I don’t like LEGO Ideas anymore

LEGO Ideas is a program enabling amateur designer to have their work become an official LEGO set. However this makes submitted designs unavailable for everyone else to build whether they are selected or not.

LEGO Ideas is a website where amateur LEGO designers can submit their own design in the hope of making it into an official LEGO set. Since the start of the project in 2008 with the LEGO Cuusoo website that was limited to Japan, LEGO produced 35 official sets based on designs submitted through this way.

I used to enjoy that LEGO Ideas existed. The sets coming out of it have been varied and often far enough from the main product lines that they probably wouldn’t have been produced at all through the internal design process. I personally happily own a couple of them, the 21307 Caterham Seven 620R and the 21313 Ship in a Bottle and gifted 21311 Voltron to a friend.

But everything changed the day I discovered Rebrickable and MOC (My Own Creation) designs offered through part lists, custom instructions and/or 3D model files. Importantly, Rebrickable offers designers the opportunity to sell copies of their designs, making LEGO Ideas just another way of spreading custom LEGO designs, and not the best in my mind.

The LEGO Ideas pipeline requires popular support for a design to be considered by LEGO, specifically 10,000 votes on the website. Designs have up to two years to reach this target in tiers (60 days to reach 100 votes, a year to 1,000 votes and 18 months to 5,000), after which LEGO chooses one set among batches of 35 successful designs to be officially produced. Up to 6 designs are promoted to official sets each year and it’s great for them.

But what about all the others?

For the whole duration of the process, designs entered into the LEGO Ideas website are unavailable for anyone to build on their own using their own parts or buying used ones, including the few designs that reached 10,000 votes and ended up not being selected by LEGO since their inventory and instructions aren’t made available anywhere.

You like it? You can’t build it.

So browsing the LEGO Ideas website is extremely bittersweet for someone like me used to buy parts for MOCs. It features awful designs that, while having no chance of reaching popular support, need time to be weeded out since there are only positive votes. And on the other hand it features great designs that will never be built by anyone as they won’t reach popular support because they are too niche or they stumbled at the elimination round.

The worst part is that I truly believe that most of these great designs would have fared better on Rebrickable. LEGO Ideas is highly asymmetric scheme that provides LEGO with endless free designs with an insured popular success while giving the vast majority of designers practically nothing for their troubles.

You like it? You can’t build it.

So I don’t like LEGO Ideas anymore.

The final nail on the coffin came reading the comments on the Rebrickable review of one of the first 2021 LEGO Ideas set, the 21325 Medieval Blacksmith. Some people were lamenting the aesthetic differences between the original design and the final LEGO set, but that “they would buy it anyway”. So even for sets picked for official LEGO production, the original design becomes unavailable for everyone, even though it was the one that garnered votes.

The slight LEGO Ideas redeeming feature is the list of limitations concerning the submissions, excluding 3,000+ parts designs, references to third-party licences they are already exploiting in an existing theme, like Star Wars, Harry Potter or Batman. In my mind this “frees” many designers from the awful dilemma LEGO Ideas/Rebrickable and makes more designs available for people to build from their own parts which is what I think LEGO should be about.

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