Buh-Bye, LEGO Universe Online

It was fun while it lasted, but LEGO Universe has announced its curtain call. At the end of January 2012, the LEGO-themed MMO will shutter its doors forever. In case you’re counting, that’s less than a-year-and-a-half of operation. So what went wrong?

I mean, it’s LEGO. Everybody loves LEGO, right? (We sure do.) It’s one of those indestructible brands, like Apple, Star Wars, and Pixar. An MMO built around LEGO blocks sounds like a no-brainer.

Despite a killer premise, the game never seemed to attract enough players. It even launched a free-to-play zone a few months ago, in an effort to bring in more paying players. But despite a total number of players somewhere around 2 million, that tactic didn’t work, either. In the end, as in all things, it came down to the money: too much going out, not enough coming in. As a result, 115 employees — both at the game development studio in Colorado and the game’s marketing department at the LEGO home office in Denmark — are being laid off. (The LEGO Group says it plans to offer them assistance in finding new jobs.)

But these logistics don’t answer the fundamental question: why didn’t LEGO Universe work?

My take is that despite the “sandbox”-type play it offered, the most popular elements of the LEGO building sets were excluded from the MMO. Namely, the media tie-in collections, such as LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Batman, and LEGO Harry Potter (properties that have their own, individualized — and bestselling — tie-in games). Granted, it would have taken some serious licensing fees to get those properties included in LEGO Universe, but it’s simple math. The licensed properties are LEGO’s bestselling kits. Without any of them included… what’s left for people to play with? What’s left is the generic sets, such as LEGO City, Kingdoms, and Atlantis. They even tried injecting the fairly new “Ninjago” theme into the game to give it that needed level of recognition, but there’s just no substitute for the stuff people really want to play with.

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Anyway, that’s my $.02. I never played LEGO Universe, but I’m sad to see it go, nonetheless. It was a genius idea, and it deserved a better fate.

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Robin Parrish
@robinparrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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