Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Did They Really Have to Shut Down Lego Universe?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if the world were to end in a few hours?  My two sons asked themselves this very same question yesterday when their world was coming to an end.  I write of the now late Lego Universe, which used to be a Massively Multiplayer Online Game for kids.

Lego Universe provided a place where kids could go online (after their parents paid a subscription fee), walk around a 3-D world, build creations on their own personal property, and make friends (all interactions were moderated).

My boys got it for Christmas 2010, and over the past year, they played in that world.  They built up experience and lego money.  They fought the evil Maelstrom.  My two sons talked about their adventures and bonded with each other.

In Lego Universe, each player received their own property to build things.  You should have seen the maze my oldest son was creating.  He was creating an exact replica of the last dungeon in the original Phantasy Star I, and he even added a bonus Medusa.  He tried to beat the shutdown date, but gave up a week ago when a glitch destroyed half his bricks.  They came back a couple of days later, but he had missed his weekend to complete his work.

I hear that other players had built awesome creations on their properties, including castles, battle simulations, puzzles, games, and even a large toilet.

When I got home late last night, my two boys were at the computer.  They asked if they could stay up till midnight when Lego Universe was scheduled to pull the plug.  I said, “Sure – this only happens once in a lifetime.”

They played for those last couple of hours.  They got in a last minute dragon battle, and did one last pylon race.  They also noticed funny things going on, such as a giant ghost ship appearing near the top of Nexus Tower. 

At 11:15 PM, my older son saw me watching and he said, “Do you want to see my maze and walk through it before they take it away?”  We went to his property, and it loaded up till 98% and it crashed.  My two boys looked at each other.  NOOOOOOO!!!!!!  (Did I mention the game could be buggy?)  It took us 15 minutes to get back up and running again.

At 11:30 PM, I was able to walk around his maze for a couple of minutes.  I even saw Medusa.  She looked pretty cool with her snaky hair.  I walked out the exit and said, “That was fun.”  (We did have a jet pack to help me skip a lot of the maze.)

Then my older son went to a “party” where a lot of friends were gathered.  For about 10 minutes he chatted, sending direct messages to all of his friends who were online at the time.  “Goodbye. It was fun.”  Then something happened.  He typed, “I’m going to log off so my little brother can use up the rest of the time.”

My younger son got on, and checked his mail.  He got some cool gifts from the Mithrin (sp?).  They sent him two cool purple-glowing bad guy swords (impossible to get previously) and bad guy hair, or was it a hat?  He put them on and went to a friend’s property.

At 11:50 PM, we started getting system wide messages from developers saying, “It’s been fun.  It was a great experience.”  At that time, my younger son went to a friend’s property to join a “party.”  When he got there, they were all inside a castle with no door to get inside. 

“How do you get in there?” my boy asked.  The answer: “It’s a secret.”  My boy searched for a way to get in, but couldn’t find any.  “Come on, let me in.”  He didn’t want to be outside, alone. 

With two minutes left, someone finally broke some bricks to create an opening for my boy to enter.  He went in, and they closed the hole back.  They were then trapped inside.  About twenty players gathered in that small room.  It was reminiscent of all the scenes we’ve seen in the movies where destruction is coming and everyone runs into the closest church, comforting each other, and hoping the disaster spares them.

We started counting down the seconds.  With about fifteen seconds left, everyone typed “bye” in their chat window.  The words “bye” popped up over all the minifigures’ heads.  We got one last broadcast “goodbye” from some admin person.  Then 10 … 9 … 8 …

My sons did nothing but stared in disbelief at the screen.  Was their world really coming to an end?

7 … 6 … 5 … some more goodbyes.

4 … 3 … 2 … how was it going to happen?

1 … I think it happened one second early.  At 11:59:59, the world around them went white.  For a split second there was nothing but all the players’ minifigures.  Then we got kicked out to the login screen.

My older son said, “Let’s log back in and see what happens.”  They got to the window you see in the picture above.  The message said, "Hello Adventurer!  LEGO Universe is currently closed.  Please check the game launcher for system status!"

It was all over.  All those creations on everyone’s property--gone.  My son’s maze--gone.  That massive toilet we heard about--gone.  The characters that everyone built up and strengthened and armored up--gone.  Everything that used to be was now nothing more than a heartless three sentence message.

No one knows exactly why they decided to shut down Lego Universe.  The official word seems to be: “Unfortunately, we have not been able to build a satisfactory revenue model in our target group, and therefore, have decided to close the game,” as stated by the Jesper Vilstrup, Vice President of LEGO Universe.

However, in light of the high profits gained from the project, one can’t help thinking there was some other reason behind the scenes.  In this informative interview,  Rayhawk, a concept artist for Lego Universe, opines:

It’s funny, because by a lot of objective measures it’s been extremely successful: stable service, fantastic public opinion (once we added enough content), a healthy base of free players (over two million, LEGO just publicized), and a growing base of paying players who were dedicated and deeply invested in the game. We had a seasoned and motivated dev team, and a parent company with the financial stability to ride out those first couple of years that every MMO needs to gain traction and reach profitability. From a product standpoint, we in a great position, and lots of companies would have killed for our numbers. In the right hands, LEGO Universe was (and still would be) an absolute gold mine waiting to be tapped.

But in the wrong hands, it’s a liability, threatening to damage the core LEGO brand as soon as a tone-deaf decision by management outrages the userbase, or if there were even the barest rumor of a child safety breach, or in any of the million unpredictable situations where an online community can suddenly turn itself against you without warning.

Everybody on the team has their private conspiracy theories about the real reason LEGO shut down the project right as it was getting its legs under it. I think LEGO management took a sober assessment of their own unfamiliarity with exactly what MMOs are and how they work, and realized that they couldn’t trust themselves not to steer the ship straight into the rocks.
The child safety breach concern piques my interest.  Could it be that Lego Universe is simply the latest victim of the litigious monster that is quickly becoming America and threatening to destroy all creativity?

Whoever killed this world, it’s all over now.  My sons no longer have access to this part of their lives, but at least they have the memories, which should last a lifetime.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Thank you for this post. It perfectly sums up my son's experience last night. He too absolutely loved LU and was devastated for it to end. We sat with him as he played right up until the last second. It's been a tough week for our family.

If your sons haven't tried Minecraft yet, it's a great game that has many similar elements to LU. It's helping to ease the loss of LU for my son.