Life is good for AFOLs

With successful lines, new licensing deals and a smash hit movie to boot, 2014 has been a great one for LEGO. MCV publisher Michael French explains why life is just as good for adult fans of the brand.
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They say there are 62 bits of LEGO for each person on this planet. Well, I’ve got your share. And yours, and yours...

In fact I own about 1,018 and a half people’s allocation of LEGO. That’s a collection of sets and loose bricks with a total piece count of over 60,000.

I’m an AFOL and proud - and things have never been better for people like me.

But let’s back up. AFOL is an Adult Fan of Lego. Our world is a myriad of acronyms and shorthand around the art and craft of building, buying and boasting about MOC (My Own Creation) models, SNOT (Studs Not On Top) techniques and reviled BURP (Big Ugly Rock Piece) bricks.

Until a few years ago, the world of adult fans was acknowledged by LEGO through more niche and targeted means; dedicated fan club-like user groups or initiatives. But today it’s a great time to be an adult fan of building bricks, embraced and encouraged wholeheartedly by the Danish toy firm.

You might not realise this. LEGO’s continued innovation and evolution has lately meant its biggest family-facing successes are its Hollywood movie, new extensions like Minifigure bags and Chima, or canny licensing deals with the likes of Minecraft.

But for grown-ups who want to build their own epic creations, or want something more complicated than a £39.99 set, there’s a growing range of time-intensive, ambitious (and wallet-sapping) sets for ‘big kids’ like me. That’s releases like limited edition Technic sets nearing the £200 mark, modular buildings that have spawned their own sub-culture of fan-born builds, and increasingly elaborate movie-inspired sets like the 1,869-piece Batman-inspired Tumbler (my most recent indulgence) or the hugely elaborate Star Wars Sandcrawler and Ewok Village (on my I-can-dream Xmas list).

Even some of the more mainstream sets are incorporating more AFOL-pleasing themes and building techniques.

A few years ago, these creations were rare highlights in the LEGO range. A £250 Star Wars Death Star or 5,195-piece Ultimate Millennium Falcon were great PR fodder but mainly super-specialist and highly targeted at collectors. Now they are a cornerstone.

This year there have been eight of these ‘ultimate collector’ sets released, up from just two or three five years ago. These aren’t scraps from the LEGO mainstream table, us AFOLs are very well-fed.

Much of the success here comes from tapping into dormant LEGO-love amongst a section of adults who grew up in one of LEGO’s earlier boom period - the 1980s heyday of classic Space, Town and Pirate models - but have lapsed.

Now, with disposable income, this once-lost generation has returned to a wholesome hobby that once enchanted them, and likely is engaging their own children today.

Projects like LEGO Ideas have made nostalgia something to celebrate. You only have to look at the releases inspired by 80s icons Ghostbusters or Back to the Future to see that. Those familiar with the ‘twist’ in The LEGO Movie will have seen it there too, with generations united by building bricks.

This was my story at least. It’s no coincidence that this 30-something’s LEGO collection has grown in tandem with the widening of the Billund brick firm’s range and as I look to find interests I can share with my son and daughter.

My brick count ballooned when I got back into LEGO and came out of my ‘dark ages’ (more LEGO fan slang, meaning your years away from plastic construction bricks being a hum-drum human distracted by real-life things like school, relationships, work or parenthood), looking for something beyond my other passion, video games.

But I can also see how offering things like a detailed Simpsons house or LEGO brand stores selling more varied types of bricks direct to consumers makes total sense from a business sense.

These have filled gaps in the range, a balancing contrast to the youth-oriented Juniors and Friends lines, and making sure there’s continuity across age, subject matter, skill level and pricing.

LEGO leaders have said the toy is more than a toy, something for all ages - young kids up to even the most cynical of adults, the most committed of AFOLs. And these days it’s not just lip service for the hardcore - it’s something you can actually believe, and which is encouraged.

Michael French is the publisher on ToyNews’ sister magazines, MCV: The Market for Computer and Video Games and Develop.

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