The year was 1997, and this was an absolutely horrid time for The Lego Company.
For the first time in the history of the company, it has posted a loss. The
Lego Company needed a change in order for it to appeal to this new generation
of youngsters. They realized that kids in this fast-paced modern world wanted
something cool to play with that would encompass more that building blocks.
Kids wanted a story behind those blocks, and to go with that story they
wanted neat pieces that they could use to create their own play fantasies.
No, this was not the start of Bionicle as one may expect it to be, this was
the birth of the Star Wars line. Star Wars was a smash hit, and it almost
took Lego out of the red for 1999. However, although the sales for the sets
were outstanding, a large number of royalties had to be paid to Lucasfilm in
order to retain the licensing agreement for Star Wars. Lego now knew that
bricks with a story and focus worked, but the licensing agreement with
Lucasfilm kept Lego out of the black.
Meanwhile, Lego's Technic line, popular among adult enthusiasts but never well-received by the younger customers, had recently scored a surprise hit in the line of Throwbots. Although these small kits never even began to approach the fame of Bionicle, they did carry many of the elements that would be found later in Bionicle. Main characters had an elemental focus of sorts; a simple sort of storyline was hinted at; and the sets included the now commonplace ball-and-socket construction that allowed for extensive playability. And to top it all off, they came in cool plastic cases and had neat, collectible discs.
Lego's next line, the RoboRiders, were a considerable failure, but were an obvious step toward Bionicle: they had reduced the cast of characters from twelve somewhat ambiguous characters to six heroes fighting against an unseen evil. The story was becoming more focused, and a tie-in with the Lego website featured a game allowing visitors to battle monsters using the robotic motorcycles.
Therefore, sometime in 1999 Lego got the idea of creating their own story. No
longer would they have to rely on Lucasfilm or any other outside company to
create stories for them. This story -- this saga -- was Bionicle. Lego
thinkers and design staff wanted to create something that would appeal to
boys ages 8-12, yet could also be appealing to other groups. This saga
creation would be a challenge for Lego, as they have never actually created
their own story before. As 2000 approached, it began to come together. 6
heroes. An Island. Magic masks. A dangerous villain. A fight for control.
Everything the typical boy likes in his toys.
The story came together and the sets were made. In January 2001, the creation
known as Bionicle became a reality in Europe. Bionicle was a smash hit, and
it took the continent by storm. Six months later, Bionicle hit the shelves in
the United States. The popularity of the sets was absolutely incredible. Lego
finally found another hit that would not rival any other theme in the area of