Friday, 4 November 2011

Yikes! There goes LEGO Universe

In an unexpected move, LEGO Universe is to close just eighteen months after launching. This Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) spent years in development, originally intended for a 2008 release, and didn’t pick up the subscribers that LEGO had hoped for. Read on for the full announcement and commentary.

First, here’s the press release. 
Online game will close on January 31, 2012. The LEGO Group’s digital offerings will continue to develop over the coming years.
November 4, 2011 – The LEGO Group today announced that it will close LEGO® Universe, an MMOG (massively-multiplayer online game) that has been in operation since the autumn of 2010. 
In spite of very positive player feedback and a large number of players in the free play zone, it has not been possible to convert a satisfactory number of players to paying subscribers. It has therefore been decided to close the game as of January 31, 2012.
“The LEGO Universe team can take pride in having developed and launched a great LEGO experience that many players will miss,” said Jesper Vilstrup, Vice President, LEGO Universe. “Right now, we have almost 2 million players in LEGO Universe, and we get extremely positive feedback from players. Unfortunately, we have not been able to build a satisfactory revenue model in our target group, and therefore, have decided to close the game.”
Despite the change, the ambition to develop and run a digital business remains. In future, it is the intention to further pursue cooperation with partners. The LEGO Group has a strong and continuing partnership with TT Games & Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to create digital LEGO experiences within video games. A further expansion in the digital area will mainly be based on similar partnerships.
“The development of our digital offerings continues to be a very important element in our strategy,” said Mads Nipper, Executive Vice President, LEGO Group. “We have more than 20 million visitors on every month, and LEGO video games are among the bestselling children’s video games with sales of more than 60 million units in the last five years. Through our experience developing and running LEGO Universe, we have gained a lot of valuable insights, and we have a very strong foundation for future development in the digital area.”
As a consequence of the closure, the LEGO Universe staff has today been informed that the ‘Play Well Studios’ in Louisville, Colorado and the game’s marketing function in Billund, Denmark will be closed. This will affect 115 employees. All affected employees will be offered assistance in finding new jobs inside or outside the LEGO Group.
This came as a surprise, as just two months ago LEGO seemed determined to continue to market and modify LEGO Universe. It seemed that LEGO were in this for the long term, determined to build up a user base after disappointing initial sign-ups. What went wrong for LEGO Universe?

This is purely anecdotal, however my feeling is that the main reason LEGO Universe has not caught on is due to LEGO fans having too little time for the game. Almost every computer-aware LEGO fan that I have met liked the premise of the game, loved the concept, but didn’t feel they had the time to get sucked in to a MMORPG. They’d rather be building. After all, we buy LEGO for a reason. I specifically remember saying to a fellow LEGO geek, after we heard the game being pumped pre-launch at a LEGO event, “if I started playing that game it’d be more fun than real life. I’d never be off it, and I don’t have the time.”

I buy more LEGO than I have time to build, and from speaking to fellow collectors I know this is not an uncommon problem. I also play the Traveller’s Tales line of LEGO video games, and the genius of those games is how easy to dip in and out of them they are. A game like LEGO Universe is perceived to require a big investment of time.

So it seems much of the problem here is the marketing of the game. After all, the premise of the game – that LEGO adventurers are seeking to find the essence of pure imagination – is perfectly in keeping with LEGO values. The execution has been praised, and users have been satisfied. So what stopped LEGO from compelling enough users to sign up for LEGO Universe? Earlier this year the LEGO Star Wars marketing manager was parachuted in to attempt to save LEGO Universe. It seems that didn’t succeed.

A last attempt to re-invigorate LEGO Universe was made in August this year, twelve months after it was launched. One addition that was noted in the re-launch was a new Ninjago zone. This suggests that the LEGO Universe team felt something recognisable should appear in the game. Up until that point, the artwork used for the game featured no appearances from LEGO mini-figures available in sets. It seems from the success of other LEGO video games that what gamers want are characters that they recognise. Unfortunately it was likely to be too little, too late.

The selling of the game proved a disaster. Originally £29.99, then £14.99, then £7.49, then free, with ‘free to play’ zones added very late in the day. A month’s subscription cost an additional £9.99. Other online games aimed at children, such as the wildly popular Club Penguin, were initially free and once a steady increase in users was building the prices were more modest than those charged by LEGO Universe. Perhaps the way to go would have been to give the game away for free - or price it modestly - in the first place to let users try. Then let the revenue come from the subscriptions once users are hooked. 

It is a shame to see LEGO spend so much time and develop a project like LEGO Universe and then it come to nothing. Especially for all of those who have signed up, eager to be part of a long-term gaming experience. My best wishes are with the staff losing their jobs in finding new employment. Let’s hope there is a lot of post-mortem on why LEGO Universe failed as it did, and how so much money got poured into what was clearly a high-risk product. 

I’d be especially interested to hear comments from All About Bricks readers on this topic. Did you play it? If not, why not? Why do you feel that LEGO Universe didn’t succeed?



  2. I'm not really surprised. The "Free to Play" Zone was terrible and you hardly got to play any of the game. They would of been better off just giving you a weeks free trial