BrickForge, BrickArms, or MegaBloks?

Lately it seems everyone is getting all excited about the latest from BrickForge and BrickArms. Every LEGO convention includes a sample of their products in the kit. They’re featured all the time on sites such as the Brothers Brick blog and LAMLradio podcasts. Frankly I just don’t get it. Yes, they make parts that are not sold by LEGO, which some people really need to complete their MOC.

But then, so does MegaBloks.

Most people in the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) community wouldn’t be caught dead with a MegaBloks set, or even with a MegaBloks part included in their model. When you buy a big pile of random LEGO parts at a garage sale or flea market or eBay auction, there are often “clone brands” parts included, since many kids (or their parents or other well-meaning gift-giver) don’t really understand the difference. What do you do with those parts? Most AFOLs I know would either throw them away, or perhaps collect them to give to a children’s charity, but would certainly not build with them.

True, the BrickForge and BrickArms guys came from the AFOL community, unlike MegaBloks which is a big company that sells products in big toy and department stores. But I think they are clones – producing parts that compete directly with some of the parts LEGO makes. BrickForge produced a set of barnyard animals last year, and now LEGO makes cows too. Both companies produce realistic weapons, but some of the recent Star Wars and Indiana Jones sets include them too; plus you can create a lot of realistic weapons using unmodified LEGO parts, as Nannan points out with his Guns Museum. Looking only at the products, the only difference between MegaBloks and BrickForge/BrickArms is that the latter don’t make basic parts or complete sets, just accessories.

Is it just because BrickForge and BrickArms are fan-run, small companies? What if one of them got a big infusion of capital and scaled up operations to a large scale, and started appearing on the shelves of Toys ‘R’ Us?

So if people are happy to use BrickForge and BrickArms products, why not MegaBloks? People complain about MegaBloks having poor quality standards, which is true to a point, but even if they changed to a higher grade of plastic and met LEGO’s exacting standards, I still don’t think the AFOL community would flock to the MegaBloks banner – there’s more to it than just quality, something more abstract and harder to pin down.

To me, the LEGO hobby is an art form using a limited palette of parts to achieve a desired goal. Once you open up that palette to parts from other sources, it’s a different art form. Using parts from other companies lets you get around the limitations of the medium, which in my opinion changes its essence entirely. And it doesn’t matter if those other companies are a multinational company or a guy in his garage; it’s still not LEGO.

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “BrickForge, BrickArms, or MegaBloks?

  1. Andrew Becraft

    You’re right that the quality argument alone doesn’t hold any water. But it’s also not about whether they’re third parties or not; it’s about what they’re designed to do. For me, the distinction is extremely simple. Mega and other clone brands are designed to compete with and replace LEGO, while fan-created accessories extend and supplement what “real” LEGO fans can do with real LEGO.

    All that said, I do keep my truly purist projects distinct from ones that use custom accessories. It’s often more fun for me to limit my palette to only what can be accomplished with official bricks. Too many fans (the youngsters especially) are completely reliant on customization to solve what they could do only with LEGO.

  2. Duckingham

    Two things: Brand distinction and copycatting.

    Dump out a pile of MegaBloks onto a table and ask any kid in the world what you’ve got and he’ll tell you “it’s a pile of LEGOs.” {pardon the improper use of the word there and try explaining to an 8 year old why it’s just a “pile of LEGO.” :) } I have yet to meet or hear of anyone who says, “I grew up on MegaBloks,” and I don’t think the day will ever come. Brand distinction. Whether or not another company can slap some ABS into a modified mold they ripped off from LEGO, we all know which came first and which still does it better.

    Second, I appreciate what BrickArms has done to create items that are not in competition with LEGO, but complement LEGO. It proves that BrickArms is a LEGO-fan thing. Without LEGO, there would be no BrickArms. And, frankly, without LEGO, there would never have been a MegaBloks. To me it is a sad thing that companies have lacked the creativity to do much more than copy an existing product and think that stamping their own company name on it justifies it.

    So, copying=bad, complementing=good. IMHO ;P

  3. James

    For me it is very much a personal thing. For example, nnenn uses clone bricks and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Would I use Megabloks? Not a chance!

    It is a hobby and different people will enjoy it in different ways. This includes using different themes and different parts.

  4. Pingback: Bill Ward’s Brickpile » Blog Archive » BrickArms Controversy in Mainstream Media

  5. Armothe

    I think it pretty clear that the entire concept of LEGO is creativity & customization. Who hasn’t after following the instructions, tossed them off to the side to build something completely different? Even the minifigs – although not originally intended – allow fanatics to swap out body parts and accessories. MOC building is large and versatile enough to where builders need not turn to clone brands to create something entirely awe-inspiring. However, I think you’ll agree that The LEGO Group has been asleep at the wheel through the mid-late 90′s and early 2000′s when it came to providing fresh sets, parts & minifigs. For most LEGO enthusiasts, minifigs and other custom parts sell the set, and when the same pieces are recycled over and over and excuses made as to the lack of new elements – excitement dwindles. TLG eventually figured this out and has managed to turn things around the past two years. In the meantime, however; this opened the door for concerned AFOLs to provide themselves and the community with potential solutions.

    MOC building aside, most custom pieces revolve around the minifig, and understandibly so. Minifigs represent people which have arguably more diverse characteristics than buildings, vehicles or dioramas. More individuals are going to make a minifig representation of themselves or their favorite icon rather than a MOC of their house. Brick-building can only be taken so far at the minifig scale thus the need for additional accessories.

    So we are led to a fallacy of lumping clone brands together as some evil force in direct competition to LEGO. Does having modern military weapons available from BrickArms somehow deter a fan from purchasing LEGO sets? I don’t see how. Did BrickForge coming out with a Cow 18 mos. ahead of LEGO somehow hurt TLG’s bottom line? Let’s get real here. Rather, these perveyors of such elements are forcing LEGO to do what they failed to do a decade ago – cater to the community. Do you think it a coincidence that just now we are seeing a Cow, an Agents line or a Fantasy theme? The truth of the matter is a few AFOLs got a bit irritated a few years ago and ponied up their own self-interests to send a message. It’s working.

    Will we ever see BF or BA accessories at TRU? Frankly, we wouldn’t need much capital to offer accessory packs – much like LEGO once did. And I’m not sure how I see that as being negative for either LEGO or the community. Kids and AFOLs alike will continue to purchase LEGO sets yet willing to spend a few bucks here and there to supplement.

    Some artists limit their palette and others mix colors and use anything at their disposal. Would you care to answer which is more of an artist?

  6. anthony ramirez

    i am fascinated by the discussion of the distinction between LEGO products and other forms of building blocks and am equally fascinated by the usage of jargon by cognoscente in that discussion. I wasn’t aware these were possibilities until this very moment. Apparently different people feel passionately about their creative pursuits. In the creative process of my own “LEGO” projects, i am interested in incorporating as much accurate detail as possible to the finished project. If i am able to achieve greater degree of accurate detail with a few alternative components and the esthetic is not compromised negatively, I am not averse to implementing components of custom manufacture or of my own personal design. I have used custom pieces from MEGABLOKS and Brickarms, as well as pieces from board games, keychains, costume jewelry, and accessories from action figure toys. I am provided greater creative license. Earlier this evening I learned of Brickforge. I have an idea for a new LEGO project and am wondering if Brickforge has custom pieces of any interest to me. I like to keep my creative possibilities as open as ossible.

  7. Bill Post author

    That’s a perspective that many of us would consider heresy :-)

    For me, a big part of the challenge of modeling using LEGO is the limited pallet of parts/colors available. Once you open yourself up to all kinds of things like you describe, why bother using bricks at all? Why not just carve something out of raw materials? That’s a valid form of sculpture but it’s hardly the same thing as LEGO modeling. Do you glue? Do you cut parts? Reusability is another key component for me – I find the transient nature of LEGO models aesthetically pleasing.

  8. Loren Merrell

    ‘To LEGO brick or not to LEGO brick… That is a question?’. This is an extremely interesting concept and question. I consider myself a purist. I would never dream of harming or altering a brick by paint, blade, or glue. However, I see no harm in cutting base plates to size, or shortening/lengthening 9V train track to meet a specific need. Call me a “hypocrite”!?, but the title probably fits me in this regard. Of all the brands of building bricks, I believe the LEGO brick is the best of the genera in terms of overall quality, although some of their products/colors/parts have been far from perfect as history has demonstrated.

    What some of the accessory providers and “Off Branders” (as I call them) provide, is a means of getting to an end that the LEGO product line doesn’t quite meet. If LEGO provided a more realistic Roman shield, I would not hesitate to acquire it. I would love to see a LEGO line of world history, Star Trek or J.R.R Tolkein line of models. However, that is not what they are selling. In order to meet this need, I and many others have found an alternative supplier. Does the use of an alternative LEGO product diminish the art of a model or make it less worthy? The alternative products can add more realism and authenticity that the LEGO product line does not give.

    As an AFOL, I do wish for more variety, as I’m sure the LEGO designers do as well. LEGO designers will cut/glue/paint parts in order to make a model meet their design ideas. Just because it cannot be bought, does that mean it is any less LEGO than if it is constructed from all LEGO parts? From a LEGO corporate perspective, they must limit new molds and color palettes to ensure corporate longevity/profitability.

    From my perspective, I have no problem with someone doing what ever they will with a media that they own. However, if there is a LEGO competition, or such, I will stand by my purist attitude. Nothing but the pure LEGO part.

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