Feb 7, 2010

Should LEGO make sure you can build everything?

There's been something going around for a long time now, and I was just answering yet another question aimed at it over on NXTasy, but I thought I'd voice it here (hey, what are blogs for, right?).

A number of folks seem "cheated" or upset that you can't build the same models with the 1.0 kit as you can with the 2.0. Or the reverse ("we want a 2.0 to 1.0 backwards compatibility upgrade"). Or they complain that LEGO should really offer a "parts pack" that allows owners of just the 1.0/2.0 kit to build all the robots in a particular book (a very common comment).

Why?

I'm not saying "why do you want this" - that's pretty obvious (I'd love it as well). I'm not asking if this is financially viable or workable in terms of production and stock issues (what I know about those factors wouldn't fill a 2x4 brick). I'm asking "why do users seem to feel entitled to this, and repeatedly demand this?".

It's funny to me, as this seems to come up again & again in discussions on the NXT set - people commenting that "they don't have the pieces they need", or that "you can't build X using just this one set", and often stating that that's a real failing on LEGO's part. The thing I find funny about this is you don't find it anywhere else in the LEGO world. I don't know anybody who bought a single Star Wars set, and then complained that you couldn't build other Star Wars sets from it. Or even that the larger sets in theme (say, one of the larger Rock Raiders sets) should have the extra pieces needed to build a number of the smaller sets in a theme (or even cross-theme). That actually seems to work just fine with consumers of any other LEGO set. And (to me!) the idea that LEGO should design their set contents in such a way as to allow the consumer to build the huge number of user-built models out there (or even figure out which ones are "most desired"... when those trgets literally change month by month or faster) seems irrational. Yey I've heard at least some folks advocate it.

It used to be the question of "Where are the extra pieces?" was answered "In Other Sets"... and that been that way for a very long time now. Of course, it's not the only answer. The LEGO community realized that to build what they wanted, they needed more parts... so you bought more sets. Not sets designated as "with this set you can also construct X, Y, & Z", but as parts - just spare parts. Not content with that, people began selling parts they didn't need from sets they had bought for a couple of special hard-to-find pieces... and Bricklink was born. So it's not like there's not alternatives (tried and true ones at that).

So I guess the question here is "what's different?" Why are these assumptions, that previous consumer have purchased LEGO under for years, not assumed by the Mindstorms consumer? Should they be? Or is there something fundementally different about Mindstorms users and therefore the way the set should be marketed and configured?

15 comments:

timropp said...

The difference with NXT is that they kept the NXT name and average people (aka non-AFOL types) don't understand that there have been two different NXT sets with different parts. They buy a book or see a model online that says you can build it with just the base NXT set and don't realize that it means NXT 1.0, not their newer set. Lego should have used a different name for the set or something to help with the confusion, since there is far more info out there (sites like nxtprograms.com, books, etc) for NXT than you find specific directions for other Lego sets.

James Floyd Kelly (Jim) said...

Very good point, Brian, about the Star Wars sets... I certainly wouldn't expect to be able to build an X-Wing from the Millennium Falcon set.

L3G0-Bots Lady (;-p) LEG0Bot-Gee a.k.a. V.Greene said...

Hey folks, SO... there are different elements in kit 1.0 & 2.0, there are unique and different elements in most of the LEGO kits – that’s what makes the kits interesting – a new element to work with; and I wouldn’t be surprised if that isn’t part of LEGO’s marketing plan (smile). For those who might not know, the Educational NXT kit is different from the Consumer 1.0 kit, which was cooler; so a Resource kit $80. was put together to offer the “cool” and most often used elements to Edu kit. Should LEGO offer a resource/supplementary kit to the Consumer 1.0 containing the new elements of the 2.0 and vice versa? Perhaps it would be nice… However, it is kind of sad that people get upset, because they can’t build a model EXACTLY the way it is in a book. TRUE LEGO builders are supposed to be CREATIVE! IMPROVISE!! Come up with something slightly different, maybe better. To me, that’s the joy of building…

rick-sam said...

I don't know, it seems kind of obvious to me. The NXT sets require an expensive NXT to use them. Why should you have to buy a new one when a perfectly good one is sitting right there.

Sure, it's handy that the kit comes with the NXT and parts but there could be a parts only kit too for those who don't need or can't afford a second NXT.

The Emerald Night was at one time available both ways with the power functions and without. No reason the NXT can't be the same.

Mom said...

For us it's a matter of cost and timing. At $200, it burns me that I have to hunt and pay for additional pieces for something LEGO promotes. (Third party books, blogs and web resources aside).

I bought a 2.0 set at Christmas, yet there are no similar books coming out for it as there were for 1.0. I think I saw one coming out later this month, another in March and one in May. All the library books he checked out, all the books at the bookstore weren't what he could use.

He's very disheartened at this point.

I realize one can adapt and modify, but he's barely 10 and needs to do the basics.

nxt-projects said...

I think these are valid arguments. It would be difficult for lego to achieve full compatibility over all the time. So the way it is, is fine for me. Though I think the naming / book issue is a got point. Not least this discussion helps to be aware of it.

That’s why I like your blog – thanks!

Andy Dannelley said...

I think the difference is in a mindset. When folks buy a LEGO set (Star Wars, Technic, whatever) they know what models they are going to be able to build. They frequently see an A model and a B model. They build the A model and the B model then put the parts n the bin.

With NXT, LEGO advertises that you can build four (4) main models (already 2 more than a traditional set) and if you use your imagination you can build much more. But folks read several Internet websites and and books saying you can build all their wonderful things with one NXT kit. The consumer doesn't know that there are 2 NXT sets and if they do, they do not know the difference between NXT 1.0 and 2.0. Remember, this is not LEGO advertising all these things that folks can build, this is coming from third parties. Web-sites, discussion boards, books and other places.

It is still my contention that any NXT set (1.0 or 2.0) is just a starter set, and if you want to build more and bigger you are going to have to get more parts.

LEGO clearly states what you can build with the NXT 1.0 or 2.0 so I do not believe LEGO has done any misrepresentation here.

This seems to be the perfect storm of lack of information and old information that is present and causing the difficulties.

Just MHO, YMMV

Andy D

Tim said...

Here's another thing to look at: if there isn't an NXT 1.0 to 2.0 upgrade, then you have to buy an NXT 2.0 kit. Then you have two NXT's and can build two versions of Alpha Rex at the same time!

Pe-ads said...

I agree with Tim; the difference between the two is not obvious enough for the average consumer. Most of the authors have asked their publishers to put 'not compatible with 2.0' on their books, but that's only half the problem . I really think LEGO should put a notice on the boxes to say that it's not the same as 1.0. That means if people don't notice the warning on either the book or the kit, then it's their fault, not LEGO's/the author's.

Also, with all due respect, I find it slightly annoying that some people moan about the fact that there are 'no books for NXT 2.0!' There were absolutely zero books for NXT 1.0 when it came out!

James Floyd Kelly (Jim) said...

Pe-ads is correct - when the 1.0 came out, it was about 3 or 4 months before the first NXT book came out... and even more months before a more regular stream of books became available...

I can't guarantee there'll be as many books for 2.0 as there were for 1.0 (many many reasons), but there are some more being planned. 2.0 owners will need to be patient a bit longer...

Brian Davis said...

Actually, it's one of the reasons I don't see a good reason to write another book... when the kit changes (& it will), if the readership expects a recipe book... then you have to come up with a whole bunch of new recipes. Teach people how to cook, and they'll make a meal with whatever they have at hand. It certainly does make it far tougher to sell books in the long run, as your goal is to make folks self-sufficient.

A great example of this is the book "Building Robots With Lego Mindstorms" by the Ferrari brothers & Ralph Hempel, or Yoshihito Isogawa-san's books. These don't have detailed plans... they don't have finished robots... they don't have code examples written in the current language de jour (or any language, for that matter)... yet they are the books that I pull off the shelf time and time again.

It doesn't matter if you're using NXT 1.0, 2.0, or the RCX - the books are largely part-independent.

Fay Rhodes said...

While I feel the pain of parents like Mom, I don't think it's the responsibility of the LEGO company to provide any more models than those offered on the box. It would be better if they did, but we can't expect it.

Then, there is the never-ending debate over whether we are encouraging laziness by offering building instructions at all. My position in that debate is that some of us need to see working examples of mechanisms and programs---that includes 10-year-olds and their parents or teachers---to "get" the idea.
I've had people suggest that my Zoo book 1) makes people lazy 2) inspires people, and 3) defrauds them (because they need additional parts). Some love it; some hate it. There really is no winning.

I find the books Brian mentioned are not particularly helpful to me, for various reasons. But that is me. I learn best by watching a mechanism in action. (Thank you to all who put videos on YouTube.)

Mom, don't forget to check out the free building instructions for some very cool 2.0 models in the news section of the MINDSTORMS website. Also, check out what Dave Parker is offering at nxtprograms.com.

Andy Dannelley said...

Both Fay and Brian have good points.

Brian’s point that we need books like "Building Robots With Lego Mindstorms" by the Ferrari brothers & Ralph Hempel is well taken. I also believe we do need more books like this that teach basics without getting too mired down in specific constructions. I have and really like "Building Robots With Lego Mindstorms", and right now I’m looking forward to “The Art of NXT-G Programming” by Terry Griffin as I believe it has the potential to help in this area as well.

Fay’s point that many people need examples to learn how things work so better understand the process is also very valid. I believe that the learn by doing is a very powerful teaching method.

In my mind it is not an either-or, it is both. We need both types of books and other instruction to become better at whatever we do.

Did your math book just have theory? All the math books I ever used also had detailed examples so as to teach a concept, then you are presented with problems that help you to apply those concepts. I do not believe we are all born with the ability to abstract and do things “out of the box” (including building things with NXT), some of us need a little extra information and help.

As I tell my students that it takes time to learn the technology associated with the course. We do not all have the same experiences with computers and what not, we all needed to learn how to do things at one time. I provide examples to help my students learn, so that they can then do the assignments. I teach a hybrid distance education class. Many professors do not believe that they need to give their students any instruction on how to use the course management technology. I devote one full lecture to teaching the technology, along with hands experience and detailed examples so the students can learn by doing. The distance education specialist tells me that the students in my classes have fewer difficulties with the technology than any other class on campus. To me this proves that examples, very detailed examples are a very valid teaching method.


With NXT, I believe that examples, very detailed examples are very useful. Dave Parker (NXTprograms) does a very good job of providing examples and challenges. I have read books by Jim (Kelly) that also provide good examples and challenges to help people grow through examples and experience. But we also need books that help with general knowledge on the topic (like the one’s Brian discussed).

This has turned into a very interesting topic, lots of opinions, and lots of information that should help both the old-timers as well as those new to NXT to understand what is happening in the world of NXT confusion.

This reply got way, way too long. Maybe it should have been a post instead.

Clinton said...

I think Mindstorms is different. Instead of posting a really long comment, I've put up my thoughts here.

Jason said...

Many good points have been made in the replies to this question. Here are a couple of observations I would like to add:

1. Supply and demand - let the free market work (and it already is working). Whether the Lego group provides "conversion" kits (1.0 to 2.0 and/or vice versa) nothing prevents someone else from providing the kits if there is enough demand. (FYI check out Brian Davis' website nxtprograms.com for a link to an independent supplier that provides both flavors of conversion kits)

2. The confusion and differences between 1.0 and 2.0 go beyond the bricks and sensors. There are differences in the programming language as well. For example, I just recently discovered that the 2.0 version performs floating point math! That is a subtlety I hadn't discovered while checking out various NXT web resources. This single difference can cause unsuspecting people a lot of confusion especially since so much of the 1.0 literature focuses on getting around the limitations of integer only math. It also creates new "problems" (aka challenges) for 2.0 owners to tackle. (i.e. how do you implement an x mod y function using the 2.0 environment)

My suggestion for the Lego group is to provide some detailed descriptions of the differences between the various sets on their website. This is a common practice in the software community where customers have come to expect being able to understand what has changed between releases of a product. In general, a better educated consumer makes for a happier consumer which then leads to repeat business.

Finally, I think Mindstorms customers' expectations are different (good or bad) because the Mindstorms Lego product is a unique hybrid Lego product. It combines hardware (bricks, CPU, sensors) and software. Therefore, customers' expectations will naturally draw from both domains.

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