LEGO Worlds is one of the many big new launches coming from the LEGO Group in 2017, alongside two more movies, additional video games, a plethora of sets and of course a few surprises along the way. David Robertson, author of the wordily titled but well worth reading Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry discussed the importance of LEGO Worlds with Value Talk.
Robertson suggested that the movies would be the biggest opportunity for the company, but that LEGO Worlds is important to heading off some of the competition from Minecraft.
Lego Worlds is not the company’s first attempt to get a foothold in online gaming. Robertson recalled that in 1994, Lego backed an inventor’s idea to create 3-D environments for its products. It invested about $100 million in the venture, but shut it down five years later. “They basically chose the wrong geometry,” he said. “If you choose the fundamental math wrong, then everything on top of that has to be redone.”
There will be an important difference with Minecraft, in that LEGO Worlds is not a multiplayer online game.
Unlike typical multiplayer video games, Lego Worlds is a one-on-one experience, Robertson noted. Lego’s partner TT Games is optimistic about the possibilities with the game, which allows players to create their own dream worlds with large amounts of content that is generated procedurally, or algorithmically, instead of manually.
The one-on-one playing experience in Lego Worlds avoids one particularly controversial issue with multiplayer games. “The problem with any kind of multiplayer, online gaming experience is that there is this small but damaged subgroup of people that as soon as you create this environment where you can build things, they immediately try and build the most obscene things possible,” said Robertson.
Robertson said that Lego had faced this problem with an earlier game. A German gaming magazine that reviewed it had built a giant purple phallus right in the middle of the game. “Lego knew about this and expected it,” he added. “They spent an awful lot of time in the development of the game … making sure that that kind of stuff would be caught.” Lego was also worried that it could unwittingly aid pedophiles lurking in a multiplayer environment, because kids could accidentally reveal their address and phone number while playing the game. “What do you do if a kid builds their phone number and address out of Lego on their house?” he asked. “The multiplayer online gaming world is hugely profitable, but hugely dangerous for Lego.”
Robertson sees the various ventures that the LEGO Group is trying as an asset to the company, explaining that it is a tried and tested method of finding what works.
“Lego is doing what we in innovation say [to do]: Do lots of experiments, and see what works and what does not,” said Robertson. “Lego Worlds is by no means the only strategic initiative that they are taking in this digital area.”
“Of Lego’s major strategic initiatives, Lego Worlds is the least interesting,” said Robertson. He noted that “parents buy Lego for their kids to get them away from video games.” He predicted that in the next five years, the major non-brick initiative that will drive the most revenue for Lego would be its movies. Lego has announced a sequel to The Lego Movie, and it also has a Lego Batman movie and a Lego Ninjago film based on its popular toy lines.
Robertson also credits the LEGOLAND Discovery Centres as likely to be a key driver in enhancing the LEGO brand, leading to a positive association for parents and a potential future LEGO fan in the children who visit. Clearly the expansion of LEGO experiences beyond the bricks is just beginning.