Interview with Lego Universe
MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood spoke recently with Ryan Seabury of NetDevil and Mark Hansen from Lego about the upcoming MMORPG based on the wonderful world of colored bricks and people with cylindrical yellow heads.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with NetDevil’s Ryan Seabury, the Producer on the studio’s upcoming MMORPG, Lego Universe Online. Joining us in the interview was Mark Hanson from Lego itself.
We here in the MMO space have known about Lego Universe’s existence for quite some time. What we don’t know is exactly what form the game will take once it hits shelves. Unfortunately, the team still isn’t quite ready to talk about specific details of the game. The good news though, is that we were told that we should expect to see more specific information coming out of the studio beginning in January.
Even without the ability to talk about deep down specifics, I still managed to have an interesting chat with the guys from Lego Universe. We were able to talk a little bit about the overall philosophy for the game, to whom the game is targeted, and more:
You know, it’s funny that with all of the major intellectual properties being turned into MMOs (Lego, Warhammer, Star Trek, Stargate and others), we rarely stop to think about the IPs themselves. Lego provides a unique opportunity for the developers to create something that appeals directly to the many of us out there who spent untold hours snapping those damned colored bricks together only to break whatever we had made apart and start all over again.
In an attempt to capture that market and stay true to Lego fans, this is the mindset that the developers seem to be using. The idea is to bring Lego fans together in an online space and to give them a new way to interact with the versatile toy. It was described to me as the “natural evolution” of the franchise and I can’t say that I disagree. While I don’t think that anything online could really top the hands-on experience, I can clearly see the potential in this game and the almost limitless play experiences that it could provide.
Lego, I was reminded during the interview, covers all genres, from cars to airports to underwater to fantasy to space and beyond. The developers at NetDevil and Lego are working hard to make sure that everything is represented in the game as well.
The developers though, seem to have another rather unique challenge on their hands. Because the Lego fan base is so huge, the team has to create a world that stimulates adult professional engineers who grew up playing with Lego and still love the experience, but they also have to make the game and its tools simple enough that an eight year old can pick it up without an issue. Is it a big challenge? Yes. Is it one that the developers from both companies feel is important? Definitely.
I was surprised to learn during the interview that while many development studios have close ties to the company that has licensed them their IP, few relationships run as deep as the one between NetDevil and Lego. The relationship runs so deep, in fact, that seven full time Lego employees are currently assigned to the NetDevil offices where they work with the studio on making the game. NetDevil also participates in major check-in meetings every six weeks where the head honchos over at Lego get an update on the game’s progress.
In case you’re curious Lego Universe currently has a staff of about 105 full time employees and 30 – 40 part time employees. Twenty two of those full timers are working for Lego (including the aforementioned seven that work at NetDevil). With a staff of nearly 150, this is no small-time project. Lego and MMO fans alike should expect something very interesting and very in keeping with the spirit of the Lego franchise when this game finally launches.
The last thing that I wanted to talk about before I wrap this interview up is the community program that the guys spoke to me about. According to Hansen, Lego has over 3 million fans that have somehow registered with the company and their input is important to the development of the game. As a result, the development team has come up with a rather unique approach:
Once a year, the team flies a number of Lego fans in to their Denver studio to let them see what is going on in development and to add their input whenever possible. When the program started in 2007, 47 fans made the trip. This year, the number was 68. I am told that as the game comes closer and closer to launch, this number will continue to increase.
Well, that pretty much covers our short conversation, but for a game that isn’t yet ready to talk about what they are planning, Lego fans everywhere can rest assured that everything that can be done to make Lego Universe an entertaining experience for them is being done.