Is Lego about creative freedom or kit-building?

The BBC ran a story yesterday, asking if Lego is becoming less about freedom and creativity and more about following instructions and constructing single-use kits.

The story was timed for the beginning of Brick 2014, a huge live event in London dedicated to all things Lego. The debate about Lego’s direction, including its commercial reliance on TV and movie licenses, is one that animates fans of the building block toy.

It’s an interesting notion, now that we are entering an era when digital creativity tools like Minecraft and Disney Infinity 2.0 are taking up more of kids’ time and attention. The article makes the point that Lego is spending a lot of effort creating licensed products and pieces that are really only fit to be used in a single model.

Lego fan and blogger Chris Swan recently wrote that, “Lego for me was always about creativity, remaking and improving on existing designs… Single outcome sets encourage preservation rather than destruction, and sadly that makes them less useful, less educational and in my opinion less fun. Good old generic Lego with endless possibilities on offer, haven’t gone away, they’ve just been drowned in a sea of marketing for other brands.”

Swan concedes the single-use kits are often used creatively by children, and his article is a well-rounded look at the issues. But as the BBC points out, a big slice of Lego’s market these days are adults, who tend to construct grand projects like the Millenium Falcon or the Taj Mahal for permanent display.

Of course, many parents know that single-use kits tend to become consumed by a central household uber-bin of Lego pieces, but the argument goes that generic pieces are more adaptable than highly specific ones. Lego now has over 3,000 different pieces across its range.

Lego, which launched the toy way back in 1949, is confident that the bricks are still a source of creativity for kids. “Children still get bricks and they can combine them,” said company spokesperson Roar Rude Trangbaek. “The bricks will probably end up in big boxes in homes and that acts like a pool of creativity.”