Who So Much Discontent?
Saturday, February 17th, 2007 at 1:48am by Rich, BZPower Administrator
In recent weeks there have been no less than a half dozen topics relating to the state of Bionicle. This is somewhat of a tradition at BZP, because every year when new sets are introduced there is always a series of discussions on how and why the sets are lacking, how the story isn’t up to par, etc. However, this year the fires lighting the dissent seem to be burning a little hotter so I thought some commentary would be in order to try to make some sense of it all. Continue reading and read it all to fully understand.
It is argued that the world is not as it was in 2001 and children today are not the same. To that point, I would say that is mostly right. The world is much more dynamic and digital, with most kids wanting more in toy entertainment than a superior building experience. However, appealing to the child who is less focused on the construction aspect of the set speaks to something dangerous for the LEGO Company.
It is true that Bionicle was one of the best selling lines last year and a very popular property overall with American boys. The Bionicle team has done a great job in appealing to a mass-populace using tactics not traditionally found in the LEGO playbook. In essence, in order to sell well, The LEGO Company has made Bionicle less LEGO-like. And it worked.
However, this creates an interesting conundrum for the LEGO Company to deal with. If their sets sell best when they don’t involved building challenges, what does that say for the potency of the concept of the LEGO brand of construction bricks? If this new brand of kid who requires action doesn’t like the challenge of the build anymore, then this isn’t such a good thing for a company that creates construction toys.
Indeed, many of the most successful lines are lines that have to do with a storyline, not a building experience. Star Wars, Avatar, Exo-Force, Bionicle, Harry Potter are all counted among the top sellers for LEGO, and each of these lines are grounded in a story that supplies a degree of conflict between characters. LEGO isn’t selling sets of bricks that happen to have stories anymore – they are selling story characters that you have to assemble.
I understand that LEGO is changing focus for good reason – the company wants to survive. And I also understand that they were forced to change focus because the world is changing. The idea of a child sitting down and creating a massive creation out of construction bricks is quickly becoming “last century” with the advent of this high-tech, quickly moving new century. The problem with the regular LEGO set falling out of favor with the world’s children speaks to changes in society that made children grow older sooner, and that had entire social consequences that I will not address here.
Getting on point, it is uncontested that Bionicle isn’t what it used to be. I think most people would agree that 2001 and 2002 were great years for Bionicle, and even newer fans would appreciate the style and substance that existed back in the formative years of the line. These same newer fans embrace the newer Bionicle sets along with the old, and generally appreciate the entire line. The older fans don’t share this universal admiration, and to answer this puzzle of discontent requires some investigation.
The things you liked as a child will always have a special place in your life. I think, for the most part, that most of the kids who were between 10 and 12 in 2001/2002 and liked Bionicle have a sense nostalgia associated with the line because now that are 15-17 and live entirely different lives. It would be very unusual for kids who were Bionicle fans when they were 10 or 12 to still like the product when they are 15 or 17 because time and development get in the way, and Bionicle is not intended to provide the needs of this group. This group won’t like the new sets simply because they aren’t the toys of their childhood.
However, there is another subgroup within the “old fan” group that requires a different kind of explanation. These are the kids who were 13-16 in 2001; who were already too old for the line but liked it anyway because they liked LEGO. These kids are now in their last year of high school or in college and they’re viewing things very differently from their younger counterparts. This is because these kids were interested in Bionicle because they were interested more in the LEGO/construction aspect of the line than the storyline. To be 13-16 and still buy LEGO product, you have to genuinely like the creative process involved in construction aspect of LEGO experience.
What drew these older kids to the world of Bionicle was part novelty, part storyline, but mostly LEGO/construction. The 15 year old Bionicle fan in 2001 considered his love for LEGO timeless, because as his peers abandoned the brick he kept with it. When Bionicle was introduced, he thought, with good reason, that LEGO would continue to produce product as they have all along, even under the guise of this new line with a storyline component. Indeed, if Bionicle in 2001 wasn’t LEGO, if it was an action figure line by Hasbro, these kids wouldn’t have gotten involved at all. The 10-12 year old group may have.
So the kids in this older group aren’t framing their recollection of 2001-2002 on nostalgia, as claimed by some, they are framing it on disenfranchisement. They thought when Bionicle started that the LEGO/construction component of the Bionicle experience would always remain the core focus, and seeing the construction process dumbed down breeds discontent. This group always thought that LEGO would be there for them, because they were there for LEGO even when their peers dropped the brick. LEGO abandoned them when the company accommodated global externalities; they didn’t abandon LEGO.
So, year after year, when this group sees the sets getting simpler, it’s like striking another stake through the heart of what was supposed to be a lifelong loyalty. Most of BZPower’s staff happens to be a part of this group, and have remained loyal to both LEGO and Bionicle because of the social network BZPower has created.
This is the area where older fans still matter, because they are not buying sets in great quantities, but they are framing the Bionicle experience for the next generation by speaking of what was and what could have been had the world not changed. Their influence here is as strong as ever, and it always will be.
Therefore, when older fans are talking about not being happy with what’s going on, don’t chastise them or belittle them. Learn from them, because they’re the gateway to the past of the line you love today.
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