Wednesday, 27 March 2013

LEGO Collectible Minifigures - Ten Series In

It is nearly time for Series 10 of the Collectible Minifigures range to hit stores worldwide, and it seems like almost no time at all since this was a novelty and everyone was heading to the stores with their barcode lists. So here is the first of three articles over the coming months focusing on the Collectible Minifigures, part of the hobby that are so successful it is has created a new category in the toy market. Let’s look back at how all of this came about…

A designer in LEGO had been trying for years to persuade the powers that be of the merit in selling individual, blind bagged mini-figures. Eventually, with the company restructured and the core product lines doing nicely, the time had arrived for LEGO to be ready to try some experiments. This atmosphere was vital to such a project being considered, coupled with the feeling within the LEGO management team that mini-figures were key to the product. The feeling was (and has probably remained) that they are a fun mascot to put on the advertising, children are connecting to them more than ever through video games, and for better or worse LEGO bean counters said that it was the mini-figures that were selling Star Wars sets. Collectible Minifigures were given the green light.

When Collectible Minifigures Series 1 (8683) was launched in 2010, a book full of design concepts was sat on a shelf at LEGO. There were enough designs to crank out many more series yet. But such a product had never been released before, and there was no guarantee of success. The product was rolled out across Europe with some fanfare such as adverts and stories in kids’ magazines. In the USA, meanwhile, distribution was poor as the big chain retailers chose not to order it! It seems short sighted now, but shows just how untried the Collectible Minifigures concept was.

Because of how far in advance big retailers make their orders and design their shelf layouts, Series 2 (8684) had similar distribution problems to Series 1. This has made these two series significantly harder to find than subsequent ones. These series are also unique in that each mini-figure has a unique barcode that is printed on the back of the pack alongside the regular barcode – which meant that anyone with a cheat sheet could check with mini-figures they were going to get! It was silly for LEGO to be na├»ve enough to think that the code wouldn’t be cracked, but it soon disappeared for the next series.

Series 3 (8063) was the first to see wide distribution, but to an extent LEGO over stocked the territories that had already had promising sales. This over-compensation for the previous shortages meant that by the time Series 5 (8065) rolled out there was still Series 3 stock in many shops! For a brief while LEGO toyed with slowing down the release schedule, which hasn’t really panned out. Since Series 3 LEGO have been perfecting the mix of mystical creatures, real life characters, cultural symbols and sports people. At one point there were plans being thrown around to release a series of Marvel and DC Super Heroes, but LEGO wanted to save the mini-figures as sweeteners for the actual sets, and the Collectible Minifigures were so successful that changing the formal seemed like insanity.

With Series 10 (71001) about to hit with the latest 16 characters and the elusive Mr Gold, LEGO can smile smugly at having created a new product line that has been a hit with collectors and children, and seen many imitations at the counters of toy shops. The line is now so expansive that DK are releasing the Collectible Minifigures Character Encyclopaedia. The great thing with a line like this is that if the format ever gets stale (and with the many skaters, perhaps ideas are getting shorter), then LEGO can simply change up what they do. Licensed Collectible Minifigures, Collectible Minifigures based on current themes, Collectible Minifigures with random parts… there are at least another ten series worth of product in this line yet.

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