It’s a Virus!

Hillel Cooperman gave us his take on the collectible minifigs earlier this month at BrickCon and I have to say that he expressed my feelings perfectly! Watch the video and tell me what you think. Just one word of warning, there is “adult” language in this video. So cover the ears of any kiddies who might be underfoot.

Many thanks to Nicole Snyder, of Dynamic Video Creations, who did the official videography at BrickCon and posted this video.

19 comments on “It’s a Virus!

  1. coexmann

    This is awesome! Everything I’ve ever wanted to say about the minifigure series in a clear and concise argument… Plus someone that actually knows how to use PowerPoint!

  2. Brad

    After watching his presentation at BrickCon, my feelings were ambivalent. On one hand, I thought he was hilarious. On the other, I thought that most of his recommendations were either silly or unreasonable (although I’m not sure how many of his ending recommendations were meant to be tongue in cheek).

    My biggest objection is that the Spartan wouldn’t be any cheaper if we knew what was in the big. He would be easier to buy if one managed to get to the store before anyone else (assuming that no employee sets them aside before they get on the shelf), but if you missed him, you’d still be paying $10 per fig on the second-hand market.

    Really, compared to other toy collecting hobbies, the minifig box is quite a deal. The action figure hobby has chaser figures, rare items that are only one or two per case (and we’re talking the case that is shipped to the store, which is then opened to stock the shelves, not a tiny case like the figs), variants that are made available only online or if you attend a convention, and so on. At least three of each minifig in a box? That’s hardly rare! :)

    P.S. I love the mime. Spare your mimes and send them to me!

  3. carterbaldwin

    I think the real point is that Lego shouldn’t be creating this false scarcity in figs. 10-year-olds don’t use BrickLink.

  4. Dan

    I really enjoyed his presentation at brickcon, hilarious. I also collect blind boxed toys, and definitely see the barcodes (and maleable packaging) to be failures to emulate that system. I’m just glad there are no 1/400 figures (unless we start talking about chrome c3p0s).

    Don’t tell Hillel that I bought 16 figs from [email protected] and got two Spartans.

  5. Catsy

    I loved that presentation. Cheered multiple times.

    I think the basic problem with the entire concept of “collectible” minifigs–at least for me–is that it is antithetical to so many things that make Lego, Lego. It has no place in the system or any connection to the way Lego is played with, and it encourages speculation and hoarding behavior that harms consumers and disadvantages those who don’t have deep pockets and/or access to Bricklink. You know, the people who make up their entire target demographic.

    Things are collectible for one of two reasons: because there is a genuine, intrinsically limited supply, such as with rare coins or stamps, or because the rarities been artificially created on purpose, such as with collectible card games. But with collectible card games and similar products, the rarity levels and obscured, random product are both a feature and a part of the game balance–they serve a real purpose. And that’s also fine for things which have no purpose other than to be collected or look cool, such as scale miniatures or posters.

    No such purpose is served by the scarcity and product obfuscation in these minifigs–it does nothing but artificially inflate their value, force customers to spend more money in order to get the figures they actually want, and ultimately raise the barrier to acquisition for people who would actually like to build with Lego products rather than hoard them. That’s the entire purpose of Lego, isn’t it? To build and play.

    I really do not understand why Lego could not sell them individually packaged and labeled as if they were, say, action figures. They’ve clearly demonstrated an enormous demand for these minifigs. Price them a little higher, label them honestly, and they would fly off the shelves without excluding so many people.

    The only redeeming aspect of the implementation in S1 and S2 was that informed enthusiasts could find the specific figs they wanted using the bar codes. Yes, it was a mistake and a workaround–but one that allowed at least some people to do what Lego should’ve done in the first place. With the removal of barcodes in S3, I’m done with this product line. Hopefully sales of S3 will tank so miserably that someone at TLC will get a clue that they’re taking this in the wrong direction.

  6. Thanel

    This really was one of the highlights of BrickCon. I may have even heard a few of my squeals of delight in the recording. I didn’t even have to be able to read.;P

    @ Catsy: I think the main point of LEGO and the collectible ‘figs is to make $ (or DKK) for TLG, not cater to every fan whim. We’re still eating the stuff up despite the blind bags and bar codes and disappearance of said bar codes. There’s absolutely no element of force involved. We’re the target demographic for these types of collectibles.

    Damn you LEGO for finding a genius merchandising scheme!!!!

  7. Magnus

    LEGO wants to get into collectibles, and I think that’s great. I’m all for making it as hard as possible for people to cheat and figure out which fig they are getting – that’s the whole point of collectibles. You’re supposed to be buying blind, and then having fun trading with your friends. These aren’t meant to be army builders.

    The problem as I see it, is that some of the coolest figs they’ve come up with are the kinds that are only useful to many builders in bulk. The Spartan is a great example, as is the cheerleader. And the Zombie.

    I think the best solution if for LEGO to continue making these great collectible figs, selling them singly, and packaging them in such a way that we can’t figure out what is inside; but try to focus on the kinds of figs that most people will only want one or two of. The ringmaster, the mime, the beech dude, the clown, the guy with the afro, the “emo kid” – these are the kinds of figs we should be seeing more of – because no one needs an army of them.

    As for future collectible figs, how about a rock star, a mountain climber, a computer geek/nerd, a hippie, and a James Bond type agent? These would be cool to collect, and most people would only want one.

    Meanwhile, I’d love to see a package of 4 or 5 Spartans/hoplites, perhaps with different faces, and different colored helmet crests. That’s an army builder pack. And how about a Ancient Greek playtheme while we’re at it?

    To get back to the collectibles though, how about making certain collectible figs that fit in with the current playthemes? So you can get your Spartan Army by buying the minifigpacks, but if you want Leonidas you have to find him as a collectible minifig?

  8. Catsy

    @Thanel: I think the main point of LEGO and the collectible ‘figs is to make $ (or DKK) for TLG, not cater to every fan whim.

    While broadly true, I think this elides a lot of important context with regard to the intended purpose of Lego products and the company culture in general. Given the popularity of Brickarms and other third-party vendors, it’s fairly indisputable that TLG could make money hand-over-fist by making more weapons and war-themed toys. They don’t because of a deliberate decision to avoid contemporary war themes–not because they are unprofitable, but because they do not want to associate the brand with that kind of product. It’s not a business decision, it’s a moral decision.

    Similarly, the purpose of Lego elements is to build and play. TLG does make products with other purposes–keychains, ice cube trays, what have you–but we’re talking about 100% System minifig parts. And not the cheap, partially-glued minifigs that aren’t really meant to come off the keychain, but real minifigs intended to be played with and used with any other Lego System elements.

    The scarcity, randomness and “collectability” aspect does not complement the purposes of building and play–it works at odds to them by raising the barrier to entry and creating artificial shortages. And the kinds of speculation and hoarding behavior that happen with any collectible are not only anathema to Lego’s core message of playing well with one another, but will actually get worse the more they obfuscate the product.

    So while you’re correct that ultimately the point is for TLG to make money and these figs are making money, there’s more to it than that–and the fact that there’s more to TLG’s products than just the bottom line is one of the reasons many of us respect the company so much. The way they’ve handled the marketing of these minifigs has cost TLG a lot of that respect and goodwill, and they need to decide whether or not it’s worth it.

    Let me put it another way. If TLG had created a line of collectible products that were not System-compatible and marketed them the same way, I wouldn’t have an issue with it. The core problem is that they’ve created a product to appeal to both builders and collectors–and failed to realize that the interests and needs of those two groups are almost entirely opposed. Rarity benefits collectors but harms builders; wide availability benefits builders but harms collectors. The same is true of obfuscated packaging versus knowing what you’re buying: the former is good for collectors but bad for builders who want a specific fig; the latter is good for builders but lowers collectability.

  9. crgennaro

    Best point of this video is that Lego needs to be available to everyone for a set amount of TIME, and it’s collectiblity must be derived from that. It’s the way Lego has always worked. I wholly agree that artificially creating rarity is an elitist exercise that has no place in this or any other toy line.

    Classic Castles and Galaxy Explorers are sought after because they were widely available and a staple of many people’s childhoods, not because only a select group of people had access to getting them.

    In general though, since I am a fan of collecting Mini-figs and don’t appreciate special figures being only available in $100 sets either, I do like the fact that these are individually sold. My hope is that Lego will eventually get this right and just adapt the Action-figure model and sell these individually wrapped and marked, to whoever wants them, as many as they want, for a limited time. And let popularity define rarity.

  10. Starwars4J

    “that’s the whole point of collectibles”

    I think someone needs to look up the meaning of collectibles ;) The point of collectibles is to…well, collect them! Making some more rare than others is one way to do so, and a way they’ve already implemented. Unfortunately they compound that with the notion of “Well if we make the more desirable figs harder to get…and then don’t let them know what they’re buying, they’ll buy more just to get them!”. While this may work from a financial standpoint, it doesn’t do much for consumer faith, especially when the figs are already made of the cheaper plastic from China (had to go there). They’re saving enough money on these, even if there are so many newer molds, I think they’re just concerned that if they show us what we’re buying, we’ll just buy the more desirable figs, and leave them with heaps of ringmasters et al.

    In fact I think that’s exactly what we HAVE been doing with Series 2 (Series 1 sold out completely everywhere, whereas with Series 2 there’s still a full box at my local LEGO store), and one of the reasons they want to change it. Now there will still be workarounds (those of you with sensitive fingers will be able to feel the figs out), but they’ll be more difficult. Unfortunately in the end it just seems like it’s going to be a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

  11. eilonwy77

    I think Catsy, crgennero, and Starwars4J make some really great, well-spoken points here. I never really cared about the minifigs, but now I am completely on board the labeling bandwagon.

  12. gearheadwhat

    Ultimately, I’m going to have to agree with the video and I believe the general consensus that by keeping the minifigs hidden, and making the more desirable miniatures more rare, is really a shiesty way of doing business, and does not help instill faith in them as a wholesome company… Not that that stops us from buying from them, but it’s almost out of grudging spite at times with things, rather than out of the joy of the hobby, which it really should be.

    On a parting note, we all need to remember one very important thing however:

    “A mime is a terrible thing to waste.”

  13. Josh Post author

    “A Mime is a terrible thing to waste”

    MOC ideas are springing into my head right now. I see a new fad bandwagon in the future…. ;)

  14. Photobrickabrad

    We’ve sold these in our store since Series 1 and we were guessing the minifigs through the packaging (driving our boss crazy with the crinkle sound) long before we figured out you could scan the secondary barcode to identify the specific set. We live in a rural area and cell coverage is minimal, so even if people try to scan the codes with their smartphones, chances are we can figure out what it is before their phone tells them.

    Of the 50 or so we’ve guessed (many for our own collections) we’ve been wrong on only 1.

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