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    AFOL Dark Ages and Renaissance in the 90's and 00's


    [box type="shadow"]Editor's Note: This is the first article written by one of our members, Tim Mahoney(timinchicago). What a great contribution to the site. Hopefully this is the first of many great articles by Tim and hopefully more get submitted by the rest of our members. Tim received 500 BrickPoints for having this article published on the site. -Jeff[/box]

    Dark Age”: the period of time between when a person loses interest in LEGO and when they rediscover it as an adult.

    It is not much of a surprise to say that the LEGO collecting, investing and reselling market is almost exclusively the domain of the adult fan of LEGO (AFOL). Without this key demographic, LEGO price guide and investment information websites like Brickpicker.com would not exist. Therefore, the forces that drive people in and out of the LEGO community are worth exploring and understanding as the size of the AFOL market will largely determine the value and worth of all past and future LEGO sets. With that in mind, I sometimes find myself trying to figure out the reasons that contributed to my LEGO Dark Ages in the 1990’s and then thankfully to a personal LEGO Renaissance in the 2000’s. As my experience is probably not unique, I began to think that the LEGO Dark Age phenomenon is not simply a case of shifting adult priorities or responsibilities. That is too simple an explanation. Generally speaking, I believe that there are three universal reasons that contributed to my Dark Ages and ultimate Renaissance that may also apply to many AFOL’s who entered their Dark Ages in the 1990’s only to find their Renaissance in the 2000’s.

    The first Dark Age factor is a decline in quality, both materially and artistically. During the 1990’s LEGO quality seemed to decline quite a bit. Memorable sets were few and far between and most sets did not have any real adult appeal. Builds were overwhelmingly simple and uninspired. There was very little to attract the attention or entice anyone out of their LEGO Dark Age. You could count on one hand the number of sets that exceeded 1,000 pieces and even those sets lacked the intricate detail prized and craved by the AFOL of today. This artistic decline only consistently began to change after 2000. Set piece size count, playability, and intricate details greatly increased and allowed the creative aspect of LEGO quality to flourish, much like, well, a Renaissance. The Ultimate Collector's Series was born in 2000 with the release of the 7181 Tie Interceptor and 7191 X-Wing Fighter.

    LEGO 7181 Tie Interceptor LEGO 7191 X-Wing Fighter

    The iconic 3450 Statue of Liberty was also released in 2000, making it the largest LEGO set that was released up to that point.

    LEGO 3450 Statue of Liberty  

    One need only compare the Cloud City set (10123), that was released in 2003 with the Death Star (10188), released five years later, to get an idea of the strides that have been made in playability, even within a well-established hit theme such as Star Wars. LEGO 10123 Cloud City LEGO 10188 Death Star

    The advent of the “modular buildings” is a great example of the Renaissance in LEGO quality that began in the mid-2000’s and is still in full swing in 2012. This material and artistic revival has resulted in a remarkable jump in value for many of these quality vanguard sets like Café Corner (10182), Green Grocer (10185), Grand Carousel (10196), Eiffel Tower (10181), and Town Plan (10184) to name a few.  

    LEGO 10182 Cafe Corner  LEGO 10185 Green Grocer  LEGO 10196 Grand Carousel  LEGO 10181 Eiffel Tower  LEGO 10184 Town Plan  

    Just check out the current values below if you have any doubt:  

    Set # Set Name Year Released Pieces MSRP (US$) Current Price (US$) % Increase from MSRP
    10182 Cafe Corner 2007 2056 139.99 1099 685%
    10185 Green Grocer 2008 2352 149.99 548 265%
    10196 Grand Carousel 2009 3263 249.99 667 167%
    10181 Eiffel Tower 2007 3428 199.99 890 345%
    10184 Town Plan 2008 1981 149.99 438 192%

    The second Dark Age factor is stagnation and lack of variety. There just were not that many themes or sets available for most of the 1990’s and what was available, lacked variety and gave the impression that LEGO was stagnating and offering nothing really innovative or dynamic. During much of the 1990’s the number of sets released each year hovered around the 200 mark, bottoming out with barely only 100 sets released in 1992! Again, there just was not a lot sets released to drag an AFOL out of their Dark Age. Of those sets from 1990, most were in the Pirates, Space, Town (City) and Castle themes, which were primarily geared towards younger children. It was not until 2002 that a year had more than 400 sets released. Starting in 2006 LEGO routinely released more than 400 sets a year, with some years having significantly more. Last year(2011) for example, saw nearly 600 sets released, including multiple licensed themes such as STAR WARS, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean and extremely popular non-licensed themes such as Ninjago and City/Town. This new found diversity and variety directly contributes to LEGO Renaissances for many AFOL’s and, more importantly, keeps them firmly committed to the LEGO hobby.

    The final Dark Age factor is the general LEGO group lack of focus and direction. Beginning in the 1990’s LEGO seemed to be moving in many different directions at once and not particularly focused on their core expertise of making unsurpassed brick building toys. Considerable energy was diverted from this core value to establish the Legoland parks and to compete against the likes of Disney and Six Flags. The entrance into the video game market was yet another ancillary branch that took LEGO further from its core strength and diluted the core LEGO building toy concept. This is not to say that some of the video games were not good—some certainly were—but honestly, there are many, many more companies far superior to LEGO when it comes to video game publishing, and NONE that are superior to LEGO when it comes to creating brick building toys! Finally, there were countless ill-conceived LEGO lifestyle products that simply added nothing to the core LEGO strength and only served to blur the lines of the LEGO brand. LEGO is best when it does LEGO and that means brick building toys. There is room for other LEGO concepts just not to the extent that they take away from the basic LEGO core strength. After all, it is this core strength that ultimately allows the other concepts to exist. Stray too far from this universal truth and you risk losing LEGO fans to the Dark Ages.

    The above reasons are by no means exhaustive on the subject and are really only an attempt to stimulate others to explore the forces that led them out and back into the LEGO collecting world. There is a fine line between a Dark Age and a Renaissance and no two AFOL’s journey is exactly the same. Many AFOL’s never had a dreaded Dark Ages, and for that they should consider themselves fortunate. However, now that LEGO is on strong creative footing, with seemingly endless themes to delight all ages and remains laser focused on the LEGO building experience, one can only imagine that there will be far fewer Dark Ages in the futures and many more Renaissances. Who knows, maybe the Dark Ages are on their way to extinction?
     

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    My dark ages lasted roughly 9 years until a brief hiatus in 2005 saw me get some UCS sets that I am today very glad to have gotten at their retail prices. Then there was another few years until a full blown comeback last year. Man I missed some great sets "DOH"

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    I know that a lot of kids, when they get a bit older, start to think that Lego isn't "cool". They stop playing with that "toy" because they think it'll make them "unpopular". I experienced this feeling. But then, years later, I watched The Padawan Menace special on TV. After that I started looking around at Lego sets, re-realized how AWESOME they are, and now I'm back to the hobby more than ever! Life is good.

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    I just want to say thanks to the author of this article. It was well written and made me think of my own Dark Age. I think mine is like most, phased out in my late teens, got in to cars, women, work, family, etc. Now I am 40+, and have been loving buying sets again. I don't feel like I have aged at all.

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    I am 15 and a huge fan and collector of LEGO Star Wars, although I have relativily little money to spend on it. My first set was the V-wing in 2006 and I have been hooked since then. This article is wonderful and some of the information is new to me, (I never paid attention to the lack of origionality in the 90's.) After finding this site I have become more interested in buying lego sets and keping them unopened as an investment and not a display item. This is such a great site for prices and the articles are informative and useful.

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    It was around the year 2000. I was working for an internet company called Ozemail, who provided internet access via Dial Up, and I was a tech support officer assisting people to connect. The internet was still relatively new and internet service providers were gobbling up one another faster than a feeding frenzy at sea. We had taken over a small ISP, and on their homepage after they were taken over, I noticed a small add that linked to the Lego website. It had a Star Wars logo with the Lego logo. Naturally, being born in the 70's, it was my duty to click on this add, thus it opened a few pics of the 7128 Speeder Bikes set, and the 7190 Falcon. I remember saying... omg... omg.... omg. I had never owned a Falcon from Kenner, and I thought, this is my chance, and,.. AND, it was Lego. I hadn't looked at a lego set since I was about 13 I think. I went home that night, (after staring at the new sets for that entire day and not focusing on work), and promptly bought about $2000 in lego sets. I bought 2 Falcons, 2 Rebel Blockade Runners and a stack of others. I instinctively figured at the time, that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I knew they were going to be worth $$$, ... well, I hoped they were. The 7191 X-Wing had sold out from S@H,. So I embarked on a 2 month driving spree to try and find a few, and eventually did. Ironically all the lego I purchased back then I have since sold for a massive profit, but the point was.... it brought me back out of the dark ages, and thankfully so. My girlfriend at the time thought i was a ####### moron, and said I would not make anything off them, and actually my 'unwholesome' addiction to the little plastic things was one of the reasons we ended up breaking up. Needless to say my wife and child now think that my addiction is the most natural thing in the world and actually encourage it. My wife often gets jealous if my son and I have built a new lego set without her help. Long live Lego.

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    There are two kinds of AFOLs and I don't know how comparable they are. The first kind are those which rediscover a love of building Legos, and the second are those in it for the money. :)

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    Great article. A lot of the authors points really resonated with me. But like most stated previously my interests in cars, girls and sports trumped any thought of Lego when I was younger. I recently rebuilt a few of my mid 90's sets and their designs are so different from today, it's amazing.

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    I hadn't really thought of the concept of a dark age, but you are right! Not only did I have one in Legos, but also paintball and all kinds of other things I liked. I don't know if I'm turning into a kid again at 29 or what, but I'm rediscovering all these things and wondering what I've been doing for the last decade.

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    A good, thorough article however it's written with only one age group in mind and I'm guessing you're older than me (maybe by 5 to 10 years?). My first Lego set was 87 at the age of 3 and my prime years were the 90s and I LOVED what Lego had to offer then - many of your reasons for dark ages in the 90s just don't resonate with me - and others my age, I suspect.

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