Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bye bye barcodes

I've previously blogged about the explosion in popularity of LEGO minifigs, and nowhere is this more evident than in the feeding frenzy surrounding the 2 waves of collectible LEGO minifigs that appeared earlier this year. While presumably intended for youngsters to collect and swap with each other, older lovers of LEGO have also taken these minifigs to heart, and people have gone to sometimes extraordinary lengths to obtain them. At first it wasn't readily evident which minifig lurked inside each foil packet, but it was soon discovered that each minifig was associated with a unique barcode on the packet which could be scanned and the contents thus reliably identified. In this way, it was possible to avoid being lumbered with loads of duplicates and wasting a fortune trying to amass a full set.

All that was set to change with the third series of collectible minifigs, however. The AFOL community was (mostly) dismayed to discover that the Series 3 minifigs would not ship with identifying barcodes on the packaging, so we were once again faced with the prospect of a potentially expensive lottery in the form of buying up large numbers of random packs in our quest for a full set.

Pics of some of the Series 3 minifigs (with thanks to FBTB)
Anyway, Series 3 was due to appear in January 2011, but it seems that some retail outlets in the U.S. have already received stocks of the minifigs and have put them on sale, whereupon they've predictably been snapped up by the boxload. And then, within 24 hours of the first confirmed sightings of these minifigs in the wild, it appears that someone has already figured out a way of identifying which minifig is in the packet, and the method for doing this is now all over the net ! Apparently there are bumps embossed on the lower seal of each pack, and the pattern of these bumps reveals the contents; a cheat sheet is already available (see below; source : that guy and FBTB)

Barcodes - who needs 'em ?!
I have to admit that I find this situation absolutely hilarious ! This is mainly because I can think of no credible reason other than good, old-fashioned greed for the LEGO company to stop printing the barcodes on the packets as they did for Series 1 and 2, so to see their plan scuppered so fast serves them right I reckon. It was as if somebody within the organisation didn't like the fact that people were able to get hold of the specific minifig or minifigs they wanted without having to buy loads and loads of unnecessary extra packs. Shame on you ! Certainly the first time I bought some of the Series 1 minifigs, prior to the availability of the barcode 'cheat sheets', I ended up with more duplicates than I did unique figures, and no easy way of trading them without resorting to eBay. So the thought of some smug executive sitting there rubbing his hands together and thinking that he'd outmanoeuvred the LEGO community by removing the barcodes, only to discover less than 24 hours later that the 'code' had already been cracked, fills me with glee ! Let's just hope that this new method of ascertaining the contents of the minifig pack works for us in Europe as well.

More pics of Series 3 minifigs - love that Mummy !
I do hope that the LEGO company learns from this experience, sticks to what it's best at (i.e. designing superb products) and doesn't waste any more valuable time and effort in future trying to obstruct LEGO lovers from getting the minifigs they want. We'll no doubt get an indication of whether that's actually the case when Series 4 appears, however....


  1. Anonymous23/11/10

    But isn't the 'surprise' of what's in each pack the whole point? These are meant to be tradeable collectables remember...

  2. It might be the point for you, Frankie, but clearly not for many others- different strokes for different folks. Whether you're after a full set of 16 figures, multiples of just one or two figs or just a lucky dip, there's no reason why everybody can't be catered for. To this end, the barcodes were great - they didn't obviously give the game away for those wanting a genuine surprise, but it was possible to fairly easily decipher them if you wanted certain figures. There was really no reason to change the status quo.

  3. I think LEGO has to have some system for inventory control of the individual packs. Until they can find a way to move away from this, AFOLs will always find a way to 'crack the code'.

    Given the recent change in magnet sets (they come glued now), I hope that LEGO doesn't decide to forgo the collectible minifigs after Series 5 because of this issue.

  4. Anonymous2/12/10

    I think that's a genuine worry; Lego's business model for theses collectable figs is based on a 'blind packaging' model. It may not be commercially viable for them to carry on with a different business model, so we may see the end of the collectable figures sooner than we'd hoped.

  5. Thing is, while I'm obviously not privy to LEGO's sales projections, my impression is that these collectible minifigs have been much more successful at retail than LEGO expected or planned for. How else can you explain the shortages that afflicted Series 1 and Series 2 ? Given this, whether people are buying these figs blind or using cheat sheets, the business model looks to have been grossly exceeded anyway, so it's hard to see how deviation from the 'blind packaging' model would be a problem in reality.