But The LEGO Group has more ambition -- the classic toy company is reinventing itself online and through a series of new in-store displays that are designed to blow the collective minds of seven and eight-year-olds -- not an easy task for a generation that is getting harder and harder to impress.
The LEGO Digital Box is the latest example of augmented reality, wherein a digital image is superimposed over a picture captured by a webcam and projected onto a screen. So as a customer holds up a boxed set of LEGO bricks, an animated digital image of that set appears over the box. For instance a LEGO carnival comes to life when held up to the camera -- the carousel spins and the figures included move around the top of the box on the screen.
And this summer, LEGO will introduce LEGO Universe - a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game, where your avatar (digital representative) is a minifigure (LEGO man/woman) that you steer through a world constructed of LEGO elements. In this world, you can build virtually whatever you want. And at some point, I have to believe that LEGO will offer you an in-game option to download the house you designed and purchase it as a set that can be shipped to your home in real life.
It's a lot to ask for a company that started with a product line of handcrafted wooden toys. But perhaps that is why LEGO is currently so flexible -- they're relatively new to the world of electronics. Unlike a technology company that explodes on the scene, experiences massive growth, and then becomes entrenched and unable to adjust to a new VC-funded competitor - LEGO is basically an electronics start-up. Mindstorms, the company's wildly successful robotics line, is only 12 years old and they only started getting serious about licensed video games in the past five years. That means they have a grace period of about two decades before they freak out that someone has left the first animatronics minifig prototype in a mall food court.
In addition to writing a new chapter in their history, LEGO might just be writing the story for the inevitable remake of The Graduate. So in five years, 73-year-old Dustin Hoffman -- could learn a new lesson about what to do after graduation.
There's a great future for the plastics company -- it's just not entirely in plastics.