Lego sets sights on adults with complex sets
Photo courtesy of Lego Group
The Lego Death Star is just the latest set to target adults.
On this particularly quiet Friday afternoon, there are more adults than children in the Lego store at the Sherway Gardens mall in Toronto. The few kids present are looking at toys scattered around the store, but the adults - all men, it should be noted - are gathered around one item: a Lego replica of the Death Star from Star Wars.
The men, about eight of them, are admiring the set, which has 3,803 pieces and stands a foot-and-a-half tall. One gleefully points out the trash compactor room, where Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia were trapped in the movie. Another marvels at the TIE Fighter launch bay.
Inevitably, one of the gawkers asks an employee what the price tag is. They all cringe at the the reply: "$499." Nobody balks, though. The conversation instead takes a comical turn as the men trade strategies for how to sell such a big and potentially frivolous purchase to their respective spouses.
The episode is emblematic of the fact that Lego isn't just for children anymore. And purposely so. The Danish company has been making its iconic plastic brick toys for kids since 1949, but in the past few years has been targeting adults with high-end sets designed to appeal to their interests and sense of nostalgia.
* In photos: A visual history of complex Lego sets
The Star Wars sets are a particularly strong hook, since today's 30- and 40-somethings grew up with the movies. The Death Star launched in 2008 while the 3,152-piece Super Star Destroyer, which also sells for $499, made its debut last fall. Both have sold well because of nostalgia, the company says, but also because many adults grew up with Lego.
"They either never outgrew it or they're re-entering the hobby, and now they're calling it a hobby," says Jamie Berard, a senior designer for the Lego Group.
The ideas for sets, including the Star Wars toys, come from a variety of sources. Some are generated internally by the designers themselves, but the better ones often come from fans.
"They start to build their own version of [something], but maybe they get stuck. So then they put out these wishes, like, 'It'd be great if you guys did a Volkswagen Beetle or something like that,'" he says.
The designers mull the suggestions and make prototypes of the best of them, which are then shown to a management team. The ones that generate the most excitement, and that demonstrate the best prospects for actually selling, get the go-ahead for full production. Many get turned down, though; Berard estimates he makes five to 10 models for every one that goes ahead.
These "exclusive" sets - so-called because Lego sells them only through its own stores and website for a period of time - are considerably more detailed, with more pieces than traditional kids' sets in order to provide a better challenge for adults.
"We have to assume to a reasonable extent that their motor skills have developed," Berard says. "That raises the bar on what we can create so we can dream a little more ambitiously."
Besides the Star Wars sets, Lego designers have come up with a number of original exclusives, including the 4,287-piece Tower Bridge, 2,766-piece Town Hall and 2,182-piece Grand Emporium.
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