Legos becoming just another single-use plastic toy  SEP 08 2009

It's a damn shame that it's difficult to find plain old Legos1 in the stores these days.

In the United States, Lego's biggest market and the biggest toy market in the world, games with themes like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" were among the reasons Lego sales jumped 32 percent last year, well above the global pace. But experts like Dr. Jonathan Sinowitz, a New York psychologist who also runs a psychological services company, Diagnostics, wonders at what price these sales come.

"What Lego loses is what makes it so special," he says. "When you have a less structured, less themed set, kids have the ability to start from scratch. When you have kids playing out Indiana Jones, they're playing out Hollywood's imagination, not their own."

Even toy analysts who admire the company and its recent success acknowledge a broad shift. "I would like to see more open-ended play like when we were kids," says Gerrick Johnson, a toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York. "The vast majority is theme-based, and when you go into Toys "R" Us, you'd really be challenged to find a simple box of bricks."

Man, when even the financial analysts are saying that you need more open-ended play toys, you've really gone off the rails.

[1] Attention Lego pedants: I know I'm supposed to call them LEGO® plastic stacking bricks or some crap like that but Legos is just so much easier.

Update: A convincing counterpoint:

I bought a pile of the standard bricks and -- as an experiment -- this Star Wars kit to see how ridiculous the pieces were. On the box, it appears to be made of all-kinds of single-use bits. Building it told a different story. The feet of the walker turn out to be the same part as the bodies of the Droids. Some of the joints are re-purposed guns. There are dozens of little clever things so that as you follow the instructions, there is moment after moment of discovery. "Oh, I can do THAT with that part?"

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