After decades of collaborating with external partners to create Lego-branded video games, The Lego Group established its own internal development team several years ago. That team was Light Brick Studio, and its first title, Builder's Journey, debuted as part of Apple Arcade last year to critical acclaim.
It's not everyday a non-endemic company decides to start up an internal game studio and has a hit the first time out. But having accomplished that, the Lego Group last week spun out Light Brick Studio into an independent endeavor backed by Lego Ventures, the Lego Group's investment arm.
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Light Brick co-founders Karsten Lund and Mads Prahm say going independent just makes more sense from their perspective.
"We have seen a great potential for this way of working, and believe a greater autonomy and similar kind of autonomy would be good to take forward," Lund says. "To sort of position ourselves as more of a sister studio, if you will, to Lego Games. Because then we have the freedom, autonomy, agility, and speed of a start-up, but with the great partnership and the Lego IP and the brand and the idea in general -- which is the thing we tried to celebrate -- very close to our hearts.
"For us it was a great opportunity to make a studio that dedicates itself to the Lego idea. It starts with the Lego brick, which we did, and sees where we can take it from there."
While Lund acknowledges there's definitely a possibility that Light Brick would work on games outside the Lego brand at some point, it's by no means the studio's first order of business.
"We believe there's so much more to say with the Lego brick," Lund says. "We're not at all done yet. I think we have just scratched the surface of what can be done with this design language, if you will, and this play material. But our actual core mission is to play around with what we call 'The Lego idea,' which is more the notion of play, learning through play, intrinsically driven play experiences that actually develop kids and adults into thinking in new ways, coming up with new ideas and being creative.
"Somehow a project like this wouldn't really be able to breathe in [the Lego Group] environment, so I think we need some fresh air"
"Delivering this sort of system and play experiences can be done in many different ways, also without the bricks, and that's definitely possible for us. But first and foremost, we're going to pursue what else we can do with the brick, because it's such a beautiful medium to play with, such a beautiful system of creativity that's very well known and well loved by the audience, but you can make a lot of new things with it at the same time."
Having spent six years at Lego prior to joining the Light Brick team a few months ago, Prahm offers another reason Light Brick may find more success as an independent operation right now.
"Lego and the Lego brand have been really ambitious about digital play," Prahm says. "Over the coming decades, Lego really wants a position in digital play like it has in physical play. But if you look at the Lego Company and how it works and the teams and processes there, they are very focused on the physical brick. And that focus is why they're so successful with the physical brick. So everything that doesn't support the physical brick tends to get down-prioritized so there's a focus on physical play or physical play that's enhanced by digital play somehow."
He adds: "Somehow a project like this wouldn't really be able to breathe in that environment, so I think we need some fresh air. I also think the amount we can learn about digital play and the business of digital play, if we focus on doing business with our customers rather than doing business with Lego, we learn much faster. And we can really iterate with the audience rather than with the rest of the Lego organization."
To innovate in the digital play space, Lund thinks Light Brick needs to be more nimble than a massive toy company can be.
"We're looking for companies that we feel could eventually, hopefully, be part of the Lego stable of companies"
"We're a little more independent from seasonality and the market in that sense," he says. "It's a different market and a different innovation funnel. We need to shoot a little wider. We need to experiment a little more. We need to make smaller products in smaller markets and smaller spaces to learn. And that's a lot easier to do when you don't have to justify a bigger business case."
Lego Ventures head of marketing Robert Lowe explains that the funding arm was established a couple years ago to explore the intersection of education, creativity, and play, a purpose that he believes gives it more flexibility than many venture capitalists.
"We're a strategic investor, let's say," Lowe explains. "We're looking for companies that we feel could eventually, hopefully, be part of the Lego stable of companies, ones that share our value and our vision. We're very patient capital. We're not looking for a specific return on investment over a specific time.
"We are 'venture' in that we're making early stage investments and we would hopefully grow the size of that investment and that stake over a period of time. We are not a typical VC in that we're looking for a certain exit, a certain size or multiplication. We're looking for things that could expand the idea of what Lego could be in the future. That's our success criteria."
So the Lego Group spun out Light Brick Studio with the idea that it would bring it back in-house at some point, essentially bringing the Builder's Journey studio full circle?
"Yeah, they could become a standalone pillar for sure," Lowe says. "That's the success end state we hope we'll get to with as many of our companies as possible... We think they have a better chance of growth operating outside of the Lego Group and the constraints that come with that, and having an independent route to what they want to do. We'll support them with that, and maybe in the future they actually become a much bigger part of the Lego Group of companies."