LEGO Universe Enters Free-to-Play Model, How Enticing Is It?
LEGO: A powerful word when it comes to the toy industry, especially when it has influenced at least two generations of children over 50 years, a large majority of whom have grown up to be people like yours truly – an Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL). Having increased its business diversity after facing some financial difficulty in 2004, LEGO Universe is the latest (in 2010) project besides movie tie-ins and the introduction of new sets, which grew the company into the world's fourth-largest toymaker.
The game's premise is simple: "By merging the online world of social interaction with physical play, the LEGO brand is providing new experiences for children, as well as fans," said Lisbeth Valther Pallesen, Executive Vice President, Community, Education and Direct Division LEGO Group at the time of the introduction of the working title back on 2007. LEGO Universe was designed to live out one's fantasies in the online world, complete with interaction meaning that players can 'build, explore, battle, make friends and bring their wildest creations come to life.' Based on the subscription model, with prices starting from USD9.99 per month, the game introduced its Free-to-Play model on August 16, allowing more users to experience what it offers without paying upfront.
While the Free-to-Play online game business model is not new, different operators employ different strategies in order to entice consumers while staying in the black. Having had some experience with F2P (or freemium games) in the past, here's my experience – and thoughts – about this new model for LEGO Universe.
Upon booting the game, one is offered to customize his or her own minifig – the convenient avatar in which all LEGO Universe netizens take. Because a free account is used, the player name is limited to three words, all of which can be chosen from a preset of <description> <verb> <item> from a scrolling menu. Menus are really intuitive as most menus and the HUD mirror regular MMORPG placements. Despite the simple LEGO-inspired design, the menus are not at all childish.
All newcomers to LEGO Universe will have to go through a training map, dubbed the Venture Explorer that guides users on the basic controls, building blocks and getting their Imagination Caps (which enables building models in the world). However, the limitation of your free account can be seen once exiting the first map and stumbling onto your first treasure chest. Darn. Chests and pets are not the only locked items, as free players are restricted to the general vicinity of Avant Gardens (the second map). Unlike a regular RPG, players do not gain experience, or in this case Universe points by killing enemies, but by completing quests. Smart move there, although I'll kill anything anyway just to get my hands on some credits of which....
...there's a credit limit of 10,000 coins. That low limit is stifling, especially when coins are easier to find than creeps, until I realized that I can build my own little domain with the ill-gotten coins I received from smashing everything in sight. Thankfully, even free players are given a taste of what it's like to own a piece of LEGO property. Quests may sometimes reward building models and creeps and smashables drop blocks all the time anyway, so if you can't level up quickly enough because the missions in Avant Gardens are limited, then you might as well dabble in some real estate to pass the time until you either 1) get bored of the limitations and quit playing the game, or 2) you start your subscription because you 'can't wait to see the Universe out there.' As for me, I just had to go on no thanks to my love for these blocks, so if you're playing LEGO Universe too, shout out if you see me!
Kevin Boey / Writer
Loves cameras, gadgets, geek toys and cars. Still writes proper sentences in SMSes, hates to ride at the back of buses.