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Are Legos Now Too Commercial?

Man, I loved Lego as a kid. Those little toy plastic bricks from Denmark were the building blocks of my childhood. I had a huge wooden chest with an assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes that served as the raw materials for the construction of bridges, gas stations, and primary-colored skylines. Once grown I had handed down the entirety of my collection (likely a few thousand pieces) to my nephew (replete with bite marks from times when two bricks were stubbornly stuck together), who gave them a few more years of loving use. These simple, modular construction toys gave rise to all manner of creativity and innovation for generations. I am confident they provided some of the first hands-on architectural experiences for many, and inspired some truly expressive forms of art, as is evidenced by the Michel Gondry directed video above:

So as much as I love and revere these toys, I am sad to say the company has seemingly lost its way. About a dozen years ago the Lego Company fell to hard financial times, and has since reinvented itself and turned the profit margin in their favor, but to the detriment of the product. Now, instead of the open-ended kits of yesterday that only required a child’s imagination to achieve greatness, Lego has devoted itself to an assortment of franchise tie-ins like Ninjago, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, none of which requiring little to no inspiration from children, only consumer dedication. In an analysis in the pages of The New York Times, the recent success of the Lego Corporation over the last decade has moved the company to trade the possibility of imagination for cross-promotional tie-ins. The new products “invite users to follow detailed directions, not construct their own creations from whole brick. It’s less open-ended, some parents and researchers say, and more like paint-by-numbers.”

Have Lego’s fallen out of favor with your family? Do you feel they have lost some of their original appeal, or do you feel some of the new franchise tie-ins bring more to the Lego building experience?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

55 comments

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12:36PM PST on Nov 25, 2013

I don't think they're "too commercial." After all, they are a for-profit company. It's fun for my kids to see LEGOs with characters they like from movies they enjoyed. They build the stuff out of the box using the instructions, usually only one time. And then they start deconstructing, swapping pieces, customizing stuff, or totally dismantling it and building whatever they want. So I think even with the detailed instructions the play is still as open ended as you want it to be, except now you can create ever-more-complicated models if you so choose due to the highly-customized shapes/pieces that some sets involve.

9:25AM PDT on Apr 25, 2013

I still have all of my old Lego (3 or 4 totes full) so my son is covered. Yes, now they seem too lame too buy, not to mention EXPENSIVE

9:16AM PDT on Apr 25, 2013

I miss plain old Legos. They are SO expensive now! The good news is that I still have out 4 giant totes of Legos, so my son won't go without

2:14PM PST on Jan 8, 2013

to each his own.....no one is required to buy the kits and you can use them in various ways.....Legos are awesome.......

11:40AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Legos are some of the best toys ever invented - they are a 3-D painless and fun math lesson for any kid with an ounce of creativity in his/her body or mind. I agree, it's unfortunate that they have been coopted and that kids are told how to use them. On the other hand, the really creative kids will make the designed model, play with it for 5 minutes, and then start in on modifications. Soon, they'll have a ship with train wheels and airplane wings that serves as a hotel for homeless reindeer in Lapland and the original plan will be history.

And apparently, more parents will buy the more commercialized versions, and if that gets more Legos in the hands of some of our less creative offspring, hey, why not?

---- Steve

4:11PM PST on Dec 29, 2012

Comparing Lego to "paint-by-numbers" is an insult, both to Lego and to children.

Sure, some of today's Legos come with detailed instructions on how to build a specific Star Wars spacecraft, the Pirates of the Caribbean ship, and the like (which isn't bad in itself, it teaches kids to follow charts and plans). But once the specific thing has been built, the bricks aren't glued together: they can still come apart to build something entirely different. My girls and I have built a bunch of lovely houses (without any other instructions than the ones in our imagination) using parts of Hogwarts, parts of Indiana Jones' cave, and lots of Legos from my grown-up son's and my own childhood. I might add that the famous Tie-Fighter window makes a great panoramic window for a kitchen!

NEVER underestimate a child's imagination. Lego power forever!

12:17PM PST on Dec 29, 2012

guilty just bought the hobbit lego tree

8:35PM PST on Dec 28, 2012

I miss Tinker Toys; severe limitations in what you could build with them, though. Erector Sets looked like loads of fun.

4:53PM PST on Dec 28, 2012

Care2.com might be considered too commercial also.
Life is about CHOICES, to each their own.

8:47PM PST on Dec 27, 2012

I still get Lego's every year for Christmas. and yes I fallow the instructions but aftert that they are free for the imagination lots of kids play with my toys and depending on where our Imagination is that day we build. I also Like Lincoln logs I have made then for years as gifts at Christmas in my shop. Toy's for Tot's no longer allow you to donate home made toys However I can usually find a child or two in need of a good toy.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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