Opinion: Don't Put All Your Chi in One Bucket
As we reported in January, LEGO is producing both a console game and a free-to-play MMOG based upon the Legend of Chima, as well as the TV series already released on Cartoon Network in place of Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu. This is the first time any single theme has been treated to this many extras by LEGO, and I am unsure of the wisdom of this move.
First, let's talk about TT Games' LEGO Legends of Chima: Laval's Journey. Way back when, many LEGO themes received their own games. Alpha Team, Racers, Rock Raiders, and Creator were all treated to their own videogames, and there was also a videogame-only LEGO theme that later branched into sets: LEGO Island. They weren't huge successes, and after LEGO BIONICLE: The Videogame was released in 2003, no new LEGO home console game would be released for two years, when LEGO and Traveler's Tales first joined to make LEGO Star Wars: The Videogame, and created the new definition of a "LEGO game". With the exception of BIONICLE Heroes in 2006, every one of the LEGO-TT Games console productions were based on a licensed property. Only recently has that fact changed with the Wii U exclusive LEGO City Undercover.
The history of console-based LEGO games shows that LEGO has been cautious about producing a videogame that is not based off of one of their licenses. The fact that the only exception was based off of BIONICLE, a property that was already five years old at the time, shows LEGO's caution when venturing into videogames. Not even the well-established legacy of success with TT Games could convince LEGO to give one of their own themes a shot. It also makes it all the more surprising that even before the release of LEGO City Undercover LEGO would give a videogame to a theme that had barely begun at the time of the announcement. While I do think that games of LEGO's own properties are long overdue, I think that LEGO should remain somewhat more wary. Rather than giving the game to a theme that was not even a month old at the time of the announcement, I think it would be better suited to wait until the second year, after set sales have become established. However, this game will have the advantage of TT Games' tried-and-true LEGO game formula, and so it is likely to be a fun game regardless of the success or failure that Legends of Chima may later have.
Given the long string of successes that LEGO has enjoyed with TT games, the decision to give Legends of Chima a videogame is not as unusual as their decision to give it an MMOG as well. Unlike videogames in general, LEGO's MMOG history is very short. in 2010, LEGO and NetDevil released LEGO Universe, and in 2012, LEGO and NetDevil shut down LEGO Universe, with the following statement from Jesper Vilstrup, Vice President of LEGO Universe</"Unfortunately, we have not been able to build a satisfactory revenue model in our target group, and therefore, have decided to close the game." (The "target group" for LEGO Universe</ere the same as virtually every other LEGO product--young boys 8-12 years old)
I find this decision unusual on every level. Unlike the LEGO-TT Games relationship, LEGO has not found success with MMOGs, and so far, I don't see anything that would solve the problem of "building a satisfactory revenue model" with young boys. It will be free-to-play, and it will probably be quite a few steps down from LEGO Universe</but even LEGO Universe had a free-to-play mode added at one point, and it didn't change the direction the game was headed. Until more details on this game are announced, I don't see why LEGO would even consider making another MMOG, let alone an MMOG based off of an untested theme.
Lastly, the TV show. Of the three projects, this makes the most sense. Legends of Chima is quite obviously built to replace Ninjago. It has more emphasis on fantasy than Ninjago, and even mimics the spinner gimmick with its own Speedorz gimmick. However, the main problem I have with it is that the show stinks. Granted, Ninjago wasnt exactly prime time material either, but Chima's TV series is just bad. The story reminds me of minor tiffs that five year olds have on the playground, and the jokes make the ninjas from the preceding series seem like the Marx brothers. The only thing it has going for it is the animation, but that's something they could simply have applied to NInjago for another season. However, it appears to have gained success in the ratings with the target group, which is all the show really needs. After all, an eight year old boy isn't going to really care about the same things an eighteen year old BZPower Reporter does. I also find LEGO's decision to start a Legends of Chima series unusual because in the process, they shut down an established successful series that was based off of a two-year old theme to replace it with a new series based off of an unestablished theme.
In conclusion, the primary worry I have for LEGO's decisions here is the uncertainty of the Legends of Chima theme itself. Legends of Chima is a young theme that has yet to be proven, and its predecessor's conclusion seemed premature and unnecessary. Granted, Ninjago still continues with its sets, but if Chima fails, the shutdown of Ninjago's TV series will likely be viewed as a lost opportunity, both because a successful TV series was cut off relatively quickly, and because everything LEGO chose to do with Legends of Chima could have been done just as easily with the already established and still-popular NInjago.At the same time, the sales of Legends of Chima sets since the announcement have been favorable, and that bodes well for their other projects, but will it go the way of BIONICLE, and thrive as time goes on, or will it go the way of Exo-Force, and fizzle out after the first year? Let's hope for the former.
And that's the conclusion. Give your thoughts on my thoughts in the talkback topic, and feel free to comment on Pohatu's triumphant return to the front page. If this is something of which you'd like to see more, I might give it another shot.