The dream of LEGO Universe and its subsequent shutdown

Today LEGO Universe will shut down after being live for 15 months. The product is beautiful, and many good designers, engineers and animators poured their hearts into bringing it to life. From afar it appears that an unfortunate combination of organizational issues, high expectations, and complexity may have all contributed to the shutdown.

High expectations

The dream of LEGO Universe was captured in early press releases and video trailers. Trailers showed a bustling city made of LEGO, with vehicles, monsters, and highly engaged mini-figs. Demonstrations of “creating” were also very cool, with virtual translucent blue-prints and lightning fast vehicle construction. Users were captivated by the dream, and soon the press was talking about how the game might be bigger than World of Warcraft.

This early press, coupled with LEGO’s incredibly strong brand, must have put enormous pressure on the development team at NetDevil. Everything LEGO does is so exacting, and this game’s expectations were held up to the same standards. These high expectations coupled with LEGO’s quality ethic may have made it difficult to ship the game earlier (and then iterate). It was over two and a half years from when the game was first announced until shipping in October, 2010.

It also appears that the target may have shifted during this period to include more creation and building, as can be seen by the late inclusion of a building interface similar to LEGO’s Digital Designer CAD system.

Difficult organization

An MMO or online destination is very different than a PSIII or Xbox360 game. The MMO must “run forever”. This creates a tricky relationship when working with a 3rd party. Because LEGO’s quality and safety standards are so high, it must have been difficult to completely hand off the reigns. When NetDevil was purchased by Gazillion, LEGO had to work with both Gazillion and NetDevil. LEGO Group eventually acquired LEGO Universe from Gazillion and hired many of the core team in February 2011, possibly as a way to simplify these issues.

A complex dream

The dream of LEGO Universe brought with it technical complexity. An MMO with building and moderation is more complicated than a boxed console game. LEGO Universe was built on the Gamebryo engine, included physics simulation from Havok, and seemed to be integrated with existing LEGO CAD tools. In addition, servers were required, and a moderation system. User creations also had to be uploaded to a server-side “baking engine” of some sort to convert them to in-game objects. This complexity requires many developers, which in turn may have caused organizational overhead.

Honesty and transparency

LEGO Universe can be viewed as a successful MMO, albeit one that had extremely high product and revenue expectations. It is possible that these expectations could just not be met. In the end, LEGO responded with an extremely honest and transparent shutdown.

LEGO had losses in 2003 and 2004, but returned to profitability in 2005. The introduction of branded products such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones in 2007 brought double-digit growth. Today, LEGO is as strong as ever, with net sales up 25% in the first half of 2011. The shutdown of LEGO Universe was most likely very difficult, but it may be a sign of an agile and adaptive LEGO.

About David Baszucki

Founder, co-creator and CEO of ROBLOX. @DavidBaszucki on Twitter

89 thoughts on “The dream of LEGO Universe and its subsequent shutdown

    1. Farha

      whoa whoa whoa! lego universe is an inlone game? .i wanted it to be on a console like PS3 like a sims game but in lego form then i’d pay the $65 bucks for it!! i don’t wanna play inlone on my computer!! but if so i would pay about $5 bucks a month if it’s $10-15 bucks then forget it it probably won’t be much and kids would play World of Warcraft

  1. scifiwifi

    Cant believe it… I was begging my dad to buy it for me 2 years ago when it came out, and now its shutdown… really a shame…

  2. AdmiralLeeChar

    In the begening you had to buy LEGO Universe and in the end it was free but there was Nimbus Station a members only place and LEGO Universe added lvls last time I played it I was lvl 22

  3. Conner Reed "Conner623"

    I’m surprised you did a post on Lego Universe, Builderman. And not shooting it down since it was competition to Roblox, LU was a great game, I was excited for all the amazing stuff they had planned for this year. Yet I just wished they planned for lower memberships…

  4. Spacebar

    I was a beta tester and was not at all impressed with it. (In beta at least) It lagged up sometimes for up to 30 minutes reducing the frame rate to something like 1 every 3 seconds. Then there was a lack of content, sure it had the impossible to achieve faction armor but you could achieve items close to them in a matter of hours, and the lack of worlds, or levels, or any really good gear made it disappointing.

  5. Gam3rfreak1290

    It was a good game, but it had some problems. Plus, ROBLOX kinda topped it in my opinion. If only it lasted long enough to have more updates.

  6. TheEpicGum

    I never had a chance to play it because it costed so much. I knew it was a great game. It was one of the games I enjoyed veiwing instead of playing. Now I’ll just stick to ROBLOX.

  7. behe42

    At the LEGO store they kept lowering the price, I mean it’s a pretty cool game but know one would play it..

  8. Panduz

    Was a great game while it lasted. Personally, I enjoyed playing it for a week. It’s a game that does not deserve to be shut down, but It’s not anything I can do something about.

  9. Toxenz

    I’m kinda sad to see a game I played in beta be shut down. But it kinda serves them right for charging so much.

    1. Spacebar

      They really didn’t charge much. I know other MMOs that charge $60 for the disk & first moth of play and $15 per month following. (I’m looking at you SWTOR! And WoW charges $60 a game and $15 a month!) By F2P standards it’s expensive but not by other P2P games.

      1. Defender

        Lego Universe was cheaper than that, I got the game for 20 with the 1 month free membership and one month was only 10.

  10. FrostyBlizzard

    I bought membership for the game and recommended to 3 of my friends who got it too. We enjoyed it but were sad to see it go and we couldn’t play it anymore.

  11. Anonymoose

    I hope they make a new game, that’s free but has pay to get more. I hope it will be like LEGO Island Extreme Stunts, that’s truly the best game LEGO ever made.

  12. GreenNova790

    I can’t help but to think that this is for the best. Nothing from the lego company is “free.” You even had to pay money to progress in the story-line. Atleast in ROBLOX you have much more freedom, but i’m afraid that sooner or later, you’ll have to pay to even play ROBLOX.

  13. crome60

    I had a great character and made it far into the storyline. When I heard LU was shutting down for the first time, I was shocked and worried at the same time.

  14. YaYaBinks3

    This is just sad. Very sad. I used to play it but I got bored, I thought it was a brilliant game. I still don’t believe that…

  15. MetaRyan

    Ah, Lego Universe. If it weren’t for the price and sub-par building, I would have played it more often.

  16. Daylon124

    I feel bad about not checking out LEGO Universe, but it was quite expensive but I see why, as they poored heart and soul into it.
    Try again, LEGO.

  17. romanu2009

    I played it. It was like a piece of art. But the only thing i hate was that they blocked the other worlds. Like you can play only one level.I think that game was awesome

  18. CjGame

    I did play that game, and I did pay for a subscription. It was a nice game. However, there were a few difficult parts.

  19. Xavier4002

    A chance to be on a MMO when it closes. Are you kidding me? I jumped at the chance as soon as I heard it was closing. I played Lego Universe for the last 3 days and got to be there for the final curtain. It was a very interesting experience. I would of bought a membership just to see what else there was beyond the free play area. Awesome graphics! However I think that it was just to good to maintain. Rumours are they may re-tool it and bring it back. Probably a cheaper version. We will just have to wait and see.

  20. MrPhelps

    I got the game at Christmas 2010. I haven’t been able to play it because our computer didn’t have the right memory card. Now I wish I had just let my dad download it onto his computer so I could play it. I even had the strategy guide. This makes me really upset. I mean, I love Lego and when this came out, I really really wanted it. I was almost in tears watching the video telling the end of it. Well, maybe it will come back. You never know.

  21. YingYang68

    I do understand why they shut-down. I wasn’t that keen on it myself even though I had membership, it was far too complex for LEGO to handle so they suffered the consequences.

  22. dragon0301

    I played it but then they made a part that was basicly imposible so I tried for about 3 weeks and never got it and not alot of people got threw that part so i could not countine in the game I would of played it more they made the part i got stuck on and tons of others got stuck on easier. (the part was when you try to build the hot peeper and get the skeletal dragon)

  23. EPE

    I watched the video on their site(Which saved me some reading :P), and even though I never had the chance to play it, as it seems cool, I think LEGO Universe and ROBLOX are WAY better companies than Disney. I can’t even get 7% on the story line of Disney’s Pirates of the Carribean without paying. To pay 12 US$ a month for TBC is hard enough, but it’s worth it.

  24. iResentment

    See, Lego Universe did not allow the diverse, original world-skaping and creation roblox does. You chose from models, hold down “ENTER”, and watch your minifig construct a perfect model at unnatural speeds. Not to mention, your inventory could only hold a limited ammount of bricks, and nobody wanted that! An other thing the game lacked was freedom, and with that social qualities found in roblox that make it such a great game. Lego Universe was comprised completely of boosting through biome in order to reach the next list of quests. The exhasperating animations and cheap weaponry we’re to throw a sock at, however. But the game ultimately was a fail…

    1. coolwinky1

      Actually, they did do it. And because of that, they shut down. What happened was it was originally a PTP (Pay to Play). Since they had such a great launch of copies purchased, they eventually made it a free to play game. A lot of players stopped paying because of this change. This caused them to lose money and was forced to shut down.

  25. discreetairsoft

    I played this in the summer for free and its was really good. So sad how things like that don’t work out. I grew up with legos I thought this was gonna make it to the top. At lease I will always have roblox. :D

    Thank you david!

  26. kop

    I once tried to play this game, but my computer just didnt meet the requirements. I have always wanted to play this game, and now that chance is ending.

  27. TimeCruiser

    I was not chosen to Beta test but I did pre-ordered LU. To decrease the cost, I would play a month, then wait about a month, and repeat. This also tended to be about how often there were updates. While the story line was great, and gameplay was addicting, new content was slow to be released. The missions and many achievements could be completed quickly, leaving only collecting items or building. The building aspect left a lot to be asked for, and was not as versatile as Roblox. However, what I think the LEGO Company failed greatest at was marketing. Many people only found out about LU existing from reading the announcement that it was closing. Some of the 2012 sets have ads on them for LU, but it is too late now. In my opinion, a good move would have been to put codes in some of the larger LEGO sets, that could be used for LU game time, similar to what use to be done for LEGO Magazine. That way, parents not familiar with MMOG style payments would be more likely to buy, since there is still the tangible product included.

  28. TehAuditor King Of Kings

    That stinks. I was excited for this and even my 23 year old brother was.. My family was born into Halo and Legos. this truly is upsetting.

  29. Coolr3

    I played Lego Universe when it was Free-To-Play,and then stopped when I reached the point where you had to pay to play.
    It was a great game and I am sorry that it is shutting down.

  30. HamroGeek

    They charge you to even try playing it. That was their problem cause when someone makes a new MMO and has never made an MMO before, they can’t just charge you for it right out of the gate.

  31. Cruss Kildestroy

    I was a beta tester too. It had the LEGO charm, but I found the building interface to be convoluted (forgot the avatar, just let us use the cursor) and the acquisition of bricks though adventuring was annoying. That was only beta of course, so I don’t know if it underwent some changes before it shutdown.

    Still, it is a shame.

  32. Roflcopterkicker

    ROBLOX is much better than LU. It’s much more interactive than LU, and you don’t need to advance quests and such for actions, clothing, and weapons.

  33. awsomepreston24

    No i’ve been always wanting to test out that game but never got to. But I also feel bad for the player of Lego Universe. They must of had a great time playing it.

  34. strongyoshimaster

    That was one of LEGO’s greatest creations.I played that game like crazy!I was sad to hear it being closed last year,they told us that the reason of being shut down is becasue of membership not being enough payed.LEGO universe will be missed by many including me!

  35. anonymous12

    I remember being excited about playing that game, but when I saw you had to pay for it, I didn’t buy it. In fact, I think I still have something about Lego Universe in one of my Lego magazines.

    1. Antonio

      You are in the red group. Just a heads up I only know this beacuse I live in Utah and know the geography. For those of you who live elsewhere, I can’t confirm it for you.

  36. Joelego

    It’s Such a shame they’re shutting down. Before I played Roblox I played Lego Creator, which was a great game. I also played Lego universe for a month. I feel sorry for all the other who played it untill the end.

  37. Zippers08

    Its sad, But its true that ROBLOX is more creative. I just don’t see myself paying money to play a lego game when I can just play ROBLOX for free, But I chose to put money into ROBLOX because of the creativity it brings into my mind. ROBLOX has REALLY made me way more creative and lets me script while I’m at it. Thanks ROBLOX.

  38. Isaac Ellis (I2aac)

    Man, that was was actually very addicting to me. Hearing about it shutting down made me want to cry, and maybe even collapse on the spot.

  39. pighorn7

    I was surprised at 1st when they announced they would shut down. I played it and it was addictive but It got boring after a while but Im still sad they shut down the game best of luck to LEGO

  40. Ripbandit70

    LEGO Universe was a good game,I played it before I found out about roblox.
    I was a beta tester as well,they did make the right choice on closing down people where using FTP instead of buying and they couldn’t afford to run the servers anymore.

  41. ToontownROXYA

    Not alot of people really played it… If you ask me of course. Still that’s pretty sad. Best wishes to LU, hope the workers get a better job!

    –Toon
    P.S : ROBLOX Unite!

  42. agent046

    Why would they shut-down a Highly-Detailed game? It’s bad for the users who Payed for Membership. I have Tested “LU” and it was very Interesting and Fast Addictive. It’s a shame for them to Shut it down. -agent046

  43. lookathis

    Thats sad…very sad…
    I was one of the beta testers in the game, and to see it closing down….:(

    1. Luke C.

      Sometimes I see a great game on TV, like W101, Lego Universe, or Minecraft, but every single time I try one of those things out, I get bored of them so quickly. I’m not so sad about LU’s shutdown, because I always decide to just keep playing ROBLOX. It’s the only place where you can really do whatever you want =)

      1. Construx

        Yes, but LU was awesome too. ROBLOX is better, but anyone who thinks LU wasn’t good has no taste.

  44. Durin VII

    I Beta tested that game… I only was able to get on for a half dozen times (my computer is a dinosaur). When I did get on I knew that it would have been an awesome game… unfortunately after my character was deleted because of server issues I never got back into playing.

  45. Cardiff08

    I was a beta tester on Lego universe when it was still in development and I recently started playing it again in January. I was really disappointed when I heard about the shut down but I think they made the right decision.

  46. MrX4353

    I used to play it. It wasn’t too bad, actually reminded me sort of ROBLOX. But it simply cost too much. If you purchased one of it’s memberships, after your membership was over you couldn’t play anymore. And all counted for nil.

  47. MrgamesNwatch

    I never did check out LEGO universe, but it would seem they made the right decision from what was written in this article.

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