What a year it has been for LEGO. As the year comes towards its end, I’d love to review some of the biggest trends, news pieces and in my opinion, the Winners and Losers of LEGO in 2017.
I’ll still be writing a usual Year in Review Retrospective piece, so this will be a little more candid take on LEGO in 2017. As with every year, there are always winners and losers in LEGO, so let’s take a look at the year in brief and the inaugural Winners & Losers list of 2017!
LOSER: LEGO RESELLERS
LEGO pretty much decimated the resale market this year with the re-issue of not one, not two, but THREE “blue chip” sets renowned for their outrageously high prices on the secondary market. With the UCS Snowspeeder, surprise re-release of the Taj Mahal and the poster child of “Most expensive LEGO set articles”, the UCS Millennium Falcon, LEGO ruined the hopes of resellers who have been holding on to these sets with the hopes of flipping them for crazy profits.
The final nail in the coffin was the fact that the UCS Snowspeeder and Millennium Falcon were vastly superior versions when compared to the originals. The popularity (and demand by fans!) of the UCS Millennium Falcon cannot be overstated, given that it’s still on backorder, 3 months after it was released.
Outside of the big re-releases and updates of old favourites, LEGO are also ruining the livelihoods of resellers further by delaying the retirement of Creator Expert sets like the Volkswagen T1 Campervan, Tower Bridge and Palace Cinema which have been out since 2011, 2010 and 2013 respectively.
All in all, great news for LEGO fans who have missed out on prized LEGO sets, or need more time to save up for that big purchase.
WINNER: NINJAGO FANS
2017 was a bumper year for LEGO Ninjago, thanks to the plethora of brilliant LEGO Ninjago Movie sets and regular Ninjago sets peppered throughout the year. We saw some of the most innovative LEGO designs thanks to the Ninjago Movie theme with awesome mechs AND what is easily one of the most impressive sets released in modern history – 70620 Ninjago City, a gargantuan mash-up of a pseudo modular building, neo-Tokyo aesthetics and all that flavour from the Ninjago universe.
While the movie could’ve been better (see my review), we can at least be thankful for one of the most consistently impressive LEGO themes ever.
LOSER: VILLAGE ROADSHOW (AND WARNER BROS)
In case you forgot, Village Roadshow, the Australian distributor of the LEGO Batman Movie and all-around toolbags decided to release the movie in Australian cinemas 48 days AFTER the US premiere date. Dumb move right?
What happens when you piss off local Australian LEGO fans? You get a coordinated movement from Australia and New Zealand’s leading LEGO communities and influencers, which I was proud to be a part of, letting everyone know about Village’s shit decision. While we can’t ultimately claim total responsibility for the movie
flopping underperforming in Australia, I believe we made a big enough dent.
I myself boycotted the movie in Australian cinemas and was personally glad to have not contributed to the paltry box office takings. Serves Village Roadshow right for their stupid decision to delay theatrical releases for no good reason.
Unfortunately, it was a poor year for both the LEGO Batman Movie and Ninjago Movie which Warner Bros and The LEGO Group probably didn’t foresee. They had probably hoped for both movies to recapture the imagination of audiences like The LEGO Movie, but ultimately, a poorly written story and possibly LEGO Movie fatigue from 2 movies in a year probably contributed to the underperformance at the box office.
Remember LEGO Brickheadz? LEGO’s big new “original” offering for 2017? Apart from it being an obvious play to take away some market share from the popular Funko Pop bobbleheads, I feel that the Brickheadz theme has failed to capture the imagination of new and existing fans in the way that The LEGO Group would’ve hoped.
To be fair, when they were announced, I flocked to the theme and actually liked them, but thanks to a series of questionable decisions from LEGO, the theme didn’t really take off. What questionable decisions?
For one, a release schedule that didn’t really sustain any excitement in the theme. Brickheadz debuted as 4 Comic Con exclusives (Superman & Wonder Woman, Batman & Joker, Iron Man & Captain America and Dr Strange & Black Panther), before getting the general release where we got 4 Marvel and 4 LEGO Batman Movie characters in March 2017. April then saw us get the Pirates of the Caribbean ones, and May brought us Beauty & The Beast. Then we had an absence until September where we got 2 LEGO Ninjago Movie Brickheadz and November where we got 2 The Last Jedi sets.
As a fan, a massive gap just doesn’t really sustain long-term interest in the theme. What LEGO should’ve done is stagger the releases to release two of them every month which would keep fans excited.
The biggest blunder in my opinion is the shocking and mind-boggling fact that a whopping 14 out of 30 Brickheadz released so far are Comic Con exclusives. I’ve written lengthily this year about why Comic Con exclusives are a stupid idea and should be discontinued. When nearly HALF of your newest theme is only available for purchase at North American Comic Con Events in tiny numbers, you have to really question how much LEGO actually cares about the success and sustainability of the theme.
Who’s bright idea was it to gate half your new theme (and one of the best designs) behind Comic Cons? I had high hopes to collect all the Brickheadz, but knowing that I had to pay out my nose to get all the Comic Con ones to get a “complete” collection totally turned me off the theme and I haven’t bought a single one since Belle & Beast.
WINNER: LEGO IDEAS
Seriously, hats off to the ENTIRE LEGO Ideas team for smashing it this year. Not only were they responsible for launching what is arguably THE best set of 2017, the Saturn V, they also had their hands in Old Fishing Store and the Women of NASA, which delighted both Adult LEGO fans and the general public.
They knocked it out of the park in terms of their marketing, greenlighting decisions (woohoo, LEGO Voltron!) and relative speed in getting LEGO sets to the hands of fans this year. Add on the fact that they’ve continued the excellent tradition of having only printed elements (as opposed to stickers) in LEGO Ideas sets, it’s hard to argue that The LEGO Ideas team is the brightest division in the entire LEGO Group.
While not every set has and will be a commercial success, the LEGO Ideas team have shown themselves to be the (possibly unintentional) flag-bearers of ingenuity and innovation in Billund.
LOSER: LEGO DIMENSIONS
Allow me to pour one out for LEGO Dimensions which was unceremoniously killed off in a tweet (of all things). Like Brickheadz, LEGO Dimensions was “inspired” by the toys-to-life craze driven by the likes of Nintendo’s Amiibo (still going strong), Skylanders (still going strong) and Disney Infinity (also dead).
LEGO, keen to get a slice of the lucrative pie joined in with an army of pop culture licenses and minifigures which gave LEGO fans the most unlikely characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Mr. T, Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, Adventure Time, Portal, Gremlins and so many others.
Fuelled by a predominantly large contingent of 80s nostalgic licenses, the video game component was relatively well-received by fans but ultimately hobbled by the extremely high prices that the Fun, Level and Team Packs commanded. Towards the end of LEGO Dimensions, the prices of these packs plummeted to more manageable levels but it was too late by then.
I think LEGO got the pricing of the packs so wrong as they were too cost prohibitive, both for fans with the game that wanted to unlock new levels/characters as well as non-gamer LEGO fans like myself who just wanted the minifigs. For what it’s worth, I hope we see LEGO retaining the licenses and giving us proper sets to go along with the characters that we were introduced to.
WINNER: DIVERSITY IN LEGO
This has been a pretty great year for increasing diversity in LEGO. Stung by media attention in previous years that LEGO was skewed too much towards boys, LEGO has taken slow but significant steps in improving the diversity of its sets.
This year to commemorate International Women’s Day, I examined and was pleased to plenty of progress being made with female representation in City, one of LEGO’s core themes, although licensed themes like Star Wars and Super Heroes still have some way to go.
Sets like Women of NASA further solidified LEGO’s push to champion gender equality by recognising the greats that helped push science and humanity forward. Next year, we have updated LEGO Friends characters to look forward to incorporate more diverse skin colours and ethnicities which is yet another big win.
LOSER: JAY’S BRICK BLOG
My unintended hiatus late this year aside, I felt like I let down most of my readers this year in terms of how much I’ve been able to post. This is in spite of having my best year ever. By nature, I’m pretty hard on myself and expect nothing but the best, so humour me.
I also felt like I haven’t been receiving enough support from LEGO for being a Recognised LEGO Fan Media. My last official set that I got from LEGO to review was the Sydney Skyline, a far cry from 2016 when I received most major releases, including the Disney Minifigures Series and Technic Porsche 911 GT3-RS.
I chalk it up to changes within the support program this year, which meant only “large” and “more established” LEGO sites received support. That, and I don’t think the decision makers within LEGO think very highly of my blog/reviews despite the quality of my reviews being (in my humble opinion) at their best this year. I also pull in (in my humble opinion) a tremendous amount of traffic and engagement on reviews, where I punch way above my weight as a “small indie” LEGO blog.
Also, search for “lego reviews” to see who Google (or Bing) thinks is the top dog when it comes to written reviews. And yes, I am super salty about this. Take that for data.
LOSER: INNOVATION AT LEGO
It’s ironic that for a toy that embodies creativity, 2017 has made me question if innovation is truly dying at LEGO HQ. Ask yourself, outside of Ninjago City, LEGO Ideas and maybe LEGO Boost (which itself, is a dumbed down Mindstorms), what has LEGO done this year that was truly innovative and wowed you? LEGO can’t even claim full credit for LEGO Ideas sets as they’re based on fan submissions.
To an outside observer, it’s quite alarming when the biggest LEGO headlines of the year have been dominated by the re-issued LEGO sets *cough* UCS Falcon *cough*.
Nexo Knights, for all that its panned for (by adult fans) at least tries to push the envelope when it comes to designs and storytelling and I can respect the huge risk that LEGO took with the theme, and for sticking it out.
Ask yourself? What was the most interesting thing about LEGO this year? Any guesses? It wasn’t even something created by LEGO. Remember those silly LEGO tape Nimuno Loops? That took the internet by storm, and you probably would’ve been tagged a hundred times on Facebook by well-meaning friends and family.
When that went viral, I bet you a UCS Falcon that LEGO were kicking themselves for not coming up with the concept so they could monetise it till the cows come home.
2018 and 2019 are going to be make or break years for LEGO, and if they can’t innovate, they’ll likely stagnate and/or decline very, very quickly. And no, launching a kids-only “social network” does not count as innovation. Hot take, LEGO Life gets shut down by the end of 2018.
LOSER: DC SUPER HERO GIRLS FANS
Sadly, the theme is getting cancelled next year and we won’t see any more new LEGO DC Super Hero Girls sets in 2018. It doesn’t really surprise me that the theme didn’t do well enough to make it to the second year. For what it’s worth, I know I’m probably a minority but I enjoyed the theme – I like the Friends minidoll aesthetic and I like DC Comics characters, so all in all, it was a pretty good combination for me.
WINNER: FRIENDS & ELVES
Yet another brilliant year for Friends and Elves with inspired designs all while maintaining their relatively low price points. Unlike LEGO City which has been stagnant for years, Friends continues to push the envelope and has truly come to its own as heir apparent of the LEGO Town theme. 2017 was marked with excellent sets such as Heartlake Hospital, Ski Resort sets and even a luxury Catamaran.
If that’s not proof that the quality of life in Heartlake City is leaps and bounds beyond crime-infested LEGO City, I don’t know what is.
LOSER: LEGO COLLECTIBLE MINIFIGURE FANS
2016 was always going to be a tough year to top, but 2017 really fell short. Price increases around the world aside, I felt like this was a pretty poor year for LEGO Minifigure fans. Series 17 was a solid showing, as you can expect from the core numbered series, but I felt like LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Ninjago Movie weren’t particularly strong additions, even though they had some stellar minifigures in them.
I’m not a fan of the 20-minifigure set format, which is way too many to collect in one go, and coupled with increased prices this year, it just felt like a cash grab from LEGO.
I hope 2018 gives us a much better selection of LEGO Minifigures. Batman Movie Series 2 already looks leaps and bounds stronger than the first and there are also rumours of a Harry Potter Minifigure series in the works too. That said, my most anticipated release is Series 18.
Next year being a World Cup year, I also hope that LEGO have something in the works to commemorate the event, similar to what they did with the German National Team series and Team GB. I’m salivating over a series featuring top players from each country in their respective jerseys.
LOSER: TRAIN FANS
Lastly, train fans seemed to have lost out this year. As far back as I can remember, LEGO has released some sort of train or locomotive every year. 2017 seems to be the first year in recent times where we didn’t get one. I was actually holding out till the end and expected LEGO to surprise everyone with an old-style locomotive ala Emerald Night, but that obviously didn’t happen.
I feel like it’s kind of odd that LEGO would break the streak. My theory is that they had a train to launch, but that was shelved till next year in favour of the Taj Mahal.
So that’s it for my Winners & Losers list of 2017! Would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on my list, as well as what your own Winners and Losers in LEGO are this year.