Eric (datan0de) wrote,

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I don't go out of my way to be inflammatory or controversial in my posts, but sometimes when the issue is of sufficient importance I simply cannot remain silent. I must speak out and voice an unpopular opinion, even if by doing so I risk alienating friends or opening myself up to public ridicule or violence against me and my loved ones.

This is one of those times, and in case you haven't already guessed where I'm going with this, I'm referring to the trademark case between Lego and Mega Blok in the Canadian Supreme Court.

Flame me or unfriend me if you like, but I think that Mega Bloks kick ass.

Sure, back in the day they were the cheap Lego knock-offs, and like all of you pretentious bastards I turned my nose up at them and effectively had a blind spot that covered that part of the toy aisle. Then again, I used to be a staunch Republican, a homophobe, and a devout Catholic. People change. I've changed. And so have Mega Bloks.

My eyes first began to open almost a dozen years ago, when femetal and I were still living in Gainesville and she bought me a Mega Bloks set that came inside a rocket. It's great. It comes apart into three sections- a thruster section (which includes connection pegs on the top so it can be incorporated into your constructs), a middle (which contained the actual Mega Bloks), and a nose cone (which also has pegs, as well as sliding doors so you can put the little people inside, flashing LEDs, and an embedded sound component that announces "Mega Bloks blast off!" with a rocket woosh when you press the little button on top).

It's cool, and it opened my mind enough to consider non-Lego bricks when making important toy purchasing decisions.

Some time after that the toy brick landscape changed, though I probably wouldn't have noticed had I still been wearing my Lego blinders. Maybe there was a management change or something, but it appears that Mega Bloks decided that it had had enough of living off of Lego's table scraps and wanted to begin differentiating itself from its European counterpart. Rather than just marketing generic bricks and lackluster sets they started to turn out innovative creations and product lines with original themes and offer them at prices that make Legos look absurd.

Here's an example, and while I'm going to have to pull some numbers out of my butt, I'm not far off: I was looking to pick up a set geared toward a giant robot or. In the same aisle in the store I found a Lego Star Wars AT-ST for (guesstimating) $8.99 and a Mega Bloks "Future Force" mech for $9.99. Sure, the mech cost a bit more, and it was an officially licensed Star Wars toy, but that's where it's advantage ended.

The AT-ST was dinky- less than 4 inches tall on little stick legs, with minimal articulation. True to the "real thing", it was solid grey. Unlike the real thing, I've almost swallowed larger toys.

The Future Force mech, by comparison, is a behemoth. It stands almost a foot tall, with articulated legs and weapon pod arms, a swiveling missile launcher on the back, a cockpit canopy that opens and closes (along with a little pilot dude to put inside), and 3 "remote drones"- little quadruped robots. It has a jungle camouflage pattern and tons more detail than the AT-ST, which isn't even the size of one of this thing's legs. This is very much representative of both companies' product lines.

There are some advantages to Legos, but they all seem to come with "gotchas". They've got cool movie franchise tie-in's pretty much locked up (Harry Potter and Star Wars), and there are some great sets that have come out of those (I love my Lego snowspeeder!). But a Harry Potter figure with a little Lego Sorting Hat is a weak substitute for genuinely creative sets (like the Mega Bloks Dragons sets, with stone-looking bricks, little weapons, and dragons that can magnetically pick up people, have light-up eyes, and flapping wings!). The notable exception was the MindStorms sets, which were the grand-uber-bomb-diggity (that's an industry term) until Lego discontinued them.

It's also true that Lego bricks are of marginally higher quality than Mega Bloks, which is to say that they're thicker and heavier. Mind you, I've been playing with Legos for almost 30 years and I've almost never actually broken a piece from either manufacturer (I still remember getting my first Lego set when I was about 7, and I still have at least most of those pieces), so I don't see where it's a significant issue. I've heard people complain about wearing pieces out, but it's never happened to me. Maybe I take better care when playing with my toys, but since most of my Lego play has involved building large, heavy spacecraft and then dropping them down the stairs that seems unlikely. :-) The exception here is the little people. Mega Bloks people suck compared to Lego folk.

I also suspect that the compatibility issues between the two are exaggerated. In my experience at least, they play just fine with each other in all but the rarest circumstances.

Final technical issue: exotic pieces. Both manufacturers will include unusual pieces in some of their sets, but in general I've found that the exotic Mega Bloks pieces are more useful when building other things than the unique Lego pieces are.

From a socio-political standpoint I'm glad that Mega Bloks won the case. First off, Lego was trying to extend their (expired) patent perpetually by claiming that the nubs on the tops of the bricks are a trademark, rather than an engineering feature essential for the basic operation of the product. Second, as I mentioned, their patents have expired, and quite some time ago at that.

Oh, and here's a little bit of trivia: Lego didn't even originally design the bricks. They were invented by someone in Britain, and Lego beat 'em to the punch getting patents.

Yes, I actually think about this kind of stuff. :-)
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