Since their arrival in the late 1940s, Lego’s have enjoyed a fair share of popularity in the building games market. But why are Lego’s so expensive?
Lego’s are so expensive because their quality, durability, flexibility, support, marketing, and network is unmatched. Further, the number of specialized pieces included in their sets has grown substantially over the years along with the availability of licensed products. Together, these factors combine to create a high cost per brick.
Actually, they have basically dominated the market for the larger part of the last few decades – they reportedly own about 70 percent of the construction toys market. That’s pretty hard to match in the business world.
Lego Growth Alongside American Culture
From building wooden toys in the 1930s and later expanding its franchise to start producing standard plastic bricks in the late 1940s, the Lego Company has produced a myriad of Lego set themes that have won the hearts and pockets of millions of people. Although Lego is not an American company, their performance in this market over the last 80 years has made them a staple of the American childhood experience. This enabled the company to build American cultural icons into their product lines.
Some of the newer set themes include pirates, robots, Vikings, castle, dinosaurs, undersea exploration kits, and trains. There are also classic Lego set themes that have managed to make it to and be successful in the present day, such as the Lego City (a set theme introduced in 1973 to depict the buzz of city life) and the Lego Technic (a set theme introduced in 1977 to emulate complex machines).
Aside from these, Lego has also introduced set themes modeled after popular cartoon, movie, and videogame franchises, such as Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Minecraft, and Star Wars. These sets have been highly successful.
Reasons Why Lego’s Are So Expensive
Notwithstanding the popularity that Lego sets have garnered over the years if there is one thing customers have always complained about it is the price tag on the sets. It is generally known that a single Lego brick costs around 10 to 13 cents to buy, bringing the price of Lego sets – especially those with many pieces to very expensive marks.
The price of the 3,803-piece Lego Death Star, for example, hovers around $400; that’s a whopping price for a children’s toy. Indeed, Lego bricks are more expensive than those of other manufacturers, such as KRE-O and MegaBloks. Well, the price tags on Lego toys have been defended by Lego enthusiasts as many times as they have been criticized by critics.
One argument that has been raised in defense of Lego’s prices is the quality and engineering precision of Lego bricks. Lego bricks from different years…even different decades consistently fit together nicely, as though they were made at the same time. This is not always same with bricks of Lego’s competitors, even with pieces from the same set.
Another reason why Lego sets are so expensive lies in the size of the sets. Expanding from the classic sets, such as the Inner-City passenger Train set and the Lego Main Street set, which were produced in 1980 and had between 500 and 800 pieces, Lego now manufactures sets that boast of thousands of pieces. The Lego Death Star, for example, has over 3,800 pieces, and the Taj Mahal set has over 5,000.
These sets require a lot of attention to detail to be produced and to function optimally. The impressive resale value of Lego sets is also a major reason behind their high prices. Lego sets command higher prices over time in retail stores; the Lego Star Wars Slave was on sale for $80 a few years ago and can now be found on e-stores retailing for as high as $275.
So, the ever-increasing sizes of the sets, their quality, and their resale value play a vital part in keeping Lego prices where they are. However, the most important reason of all lies in the value of the bricks to the lives of the people who use them – who happen to be mostly children. Here is some of the value Lego sets bring into children’s lives:
How Lego’s Improve Intellectual Development
1. Builds motor skills
Perhaps the most significant benefit of using Lego bricks is the fact that it develops fine motor skills in children. As children construct with the pieces, they inadvertently build up muscles in their hands – muscles they can use to carry out other tasks, such as writing.
2. Brings about cooperation and collaboration
Aside from muscle building, constructing with Lego pieces also builds cooperative and collaborative skills in children. As they fit the pieces together into the appropriate spaces, children soon learn to join efforts to accomplish a shared task.
3. Increases confidence
Another area that Lego construction improves in children is self-confidence. When children build castles or construct cars which their minifigures would drive, or add finishing touches to their minifigures’ houses, their confidence in their own skills and abilities increase as they get the feeling they can even do better on their own. They can apply this confidence in many other phases of their lives to great effect.
4. Develops persistence
Children sometimes get heartbroken building with Lego bricks. With a wrong move, a prudently crafted tower may come crashing to the ground. This could be very frustrating for children, as they have to start from scratch and work their way up again. However, children who are used to building with Lego bricks don’t allow this to defeat them. Instead, they try again, developing persistence and a healthy response to adversity along the way.
Over time this enhances their ability to focus. A child’s ability to concentrate has been shown to impact them over the course of their lives. To learn more about the importance of focus, read this article I wrote on the topic.
5. Can help children with special needs
A study published in the journal of autism developmental disorders in 2008 confirmed that building with Lego bricks helped improve the autism-specific social interaction scores of children with autism as compared to children who didn’t use Lego bricks (source). The study also observed that maladaptive behavior was reduced significantly in autistic children who built with Lego sets compared to those who didn’t.
Another study published in the same journal in 2004 concluded that Lego sets helped motivate autistic children to initiate social interaction with peers, improved these children’s ability to sustain social interaction with peers for a period of time, and helped improve the typical autistic syndromes of aloofness and rigidity (source).
6. Boosts children’s inclination towards scientific methods
The foundations of science are built on the concepts of imagination and experimentation. When children have to build with Lego sets, they think of possible ways to place the bricks to get the results they want. They push themselves to create vivid mental pictures of what they want to build and then put their imagination to the test with practical application. In essence, Lego inspires children to come up with an idea and experiment with it until it becomes reality.
7. Enhances creativity
Legos are essentially a gentle nudge on children’s creative side. Quite frankly, the imaginative prowess of children is almost the only limit to what they can build with Lego bricks. Lego sets can be quite expensive, especially for people who see them as just another play toy for children. But if you really pay attention to how beautifully they are crafted, the extreme precision and thoughtfulness that go into making them, you may begin to understand why the Lego Company has invested so much in their product.
Of course, the cost of that investment ultimately gets passed on to the consumer. If you compare what you get with Lego to the offers from alternative toy construction companies, you would know that Legos are decades ahead of their nearest competitor, at least. The mind-blowing attention to detail, plus the other numerous factors that make Legos stand out from the competition, have played a key part in why Legos are still by far the favorites of parents and children.
Lego’s Marketing Kept Them on Top
In addition to all of these factors, Lego has opted to use a massive, incredibly successful marketing strategy that helps keep it in the forefront of people’s minds. They have done in-store marketing, video games, theme parks, and, recently, a LEGO movie. They have also obtained an exclusive license to popular properties including Harry Potter and Batman. These deals have helped boost Lego’s desirability in the world of construction toys.
While the LEGO Company has been notoriously reluctant in disclosing the cost of production of their sets, we are quite certain of two things: Lego sets are made from very high-quality materials to ensure their longevity and safe use, and they are made to pass through rigorous quality control measures before they are sent out for distribution. The company had this to say about their products:
“To ensure that we consistently produce the best and safest products, Lego bricks are made with the highest quality materials we can find, a factor which influences the cost of production. Using high-quality materials ensures that our products are not only safe but that they are also durable enough to be passed down from generation to generation.”
We know for certain that they hit the nail on the head with that statement, especially with the last point. Many families who bought Lego sets in the 1970s and 1980s still have them, and, even though the classic themes may no longer be the order of the day, the bricks from the sets fit perfectly into the sets of today. Such is the level of quality and precision that this company has managed to maintain for generations.
The material used in the production of the Lego plastic bricks is a kind of plastic known as thermoplastic. Thermoplastics in general, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (the incredibly long name of the specific thermoplastic used to make Lego bricks) specifically, are famous for their strength and resilience.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a product of petroleum, which makes its cost somewhat contingent on the cost of crude oil. So, its costs may increase or reduce as per the cost of petroleum. Furthermore, there are additional costs attached to the production of the bricks from German-made molds, and to the entire production process, which requires that the materials are heated to a temperature of about 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Oh, don’t worry, the plastic won’t melt away; such is the power of thermoplastics. Great attention is paid to the entire process, from start to finish, but perhaps the stage that gets the most attention is the production of the molds. The molds need to be extremely resilient to handle all of the hundreds and thousands of assembling and disassembling they have to go through in their lifetime.
In fact, the Lego Company boasts that bricks that were produced as far back as 1958 can still be put together today. Marvelous, isn’t it? In addition, the company has assured its customers that no hazard will result from the use of its products, as all “tests show that no bricks have decomposed or given off any hazardous chemical substances ever.”
Moreover, the company has promised to $150 million a LEGO Sustainable Materials Center, which is aimed at putting a halt to further production of the currently used plastic materials and replacing them with environment-friendly alternatives by the year 2030. None of these things is easy or cheap to do. So, the question is, do you think it’s all worth it? It’s really up to you to decide.
While Lego has tried to protect its franchise by applying legal pressures to stop its competitors from directly copying its designs, most – if not all – of the courts Lego has raised its arguments in have decided against Lego and in favor of its competitors.
For instance, Lego tried to stop MegaBloks from stacking bricks that look just like Legos but got a decision in favor of the MegaBloks Company. It has also tried to restrict other construction toys companies, such as KRE-O, but all to no avail.
After all the unfortunate court rulings, Lego was finally able to do something its competitors couldn’t copy – buying exclusive rights to popular franchises. This has not only moved Lego further upfront in the market but has also given it exclusive rights to model some of its pieces after famous characters and properties.
For example, Lego has bought exclusive rights to Star Wars, so, if you wish to build a Death Star in plastic bricks, Lego is the only available option. The Star Wars move happened was wildly successful for Lego. To build on the success it had with Star Wars Lego went on to license other franchises, including Indiana Jones, Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter, and Toy Story.
In the end, they figured out how to stay ahead.
One thing Lego – and indeed any other construction toys company – have learned in Lego’s rights purchasing activity is that children want to tell stories with their bricks. The stories that are most valuable to Lego are the stories most valued by kids who want to be able to recreate these stories with their own imagination, creativity, and effort. Lego has used licensing as a way to help them do this; Cool move!
The results of this move have been a major surge in revenue. In 2012, Lego made a total of $3.5 billion in revenue; MegaBloks made only a tenth of that amount in the same year. This is a clear indication of the share of the market either company holds. In relation to the acceptance or desirability of either company’s product, according to a nine-year-old Lego ‘expert’, “You don’t want to tell your friends you just got yourself a brand new MegaBloks set. You want to tell them, ‘Hey, I just bought a new Lego set,’ and then they’ll say, ‘Awesome! Can we come to play later?’”
How to Pay Less for Lego Sets
The following sets cost less in the long run because you only have to buy them once. This solution worked well for my family because my daughter is able to build new sets all the time, and the directions are available online.
There is a higher upfront cost, but once we factored in the reality that we were no longer buying expensive $50-$100 sets that were only built once, we came around to the idea that this was the way to go. Since buying the Lego WeDo set for our daughter we have not bought any other Lego sets. Further, these products do a better job teaching critical thinking, programming, and engineering than other Lego products.
Lego has, as it has always done, expanded its business to include more STEM-based products. The Lego Mindstorms and Lego WeDo 2.0 are new Lego products that are focused on helping children better understand programming and engineering.
Lego Mindstorms is a software environment that can be used in collaboration with Lego building bricks to create programmable robots. Each Lego Mindstorms system includes a brick computer that controls the entire system, a group of sensors and motors, and certain Lego parts. Lego has developed four generations of the Mindstorms system over the years: the Robotics Intervention System, Lego Mindstorms NXT, Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0, and Lego Mindstorms EV3.
Users of the Mindstorms systems have seen a gradual increase in the capabilities of system sensors and motors from generation to generation. These systems have been used in elite robot tournaments, such as the World Robot Olympiad and FIRST Lego League, and have been acclaimed by many to possess the renowned quality and attention to detail that Lego is world-famous for.
The Mindstorms systems have also been used in formal educational environments for the purpose of teaching and learning from 6th grade onward. They have been used to teach programming, operating systems, and artificial intelligence classes in universities and some other A-Level institutions (source). If you are looking to buy a Lego set for someone 10 or older, this is the set to buy.
The Lego WeDo kit is a robotics system designed for children aged between 5 and 12 years. The kit can be used to develop unique interactive machines, which can then be programmed using a drag-and-drop software, usually Scratch. It includes a motor (used to make things turn), distance sensor (used by the operator to interact with the system), tilt sensor (also used to interact with the system), and a hub (used to connect the various WeDo parts to a computer).
The WeDo system is very useful in developing STEM interest in children and can go a long way in instilling the spirit of technological intervention and innovation in them. If you want to save money in the long run, buy either the Lego We Do or Mindstorms set for your child. The upfront cost will be offset by the fact that they can build hundreds of different creations, limited only by their imaginations.
Further, the programming element of these sets will add to the challenge for them and keep them busy for even longer. If you are considering buying a Lego set for a child between 5-12, this is the set to start with. Lego remains the priciest construction toy in the market, but for a good reason. They have managed to stay afloat and ahead in the minds of parents and children and in the market space because of their efforts in developing products that are not only of premium quality and build, but that also represent the safest toys for children to play with.
Lego toys have great potential for learning both in the home and informal educational institutions and have been proved to develop certain skills in children. Considering the many factors that go into their production, the price of Legos might be said to be both justifiable and understandable.