The year 1997 was a hard time for The LEGO Company. For the first time in the history of the company, it had posted a loss. The LEGO Company needed a change in order for it to appeal to this new generation of children. They realized that kids in this fast-paced modern world wanted something cool to play with that would encompass more than building blocks. Kids wanted a story behind those pieces, and to go with that story they wanted neat parts that they could use to create their own play fantasies.
However, 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.
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. Six 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. On December 30th 2000, 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 actual profits.