Funcom has announced that it has been signed on to create a Lego massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), set for release later in 2014.
Since 2005, starting with Lego Star Wars, Lego has produced a number of video games that have surprised everyone. The games collected a large base of fans young and old with their combination of real-time combat, puzzle solving, cooperative gameplay, building and, of course, Lego, encompassing a number of franchises such as Batman, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and The Pirates of the Caribbean. These games have all been the work of one developer, UK-based Traveller's Tales.
It seems like a perfect recipe for an MMOG — and the company has just announced that this is exactly what's coming. Lego Minifigures Online, to be published for PC, iOS and Android, is scheduled for a release in the latter half of 2014, with Norwegian developer Funcom at the helm.
This will be Lego's second pass at an MMOG. In October 2010, Warner Bros released Lego Universe, a title that, in spite of delays, looked pretty exciting. It had a strong focus on building, a mechanic that — as millions of Minecraft (released a year later) players can attest — can be excellent.
Lego Universe was pretty well received, too — by the people who played it. It garnered a critic rating of 70 on Metacritic, which isn't too shabby for an MMOG, considering the legions of shoddy MMOGs out there. Yet, Lego couldn't find a paying audience, something that most MMOGs struggle with; World of Warcraft being the one massive, notable exception. The founding members of Lego Universe's developer, NetDevil, left the company in the tail end of 2010, and the remaining members of the team were laid off in February 2011, leaving ongoing development and maintenance of the game in the hands of the Lego Group.
Lego Universe shuttered in January 2012, just over 15 months after it first launched.
It would be premature to suggest that Lego Minifigures Online will go the same way, but, nevertheless, we have our reservations. Funcom's previous two offerings in the MMOG arena — Age of Conan and The Secret World — don't necessarily inspire confidence. Age of Conan, to put it bluntly, crashed and burned in its early days, thanks to a massive number of bugs. The Secret World, while exponentially better, was still plagued by bugs. Critics and users alike praised its world and stories, but often felt that the gameplay left something to be desired, and team layoffs both preceded and followed the game's release.
On the other side of the coin is Lego and (presumably) Warner Bros, which may have certain expectations about just how much revenue an MMOG of this kind can generate. In the last five years, every MMOG that has come to our notice — with the glaring exception of World of Warcraft — has had to revert to a free-to-play model in order to keep players.
On a mobile platform, Lego Minifigures Online might just work. There's a lot in the Lego games that would work tremendously well in an MMO environment: collaboration, building, resource acquisition, collection, combat and a vast repository of sets that cover pretty much every play environment. We hope it does work. But given the collective history of Lego, MMOGs and Funcom, we're not holding our breath.