Daily Archives: June 17, 2011

The Slow Rise & Sudden Demise of LEGO Universe

At least at our house.

I have been interested in LEGO Universe since it was announced.  LEGO is kind of a big thing at our house.  And we love all most of the Traveller’s Tales LEGO games.  So a LEGO MMO seemed like a natural.

But we never quite got around to buying it.

You can only really play so many subscription MMOs at a time, and when LEGO Universe came out, World of Warcraft was still popular at our house.  So I did not see the need to rush out and drop $40 on the box.  I could wait and let things settle.

Time went by.  The price of the game was cut in half.  $20 for LEGO Universe.

And while Cataclysm was fading for us somewhat by this point (the instance group was face rolling content while my daughter had played all Summer in the beta with a fully equipped level 85 character and was getting bored and not willing to level up through the content) $20 still seemed like a bit much when my daughter had Animal Jam, with the benefits of being free and browser based, to occupy her gaming time.

And more time went by, LEGO took over LEGO Universe from NetDevil, and began offering the game for $10 via the LEGO Online Store.

$10… that was tempting.  I’ve bought games I know I’ll never play for $10.  I bought City of Heroes: Going Rogue on Steam for $10 in a fit of bargain basement insanity over the holidays, along with Hearts of Iron III. (And at least I’ve played Hearts of Iron some, or I did until the new Combat Mission title came out.)

But even at $10 I passed.

The game was still available for $10, with free shipping last I checked.

Then I got a reminder from the LEGO Store that I had some VIP points to redeem.  With those applied to the price of LEGO Universe, I finally hit a price point I could not resist.

$5.46 turned out to be the right price

Yes, for five dollars and forty six cents, I could commit to LEGO Universe.

It arrived in the mail and we installed it on my daughter’s iMac.  I created an account and we launched the game and waited for it to patch.  And waited.  And waited.  And went to bed  and got up the next morning.  And waited a bit more.

And then we could play!

And play my daughter did.

Meanwhile I tinkered with the parental controls.  Said controls suck.

Well, maybe “suck” isn’t the right word.

They are on par with most free to play browser based games I have encountered, which is to say they appear to be a rudimentary after thought of very limited value, though it is hampered by the LEGO Universe web site, which I did not very friendly in helping me get to things I was seeking.

And there is the fact that I have been spoiled by Blizzard’s parental controls.  I have griped about how they took a workable UI and made it worse, but it still allows me the option I want when it comes to parental controls, the ability set time slots when my daughter is allowed to play.  I do not want to have to constantly police her computer for online games when she is supposed to be making a birthday card in Kid-Pix or writing up her science fair project. (Which involved LEGO as well.)

Still, for a boxed monthly subscription game that pushes the parental controls and kid safety aspects of the game, I was disappointed.

But my daughter was very excited about the game and played that first weekend, totally forgetting about Animal Jam, the kid focused browser MMO associated with National Geographic.

It was her game of choice the following weekend, though we did have to do some more patching as they had just dropped a new update that week.  But still, she seemed to be enjoying the game quite a bit, and called me over to show me the house she was building and a few other neat things.

But the weekend after that, LEGO Universe was forgotten.

My daughter’s favorite game was Animal Jam again.

I did not get a chance to play it with her.  I only ordered one copy remembering, perhaps falsely, that there was some sort of “family account” associated with the game.  However I was unable to find any reference to this on the rather jumbled LEGO Universe web site, so perhaps it was something they mentioned as a possibility before launching.

I asked my daughter to list out what she liked and did not like about LEGO Universe, to see why it did not stick with her.  This is what she gave me:

Likes

  • Cool gear
  • Cool dance moves
  • Cool pets
  • Dungeons which other people can go in
  • Groups
  • Build your OWN home

Dislikes

  • You cant say LEET, UBER, HAX. IRL, HALLO stuff like that
  • You have a limited speech
  • You have to PAY for JUST a month
  • you cant make new characters on different servers
  • YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR LIKE 89 HOURS FOR THE PATCHES TO DOWNLOAD! (no wonder they don’t have many players)
  • It is frustrating!

Now, some of her dislikes reflect the kid safety aspects of the game. (And her exposure to Barrens chat.)  The one option I had in parental controls was the ability to limit communications.

And, of course, the whole patching thing happened to hit her two weeks running.  Patience is an almost unknown virtue in a 9 year old.

But I also think part of the reason that LEGO Universe did not stick with her is that she is developing her own interests.  LEGO is clearly my influence, and while she has not rejected it completely, it has begun to fade in favor of her own ideas.  Right now, for example, she is very much into the cat society Warriors series of books, having devoured two dozen of the titles so far this year.

So she likes to draw cats and play with things that are cat related.  She even pays more attention to our own cats and has taken to combing them regularly.  Yay for good side effects.  She likes to make up cat names in the theme of the books, which I am told (by her) follow the format of <thing> + <cat body part>.  So you end up with something like Brambleclaw.  Of course, I fail at this, coming up with names like, Toastertail which gets the response, “Dad! Cats don’t know what a toaster is!”  My explanation about knowing a cat that got its tail singed by a toaster falls on deaf ears.

Animal Jam, which lets her play as a cat, trumps a game that merely lets you play with LEGO bricks. (Penguins are also out.)

So LEGO Universe, which was met with an initial burst of enthusiasm now sits idle.  And given its monthly subscription nature, it seems unlikely that we will return to it.  The game competes squarely against many browser based MMOs that offer at least some play aspects for free.  Thus when my daughter to come argue her case with me about why I should allow her to subscribe to a given game, a case that is much easier to win if she can say, “I’m already playing it,” LEGO Universe seems destined to lose.

And so it goes.

Who will speak for LEGO Universe?  Not I.