Lego : toujours plus virtuel...

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Lego : toujours plus virtuel...

Post by Londeau-Lune » 04 March 2008, 15:09

Brick by Brick
Matt Martin 08:00 (BST) 03/03/2008

Lego Star Wars has been a massive success in the videogame market, but the Danish toy manufacturer has been making other serious moves in the interactive space since 1999. Not only has offered hundreds of games since it was launched over ten years ago, but the company has also released Lego Digital Designer, a free tool allowing users to create and build online using digital bricks.

It's this computer-aided design project that has eventually grown to become Lego Universe, the massively multiplayer online game being developed by Lego and North American studio NetDevil. Here, Lego's director of business development Mark Hansen discusses combining the physical with the virtual to create what could be one of the most intriguing and unique approaches to the MMO market. Can you begin by giving us a quick overview of Lego's interest in the videogame market?

Mark Hansen: Lego has worked with the videogame industry for a while, through the nineties and up to the present day. We've done a lot of learning about what really triggers kids and their imagination. In 2004 we outsourced our videogame development to TT Games where Star Wars and now Indiana Jones are being made – which has been a great success and has been a great business model for getting very good games developed. Another platform that we launched was back in 1996 and over the year's we've developed a couple of hundred internet games. When you look at the traffic we have, around 12 million unique visitors to on a monthly basis, and about five million of them come to play games.

How do you utilise user feedback from the online community – do they directly influence your internet titles?

They are demanding consumers. We listen to them a lot and the gameplay we put into our products is also close to the Lego products that we have – a lot of our research goes hand-in-hand and I think it's a learning process for us as a manufacturing company. It's not just about the physical product any more, it's about the add-on or the premium value to the child. Children expect the video, the virtual and digital age to be combined with a physical product. These children don't know anything other than this, it's an expectation. We call it premium value but they just see it as normal.

Why has Lego decided to enter the MMO market?

What's really unique now is that the technology is at a level where we can get more than just a single child into a single-player game. Now we're looking at getting a mass of children into an area to play and interact with Lego. One reason for that is simply consumer demand – kids have been asking us about playing online with Lego and their friends. They see the space and the technology – things like Club Penguin – and they want something like that. We see the uniqueness of building a massively multiplayer online game to add on value to the physical product that we have. When the child sits and plays on the floor with an army and a castle and his Lego knights – that's what we want to bring to the MMO experience, what's in the child's mind. It needs to be alive, we can bring that dream alive.

There are a number of dedicated sites online, such as LUGNET (Lego Users Group Network) that seem to be very closely aligned with the Lego company – using Lego Digital Designer and other CAD software to create Lego products. Are these users involved in the creation of Lego Universe?

We can see there's an opportunity for us to enter into this market because the feedback from consumers is that they want to not just have a videogame, but they want to play with Lego online. They are knocking on the door to tell us that. And the community is really the strong voice here. We know we have a registered three million plus community, we know who they are. They build with Lego, they organise their own events and they are very integrated with us and they are very happy about the opportunities the game will offer. We have what we call Lego User Partners who we brought over to Denver (home of NetDevil) last summer to get involved with the project. They have a lot of voice and a lot of say in the development of the game. And we're very lucky that NetDevil is open to accepting that way of working. A lot of developers out there understand what community is in respect to playing a game, but this is really about working with a community that is on 24/7. They are creating, building, testing and we have to react to that constantly. It's democratising the development of the game.

How did the concept of a Lego massively multiplayer experience come about? Did you look at the success of social networking and MMO games and realise it would work for the Lego brand, or was there more to it than that?

Our learning really started back in 2001 when we had a strategy of building up in the digital space with a project within Lego called Darwin. We worked a lot with developing a personal brick for users. This digital brick that we have, we built an application called Lego Digital Designer, where through an application users can build models brick by brick. We knew there was more to it at the time but the technology wasn't there to build any kind of MMO. We've been working with digital technology, looking at how to get a better rendered brick, get better lighting and so on. Now the technology is right but there are not many developers that we felt could deliver what we wanted. It was quite an extensive search to find a partner that can pull this off.

Also, the community that we have is very strong and they are involved with their own digital tools so we had to find a way of bringing in their digital tools to work with ours, which we've done. So we can import and export from our tools and their tools. For us as Lego, we can see that we can really pull off a premium, immersive world for thousands of people to play with at any one time.

So you're taking the concept you started with Lego Digital Designer and bringing it to Lego Universe – users will be able to design and customise their characters online and then order the physical product from the Lego factory – that's your unique selling point?

If you look at our history in videogames, starting with and Digital Designer, and the physical aspects of this, how kids can really customise characters and customise products that they build and then order the exact brick from us – that's a unique proposition right there. We're very proud of that because there's no one else that can do that. That's what our supply chain is geared towards. It's about the customisation. We have the Lego factory in Denmark so we built the whole back-supply chain first before we built the game. From 1999, until now, we've been developing this concept.

Are you concerned about the competition and the costs in the MMO and social networking markets? If you're not competing directly with a game like World of Warcraft then you will be competing with Habbo Hotel or Club Penguin...

We're definitely aware of them but I think our game is a much more unique offering, it's a different selling proposition, it's a more 3D immersive world but it also builds onto our physical product which really makes a difference. There is a lot of competition but the market is also very big. It's not about cannibalising one product in order for another to be successful, it's about adding to the market.

So you work in the console space with TT Games, provides your casual games, and you're working on the MMO with NetDevil – is Lego looking to continue growth in other areas of the videogame market?

Definitely. TT Games has hit a recipe and it is spot on. We want to build in the MMO space and in the internet gaming space and on mobile technology because it's the natural way for kids and adults to experience interactive content. Lego Star Wars appeals to adults as much as kids, people want to play casual games on the train. And we definitely want to expand.

Would Lego consider developer acquisitions to bring its own development team in-house, or possibly self-publishing?

Right now we're comfortable with a hybrid model. We know we have a very strong community and a reach to consumers with our own products that are on the shelves. We can publish and have the online reach to our audience, but we can continue to see ourselves making partnerships with distributors and publishers and such for Lego Universe and other titles.

I think we've done a lot of learning since 2004 that has helped us react to the market rather than try to push products into the market. It's that learning that has given us confidence to do a game like Lego Universe and see it as a natural fit.

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