Lego fans design new pieces

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Copy of sa lego creations (2) SUPPLIED Lego aficionados like Brent Waller, a videogame developer in Brisbane, Australia, are sharing their toy designs on a Lego crowdsourcing website. Picture: The Lego Group

New York - Brent Waller spent his childhood crafting plastic brick versions of characters from TV shows and movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman.

Now 35, the Australian has become so good at playing with Lego that the company is to start selling his models.

Waller’s Ghostbusters creation – inspired by the 1984 comedy starring Bill Murray – includes a miniature of the Cadillac ambulance from the film. It is to hit shelves in June and sell for $49.99 (about R542) in the US.

His set is one of six to come from a Lego crowdsourcing website where consumers may propose designs.

“It’s any Lego fan’s dream to have an official set they created,” said Waller, a video game developer in Brisbane. “It’s a childhood dream come true.”

With the help of the internet and social media, crowdsourcing is helping companies – from McDonald’s to Samsung Electronics – boost innovation by tapping the knowledge and experience of customers to create new products. Lego, the world’s second-biggest toymaker, has run its initiative since 2008 with help from a Japanese crowdsourcing website called Cuusoo System.

Copy of sa lego creations (1) Lego renderings of the Ghostbusters. The review and development of Brent Waller's Ghostbusters set took almost a year. Picture: The Lego Group SUPPLIED

“Children and adults these days are getting used to being, and expecting to be, more involved,” chief marketing officer Mads Nipper said in a toy-stuffed meeting room at Lego’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark.

Lego has 180 designers, but Lego Cuusoo – roughly “my Lego wish” in Japanese – creates room for the ideas of others.

Last month, Lego announced its full-year sales had increased by 10 percent to R50-billion, outpacing US rivals Mattel and Hasbro. In 2012, the Danish company had 6.3 percent of the global toy and game market and 63 percent of the market for construction toys, researcher Euromonitor International estimates.

Its market share would continue to grow, although it remained to be seen whether the double digit growth would continue, said Robert Porter, an analyst with Euromonitor in London.

Mattel’s recent acquisition of Mega Brands suggested competition might intensify for construction toys, he added.

Any Lego Cuusoo project that gets more than 10 000 votes is evaluated by designers, marketing specialists and business executives to ensure it meets requirements like playability and safety and fits with the Lego brand.

The review and development of Waller’s Ghostbusters set took almost a year.

Users need to be 18 to submit a project and 13 to cast a vote on the website. Lego reviews projects three times a year, with the next session planned for May. So far this round, a bird, an Apple store, and a train inspired by the writer Jules Verne have topped the 10 000-vote mark. Popular submissions from earlier rounds that didn’t make it to stores include a set inspired by My Little Pony – a brand owned by Hasbro – and a project based on zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, which was deemed inappropriate for Lego’s 6- to-11-year-old target audience.

Successful entries include a miniature version of Nasa’s Mars rover Curiosity for $29.99, created by a Nasa engineer who worked on the vehicle. A set based on the Minecraft video game received 10 000 votes in just 48 hours. Lego has followed up the first Minecraft set with two more and is working on others. The initial set sells for $34.99 in Lego’s online store, where purchases are limited to two for each order because of what the site says is “overwhelming demand”.

“What makes an epic Lego Cuusoo product is when you take Lego and pair it with some other kind of community or strong idea,” said Peter Espersen, who oversees the company’s efforts to work with consumers on new designs.

Lego Cuusoo got off to a slow start as it was available only in Japan for the first three years and few people were familiar with the idea of crowdsourcing, Espersen said.

When Minecraft took off, he said, “it told us, oh my goodness, there is something here, something exciting”.

Waller, who grew up in a small town an hour’s drive west of Brisbane, submitted designs for houses, robots and Batman’s Batmobile before succeeding with his Ghostbusters idea. The set, produced by Lego under licence from Sony Pictures, will coincide with the movie’s 30th anniversary.

“As a child I didn’t really have any action figures or anything like that,” he said. “So I would recreate whatever TV show or movie I was into at the time in Lego form.”

While some crowdsourced sets have had mixed reviews from fans, like the DeLorean sportscar-cum-time machine from the movie Back to the Future, the upcoming Ghostbusters set is being well received by Lego fans online.

The DeLorean “was horrible, I never bothered with it”, user Shaun O’Brien wrote on Facebook last month. The Ghostbusters set, by contrast, “I will get for sure. Might even get 2 and make a bit bigger.”

Fans whose models are used by Lego receive one percent of net revenue. While the company doesn’t disclose sales for individual sets, Espersen is “fairly optimistic” about Waller’s Ghostbusters set.

The set’s sales may not matter much, Porter says. Regardless of how much crowdsourcing initiatives boost revenue, they help companies engage better with consumers and keep loyal fans coming back.

“Even if ideas don’t take off,” Porter said, “it’s good for marketing, PR and building consumer engagement.” – Bloomberg News

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