Review: Pley, the Netflix for Lego

Review: Pley, the Netflix for Lego

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 4.12.24 PM

I am Will Ferrell’s character in The Lego Movie.

I’m not proud of it, but it’s nothing new—even as a child, to the frustration of my mother, I used my Lego sets as model kits to be assembled, not tools for pure creativity. Today I’m a true aficionado of Legos* and although I constantly marvel at the creative output by Lego fans around the world, my own collection sits largely unused, carefully sorted into an enormous card catalog. Others might find all of this rather surprising, given my unconditional love for the little bricks.

Pictured: Me
Pictured: Me

All this is to say that I might be the perfect customer for Pley, the Netflix for Lego sets.** Pley’s business model is straight-forward: pay a monthly fee and they send you one Lego set at a time. Build it, play with it, keep it as long as you like, mail it back, and they send you another one from your queue.

Certain potential customers might immediately disagree with the entire premise. Who would want to acquire a Lego set without actually owning it? Who’d pay money to a company just for renting toys?

Well, me, for one. I enjoy the simple act of starting with a big pile of Legos and ending with a spaceship (or truck or whatever, but come on, you know I mostly want spaceships). I think Lego designers are enormously talented and produce some really innovative designs that are a joy to construct and then swoosh around the room (SPACESHIPS!). Most crucially, I have more than enough Legos to my name, and no space or desire to add more. But being able to build, appreciate, and return sets? Fantastic.

Bam!
Bam!

So a few months ago, mere hours after learning of Pley’s existence, I forked over the cash for my first month. Pley offers three membership tiers: Fan ($15/month), Super Fan ($25), and Mega Fan ($39). The sets available at each price level would normally retail for $10-15, $20-30, and $50-500, respectively. It’ll surprise nobody that, once I was assured that this wasn’t an elaborate scam, I quickly upgraded to Mega Fan.

First step was to select Lego sets for my queue (called the “Pleylist”). Pley offers almost 200 sets as of this writing, divided across the three tiers. (If you’re a mere Super Fan then you can’t select the Mega Fan-level sets, though you can add sets from a lower tier.) Pley is rather insistent about keeping “at least ten sets” in your Pleylist at all times, for reasons that’ll become clear shortly.

Sets arrive in a bright red envelope or box, with the set’s pieces zipped into a reusable mesh bag inside, along with the instruction book and a return label. (More than one delivery guy, upon hearing the rattle inside the box, thought I’d ordered something that was now terribly broken.) Pley encourages you to keep and play with the set as long as you like before returning it for another. There’s no charge or penalty for missing pieces upon return, which is obviously a relief, but might also be a bit of a liability (see below).

The bricks and instructions are almost always in good shape. Pley claims that they clean and sanitize the bricks between renters, which is comforting when you imagine some anonymous fellow member prying bricks apart with his teeth. I’m not sure the cleaning happens every time, though, since sets sometimes aren’t fully disassembled. More than once I’ve found a still-assembled cluster of Legos in my bag, then faced the odd moral conundrum of whether I should take them apart so as not to deprive myself of building the entire model.

Photo 9
Pictured: my version of the Trolley Problem.

Sadly it’s in putting the models together, Pley’s raison d’etre, that I found the single most irritating aspect of the whole experience: missing pieces. Lego is famously fastidious in its quality control, and missing pieces in sets are extremely rare. Scouring my brain, I can remember missing a piece out of the box exactly once in my decades of Lego purchases. That’s a fantastic track record.

Not so with Pley sets. In five of the six sets I’ve received, at least one piece has been missing (usually either one or two). Early in my membership they would include a small bag of 10-20 “frequently missing” pieces, but alas, the grab bag never matched up with what I needed. Pley also has a useful webpage for you to select and order Legos from the inventory of what came with the set. But then the site displays an icky warning that it’ll be a long while before the missing pieces arrive in the mail, and politely suggests that you might simply return it or play with it as-is.

I took their advice, and substituted the missing parts from my own carefully-sorted collection. It seemed to be the rules of the game, so to speak. The worst offender, however, was a tow truck set that lacked over 50 of its 800 pieces, including two of the large wheels, which left the completed truck looking in need of a tow itself. Given this, the overall build experience was frustrating, even more so than you’d think. Any experienced Lego fan knows well the momentary panic of thinking that a crucial Lego is missing, and then the relief in finding it hidden under another piece. With Pley sets, the stress is real, and often repeated. It’s advisable to have a personal Lego collection to supplement missing parts as I did. But then you need to keep track of what you’ve donated. Again, it’s more of a hassle than it seems.

It’s hard to know how Pley can correct this problem permanently. Since Legos can weigh as little as a tenth of a gram, they’d need very careful measurements of their sets upon arrival to even detect a problem, and then they’d have to inventory the entire set to find out what’s missing. So the obvious response—charging or penalizing customers for not returning the full set—can’t possibly be made cost-effective. Still, though, I’d think they could have at least realized that my tow-truck set was 10% light before shipping it out. Even more obviously, they could allow you to report missing pieces without requesting that they be sent, for the benefit of the next member. (Pley states that they’re planning this feature.) UPDATE: As a part of the ongoing website/branding relaunch, Pley just introduced Pley Detective, which lets you do exactly that.

After enjoying and displaying my sets for a few days, I tear them back down (almost as much fun, for some reason), drop them back in the bag, and mail the set away. Then comes my second-least-favorite part of the process: the unpredictable wait for the next set. The shipping itself can be slow, sometimes painfully so (a good transaction might take a week from shipping one set to receiving the next). And Pley is completely unpredictable as to which set from the Pleylist they’ll be sending you. Though you can sort your list by preference, I’ve received sets that were as far down as 10th on my list—the nicer sets are in high demand and low supply, it seems. Those at the very top of my list, like the $400 Death Star, seem frustratingly hard to get.

DEPRESSING UPDATE: I mailed off a set the day after posting this review, and was informed via email two days later that the new set being sent to me is the 17th on my Pleylist.  …Out of 17 sets. Dead last. Adding insult to injury, this set is at the Super Fan level, meaning that for the current rental at least, my $39/month is paying for something I could have gotten at the $25 level. Discouraging, to say the least.

Update 2, just for my own record keeping: the next set was the UN Building, 9th out of 16 sets. It was a Mega Fan set, at least. New policy for my Pleylist: no more “nice to have” sets, only ones I’m actually excited to receive. It’ll be interesting to see if the list gets pared down to its bare bones as sets are sent to me faster than I add new ones. I’m also curious whether I’d have better results if my list *only* consisted of the hard-to-get sets, but I suppose I’ll soon find out.

Update 3, since this post is still getting some attention: My queue basically went out with a whimper. I stood my ground, and eventually I had about 10 Mega Fan sets on it, none of which were being shipped to me. After a month of waiting, I cancelled my membership. And that was that.

*sniff*
*sniff*

Investment in their inventory would surely help. 190 sets in their current catalog sure seems like a lot, but I really only had 20 or 25 that were of interest to me. On a related note, I receive no notification when new sets are added to their collection, and there’s no way in the current website to sort by “recently added,” making the search for new sets feel like rummaging through a used-DVD bin.

These all might be growing pains. Pley is an interesting business concept and it’s certainly in its “plucky young startup” phase, down to finalizing its name and branding. And it certainly picked the right year to open up shop. As linked previously, they’ve got a page up at http://pleygo.uservoice.com where users can submit suggestions. They’re also running miscellaneous giveaways and other contests, and inevitably heading toward social media by inviting you to upload a gallery of your creations.

So I’m sticking with them to see how well these wrinkles get ironed out, and what else they have planned. Even with flaws included, they still solve a very particular problem for me, which is the highest compliment I can give any product or service. I hope they stick around for a long while.

Update 3: Alas, I reached the end of the line. As mentioned above, I began deliberately allowing my Pleylist to shrink, so that it only consisted of top-tier sets that I genuinely wanted. What followed was two long months of nothing. Not a single set shipped to me. I was reminded multiple times that Pley recommends more sets on one’s list, but for $39 per month, I shouldn’t have to add mid-level sets just for the pleasure of receiving them. Thus ends my experiment, in frustrating fashion, since I really rooted for Pley to succeed. But their time simply ran out.

*Yes I call them Legos, just like every other red-blooded American. I say “y’all” too.

**They were called Pleygo until halfway through writing this review, when they relaunched with what seems to be a much-improved website. One imagines they’re not only steering clear of Lego lawyers, but positioning themselves to offer other types of toys in the future. Either way, I like the change.

24 thoughts on “Review: Pley, the Netflix for Lego

  1. interesting. i’ve been on the fence for awhile about Pley. it seems like a really good idea, but, I just had a hard time shelling out $40/month (cause, i really just want to get a hold of that Death Star, too. just like everyone else).

    i keep going back and forth. maybe i’ll pull the trigger.

    eventually.

  2. After having a meltdown while sorting through thousands of lego pieces that my Son had decided to have a “lego party” with… I’ve decided to give this service a shot. While I don’t want to deprive him of Legos because I feel they are actually very good for him… But these little plastic blocks are expensive and for myself, have created nothing but the constant chore of picking up so many PIECES!

  3. I have to agree with you. In addition to all of the above issues, I have the joy of having the current rental be wrong so that I have to wait until somebody decides to fix the site before another set can be sent. I’ve been waiting two days currently. Like you, I joined at the MegaFan level because I want the larger sets. I think almost every set I have received is missing pieces. I saw your update about the Pley Detective. I have yet to see that and when you report missing pieces, as I did yesterday, there is no option to send or not send them. I think the most frustrating thing is that every time I ask why something is wrong, I get the answer, we’re a new company. That worked for the first month to two but they just passed one year in business and these things still aren’t fixed. I can’t see my account history, any credits on the account can’t automatically be applied to the membership fee and as mentioned previously, the current rental is wrong, and has ebbs since January.

  4. I had a similar experience. I signed up for the free trial month (which now says first set free) and started with an AMAZING experience. I got the TMNT Turtle Lair Attack set. It was brand new still in the numbered bags, it was flawless, no missing pieces and my 3 year old and I spent 4 hours that afternoon in Lego Land! I let him play with the set for a few days until he got tired of it and we sent it back for a new one, perfect! Excited to get the next one.

    The next set was a Chima tank, missing 1 of 4 tank tracks rendering it unplayable for my son, he couldn’t drive it around. The next set was an AT Star Wars walker that was missing the Yoda mini fig and a few other crucial pieces. As my free month came to a close I decided not to subscribe and instead start buying Lego set’s for my son so that I could avoid missing pieces and waiting for shipping.

    I think Pley needs a few more elves or (detectives) to verify incoming and outgoing sets. Good idea but seems poorly executed at this time. I’d rather pocket the $15-$25-$39 a month and buy some incredible sets for the boy for Christmas. Just my experience, nice review!

  5. I am a megafan and a superfan account holder. I called customer service and inquired why it takes 1 week to deliver my megafan lego vs superfan 3 day delivery.
    It was not a helpful reply. They replied it was a bigger set and takes longer to deliver to the same address. How is that for an answer? I wanted to to ask if they can do something about that and I got hanged upon.

    Not really happy with what they claim.

    Beware of their shipping time if you are considering doing the megafan.

  6. I was soooo excited about this concept. I signed up and put 9 sets in my cue. That was 2 weeks ago. They have my money and I still have no Legos. Site is a scam. Stay away. Seriously.

    1. It’s certainly not a scam, as I’ve been using it for almost six months now. Delivery times can be slow, however.

  7. I signed up for a free trail month and was SOOOO excited. This is for my 4.5 year old son. We got the 1st set within 3 days of signing up and it was awesome. The set was complete. My kid loved it. Played with it for 5 days then he decided he was done and couldn’t wait to get the next one. I was totally sold on this concept and was even planning to have family and grandparents contribute money to his rental subscription instead of buying new toys for him for his birthday and holidays. That’s how much we both loved it. Then…. the next set took a whole week to arrive. This was disappointing because that means that if my kid plays with a set for 5 or so days then has to wait a full week for the next one… we only get about 2 sets in a month. For the cost of the super fan membership ($25 per month) I could be purchasing and keeping half the sets we are using. That’s not a good value. Still, I figured hopefully that maybe this time was just a fluke and future sets would come faster, and/or that the company will find ways to improve this turnaround time.

    So we got the next set FINALLY. And to my utter disappointment it was missing more than 20 pieces. This meant that we could not complete the project enough for my kid to play with it. And here’s the real kicker. If this was just for me, I’d just say okay, fine, not subscribing. BUT my 4 and a half year old is already SOLD on this idea and can’t wait to get these sets!!! How was I to know that they would be so incomplete and cause an utter meltdown for him when he realized it? This ruined my entire evening. I was so excited to have something to new to play with together with him. Instead I had to manage a huge tantrum because he was so upset that he couldn’t finish and play with this new thing that just arrived. Honestly… this is just like TORTURE for a 4 year old. Why torture the kids? Why torture the parents for that matter? Don’t tell us you are giving us something new to play with, only to find that it’s a massive tantrum-inducing disappointment. I’m sure he’ll get over the disappointment of this one set. But here I read that missing pieces are the norm not the exception. That’s just not going to work. And I don’t want to pay such a high monthly price for that experience. As I was putting this set together with my son this evening, I was literally almost having a panic attack as I’d look for new pieces for the next step in the building process. If I couldn’t find the piece right away, I’d start feeling really uneasy wondering if this was the moment where my kid was going to completely lose it due to disappointemnt. And who can blame him? I’m disappointed too. One or two missing pieces, okay. But 20? C’mon. Why even send the set. Clearly no one is checking the completeness of the sets. And people are not being careful to send them back complete because there is no penalty for losing up to 15 pieces. WTF? This does not work for kids at all. And now I’m in a really bad position of having to break the news to my kid that in fact, perhaps we cannot do this rental Lego thing that we were both really excited about (because constantly missing pieces will be a tantrum inducing experience for a 4 or 5 year old every time).

  8. I am currently a new Mega Fan member of Pley. I have to admit that I was wholly impressed with the Superman Battle at Smallville kit that I was sent in the trial period. The fear of missing pieces worried me too. The kit arrived well used, evidenced by the worn corners on the instruction booklets, but it was complete and much to my surprise even the sticker sheet was included…and unused.

    I am an adult Lego collector. My first thought after building the kit was to purchase it from Pley. I checked their offer and their reduced price was only a few dollars less than retail. Not a deal I was willing to take. Even with the zipped bag, the price was not right for a kit that was still available on retails shelves.

    For me, taking apart the kit and sending it back went against my grain. I had hands on the kit, as always I was impressed with the design and the features of the model but now I had to give it back. So, now my plan for Pley has changed – I have loaded my list with only the rare kits I don’t have and that have been retired from the Lego store. Once one of those kits arrives at my home, I’ll buy it from Pley immediately. Filling in any missing parts might be annoying, but it will be a small price to pay to get these kits at this point.

    To date, I’ve gone four weeks with no kits from Pley. I think I might hold out for two more months and if none of the rare kits become available during that time, I’ll need to cancel the membership and consider the $120.00 I paid them a gambling loss.

    1. Thanks for sharing. After becoming annoyed with Super-Fan sets being sent off my list (despite my Mega-Fan status), I pared down my list and now it’s only the sets I *really* want. Currently sitting at 11 sets, and I’m concerned that I’ll receive fewer and fewer of them as I allow the list to get smaller. If so then I’ll be in the same boat as you.

  9. Subscribed 2 months ago, and this is our third set out of 5 that is missing pieces. I’ll echo the thoughts others have had about the disappointment by my 5 year old when this happens. Incredibly frustrating, to say the least. When things like a wheel are missing, the set is pretty much useless.

    When I go to use the “Pley Detective” feature to report missing pieces, it says “remember, you can always add pieces from your own collection. It’s part of the sharing”. Well, if someone else played with the set and didn’t bother to include all the pieces (and they weren’t really penalized for it), you’re allowing them to *ruin* our experience. What’s the incentive? I didn’t lose the pieces. Someone else did! I’ll do my part by reporting exactly which pieces are missing so Pley can “fix” the set when it comes back, but it’s so aggravating when the set isn’t complete.

  10. 1. The first set I got missing a lot of important pieces, and only came with 2 out of the 3 menus (Lego City Police Station). They don’t ensure you will get complete set; instead they have a report system and you tell them which pieces are missing. Who wants to spend time to identify and click all the tiny pieces and buttons on their site? How convenient for them. My son had built for one hour and found some of the pieces are not there, how disappointing!!

    2. I sent the set back that my son didn’t even happy to play with. They charge you monthly fee during your free trial period. So I decided to cancel the free trial and tried to call them. They have customer service number, but actually no one answers the phone. Trust me, I called a hundred times. I wrote emails which got response 4 days later. They said they would fully refund me, but it’s been over a month and they NEVER credit me back. They received my returned set and also confirmed that I canceled my free trial period within 15 days upon signing up. I had to file dispute with mt credit card company.

    3. It is not worth the time to sort them and drive to post office to send them back, not to mention you are very likely to get incomplete sets. You pay about $20 for a month for “borrowing” basic $40 value toys, For me, I’d rather use the money to buy a $20 Lego set EVERY MONTH that you can keep. Or save the money to buy large sets.

    4. I would never want to deal with the company again and hopefully this message could save you some pain as mine. Don’t disappoint you and your children by joining the junk program.

  11. I’m on my fifth set in seven weeks and have enjoyed Pley very much. Although all the sets I’ve rented have been missing at least one piece, I have been able to reasonably build with those pieces left out. Sorting and reporting which pieces are missing are part of the fun for me. I signed up for the Megafan level and have already saved $213.00. The rental fee is a little pricey, but I would never buy those more expensive sets and would not have anywhere to store them. Once I build a set, I usually immediately take it apart and get it back in the mail so I can get the next one! Most all the sets I have received have been near the top of my Pleylist which has over 50 sets on it. I was excited to get the pet shop set today and have been waiting for it to become available for a few weeks. The hardest part is waiting for the next set to come. It would be nice if they could send two sets at a time so that I could still have one to play with while waiting for the next one. While Pley is not perfect, it is allowing me to build a lot of sets I would not otherwise. I also like the fact that it reduces waste, because once I build a set, I usually don’t want to build it again or keep it.

  12. Based on the great reviews we decided to try this service. We rented a 150 piece set. Two missing pieces were discovered immediately (on the second page of the instructions). We contacted the company and they said they needed to know exactly how many pieces were missing. Do you have any idea how long it takes to go through the entire set to verify the pieces. In the end 15 pieces were missing!!!!!!! And we felt like we were doing a service they should be provided for free. Specifically, we had to go through the set, determine which pieces were missing and give them the specific information. All in all this is a great concept that is being executed extremely poorly! Really terrible service.

  13. Signed up for my son for x-mas. Thought it was a great idea. He already has a big bin of legos and I’m tired of all the pieces and picking them up. Well he received 1 kit in time for Christmas. We returned it the first of the year. It is now the first week of Feb and we have not received any new kits. Called customer service today – they said they are behind on sending out kids and I will receive a credit to my account. The credit should show up this afternoon. I asked when to expect a kit she said within a couple of weeks. I will not be keeping this subscription. It’s not worth it!

  14. I ordered the service for my son. First set arrived three weeks late. The second set never came. We are now on month 4. I tried to call-but no one answers. I sent emails every month…i get the same response every time…it’s on it;s way…blahblahblah.
    My son is so disappointed! I am disappointed-it was a birthday gift!

    I finally get livid. Request my subscription be cancelled and they refuse to cancel it! They tell me that since I have orderred a 12 month subscription I am liable to pay it and if my son doesn’t want it anymore, I should transfer it to another kid! OK lets see, I am liable to pay because I bought a subscription but you are not liable to send any toys? What kind of company does this? They are major screwed up.

    I went into my account to try and cancel and change the credit card unto but it is locked! I called my credit company, got a new card and blocked them from my account. The credit card company refunded me. That’s my last toy subscription ever!

    Pley is a NO PLAY!

  15. DON’T DO IT! My son was excited to get a $200 gift card for this for Christmas and less than 3 months later after starting the subscription, he has only received 3 sets (all missing critical pieces), nothing that was towards the top of his list or even exclusively available to the higher level we signed up for, and they attempted to charge my card for additional money. When the charge didn’t go through due to the account being closed, they never sent a notification and customer service has yet to reply to my request for a full account detail and why they are trying to charge us.

    They say they save you money, but I could have bought all of the 3 sets he received for less than the $200 that was paid to ‘rent’ them.

    Seriously disappointing, to parents and kids alike.

  16. It has been about two weeks since we signed up and we have not even received our first set yet. If you live on the east coast, DO NOT sign up for this. Their only facility is in CA, meaning a shipping period of at least one week each way! Definitely a waste of money if my son only gets to play one (at most two) set(s) a month!

  17. It literally took me 2 months to receive this toy which was a present for my sons birthday. After his asking me daily when he would receive it, I sent several emails and was completely shot down by the customer service acting manager Timothy and “Customer Service” rep. Amanda. They said they had problems documenting when they receive the toys back. This delayed my shipment. Problem was, I had already spoke with “customer service” 2 weeks prior about the same issue and the same toy. When I told Timothy this, he said he had no way of referencing previous correspondence with my account REALLY!? YOU GUYS CANG TRACK EMAILS?!$… Overall an awful experience which could have been remedied by the basic customer service we have come to expect in America. Definitely do not get the year contract. With one toy every month that = 6 toys a year with Zero customer service.

  18. There are days when you just want to slap your forehead and say DUH!!!! Why didn’t I look for reviews before signing up??? I had similar experiences most of you state and with so many complaining about them not delivering to their promise and yet wanting to keep the subscription $ – isn’t there any law to protect consumers? I too was excited about this concept but agree the execution is POOR. Forget the pretty packaging, neat concept on paper etc. It is how long it takes for them to get a set ready to ship out. EXECUTION. Customer service made a poor excuse like “Oh Florida, yet it will take long” Ah, but then you should be upfront that you may likely get 1 toy a month and then are you happy at the price. That way, if I do not think its worth I will not sign up. NO this is NOT the Netflix of toys. That gets executed much faster.

  19. I have to join many of the negative reviewers. Pley sounds good but turned out to be an expensive mistake. I went for the 1Yr discounted membership and deeply regret it. I received 3 sets fairly quickly (I live quite close to their distribution center) but all sets were missing pieces (not critical ones though). But what turned Pley into a nightmare is the shipping back of the last set. I dropped it off personally at the post office. Generally you’d receive an email confirming that your package is on the way back. But nothing showed up in my inbox. Pley customer support sent me back to the post office. USPS claims the tracking number that Pley has given me isn’t valid. The Pley support solution is for me to buy the set I don’t actually have for $50. At this point I’d never risk getting any additional sets. Imagine you’d pick a $200 set!

    Good service idea with terrible execution and bad customer support.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *