Jul 20, 2020

Expensive Bricks or Affordable Bytes

Nintendo Entertainment System
Lego (2020)
On one hand, I think this upcoming set from Lego is awesome.  It's made up of 2,646 bricks which can be used to build a NES console, full size controller and a Super Mario Bros. cartridge, as well as a small television with a scene from the game.  What makes it even cooler is the fact that the television has a crank that allows you to scroll through the on-screen Mario scene as if you're guiding the plumber through Stage 1-1.

The product itself looks great.  The price tag... not so much.

I grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in the 1980's.  At least half of the kids in my class at elementary school qualified for free or reduced lunch.  Back then, the teacher literally just called their names out to pick up their lunch ticket at the desk.  It was a different time, and I had no idea that this had anything to do with how much money the families of these children had.  In fact, after my parents got divorced and I suddenly became one of the names who got called up to the desk to pick up my free-or-reduced lunch ticket, I remember thinking that it must be a perk that they give to kids after their parents split up.  Sorry about the loss of your two parent household kid, but have a free slice of pizza on us.  However, every kid I knew, whether they paid the full price for their school lunch or not, had a bucket of Lego bricks to play with.  They were fun, and they were affordable.  I even had a set that came free with a Happy Meal.

I was also fortunate enough to have a Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 80's.  To this day, it's probably my favorite present that I had ever been given for Christmas.  I played that thing for hundreds, if not thousands of hours throughout my life.  I had such fond memories of it that I ran right out and bought a NES Classic Edition plug-and-play console when it hit store shelves.  It's pretty awesome.  It has 30 vintage NES games built-in, and you can plug it into the television and play them til your heart's content.  No fuss, no muss.  It cost $59.99 when it was first released in 2016, and you can still find them for sale today.  There are over 1,800 listings for them on eBay right now, and the prices range between $50 - $100 for most of them.

With that being said, I have to ask a question.  Why is a box full of plastic bricks that can be used to build a Nintendo model to pretend to play Super Mario Bros. nearly four times more expensive than a real Nintendo which plays the real Super Mario Bros. along with 29 other games?  In fact, for $229, a parent could buy their child a NES Classic Mini and a 32" HDTV with Roku built in, and still have money left over from what they would have spent on toy blocks.

Don't get me wrong, I love Lego, but it's just a model that you build with plastic bricks.  I don't doubt that it took effort and creativity to manufacture a set like this, but it pales in comparison to the money, effort and creativity it took programmers to design the Nintendo Entertainment System and 30 of it's most beloved games, each of which have provided me with entertainment for over three decades of my time on this earth.  I could understand this Lego set being priced at around $50 or $60, but $229 is absolutely ridiculous.

There was a time when Lego was an inexpensive toy that any parent could afford to give to their child.  Those days seem to be gone for good as they continue to price themselves out of relevance for working class families.  Maybe they'll go back to being a toy company one day, but in recent years, they seem to have decided to become Mini-Disney, complete with movies, theme parks, and hundreds of products with a price point geared toward adult collectors and the children of parents who are wealthy enough to spend hundreds of dollars on a plastic model that is forgotten the day after it's built.