Hands On: LEGO Minifigures Online

Funcom haven’t had a smooth ride of late. The Secret World performed under expectations (although these were expectations based on their delusionally thinking they could charge a box price and subscription for a new IP MMO), and in January they were briefly suspended from trading as their offices were raided. That cannot have been fun. However, things appear to be back on track now, and last week they were showing off their next MMO, LEGO Minifigures Online. It could well be a much needed cash cow for the milking. I sat down and had a play of the family-friendly brick-me-do.

I don’t know if it matters whether Minifigures Online is any good or not, because Funcom and LEGO have done something rather smart. Minifigures, if you’re not familiar, are currently quite the thing with the little humans. LEGO estimates that at some point this year there will be more Minifigures in existence than humans. Bought in foil bags, they’re like 3D collectable cards, little plastic chaps and chappesses randomly distributed in surprise pouches. And here’s the masterstroke: from the game’s launch later this year, each of those pouches will come with a code, that when entered into the game makes that Minifigure available to play. It is this, I suspect, that will give the game a mighty bump. In a world of enormously expensive collect-em-ups like Skylanders (£12-£15 per figure) and Disney Infinity (£10 a figure), having something slightly similar at £2 a pop is going to be mighty attractive to cash-strapped parents. Especially when the game itself will be free-to-play.

But how is the game? Honestly, I’m not yet sure.

As a list of selling points, the game does very well. I could PR the hell out of it. First up, you’ve got a family-friendly MMO that plays on both PC and tablet, with seamless switching between the two. No one’s done that before. Play it in the back of the car on the way home from swimming, pick it up straight away on your mum’s PC when you get in. And there are probably ways kids will want to approach it too. In the game, the collectable figures (added both by buying bags, and earning them in-game) are used in a solo-co-op that scales from super-simple for the very young, to really quite complex mixing of special abilities for older kids and (they hope) adults. Combine that with an environment familiar from Travellers Tales’ massive LEGO series (TT aren’t involved in this game, but Funcom have certainly mimicked some of the more distinctive features), and you have something with instant appeal.

There’s also the rather enormous factor of familiarity. While they’re not touching any of the licenses – Star Wars, Indy, Batman, etc – they are putting in the recognisable Lego areas. There’s pirate settings (where pirates are the goodies, clearly), a medieval area, Candyland, and so on. Add to that plans for PvP that include being able to auto-construct Lego turrets and walls to keep out opponents, and PvE will include boss fights, a two-pronged upgrade system, and perhaps most importantly, an enemy called Crikey The Kraken, and there’s already a lot more going on here than in the ill-fated Lego Universe.

In fact, that solo-co-op deserves embellishing. At any point you have three characters in your roster, picked from your larger pool. Minifigures split into three types, Defender, Striker and Builder. Each has a slightly different play-style, different skills, and presumably a well-rounded roster has one of each. You can switch between them at any point, either to employ their specific talents in a certain situation, or because one’s health is getting low and you don’t want to respawn earlier in the area. But more interestingly, switching between characters can access a much more complicated way to play.

Say you’re playing as the Bumblebee Girl, she has a right click attack that throws a puddle of honey, in which enemies are slowed. She can also fire clouds of bees, which if there’s already honey down will stick to the enemies rather than buzz around them, and do more harm. Neat. But switch characters can offer more advantages. Perhaps you flip to the DJ, whose right click attack literally drops a bass (that joke alone makes this game deserve success), which slows down enemies. Now flip to the Forest Maiden and fire off her rope arrow snare, and then her triple arrow AoE ranged attack. Those three attacks all combine, work harmoniously, and make for more effective combat.

Or you can use these swaps to share buffs. The Fortune Teller’s secondary attack creates a spinning vortex of tarot cards around her. Trigger that, then switch to the Viking Woman and summon her Valkyrie ghosts, which fly out from her to nearby enemies. Switch again to the Roman Commander, and he can run into melee battle, but with both the tarot cards and Viking ghosts doing a bunch of extra damage around him.

Which all sounds pretty neat. What I saw of it – I played for about twenty minutes, one quest, no build-up – wasn’t a proper sit down with an MMO. But what I experienced was something relatively plain. Oddly, the game looks more authentically Lego than TT’s games – far fewer cheats in terms of constructing the world from proper Lego parts. But it was also a linear run down an instanced path, fighting mobs we met along the way. There was a bit of building, which is the same as the TT games here – bouncing piles of blocks are clicked at, and compile themselves into something useful – there are no plans for freeform Lego building in this particular game. There was a lot of attacking. And there were a couple of very simple puzzles. So my concern, at this point, is that it may be over-simplified in delivery. The game goes into beta this Summer so we can get a proper idea, but obviously Funcom have a tricky challenge on their hands. A kid-friendly MMO, that is aiming to appeal to adults too, ideally so they can play together. That’s always a tough call.

It of course means they also have to work out what to do about in-game chat. Currently they tell me they’re planning to go with a specific bought-in system – they wouldn’t say which – that identifies inappropriate communication and blocks it. But they say that they’re open to the possibility of ditching chat altogether if they’re not satisfied that it’s completely safe. My guess is they’ll end up with one of those pre-build statement systems, so that it’s possible to ask people to team up, help out, etc, but not, you know, in real life.

The other big question is payment models. Rather disappointingly, they weren’t willing to talk about that, beyond confirming that it’s free-to-play, and there will be ways to spend money. They added that they will be following all the latest directives on such matters, but a disinclination to talk about how they’re going to go about making it profitable seems a little bothersome. Clearly they know it’s a controversial subject, and presumably they’re just trying to avoid the debate for as long as possible. But I’d have preferred to hear, “Oh yes, we have these super-smart ideas to keep it wholesome…” Hopefully that sentence will be completed soon.

The combination of a kid-safe MMO space, and a budget interpretation of the collect-them-all nature of Skylanders, seems like savvy marketing at the very least. Funcom certainly have a lot of MMO experience to build on, no matter your feelings about Conan or TSW, and if they can achieve their aims of making this interesting for adults too, then there’s potential. If not, it could find itself fizzling out too quickly. This Summer’s beta should reveal more, with a plan to eventually release in the Autumn.


  1. Xocrates says:

    “Minifigures, if you’re not familiar, are currently quite the thing with the little humans”

    Oi! I’m not that short!

    A bit more seriously, the statement that kids primarily bought the things amused me since I know plenty of adults who buy them, including several with children, but no-one actually buys them for the kids.

    • Bull0 says:

      My home and office desks are both fucking covered in them :/ to the extent that I give away the dupes to colleagues, who, to their credit, feign gratitude

    • KeyboardGato says:

      My girlfriend loves them. But at least she doesn’t want to “collect them all”, just to get at least some of the ones she likes.
      I bet collecting them can get expensive.

  2. Urthman says:

    It is astonishing to me that the LEGO folks still haven’t made a Minecraft-type game that’s mostly about building stuff.

    • Burgmond says:

      Its actually been done in Indiana Jones 2, on the PS3 at least, where you could create your own levels, puzzles, and other random crap. Don’t know wither it’s in any other game. It’s certainly a “duh” kind of thing, as Minecraft is essentially Lego, but looks different.

    • SuddenSight says:

      They certainly did back in the day.

      I enjoyed Lego Creator back when I was a kid. You could build buildings, blow up those buildings, or walk/drive around the world you created. The interface was much more obtuse, and there wasn’t any kind of resource gathering (there was no goal or gameplay in the traditional sense) but it was fun – and quite impressive for the time period (1998 according to wikipedia).

      • Koozer says:

        The next time a LEGO article is posted and someone complains about them never making a Minecraft-alike I will jump up and down barefoot on a bed of 8 tooth Technic gears.

    • Isear says:

      Housing in Lego Universe allowed you to build pretty much anything brick-by-brick or use pre-built sections, and also to script basic actions for them.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      There’s Minecraft Lego, why no Lego Minecraft?

  3. serioussgtstu says:

    Between this and the Lego Movie, I’m quite happy with the direction Lego are going. I’m sick of seeing nothing but Star Wars themed play sets, so it’s great to hear that Cowboys and Pirates are making a return.

    To be honest it sounds like the combat might be more complex than that in the TT Lego series where characters only have two attacks: punch and a special attack like shooting. In comparison summoning ghost Valkyries and bee swarms might be much more exciting.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to playing this with the nephew, I might even pick up a few characters to get us started.

  4. P.Funk says:

    “there are no plans for freeform Lego building in this particular game.”

    Then its… not really Lego, at least not to me.

    As a child I have recollections of playing the semi-memorable Lego Island. It stands nowhere near the top of my list of best Lego memories as those are reserved for the times I happily destroyed the boxed designed that had their instructions and mixed and matched all the bits (much to my parents’ dismay) to create my own fleet of spaceships. Another great memory was my boat that was built on a couple of those totally flat pieces used as sliding lids for some assorted box of the stuff that I strung together and build bulkheads into so I could have multiple rooms, with the cargo area at the rear naturally. It was when I look at it brilliant because I was doing the video game thing of making the interior visible from the top down and not fussing with the idea of the exterior. I built a doll house with no exterior.

    The creativity of Lego is the whole heart of it. It is exactly like Minecraft memories where you see the game through the prism of your own enormous creations except further sacrosanct thanks to its origin in your childhood.

    Pity these kids today. They’re gonna know Lego as a cash cow MMO, not as a bucket of blocks that become whatever you imagine.

    • Koozer says:

      I was told off for printing out the map for LEGO Island, in full colour, across about 9 sheets of A4. Good times.

  5. MajorManiac says:

    Everything is AWE…micro-payments.

    I really like Lego and its brilliant introducing my daughter to it. But I really feel the need to protect her from this kind of business model. Shame as if the game had a one-off payment for access to all the characters I’d definitely get it for her.

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    Funcom = sellouts

  7. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    So they’re copying the Skylanders concept. Should be a good way to manipulate kids into wanting it and for parents to shell out for it.

  8. racccoon says:

    I bought a few mystery packs those mini’s can become addictive to collect. lol The game itself looks like it would be a good fun and bit of laugh for those that play it.

  9. Ahkey says:

    It’s a pity that they couldn’t afford/secure any of the tie-in licences for this. Coming out of the Lego Movie, I think a lot of people would expect a similar representation of franchises, and it would be just the thing to compete with Disney Infinity.

    If my experience of friends’ children is anything to go by, the perfect accompaniment to mini-figures would be mini-games. Just the sort of thing you’ll find for free on any flash game portal, but packaged and integrated well within the game to complement the social hangout features.

    And crafting, because Lego.

    • Simon Hawthorne says:

      It might be the thing to compete with Disney Infinity – so note that many of the franchises in the Lego Movie are owned by Disney! So perhaps that’s why they couldn’t secure the rights?

  10. Chaz says:

    (although these were expectations based on their delusionally thinking they could charge a box price and subscription for a new IP MMO)

    Elder Scrolls Online is doing just that, and it ain’t cheap either. Although I suppose it’s not a new IP but then neither was Star Wars The Old Republic and that flopped too. As much as I’d like to play ESO, there’s no way I’m paying £50 up front for a game I only get to play for 30 days, with an extra £9 per month charge after that. When they get rid of the initial entry cost and all you do is pay a sub, then I’ll be in.

    Anyway Lego. Their reluctance to talk about the payment model speaks volumes. It’ll be micro transaction hell.

  11. shadow9d9 says:

    The Secret World’s failure had NOTHING to do with the subscription and everything to do with the fact that the game was miniscule in size, with 8 tiny zones that you could beat casually in a few weekends.

  12. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    “there are no plans for freeform Lego building in this particular game.”

    Well that’s all you really had to say. It’d be cool if they made an actual Lego game with this license.

  13. gopal says:

    I just love Minifigure Lego Movie and I wish I can have them all in my bedroom. However, one need to break the bank for buying all of them so I’m pretty satisfied with my collection. Hope to get some more soon.