Per My Brother
Recently, I visited the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention. While there, I attended the panel of LEGO North American Community Coordinator Kevin Hinkle. After his panel, I asked him a few questions about LEGO Star Wars, focusing on the adult collector and a soon-to-be-released LEGO feature-length movie!
How did LEGO get involved with pre-existing franchises?
– “One of the things that happened to LEGO, is that in 1998, we almost went bankrupt, almost ceased to exist. And the reason was: it the era of videogames. The toy market was very different and people were not playing with LEGO sets. Starting at 1998 — or maybe it was 1995 — we had 11 straight years of losses, as a company. The only reason we were alive is because the owning family put their money into LEGO. We responded to it, and tried a lot different things. We tried videogames. We made some CD-ROM games… they were all horrible. It just wasn’t working. What can we do to save ourselves? And there were two answers: One of them was Star Wars. And one of them was BIONICLE. Those two things single-handedly saved the company from going bankrupt.”
Why choose Star Wars?
– “We worked with Lucasfilm — now Disney — to get Star Wars. Star Wars did get a lot of the adult fans back into LEGO, and we still have a very good relationship with Lucasfilm. We just signed a contract for another 10 years (with them). It makes no difference that Disney bought it. We work with Disney, too.”
What type of franchise does not fit the LEGO archetype?
– “We try to be as smart as we can, about which franchises work for our brand. We have a very established brand. There are certain times, where we skirt the edge of it, but we typically stay away from modern violence or modern warfare. Anything you can immediately associate with bad memories. Sometimes we work with some really cool, exciting franchises; sometimes we don’t. Ben 10 didn’t really work out really well. Or Prince of Persia. We’re still doing it, but we try to also have good home-grown franchises. NINJAGO is a good example. We obviously do a lot more now, than we have done, because the times are changing. It’s all about movies and what’s hot. So, I can’t exactly say what we’re doing next year, or I’d be fired. But we are continuing to work with more and more partners as we can.”
Does LEGO target the adult collector, in any way?
– “As a company, adult fans only make five percent of LEGO’s sales. Ninety-five percent of sales goes toward kids. We have one toy line, specifically, for adults: The Modular Buildings. Some good examples would be Market Street, Green Grocer, Fire Brigade, Town Hall, Pet Shop and Grand Emporium. Those were aimed at adults, and those were made from feedback from adults. But that’s usually all they really let us do, that’s aimed at adults. We’ve done trains. We’ve done the Imperial Flagship boat. We try to get feedback, and there’s some little things that are snuck into other sets that are aimed at the adult fans, because some of the designers are adult fans.”
With the franchise sets, why can’t you sell the mini-figures separately?
– “You cannot sell a figure, by itself. Star Wars is a good example. Even if it’s a LEGO figure, it is now an action figure. And we don’t have a LEGO Star Wars action figure license, that belongs to someone else. That’s why we have the battle packs. They have some building component to it, and have, like, four mini-figures, because it’s a construction toy set now. Sometimes we have little packs of our own themes. When Alien Conquest was out, we had alien packs. Depending on who the franchise is… With Pirates of the Caribbean, we had a mini-figure pack of pirates. With Star Wars, we can’t do that.”
Has LEGO considered taking full control, releasing all its videogame products?
– “We will not do that, because we did it before, and we almost went bankrupt. We made those (original) games with no external partners. It didn’t work out well. So, we learned a very important lesson. We focused back on what made us who we are: the classic, standard LEGO brick and the mini-figure. We got rid of all the other stuff. We just went forward. We decided then and there, if we were ever to do these things again, we would trust someone who knows what they’re doing. TT Games knows what they’re doing, and they make us a fantastic game. We try not to go out of that zone again, because it caused so much trouble last time.”
I recently saw LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace. What are LEGO’s future plans, in term of movies?
– “Well, we have a feature-length film coming out. It’s called The LEGO Movie. It’s directed by the people who did Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller). We’ve had a couple of press releases for it, and there’s actually a contest right now, to design a vehicle, that could be in the movie. It’s on the LEGO Facebook page, I believe. The movie will be released in February of 2014.”
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