Building blocks become an online game, with LEGO Universe
By Ben Coxworth
July 12, 2010
Some people might see it as a natural progression in the digital age, while others might see it as kind of blasphemous, but LEGO is set to launch an online video game based on its popular building blocks. Using over 2,000 types of pieces in 26 colors, players of LEGO Universe will virtually create their own avatars and other props, joining fellow subscribers worldwide on interactive adventures in the Land of Imagination. Picture a kid-friendly version of something like World of Warcraft, but one in which players have to build all the structures, vehicles, animals and whatnot that surround them, and you get the idea.
Hmm, but what about that term “kid-friendly”? It’s one thing for game developer NetDevil to keep the platform itself clean and safe, but what else is being done? For starters, it’s hoped that users will feel some sense of accountability, due to the fact that they won’t be able to access the game without a paid subscription.
Beyond that, the game will be constantly monitored by up to 100 moderators at a time, fluent in a number of languages and located throughout the world. Besides overseeing the players’ comments and actions, these moderators will even be keeping their eyes peeled for inappropriate-looking LEGO constructions. With up to 500,000 players online at any one time, it sounds like it will be a big, big job.
Of course, as anyone with traumatic playground memories will tell you, kids can be pretty abusive, too. To that end, players will have algorithmically-generated goodness and badness scores, based on behaviors such as sharing versus bullying and swearing. The higher a player’s badness score, the more they’ll be moderated... you can almost hear the “BANNED from LEGO Universe” T-shirts being made right now.
There are those people, no doubt, who will say that playing with LEGO should be a tactile, three-dimensional experience, and that the last thing kids need is more time on gaming systems. It’s definitely a legitimate gripe. The company has anticipated that concern by stating that the game will provide imaginative interaction with other children, something not provided by solitary block-building. Besides, if a player builds something onscreen that they really like, they can use the Design by Me service to have a kit containing the relevant physical blocks shipped to them – for a price, of course.
LEGO Universe will officially launch in the US, UK and Western Europe on October 26th, with other markets to follow.
Via IEEE Spectrum.