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Dear LEGO: Please DON'T make a ____ theme

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Dear LEGO: Please DON'T make a ____ theme

Postby Bruce N H » Mon Jun 16, 2008 6:42 pm

Dear LEGO,

About every six seconds someone somewhere posts "Hey, LEGO should make a theme out of xx" where xx=the latest video game, movie, book, TV show, whatever. Please don't. If you simply must make licensed themes, please keep in mind a few key principles:

1. A licensed theme should tap into a proven long term product, so it's not just a flash in the pan that will be on the clearance shelves in six months.
2. A licensed theme should be broad in scope - not just limited to a particular movie, but rather into a whole universe surrounding that theme. That way you won't run out of set designs after a year.
3. A licensed theme should appeal to both kids and adults. Bonus if there is already an established collector/geek community among adults.
4. A licensed theme should provide something that a non-licensed theme does not. Ideally this should be more than just minifigs.
5. A licensed theme should have a variety of build possibilities - ideally both vehicles and locations.

I think we could assume that Star Wars has been the most successful license for LEGO, as it has been extended a couple of times beyond the original. Note how all of the criteria above easily fit the SW universe. OTOH, some themes that held such promise have fizzled, in part because they didn't fit all of these. For instance, the Spider-Man theme was too closely tied to the first two movies, and didn't have the opportunity to expand into the rich universe surrounding Spidey (see, for instance, the possibilities in these MOCs by Nelson). Hopefully the Batman theme learns from this error, since it seems to cover all things Batty. Harry Potter was the biggest thing in the universe for several years, but after book seven came out it seems to have waned in interest, and the LEGO theme has certainly petered out. Spongebob has minimal adult appeal, and has only been around for a few years. I don't know what Indiana Jones really gives us that Johnny Thunder did not. Once everyone has an official Indy fig, I don't know what compels further sales (unless they really run with the military aspects - certainly the Race for the Stolen Treasure is the best designed set of the theme and excited all of those looking for WWII stuff - there are several other things that would make great sets like the tank and the flying wing).

Please consider the criteria above when judging any future proposed licenses. Does Halo appeal to both kids and adults? Nope. Does the Golden Compass have proven long-term appeal? Nope. Does Pirates of the Caribbean give us anything that a rebirth of the non-licensed Pirates theme could do just as well? Not really. Etc. I would like to see Batman expanded into more of the DC universe (or would have liked to have seen the Spidey theme expanded into the larger Marvel universe). I suppose an argument could have been made for either Lord of the Rings or Narnia, but the boat has sailed on the possibilities there - plus neither of these really gives us anything you can't get from a fantasy tinged non-licensed castle theme (i.e. what we have now). I suppose James Bond is a possibility, but Alpha Team and now the Agents theme really accomplish the same thing. I can think of very few other things out there that would really fit into what I've described.

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Postby Athos » Mon Jun 16, 2008 7:03 pm

A great well-thought out post. I agree with everything.

I do think the Indy license was probably, at least somewhat, induced by the success of Star Wars. I wonder if Lego got some sort of a package deal on Indy, with Star Wars. Alternatively, I wonder if Lucasarts pressured Lego to pick up Indy too, or at least not to do another JT run. Personally, I'd have preferred JT.

I thought we were going to have less licenses, but it seems like we're still getting a lot. Speed Racer, for example, seems to violate all the rules you've described.

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Re: Dear LEGO: Please DON'T make a ____ theme

Postby RebelRock » Mon Jun 16, 2008 7:07 pm

Bruce N H wrote:1. A licensed theme should tap into a proven long term product, so it's not just a flash in the pan that will be on the clearance shelves in six months.


Speed Racer? The toys are designed around the movie and I doubt many kids would know the cartoon. I wouldn't consider the film to have a long term fan base.

Edit: Steve got to it first.
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Re: Dear LEGO: Please DON'T make a ____ theme

Postby Athos » Mon Jun 16, 2008 7:10 pm

RebelRock wrote:Edit: Steve got to it first.


I probably just clicked post, as you were replying. :D

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Re: Dear LEGO: Please DON'T make a ____ theme

Postby Munchy » Mon Jun 16, 2008 7:18 pm

Bruce N H wrote:I don't know what Indiana Jones really gives us that Johnny Thunder did not.



A fedora.


/tongueincheek

Oh and...

/agree
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Postby Aharown » Mon Jun 16, 2008 8:57 pm

I agree with this, too. That way Lego can avoid any more fiascos, like Galidor. (I remember seeing those come out, and thought, huh?)

Instead of coming out with new licenses that don't sell well, Lego can simply re-introduce old in-house ideas that did (like Pirates!)

Arrrr....
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Postby RichardAM » Mon Jun 16, 2008 9:36 pm

I agree with the post entirely, especially the fact that there is no reason original themes can be reintroduced instead of bringing actual licenses to the table- I remember this being the concensus during a lot of the Indiana Jones promo photos and announcements.

That said, I do believe these IPs are also beneficial to the community and the hobby as a whole. Okay, so maybe not the Speed Racer sets(!), but the Star Wars line(s) have brought a lot of people out of their dark ages, and I would imagine that the new Indy sets are doing something similar- interestingly, it is these sets that I am seeing being sold in shops that usually shy away from selling Lego the rest of the time such as the supermarkets.

So I think that while occasionally these licensed themes do invariably only appear for that summer to be only merchandise for this summers big hit, they do encourage and perhaps reinvigorate interest into Lego in general. e.g someone goes to see film x, loves it, wants merchandise, buys Lego set- this is no bad thing in the grand scheme of things surely?
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Postby natelite » Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:24 pm

i kinda disagree with some of your points. SW is a great seller because mainly of the ability to army build. a great selling theme will almost always provide this aspect of lego collecting. as such, i see indy jones will be a runaway seller as long as they keep providing ww2 centric army building capability. it wouldn't hurt of course if they introduce army fatigue or ww2 helmets. :P

batman however provides none of that. and the vehicles are larger than the standard city size meant it's hard to combine themes (which may help its longevity). i see similar flaws with the speed racer theme. i am already predicting this theme will be in the clearance bin in a year's time.

indy jones however will probably live longer. the race for stolen treasure's vehicles blend in nicely with the cafe corner series. the motorcycles are of the right size. the newer indy jones sets however are a tad too large, especially the jungle cutter. but apart from that, are mostly spot on in terms of size vs the rest of the lego themes.

army build capability. correct lego size vehicles. allows for cross-theme pollenation with existing city theme, especially with the CC/GG series. all this points to a successful theme.
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Postby Sibley » Tue Jun 17, 2008 5:48 am

RichardAM wrote:That said, I do believe these IPs are also beneficial to the community and the hobby as a whole. Okay, so maybe not the Speed Racer sets(!), but the Star Wars line(s) have brought a lot of people out of their dark ages, and I would imagine that the new Indy sets are doing something similar- interestingly, it is these sets that I am seeing being sold in shops that usually shy away from selling Lego the rest of the time such as the supermarkets.

So I think that while occasionally these licensed themes do invariably only appear for that summer to be only merchandise for this summers big hit, they do encourage and perhaps reinvigorate interest into Lego in general. e.g someone goes to see film x, loves it, wants merchandise, buys Lego set- this is no bad thing in the grand scheme of things surely?

I think this is covered by some combinations of points 1, 2, and 3. I've never heard of a Dark Age ending for any licensed theme other than Star Wars (I'm not, of course, saying it hasn't happened, just that it seems much rarer). A theme that doesn't adhere to 1, 2, and 3 simply won't bring in many new AFOLs, and though surely we are glad for the few brought in by Speed Racer and the like, perhaps those resources could be better employed elsewhere.
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Postby architect » Tue Jun 17, 2008 12:29 pm

Bruce,

I agree with most of your points. Licensed lines which contain a wide variety of vehicles (StarWars) seem to sell better than lines which feature places (Spiderman). If the Indy line releases more vehicles from the movies, I can see it being a long term success. Another advantage of Star Wars, Batman, and IJ is a large pool of villians and sidekicks to draw from. Kids really only need one Darth Vader, Spiderman, Batman, or Indiana Jones figures. I bought an average Batman set just to get a Harley Quinn figure ;)

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Postby Blueandwhite » Tue Jun 17, 2008 1:45 pm

I have no issue with licences so long as they are well thought out. The reality is that when given a choice between a generic clone or an identifiable IP, many of us gravitate to the familiarity of the popular IP. This was very true when I was a child. If I had the choice between Star Wars LEGO and classic space when I was young, I probably (sadly enough) would have gravitated towards the Star Wars sets.

I feel that Bruce has pretty much nailed what makes a good licence though. A rich fictional world with popular characters, compelling settings and identifiable vehicles is essential for any licences. For me the biggest difference between the Batman line and the failed Spiderman line is the fact that Batman benefits from a range of interesting vehicles and locations whereas Spiderman is predominantly driven by the characters. In the end, once a child has his Spiderman, Doc Ock and Goblin, there really wasn't alot to keep them interested in the line. With Batman, locations and vehicles enrich the line allowing LEGO to stretch things out for far longer. The same is true of the Indiana Jones line.

Finally; as somebody who never really identified with the Adventures sets, I have to say that the Indiana Jones line actually appeals to me. Much in the way that I probably would have gravitated towards Star Wars over classic space had the option been available. As a licence the Indiana Jones line provides interesting locales, compelling and identifiable characters and a range of fantastic vehicles. All of these things make for an exciting licence. I appreciate that the Indiana Jones line rubs some Adventures fans the wrong way but I for one am quite happy with this licence.
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Postby Bruce N H » Tue Jun 17, 2008 3:01 pm

Hey,

Some random thoughts, some extending on what I said above and some in response to what others said above:

- By appealing to kids and adults I should clarify that I meant to the 6-12 crowd and the 20s-30s crowd, not something that spread from mid-teens to mid-20s. Basically I meant a line that has stuff that I want for me and that my kid would also want (and that I would want to buy for my kid).

-Sets really suffer, IMO, when they essentially recreate a very specific scene from a movie. They're much better when they establish a major place or vehicle that you can then use your imagination and either revisit portions of a movie or create your own stories.

-On the Indiana Jones line, I think it really suffers from the lack of real "must-have" characters beyond Indy himself. Before discussion on LEGO boards driven by the upcoming sets, the only other name I could come up with was Short Round, otherwise it was "Indy's dad", "that other professor", "the Nazi". Contrast with Star Wars, where "must-haves" were at a minimum Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Darth Vader, a Stormie, R2, C3PO, and Yoda, followed closely by some more minor but still highly desired ones like a Jawa, Admiral Ackbar, Greedo, Lando, etc. Note that none of the Indy sets stands on its own based on other characters; they all have Indy. Sure, a lot of the OT SW sets had Luke, but there were a bunch based around other figs. I'm not sure what will drive sales of IJ sets to non-AFOLs once they get an Indy, unless they go heavy military.

-I don't know that I agree that SW is successful because it's an army builder. This theme was a hit from the start, even though you couldn't get a Stormy for two years. And then you could only get one Stormy in a TIE set, so it was hard to build up a squad. That's why you would see armies of Scout Troopers, because they came in those little 3-fig packs, but there weren't all that many real army builders back then.

-Just musing on other potential themes that have multi-decade appeal.
-There are the various sports franchises (NBA, Futball/Soccer, potential others like baseball and American football), but since all of the action takes place on a flat surface, there's not a lot of build potential (at least I for one wasn't overly thrilled by sets like "small grandstand with lights").
-Sesame Street? No real adult appeal aside from nostalgia. Perhaps a good Duplo theme that parents would buy for their kids.
-Disney? I don't know how successful the Mickey (Creator?) or Winnie the Pooh (Duplo) lines were. Since they're gone now without having produced many sets I suspect not so much. Potential for some of the classic Disney animated movies, which would have good girl appeal for movies like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. If at fig-scale (rather than Belville or Scala) you'd get cross-appeal to us castle folk (dwarves, castles, talking mice, okay, scratch that last (oh, Reepicheep and Redwall I suppose)).
-Various other sci-fi potential themes are probably scratched due to the SW license. Star Trek is the big obvious one, but maybe the opportunity has gone by on that since it's been out of the limelight for few years. Others like Battlestar Gallactica, Bab 5, Dr. Who etc seem a little too niche for broad appeal.

-Movie monsters was a potentially great theme but they never really ran with it. Those weren't really licenses, though.

-One of the big problems with movie-driven themes is that, at least in the US, things these days seem very geared towards the opening weekend, and they drop off almost immediately after. It's like hype hype hype nothing. (I blame Will Smith, btw.) I'm trying to think what movies have sort of entered the popular lexicon with staying power after their release. Titanic and the Matrix I suppose, but those have issues as themes.

-There are the various comic-book movies that tap into existing cultural memes, and I do think there is more potential there. I see the point about vehicle driven vs character driven, but I could imagine a great line for Marvel Comics, for instance, that was built around a modular city - not quite at the scale of the Cafe Corner but well built buildings nonetheless that wouldn't look horribly out of place next to the CC, even facades if they were very detailed - and then in each set you get a hero and a villain, with an occasional vehicle set thrown in.

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Postby LordZode » Tue Jun 17, 2008 3:38 pm

Now, I don't even own a Wii myself, but I can just imagine if LEGO teamed with Nintendo to make a special line of Smash Brothers themed sets.

I'm thinking 4 sets priced, priced between $40 and $100.

Each set would have a place recognizable from the Nintendo worlds, IE Hyrule from Zelda, the Mushroom Kingdom from Mario, Sr88/Zebes from Metroid, as well as minifigs for the various characters and baddies.

This would be like a license to print money, look at the popularity of Nintendo-themed MOC's.

Although it could never happen due to the powers that be, I think Nintedo's family-friendly and inter-generational appeal combined with LEGO which both us and our children grew up with would be sold out nationwide.
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Postby Blueandwhite » Tue Jun 17, 2008 5:21 pm

Bruce N H wrote:-There are the various comic-book movies that tap into existing cultural memes, and I do think there is more potential there. I see the point about vehicle driven vs character driven, but I could imagine a great line for Marvel Comics, for instance, that was built around a modular city - not quite at the scale of the Cafe Corner but well built buildings nonetheless that wouldn't look horribly out of place next to the CC, even facades if they were very detailed - and then in each set you get a hero and a villain, with an occasional vehicle set thrown in.

Bruce


Bruce, I think you actually hit one of the major problems with licenced themes in the Death Star thread where you noted that female Star Wars characters were usually featured in larger sets.

When people are looking for figures of their favourite characters, the actual sets are often viewed as a necessary evil in order to aquire that much desired minifig. Even with unlicenced lines the more coveted minifigs are often only available in the larger sets enticing consumers to pony up larger amounts of cash. With Star Wars (and to a lesser extent Batman), the vehicles are every bit as iconic and important as the minifigs making it easier for fans to give in and justify such a purchase. While I can see many fans forking out $4 for Wolverine's go cart or Iron Man's jet pack, I suspect that many fans would be reluctant to purchase a $50-100 building simply to pick up a Captain America or Hulk fig.

Ultimately I could see a comic line warming shelves as masses of Marvel Heroes find their way onto bricklink as savy bricklinkers pick up these sets on clearance. When I first bought my X-Wing in 1999 (bringing me out of my dark ages no less), the ship was as appealing as the figures. I still think this is a pretty important feature for any good licence.
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Postby architect » Tue Jun 17, 2008 5:37 pm

Star Wars has a very recognizable group of main characters. The fans really like obscure characters just as much. I know they would freak out to get an ackbar or the cantina band. While Indiana Jones characters are not as well known, I think they could still be very successful. I would like to see:

Toht
Sword master who Indy Shoots
Baranca & his Monkey
Sallah
Marcus Brody
Bureaucrats (Government Men)
Willie Scott
Short Round
Mola Ram
Dr. Schnieder
Donovan
Young Indy + Boyscouts + Circus Train with Animals ;)
Kazim
Grail Knight

These figures in well designed sets should be enough for a few years of Indy, if LEGO decides to go that route.

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