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115 jobs lost as LEGO Universe closes

Sun 06 Nov 2011 6:40am GMT / 1:40am EST / 11:40pm PDT
PublishingDevelopment

Lack of subscribers blamed for MMO shutdown in January

LEGO is to close down its recently launched MMO this January following failure to generate enough subscribers.

The company's Play Well Studios in Louisville and marketing team in Denmark will be axed, affecting 115 employees.

LEGO Universe launched in 2010 after a protracted development, but in February this year the company bought the majority of the development team and the rights to the game from developer NetDevil. It then proceeded to lay off members of staff.

In June this year LEGO launched a free-to-play section of the game to help drive pick-up in the title.

"The LEGO Universe team can take pride in having developed and launched a great LEGO experience that many players will miss," said Jesper Vilstrup, VP of 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 closure, LEGO emphasised that it intends to continue its digital games publishing business and intends to pursue deals such as those currently in place with TT Games and Warner Bros.

"The development of our digital offerings continues to be a very important element in our strategy," said Mads Nipper, executive VP of the LEGO Group.

"We have more than 20 million visitors on LEGO.com 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."

29 Comments

Wow - 2 million "players" (whatever that means? active players? accounts?) and not enough revenue to keep it running? This can't be a good sign, or maybe its meant to force them all to the website instead.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,235 396 0.3
I'm guessing most of those 2 million are using the free part, and not converting to paid subscription.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Sam Maxted
Journalist / Community / Support

155 65 0.4
Netdevil's track record isn't getting any better, is it? Which is a shame, because I enjoyed Jumpgate for what it was worth, and was looking forward to the sequel before it was all but killed off.

Posted:2 years ago

#3
Cost of development vs net profit is probably the case here. I doubt if its any sign on the the quality of the product, and more of lack of full monetization of the overall product VS other MMOs available in the market

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Martyn Brown
Managing Director

137 33 0.2
All the kids are playing Minecraft maybe?

Posted:2 years ago

#5
Dont forget we are also enjoying a bumper crop of AAA games glut till DEC

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Matthew Hill
Head of Recruitment

75 26 0.3
@Martyn - I think a lot of the kids are playing Moshi Monsters. Quite inspiring (and scary for some) how a young co can outgun one of the world's most loved brands

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Thomas Bahon
Head of Payment Services

26 1 0.0
Have they consider Freemium, Sponsoring, Advertising?
I think an MMO like LEGO Universe needs more than 1 year to meet or confirm its success (and maybe also a browser version).

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
MMOs are a difficult space. Expensive to develop and expensive to keep running, there is also massive competition. However get it right and it is an ongoing license to print huge amounts of money. Look at WoW and Runecraft.
But the mighty can fall, as we saw with Everquest. Loose focus and the hordes of competitors will have you.

It is probably the highest stakes gambling in the game industry.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Stephen McCarthy
Studying Games Technology

205 0 0.0
Well this is a kid mmo so it be harder to get the cash.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Jonathan Doyle
Writer

6 0 0.0
I loved the stuffing out of Lego Universe but ... in being very very sensible and correct and protecting children, they shot any community development in the foot. The chat system was at times difficult.
Why log on to play your lego man with others who you can barely talk to and thus have no community feeling towards when you can play your offline Lego Indiana Jones or Lego Potter?

That said, had they not taken some of the steps that they did to ensure security and child safety, they'd have been crucified the moment anything untoward occured.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Josh Freeman
Studying Computer Science

11 2 0.2
I feel sorry for those that paid and actually dedicated time to it, now getting stuffed out.

Posted:2 years ago

#12
I tried several times to get my son signed up for the game, and every time had troubles with their billing system. I tried twice, two different times a couple days apart, just in case there was a system issue and neither time could I get set up right. If I remember, the process was confusing, setting up the billing for his account that he had already created or something or other.

Point being, it KILLS me when a company builds something great, or offers a great service, then can't seem to build the ancillary billing system to take people's money. This isn't unique among mmogs, I just re-upped my paid LOTRO account and Turbine's billing system is bare bones at best with little customer feedback.

People who make games need to think about the whole process. I know that billing isn't as sexy as framerates and polygons, but what good is a city of gold if the toll road to get there is crap?

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Edwin Joseph

2 0 0.0
See when lego universe came out and i saw how much it was i laughed my fucking ass off but then i saw the free to play and i played it i thought it was pretty good for a kid mmo... to be honest i enjoyed it kinda sad that its going but i really dont mid i cant wait for guild wars...

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Randall Coston
Sr. Director, Game Production

1 0 0.0
This is a real shame. I thought the game was very well done and offered something new to LEGO fans. I think the difficulty was finding the right revenue model to fit the game. I believe it launched as a retail disk + monthly subscription, an aging model to be sure. The conversion to a free client download and free limited content, with an upgrade to membership, was later coming.

I agree with Thomas that it would have been good to see them explore other options, like ad-supported or item sales. It's a shame to see a good game shut down before it's had a chance to find it's legs.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
Just goes to show the obvious "we lose $10 on every sale but make it up in volume' is not a sound business strategy.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

556 293 0.5
The Lego people have lost sight of their original vision. Lego is about using blocks to make whatever suits your fancy, whatever tickles your imagination. Lego, originally, wasn't about some strange tie-in to all kinds of movies and TV shows - but this is the direction the Lego people have taken it. Why?

Minecraft now suits the original vision of Lego better than Lego does. It's a world where you are given free reign to use blocks to build whatever you want - not some tie-in to a movie or whatnot.

Posted:2 years ago

#17
A more ingenious option is to buy a blister of unique blocks or expansion blocks.....

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,235 396 0.3
@chee. Or wheels. You always need more wheels;)

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,158 1,078 0.5
And here's the problem with ALL online-only MMO's. ZERO offline single player and/or co-op modes means every MMO will die and be forever forgotten at some point instead of being a solid game one can pick from the shelf, pop in and play with the kids down the road.

No matter how great any MMO is, too much time and money is being wasted on these huge-ass projects where no one IMAGINES a day when paying customers will dwindle to the point where you have people losing their jobs over a bad business decision. That, and as someone who's been interested in preserving game history, seeing yet another title fall away is a shame.

You'd think that not only putting an offline SP mode in these games, but also supporting that with paid DLC packs (which keeps people WORKING, right?) would be a no-brainer. Hell, even some sort of level editor so even if the online portion of a game DOES die, those that love it will continue to play and share content (and hell, BUY a project that dev works on because they can rely on them to cover all those bases.

Oh well. Maybe someone will listen one day...

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Scott Guy
3D Graphics and Quality Assurance Specialist

3 0 0.0
This is a shame. LEGO Universe is a very well crafted game. I spent quite allot of time testing it on the mac and even for an adult it was pretty fun to play. There was very limited content though, and a hardcore player could easily do everything in the game fairly quickly. I loved the Hack and slash gameplay action, this alone made it more fun to run around smashing NPCs than any other MMO I have played.

It is my opinion that MMO games should not be marketed to young kids at all because they are surely bad for them in many ways (physically and mentally). I think the business problem with Lego universe is that it was too fun and light hearted and didn't require a deep time investment. It was geared towards kids and that was a good idea for the kids but kids don't care about your revenue model and don't feel they should be loyal to your brand and don't care if they didn't log in that day to quest for better armor they need to kill the dragon. We should not expect younger children to be dedicated MMO players. We can surely expect that parents are going to be very happy to cancel that sub as soon as the initial interest has worn off.

Skylanders Spyro's Adventure is the type of game people should expect will do extremely well with a younger audience not an MMO. Subscription or micro transaction based it doesn't matter I would not let my kid play an MMO until they are ready to pay for it themselves but more casual games are totally cool and I would pay double out my pocket for something we can play together !

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Scott Guy
3D Graphics and Quality Assurance Specialist

3 0 0.0
An amazing point above too from Tim Carter "Minecraft now suits the original vision of Lego better than Lego does. It's a world where you are given free reign to use blocks to build whatever you want - not some tie-in to a movie or whatnot."

There is block building in Lego U but it was hidden behind everything else and contained to a small personal area that players would have to choose to visit.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Neil Holmes
Developer Relations Manager, BlitzTech

4 1 0.3
"Lego, originally, wasn't about some strange tie-in to all kinds of movies and TV shows - but this is the direction the Lego people have taken it. Why?"

This happened around the same time that the copyright on the design of lego blocks expired I believe. I guess the thinking is that if they can't protect others copying the bricks then can protect in other ways by creating new areas of the universe with new styles etc, or by licensing other IP and branding their breaks with it?

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Jeremy Robinson
Quality Assurance

7 1 0.1
I enjoy lego online but I'm from Australia and to just get the game in the first place I had to have it gifted to me. Then when it came to subscription renewal I had to have a residential address in the supported areas. I seriously think that if they allowed the game to be played worldwide they would have seen better results. It may not have turned the tide but at least have garnered some extra support from the asia region. The game was solid and I regret not being able to play it more and resent the fact that I couldn't continue to play it when I could. Bad business.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Jamie Watson
Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment

179 0 0.0
i think they should of gone to a entire FTP (free to play) model and got advisements on board as well as allowed mods for the game.

such a shame but i hope another LEGO MMO comes round soon, i think a good one with all the right stuff would succeed well.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Tony Johns

520 12 0.0
I personally feel that maybe something like a LEGO adventure game, like a offline LEGO game that LEGO MMO was but have it all offline instead and have NPCs instead of real active players to talk to would still be a great experience.

Also never build a MMO for kids because you face two difficult possibilities, one from the kids who expect to play it for free, another from their parents who don't want their kids to waste money playing a game where they have to subscribe just to play it online.

These two factores are perhaps why LEGO MMO had failed, even though there are still allot of adult gamers who also love LEGO too.

Posted:2 years ago

#26
My son absolutely lives to play Lego Universe. He plays every day. It is a really beautifully done game for kids. I honestly do not understand why LEGO could not monetize it adequately. My son is going to cry when he hears it is shutting done. I wish someone senior from LEGO would give me a call so we could talk about how to make money on the youth market. It is possible especially when you have a really great product.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Eddy May
Project Manager

1 0 0.0
I actually tried to convert my subscription account to a FTP, but never succeeded. If you do take the step to FTP, it should be as easy as possible. Why didn't they send emails to all former subscribers, providing a link that takes you to your account page and converts it to FTP with a single click? With a kids MMO, supervised by parents, something like this should be easy and secure.
It'd be interesting to see a comparison between Lego Universe and Cartoon Network's FusionFall, that started of as a FTP and is still alive and kicking.
Lego U is a fun MMO and, in my opinion, has got some great gameplay for the target audience. Launching it as a premium MMO was a fail from the start. If anything it should be a big commercial platform with the purpose of building and maintaining the Lego customer base and sell more physical playsets by bringing the different brands "to life". You can't do it by charging your customers to pay for your commercial, even if it's disguised as a game.
What a shame to see it go.

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Peter Paninar
Artist

35 3 0.1
I for once was not even aware that there is a lego mmo game until I've seen this article here... but I'm not the biggest fan of these lego games anyway. Never played any... just a demo of one and was not impressed.

Posted:2 years ago

#29

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