If I've heard it once I've heard it a thousand times, and in a thousand ways. "LEGO has gone downhill." "LEGO was so much better when I was a kid." "LEGO used to make good stuff, now they're just in it for the money."
In my latest effort to explore the sources of these feelings, I look at two fire station sets, one from 1994 and one current. I chose 6571 Flame Fighters to represent the old school specifically because it is the biggest of the classic era, and with its play value & level of detail one could argue it was the best (though nostalgia bias will rule that argument for most folks). Being the last in the classic style before the juniorification of LEGO System in the late 90s took its toll, 6571 also was able to benefit from the largest parts selection in its class. In spite of my attempts to give the classics the best possible fighting chance, I can't help but feel there's hardly a contest here.
Just looking at the one image above tells much of the story -- the modern set is dramatically larger and includes more of everything. In fact, it comes with over twice as many parts. At the same time, the price/part ratio of the new one is just over half that of the classic, bringing the inflation-adjusted (i.e. real) retail price within very close range.
|Price (in 2016 USD)||$88||$100|
|Bricks & plates||146 (34%)||259 (28%)|
The last row of the table above addresses the common, related complaint that old LEGO sets were made with standard pieces you could rebuild into anything, while new ones are mostly prebuilt with single-use molds. All I did was pull up the part inventories on Bricklink and sort them by category, tallying up all plain, un-modified, traditional bricks (including rounds) and plates in each set. For a single data point, the difference in percentages is statistically insignificant. Perhaps even more telling & on-point is the reverse view of the numbers, showing that 66% of the classic set's parts were not basic bricks & plates.
All that said, what do you think? Has LEGO gotten worse over the years as many detractors wax, or do the numbers and visual & play feature comparisons accurately convey a different story?