Over the past five years, Lego has captured the interests of gamers with a popular series of licensed video games culminating in the forthcoming release of Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 for the major gaming consoles. Running almost parallel to the gaming industry mega-event E3 was Brickworld 2010, a fan-organized convention of Lego enthusiasts.
Lego fans, self-identified by the nickname "Builders," filled the four large ballrooms of the Westin Hotel and Conference Center in Wheeling, Illinois to not only trade techniques, sell custom-made Lego accessories and building sets, hold panel discussions about the future of their hobby, but primarily to display their works of Lego art.
Virtually all of the works were created independently of the default images provided on the outside of Lego boxes. The displays varied in size from tiny dioramas of village scenes to massive Lego model train sets with over three hundred feet of track and surrounding landscape.
They also varied in commitment to reality with an impressively realistic and sizable model of Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle nearby to a mock-up of Stately Wayne Manor, the dwelling of erstwhile Batman, Bruce Wayne. This monument to comics lore was complete with a two-story Batcave filled with mini-heroes, villains, a couple of Batmobile incarnations and even a Lego Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“Lego really takes our relationship with our fans very seriously,” reports Lego’s Peter Esperson from their Online Consumer Engagement department at the company’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark. “We work very hard on making sure the fans have the best opportunity to with each other and have a good time.”
Brickworld, one of the largest Lego fan gatherings, has grown threefold since its inception in 2006; a year after the developer Traveler’s Tales took the Lego video game license and released Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, to sales of 6.7 million units over three years. It would be the first in a well-received series of Lego video games.
Esperson feels the growth in popularity in Lego and in Lego games are not intrinsically connected, “I think our video games are targeted to another group, here at Brickworld it’s a lot about the fans 13-plus and the grown-ups. I don’t think they play the games, since they are more directed at children 8-12,” he explains cautiously, but adds the caveat, “I play them myself and I have a good time!”
His statements of course are in direct contradiction with the sales figures, which show that the larger gaming demographic of 18-35 year old males are clearly latching onto the fun-loving games.
On the show floor at Brickworld, Gaming and Lego seem to share at least the same audience of simulation fans and the technologically minded. Among the traditional displays of Lego craft such as airplanes, there are model Vic Vipers from Gradius, and dioramas of battle scenes feature the occasional custom mini-Spartan from Halo. A full scale Lego NES removes any doubt at fandom crossovers, and attendees share their anticipation over the upcoming game.
Neuf Castle“All the fans are real excited about Lego Harry Potter,” claims Dave Sterling of Trempealeau, Wisconsin. As Brickworld’s train display coordinator he says, “I think everyone here, a lot of the fans, are also gamers.”
He also sees a positive impact from the growth of the game series, “They get Lego into the hands of some people that it might not get it otherwise. They play the games, and all of a sudden they see a whole world they didn’t know before and maybe start building.”
Brian Davis of Elk Heart, Indiana is a Physics Professor at Indiana University’s South Bend campus and has been a Builder for ten years. At Brickworld he supervised a hundred square foot square Lego chessboard, where the individual pieces are foot high robots guided by cameras. Next to him, two kids are staring intently into individual laptops, ordering their respective sides around. Captured pieces are automatically moving off the board and into a holding area.
“A lot of us quite like playing them," he said of the video games, "they are designed for kids but they are a lot of fun and entertainment for adults. I’d say on the whole most adults in the Lego fan community really enjoy them.”
On how the games' success translates to the resurgence of popularity in physical Legos he adds, “In [those] product lines I think people do play the video games, then want a Star Wars set, or an Indiana Jones one after playing that game, so I say that in fraction they increase the brand awareness.”
Lego’s Esperson reflects on the bottom line, “[The Lego video game design] is all about maintaining the same play experience in the games as it is with the bricks […] the builders respect [the games] and understand that Lego has to make money as well, and then we can turn out better sets and everyone will be happy.”
Do you play Lego video games? Do they make you want more actual Legos?