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Lego takes on World of Warcraft

Toy construction set company plans online game

Toy construction set company Lego Group plans to launch an MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) in the second half of this year, to be called Lego Universe, said Mark Hansen, director of business development and LEGO lead for the project.

Lego users have long been known for their creative use of the company's products, so the company is hoping its users will take their creativity online, using virtual Lego bricks to create entire virtual worlds. "There are such endless possibilities for what you can do in this game," Hansen said.

Hansen revealed some of the details of the game, which was four years in the making, at the 2010 Engage youth entertainment technology conference, being held this week in New York.

Hansen was joined by Ryan Seabury, the creative director for the game and founder of Louisville, Colorado-based NetDevil, which is developing the game for Lego.

"Lego is a modular system, an interconnecting set of parts reconfigurable in different ways. So that should be a natural theme to explore in the game," Seabury said.

The Lego Universe will be aimed at children 8 to 12 years old, though the company hopes the offering will be appealing to older individuals as well, Hansen said.

Given its target user base, Lego Universe will not compete with World of Warcraft in the carnage department. However, players are tasked with a mission: to help save imagination from the dark forces of evil.

The bad force can be kept at bay only by users' "imagination and creativity", Seabury said. Players cannot be killed, but they can be reduced to a pile of unassembled bricks. The idea is to play the game and collect bricks, which will allow users to build more interesting models.

The game will have multiple Lego-based worlds to be explored. Some worlds will have traditional Lego themes, such as pirates, ninjas and castles, while others will be novel for the Lego space. Users can assemble semi-completed components from these worlds into entirely new designs, or they can build new components from scratch, using standard bricks.

Users can also graft behaviours onto their creations. "We're working on a behaviour system that can add life to your properties," Seabury said. With these, a virtual gallery of Lego creations could actually be run by the creator and other players, rather than just sit there and be admired.

Users will be encouraged to create content, but given the age of its target audience, all content will be reviewed by moderators before it is put into the public forums, Hansen said.

At this point, the online game has been designed to be accessed by a standalone application, one currently running only on PCs, though the development team is looking into creating a version for the Apple Mac systems. The game will be a subscription-based service. Lego did not disclose the price.

Lego, an abbreviation of the Danish words 'Leg Godt', or 'play well', produces about 19 billion building elements a year, which are sold in more than 130 countries worldwide, according to the company.

Although new to the online gaming space, Lego already has some credibility in the geek universe, not the least for its Mindstorms kits, which allow users to build some simple computational intelligence into their creations.

The developers used a number of different tools to build out the environment, Seabury said, including Emergent Game Technologies' Gamebryo game design tool and the Scaleform Flash-based user interface platform.

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