May 2, 2008

Lego Company Introduces Virtual World

The manufacturers of Lego, the tiny plastic building blocks enjoyed by children everywhere, plan to go online next year with "Lego Universe," a virtual world for fans of the ubiquitous toy.

A recent trend of cross-promoted toys and video games such as Nintendo Co Ltd's Pokemon TV show, game card, toys and video game franchise, and Mattel Inc's Barbie online shopping and gaming portal at barbie.com have proved to be online hits "” now the Lego universe will join them.

Lego Universe will let players create online versions of themselves and interact with each other in a massive multiplayer online game to be released next year.

Mark William Hansen, who is in charge of the Lego Universe, said they want to make the connection between digital play and physical play. "The physical experience is our core, the digital experience will never replace the physical experience, but it's a nice add-on."

Hansen said he had been working on his doctoral thesis with Lego Group on mass customization and ended up joining the family-owned company to create the game.

Lego Universe will blend real-world style environments with characters and buildings made of digital plastic pieces.

A player's online persona, or avatar, will be a customizable digital version of Lego minifigures"”the little characters that come with most Lego kits.

"Lego Universe will initially launch as a PC game, available in stores or as a download, and may eventually be available on other gaming platforms. It will operate as a pay-as-you-go subscription service at a "competitive price", Hansen said.

Lego Universe will require users to spend virtual money to buy virtual bricks and players can build capital by spending time in the game.

"The more a child plays, they collect more coins and more bricks. The more you play, the more you get to build things," Hansen said.

Users will be encouraged to interact with each other and build and play with virtual Lego bricks just as they would real Lego pieces.

Hansen said they want kids to log on and play together.

The Lego Company, founded in 1932, had a near collapse 5 years ago and Lego Universe is part of a larger plan to revitalize the company.

Executives at Lego say branching into non-core areas like television shows and toys that required less building and weren't customizable like the core Lego bricks hurt the company.

"It was a near-death experience," said Henrik Lorensen, vice president of business development at Lego.

Lego was distracted from its main area of expertise of providing toys children could use to build their own worlds and unleash their imagination, Lorensen said.

"The approach of making good, classic products in the right way is reflected in Lego Universe," he added.

Lego has about two dozen employees working on the game. In Denver, Colorado, where game developer and Lego partner NetDevil is based, nearly 70 people are working to create the online world.

The online world will compliment the company's popular Lego Factory, a digital design system that allows users to build Lego designs and then order the necessary components in one package from Lego.

Over 400 million play with Lego bricks every year and the company believes they can reach even more people with these newer digital efforts. Lego has expanded its line to include kits tailored for girls, featuring princesses and horses and castles.

Lego Universe will encompass all of that and more. Users will be able to create, destroy, enact battles, or just fiddle with bricks in a world of their own.

It will potentially offer all the 6,000 types of bricks made by Lego, including bricks that are no longer made in Lego factories.

Users will also be able to order the physical versions of their online creations and have them delivered to their door.

Millions of children around the world reportedly spend 5 billion hours a year playing with Legos.


On the Net:

Lego Web Site