Got an Idea for a Toy? Toymakers Want to Hear From You.

Near the end of 2022, Lucas Bolt, an environmental artist and Lego enthusiast in Amsterdam, was working on a design for a Lego set the company had crowdsourced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop role-playing game.

“I spent two very intense weeks working on it, every night, every weekend, all the time that I had,” he said.

Mr. Bolt was hoping to create the design for Lego Ideas, a program the toymaker started in 2008 to solicit ideas online directly from fans. Typically, designers post their concept on the platform, and if a design gets 10,000 votes, the company considers it for production. This case was different, though: It was the first time the company had given fans a concept to work with.

Mr. Bolt had been designing his own sets for a few years, primarily for his followers on Instagram, but this was the first time something he had produced had gained real traction. A panel of judges selected his set and four others for a shortlist, and in a vote fans chose his set as their favorite.

Lego Ideas is part of a growing strategy among companies that are creating divisions devoted to going directly to consumers for ideas. Lego takes a more personal approach, allowing fans to submit designs, while other companies poll consumers about what they would like to see or speak to inventors about their latest projects. These initiatives are finding particular success within niche groups of collectors and other highly dedicated fans.

Toy companies that have direct-to-consumer models do not have the same audience reach that distributors like Amazon have, but a unit devoted to direct sales still provides advantages for the overall business, said Jaime M. Katz, an analyst who covers the toy industry for Morningstar, a financial services company. The primary reason companies like direct sales is the speed at which they are able to get access to purchasing data from consumers.

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