When I first saw some links to the 2010 trains I was excited. These would be the first trains to be based on the Power Functions and in my opinion, the first train sets to come from LEGO since the decision to drop the 9v line. One could argue that there were two RC sets and the Factory exclusive the Emerald Night but in my opinion, the 2010 sets are really the first sets in the Power Function era.
I had my hopes up as I clicked on the links and began the browse the images. Would there finally be some new add on rolling stock (aka individual train cars)? Sadly there were not. I was disappointed. Based on this Eurobricks thread, it appears the belief that individual train cars will not sell is still strong within LEGO. I still find this puzzling – but more on this later.
An e-mail from my Dad
A week or two later I got an e-mail from my Dad. He has a number of LEGO trains and sets one up around his Christmas tree every year. He was thinking of buying an Emerald Night but was holding off because he wanted more than one passenger car for it. He asked me why LEGO didn’t sell the passenger car separately. I shared with him some of the things I have learned over the years and he was surprised there isn’t a market for add on cars. I don’t know if he ended up buying the Emerald Night or not, the last we spoke about it he was on the fence.
It was when my Dad sent me an e-mail about add on cars that I started thinking. The limitations with the new train system are basically the same as those which led to the demise of the 9v system. Why will the results (aka sales) be any different this time? Granted the new trains are a bit cheaper to produce because the track elements don’t have metal rails, but other than that, there really isn’t much difference.
Before the Hobby Train there was Signal. Signal was the name of the group that I was invited to participate in and provide feedback to LEGO regarding the Train theme. In 2004 I was very active in the Train Community and was heavily involved in the ILTCO effort with Steve Barile. Steve, Huw Millington, Holger Mathes, and myself were invited to participate in Signal. We all readily accepted – it was very exciting to have a voice into LEGO and possibly influence where the train line was headed.
In hindsight I think were invited too late as some of the things we were being asked to comment on had already been decided (e.g. battery power). The Signal team did have some influence though as it was from this team that the Hobby Train project emerged (originally it was called the UTB set where UTB stood for Ultimate Train Builders).
It was shortly after a conference call with the Train design team that I found myself flying back from Europe (where I had been for work) with a homework assignment for Signal. I can’t remember exactly what the assignment was but I do recall that I was annoyed and felt that LEGO wasn’t really listening to the feedback we were providing. I am not sure if it was language (we held all our discussions in English) or their minds were made up or they were simply giving us lip service because they were told told to interface with the feedback group, but I decided to put all of my thoughts on paper instead of in e-mail or over the phone.
Over the course of that 8 hour flight home, what started out as a memo, turned into a white paper on my thoughts on just about aspect of LEGO trains. I didn’t intend to write a document 10 pages long but that is what I ended up with. Once I was back home, I distributed the document to the people in the Signal group and never really heard much about it again.
At some when I was working on the Hobby Train I asked the LEGO team leader if he’d ever seen the paper. It turns out he hadn’t so I sent it to him as well but again, nothing ever came of it – there certainly wasn’t ever any follow up with me anyway.
The only formal response I ever got back from LEGO on my paper was a request not to post it on the web. Although I was not bound by an NDA (I was later on when working on the Hobby Train), (Edit: 2010-01-22: I may have my dates wrong as I have found another document that pre-dates my white paper.) (Edit: 2010-01-22: Looks like I am ok, the NDA had a five year duration which ended at the end of last October.) I honored LEGO’s request and have sat on this document for more than five years.
Time to post the white paper?
The subject of the white paper has come up a couple times, usually when discussing the Hobby Train project at NCLUG meetings. But it was the combination of reading the Eurobricks thread and the e-mail from my Dad that really got me thinking about it again.
I dug through my computer and found the document and read it again. Although some of the content is dated, there are a number of ideas which I believe are as accurate today as they were five years ago when I originally wrote it. In particular, my thoughts on how LEGO trains are packaged and marketed has not changed. If you can find a train on the shelf of a store (the Toys-R-Us near me had them this past Christmas) there is no obvious expansion of the train system articulated anywhere on the box. I think is a huge mistake. For the uneducated consumer, LEGO is asking for people to spend $150 (or more) to a LEGO set for which there is no obvious expansion.
I’ve long wanted to post the document I wrote but as I noted, I have complied with LEGO’s request not to do so. A few weeks ago I sent Steve Witt (LEGO’s Community Manager) an e-mail letting him know that I wanted to post the document and if LEGO still did not want me to, to please contact me and let me know. Since I haven’t heard anything from anyone at LEGO I have decided to go ahead and post the document.
So if you have made it this far and are interested in reading this document – go ahead and download it. The first 2-3 pages are mostly introductory material, the real content starts about 3/4 the way down page 3.
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