various product lines an obvious nod in the direction of us, the adult consumers? I think it's even reasonable to claim that those product lines are designed for us, which would make us one of their target audiences. It's smart business to please us as we create a lot of interest and buzz for their products even by virtue of passionately discussing their business model in this way right now!

BTW, I do think we are a target audience. If we weren't there wouldn't be ambassadors. Think about it.

Taking the example of autumn colored foliage once again, I claim that this would be a great addition to either a new set, as an addition to PAB or possibly even as an accessory pack. Since they already have a set of working molds (as we know that the element is currently in production) all we are talking about is a color change run of the same element they are already making for other sets. I further claim that such a release would greatly enable every theme and subtheme because every line can obviously be enhanced by the addition of fall colored foliage. I would even argue that some colors could be seaweed or the plant life of alien landscapes. Every product line can be enhanced by these autumn colored foliage elements - Space, Race, Aquazone, etc.

And if they don't want to do it, perhaps someone else will. They already got trumped on the cows, bulls, and sheep by Brick Forge. What else do they want to lose ground on?

lord azreal wrote:show some thanks for what we get before demanding more


I always find these kinds of tortured personifications of a faceless multi-national company like lego kind of odd. Why should I be grateful to a company that almost all of you to a man are defending as motivated entirely by profits alone? Shouldn't they be grateful to me - to us, their customers?

FWIW, I am enthusiastic about Lego products but that never equates to fawning gratitude toward a human entity that just isn't there.

Lego is a company, not a person. I think my dollars are thanks enough.
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Postby Munchy » Mon Oct 20, 2008 4:15 pm

Metatron wrote:
Quickblade22 wrote:Now I know this particular topic was started on a color request. Sounds simple enough right? I have a hard time myself understanding why TLC does not produce more colors for more pieces. I am under the understanding that color is cheap to produce. I was told by someone in the know that inventory problems would arrise. Sounds like a weak excuse.....but I am sure that the involvement is much more than you or I can imagine.


Yeah, I fully agree here. And I also find that excuse weak.

Very very weak.

I think the mere existence of Pick-A-Brick very strongly puts the lie to any asserted inventory issues. They could do it and they should do it. But will they?


I thought the existence of PAB was to liquidate excess inventory from production runs. Something LEGO has been trying to reduce over the last few years. I don't think they make bricks just to sell on PAB. Or did I miss the assertion all together?
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Postby Quickblade22 » Mon Oct 20, 2008 11:34 pm

Chief Smithy of Brick Forge is a title for the Moderators on Brick Forge Forums, which I am.

Let me clarify that my statement about the excuse for more colors being an inventory issue was weak by saying that the person telling me that, is a very respected member of the community. He didn't go into further detail, and I didn't feel the need for him to give further meaning. It was an answer to someone that doesn't understand the complexities of TLC (me).

Taking the example of autumn colored foliage once again, I claim that this would be a great addition to either a new set, as an addition to PAB or possibly even as an accessory pack. Since they already have a set of working molds (as we know that the element is currently in production) all we are talking about is a color change run of the same element they are already making for other sets. I further claim that such a release would greatly enable every theme and subtheme because every line can obviously be enhanced by the addition of fall colored foliage. I would even argue that some colors could be seaweed or the plant life of alien landscapes. Every product line can be enhanced by these autumn colored foliage elements - Space, Race, Aquazone, etc.


Now that's a quote worth quoting. Had you said this in the first place, all the negativity you feel would have not come your way. So I'm inviting you....check your weapons at the door, sit back with the rest of us and enjoy the best hobby in the world.
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Postby Metatron » Tue Oct 21, 2008 3:29 pm

Munchy wrote:I thought the existence of PAB was to liquidate excess inventory from production runs.


I assume that every product line has a life of its own. But I could see how the notion of excess inventory could be reasoned from the evidence. But to the contrary, I would argue that they know enough about their manufacturing process to not produce much of an excess of any element than their sets require. If they are making excess inventory, then I believe they do it intentionally with an eye to PAB.

I can tell you that the retailers are doing a lot better at gauging their stocking needs per set and that excess stock liquidation sales are way down from the mid-late 1990s. But maybe my sample set of stores is too small - these are my anecdotal observations only.

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Postby armothe » Tue Oct 21, 2008 6:48 pm

It's not that TLG can't make new pieces or run new colors, its that they won't, unless it benefits their bottom line. They have materials, labor costs and other overhead expenses they need to cover before they consider an unpopular or risky piece. Nimble entities like BrickForge only deal with a small percentage of similar costs and can sustain 'filling in the gaps' like QB stated earlier. The fact that the word 'preorder' trickles out of TLG is indicative of a company that is looking towards catering to smaller audiences. Judging from the past two years, and most recent accomplishments I'd remain fairly optimistic.

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Postby Patron of the lego » Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:24 am

Metatron.

separate your wants from your needs my dear man.
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Postby Metatron » Thu Oct 23, 2008 8:12 am

Did I ask your advice? Are you a therapist? Do you imagine that you can know me from mere words on a screen? Troll much?

If you have nothing topical to contribute then don't.
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Postby Dan » Thu Oct 23, 2008 3:29 pm

The real challenge of Lego is to build within the range of elements available. There's tons of existing elements I can think of that would make great fall foilage.

Having said the obvious, here are a few words on the practical reason why they have a limited parts palette...

THEY probably DO have the elements you want in every color for use in their own model shops. Unfortunately here is no practical way to make such a huge parts palette available to the general public. And the thought of trying to keep all those items in stock at any given point? For costs reasons alone they have to limit the amount of parts available for general circulation.

My record label has produced about 200 different releases over the last 20 years. In theory I have the ability to press any one of those records at any time in any color vinyl, size, shape, etc. However, to make it cost effective I have to produce at least 1000 copies at a time just to cover the set-up costs for a press run. Each release costs about 3-5% of my company's annual income to manufacture. Therefore every year I can only press 10-20 batches of records and still cover overhead costs. Of course the pressure is going to be on to manufacture only the products that sell because inventory on the shelf is money not well spent. In reality this means I can only have about 15 to 20% of my over all catalog in print at any given time. New releases are the best sellers, but every once in a while I will repress an old title if there is enough demand. If someone was to tell me "I want a copy of Nausea's "Extinction" LP pressed on red Mickey Mouse shaped vinyl" and I would have the ability to make it happen. Would I actually do it? No, because it wouldn't be cost effective to fire up the assembly line just to make one person happy. Sure, others might buy it, but probably not enough to quickly turn around the investment in materials and manufacturing.

LEGO is the same thing but on a much more massive scale. They have a limited amount of money for new products and the individual elements are only the raw pieces used to create part of a whole set. Its up to the set designers to allot part of their budget to new elements / colors and they have to balance whether or not the new pieces justify sacrificing over-all model quality. The new castle market is a perfect example - the over-all quality of the buildings is compromised by including cows, turkey and fishes. One part of the set was skimped on to make another part happen.

The entire framework of introducing new elements and new colors is done within process of designing specific sets and themes. If a designer wants to include special elements or colors it will effect the entire set and quite possibly the entire related product line. Haven't you noticed that all castles of a certain era contain more or less the same elements and colors? The King Leo era is a perfect example, with the 2 x 2 x 2 blue conical roof element, blue car roof and hexagonal gray brick in almost every set? Or the first two years of Star Wars has that gun / bar element in just about every set? New barbed wire in all the agents sets. Dark green foliage in all the new Indiana Jones sets....

If a designer wants to use special foliage elements, then it will probably appear in all of the particular sets of that theme. If you want to see this special piece then you have to convince one of the actual set designers that it's worth the time and money to make (and they have to convince their boss, who has to convince their boss...). Simply standing in front of LEGO's front door shouting "I want! I want! I want!" is not going to make it happen I'm afraid.
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Postby JoshWedin » Thu Oct 23, 2008 6:40 pm

Patron of the lego wrote:separate your wants from your needs my dear man.


Please try and add to the conversation. This statement is too vague and can be easily interpreted as insulting. This conversation is heated enough without adding more fuel to the fire.

Dan wrote:If you want to see this special piece then you have to convince one of the actual set designers that it's worth the time and money to make (and they have to convince their boss, who has to convince their boss...). Simply standing in front of LEGO's front door shouting "I want! I want! I want!" is not going to make it happen I'm afraid.


Well said, Dan! I agree with your entire post. The Lego designers and marketing people, with whom I have spoken, have said virtually the same thing. They have to be able to use the same pieces in as many different places and sets as possible. If they can't, it is very hard to get their requests approved.

It has nothing to do with what they can or cannot do. It has everything to do with the bottom line.

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Postby Metatron » Thu Oct 23, 2008 8:32 pm

JoshWedin wrote:They have to be able to use the same pieces in as many different places and sets as possible. If they can't, it is very hard to get their requests approved.


Well, I'll take "very hard" to mean difficult but not at all impossible. In fact...

...Lego makes single use items all the time - take for example the red phoenix in the Harry Potter sets and the head of the dewback. Frankly, all of those licensed theme lines are full of single use items. They can and do make short run items all the time. And that is to say nothing of the gambles they take on other lines like Jack Stoned or Galidork. Such lines represent dozens of elements that are rarely reused.

In truth, they don't seem that resistant to making whatever enters their heads given whatever whacky impetus they may have to do a thing.

Maersk blue?

I enjoy reading all of the supposed "insider" information that is offered in these discussions. Hey, maybe some of it is supposed to be true. Often the assertions can be undone by mere observation of the recent past. Almost none of it holds up over time. I think I am seeing 6-12 new elements in Star Wars alone for this last quarter. There may be many more because I am just not that observant and I rarely rush out to buy sets at full retail just to find out.
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