Wednesday 2 November 2011

Girl's Stuff

It's pretty common knowledge I think that the LEGO company wants to be more popular with the fairer sex. LEGO is generally seen as a boy's toy, and in line with any sensible company, the LEGO company want to broaden the appeal of their product. Quite right too.

LEGO - just for boys ?
I've always found the concept of LEGO being a boy's toy a little hard to get my head around, to be honest. When I was a kid I often played LEGO with my friends, and some of those friends were girls. I certainly don't remember them enjoying it any less than me. Hell, some of them even had more LEGO than I did. Surely there isn't anything inherently off-putting to girls about building with LEGO ? Nonetheless, the statistics do suggest that the typical LEGO user is male.

LEGO have tried to woo the female market, of course. This has been via gimmicky niche products such as Clikits "fashion items" and jewelry, and also by way of "girl-friendly" sets. Without wishing to denigrate their set-related efforts, this has at times seemingly consisted of just putting some pink pieces in the box. OK, so that's not quite fair - while sets in the Paradisa theme (produced between 1992 and 1997) did contain more than their fair share of pink pieces, not to mention a few other rather nice pastel colours, the play experiences promoted by the sets were markedly less macho and aggressive than the usual Police and Fire scenarios that we're used to, as exemplified by sets such as Sidewalk Cafe, Poolside ParadiseCabana Beach and Show Jumping Event. In other ways the sets were much like any other set, not least the fact that they included standard minifigures. I've no hard data on how well these sets sold, only that (a) they're pretty neat IMHO and I wish I had some of them, and (b) they're relatively pricy on eBay which suggests to me that maybe they didn't sell in huge numbers.

Paradisa Poolside Paradise
Overlapping with the availability of the Paradisa theme, and indeed continuing to the present day, is the Belville theme. In truth, Belville largely follows the Paradisa formula - a preponderance of pink (albeit a darker shade) in the packaging and pieces, non-aggressive scenarios such as The Royal StableRoyal Summer Palace, Belville Luxury Cruiser and Cat Show (!), and the inclusion of figures. Interestingly, however, unlike Paradisa the figures deviate from standard minifig scale; they're significantly larger and more realistic, with an almost doll-like appearance. I must admit I was shocked by how long the Belville theme has been going for and how many sets there have been in the theme; according to Brickset, the first Belville set appeared in 1994, and there have been at least 82 sets since. There have however not been any new Belville releases since 2008, and while the four 2008 sets are still currently available at retail, I suspect they won't be for much longer.
Set 7587 Horse Jumping - welcome to Belville !
Rumours have been rife for some time now that LEGO are planning a new assault on the female market, and recently the cat was let out of the bag with the release of a host of 2012 set images. A number of these images were evidently of the new girls theme which, it appears, will be called "Friends". A selection can be seen below - click to enlarge the images for a closer look at what's to come.

So what to make of these upcoming sets ? Well, on the basis of the images at least, there are few major surprises, unless you class the preponderance of pastel purple rather than pink or magenta on the packaging as a major surprise.... Pink and magenta pieces ? Check. Non-threatening leisure and/or animal-themed scenarios ? Check. Inclusion of figures ? Check. While it's clearly premature to draw any firm conclusions, there doesn't seem to be anything markedly different about "Friends" in comparison with the Belville theme which it succeeds. This is the case right down to the figures included in the sets, which to my dismay, follow the Belville formula of being significantly larger than minifig scale.

Which leads me on to today's gripe : why oh why oh why are LEGO including these large, non-standard figures in the "Friends" sets rather than the much-loved and ubiquitous standard minifigures ? I can only assume that the company have conducted focus groups among girls of a certain age and got feedback that these girls prefer the large figures. Thing is, I fear that virtually nobody other than these girls of a certain age will buy the "Friends" sets now that LEGO have decided not to include standard minifigures. I certainly won't. Nor will anyone else I've spoken with about it. Would I have bought them if the "Friends" sets were System scale and included standard minifigures ? Hell yes I would, and so would the people I've spoken with about it. After all - who in their right mind wouldn't want Stephanie's Cool Convertible in purple and turquoise, for instance, if it came with a standard minifigure....?! Minifigures are currently a massive customer-magnet, so it just seems absurd not to design the new sets around them. Sure - I get it that I'm not the target demographic on this occasion, but that's no reason to actively drive me and millions of others away....

Stephanie's Cool Convertible - nice car, shame about the figure....

Thinking about this a little more, I wondered whether aside from all the focus groups there's also a view that minifigures are too small and fiddly for little hands ? Well, anybody watching a 3 or 4-year old utterly engrossed in role playing with standard minifigures inside a modular building would have to revise that view pretty quickly I think - it's almost impossible to pull them away....

So let's just hope for LEGO's sake that there are indeed huge numbers of girls of a certain age who are as I write preparing to flock to the stores in 2012 to buy "Friends" sets and who can make up for all the other people who now won't buy these sets because of the figures. Otherwise this could be a massive wasted opportunity....


  1. gunoz3/11/11

    Couldn't agree more. My 8 year old daughter, who I'd assume is squarely in the target market for these sets, took one look at the pictures and said aww, I can't use my people with them (her people being her Lego collectible minifigures).

  2. Dave, just wanted to mention that the figs in the new Friends sets are in fact the same size or just barely larger than standard minifigures. They just have different proportions.

    If you look at the set pictures closely you will see what I mean. That purple and blue convertible is the same as the yellow or the red convertible in standard City Sets. So, all of the Friends sets can be used with regular minifigures, even though the figs themselves look different.

    I compare the new Friends figures to the Febuland figs; yes, they were different, but they were increadibly cute, barely larger than a regular fig, and now they are highly valued collectibles.

    So, give these pretty little girls a chance. The colors of the sets are beautiful, they are full of awesome accessories, and the girls are really cute. Time will tell, but I think LEGO actually got it this time...(c:

  3. ^ Thanks for the interesting perspective, both literally and metaphorically...!

    I fully agree about the sets themselves, which are packed with interesting pieces in unusual colours, and that's a big part of the issue for me - I want the sets, but not with non-standard minifigures that I can't use elsewhere. Even if they do turn out to be exactly the same height as standard minifigures (which I think is highly unlikely, to be honest), the distinctly different style will likely preclude the use the new figures with traditional figures, e.g. in dioramas etc., without it looking absurd.

    You're right that we should reserve final judgement until the figures are actually in hand, but the portents are not encouraging. It almost looks like LEGO are going down the road of the "Character Building" figures, e.g. Dr. Who. Still, we'll see I guess....

  4. LegoFan3/11/11

    I don't really think you do these new figs justice by comparing them to Belville. Friends are very close to minifig scale, and will fit nicely in modular buildings, city sets, etc. Sure, they are different in design and looks, but the fact that they can mix with all the other sets will make them a huge hit in my family. I have 2 girls, age 6 and 8, and both have these friend sets on their wish list due to the figures. Lets give these sets a chance...

  5. The Friends figs don't bother me one bit. I may never use them, but I want the other pieces enough that the figs will get bagged up and ignored... maybe. :)

  6. Dave, if you decide you don't want the figures, only the sets, just sell the girls to me...(c:
    Also, I posted a bunch of close-ups and wrote about each of the girls today:
    You can clearly see that they are just a tad over 4 brick high...(c;

  7. Thanks for the heads-up, BrickBlogger - interesting review of the figs you posted on your blog. I'll certainly get a couple of sets and give the girls a chance. I don't however agree with LegoFan that they will "mix with all the other sets" - don't you think it'll look a bit absurd to mix traditional minifigs with these new figures ? Just can't see it myself, and that's where I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

  8. Eric.4/11/11

    Their driving millions of others away? Millions? Hmmm, I think that's a bit hopeful.

  9. ^ Hardly meant to be taken literally....even so, I suppose it comes down to whether you believe that this decision will lead to more or less sales of these sets.

  10. My bet is that "Friends" will tank. There's tons of alternatives for girls who want that kind of figures, and alas, all of them are less expensive than LEGO.

  11. Richard Selby9/11/11

    My guess? A hit. The theme seems more coherent than Belville. Contemporary females, rather than princesses and horse riding. I like the way its build around a set of named characters with separate imaginary lives. And the figures are almost standard minifigs but with a more girly shape. They'll do. In fact, I have to say I quite like the theme. But yes, I'm a 40 year old bloke, so hardly the target market. However, I do buy Lego pressies for my nieces who are exactly in the target market. I could never bring myself to spend good money on Belville, it was so yucky and cliched. But I will cheerfully lay out for these.

  12. ^ I also would never have bought Belville in a month of Sundays, but there is I agree something about these sets that interests me enough to at least consider take a punt on one of them, mutant figures or not. My views regarding the figures themselves have now been done to death on here, but there's certainly enough in the sets themselves for me (and perhaps others) to consider giving them a chance in spite of that.....

  13. Something else to point out about the Friends figures is that while they're not compatible with LEGO minifigures, some of the parts are-- specifically, the hair pieces. Earlier this year a photo appeared of a Friends fig wearing the Pop Star's hair from the Collectible Minifigures. Additionally, the beauty shop set uses a standard minifigure head as a mannequin for one of the new hair pieces.

    I don't think the Friends figs are the exact same size as minifigures, but they're certainly no more than a brick taller.

    I look forward to the new Friends sets and think they will do at least moderately well. They might not appeal to girls who already buy LEGO, but in all honesty girl-oriented themes are usually targeted at the untapped demographic of girls who don't already like the "normal" LEGO themes.