Yesterday after about seven months of review, Cuusoo revealed Back to the Future (BTTF) - DeLorean Time Machine as the the fourth official Cuusoo product. In the process they also rejected The Western Modular, The Legend of Zelda, and the Eve Rifter.
I found the results a bit surprising but very logical in hindsight. Each time a project is approved or rejected it shows a lot about the Cuusoo process, mindset, and constraints.
What follows is my opinion on lessons learned from this latest batch of project results and a few other opinions.
Updated on 12/23/2012
The Review in General
First off, although it does keep people's hopes up, the results of this review confirm the logic behind not revealing any project statuses until the entire review is complete. Had Cuusoo revealed BTTF as the only project it felt had the business case for production, it would have hurt them in licensing negotiations potentially resulting in protracting them even further, and in the end possibly a more expensive set or none at all.
Secondly, we have seen that the business case barrier to production is more harrowing than many of us expected. Keep this in mind when half-heartedly posting the random MOC to Cuusoo.
Back to the Future
Excluding the challenges of licensing, this is an obvious marketing choice for LEGO. BTTF is an unmistakable piece of 80's culture. Adults will buy it for themselves and parents (and cool relatives) will buy it for their kids.
I told my co-workers (who are not obsessed with LEGO like I am) that LEGO announced a BTTF set and their response was "Where can I get it?" The set sells itself.
On top of that, time travelers with a slightly humorous stint can fit in with practically any theme or build: future, present, or past... well, maybe not Chima. (Doctor Who could pull off Chima, but alas, that is not to be.)
There was some discussion about the model displayed in the Cuusoo video. I can confirm through an inquiry to Cuusoo that the build in the video is a Designer prototype and not a final product.
The question this set will put to Cuusoo is what about the other BTTF sets that are out there? Is there room for more than one BTTF set? Once a license is established I imagine it is easier to license more, but will the market for such sets hold, and will Cuusoo really accept making pseudo-themes?
Of course Minecraft also asks this question with nearly 100 projects out there but the vast majority of those are very slight variations on the produced model and are unlikely to produced because of it.
For those fans of BTTF that want to test out Cuusoo's resolve on this issue, there are several quality projects that could expand the line.
The Legend of Zelda
Previous to this week's events we have seen that Cuusoo will take a liberal approach to the interpretation of the project. This was evident in the Shinkai and Minecraft sets.
That is why even though this project made it to 5k as effectively a licensed parts project, I assumed that Cuusoo would use this project as a general request for "a Zelda set" with maybe a specialized headgear piece to go with it.
That was not to be the case though. Cuusoo has respected the wishes of the supporters, and instead of giving them something they didn't support, they have said no, we will not be making a set based on a project of 20+ parts that are based specifically on an IP we do not own.
In doing so however they have also respected the work of other Zelda projects that have been presenting clearly defined, and attractive, sets from the beginning.
If you want a Zelda set, well, they have not said no to the license. This leaves several options open. Here are the best in my opinion:
I have often said if you like the subject of a concept, then support it, not just a single project that touches on it but any project that touches on it. When you see something you like, do a search for more like it. Check out the project creator's other works to see what else they've got. Send a message with the volume of projects supported and let Cuusoo deal with the details... In the end, if they make a set out of it and you don't care for it at that point, just don't buy it.
The results of this rejection have some rather strong implications going forward though. LEGO employees have been quoted as saying that new parts will be very unlikely for Cuusoo sets, but this is the first time that a project has been rejected because of it.
This could be very problematic for some projects on Cuusoo, most notably Thinking with Portals. The vision of Team Jigsaws includes seven new elements: turret shell, turret interconnect, tripod, rounded 1 x 2 tiles, 4 x 6 tile with single stud, new minifig hairpiece, and new microfig hairpiece. Although some of those elements are less required than others, the portal gun and turrets, core elements of Portal, or based almost entirely on new parts.
For those who really want to see any Portal based official sets, you would be wise to cover your bases by supporting GLaDOS and Portal Test Chamber.
With how quickly Team Jigsaw was able to get their support, one smart move for them would be to re-launch the project with no new pieces. There is certainly nothing in Cuusoo that would prevent them from doing so.
It should be clear to anyone creating new project now, that it is very risky to define essential elements of your project on new part production.
Update 12/23/2012 ---
I looked a bit more closely at Thinking with Portals and the Legend of Zelda project and I have some new opinions.
If you look at the Zelda project, the entire emphasis is on the gear and the minifig elements. The opening picture is of three figures all sporting new molds (although Ganon might have an old hairpiece... it's a little hard to tell).
What follows that is two images of a multitude of new gear and then a couple of images of a very good MOC.
This MOC however is presented with the following: "Along with a set representing an iconic moment of the series, I feel it is also necessary to include multiple swords, shields and items as they play such a large and important role in the series."
Mingles, the project creator makes it absolutely clear the heart of the project is the multitudes of new gear.
Thinking with Portals, on the other hand, displays a series of new parts but does not even comment on them in the dialog. I vaguely recall that Team Jigsaw might have when the project was originally posted but I am far from certain of that, and even if they did, they wisely updated the project not to make new parts a stated requirement.
This leaves LEGO with a more expansive opportunity to interpret the intent of the creators and let slide the presentation of the new parts as as merely a suggestion.
--- End of Update
Based on the obvious buy-in by CCP games, I was really expecting a push on this project, not a rejection. After the rejection came through, I looked at how many people are active users of the game. According to Ripard Teg that number was about 30k this time last year. That means that one in every three users would have to buy the set if they made 10,000 units, not counting of course the people (like myself) who just thinks it looks cool. I have no idea how many units of any Cuusoo product LEGO will make but I can see how they would be uncomfortable with numbers this small.
If there was follow through support on the other Eve online ships, for instance the gorgeous Merlin, it might be a different story as it could show an active and ongoing link between Cuusoo fans and Eve users but unfortunately that has not been the case.
On what is a pretty tangential note, I am also a bit surprised that Cuusoo did not archive all the Eve projects. When Serenity was rejected, all Firefly based projects where also shelved. This was a brand fit issue of course and that would not change over time, but I can't really imagine that the business case decision will vary for a different Eve project. I have however noticed that as time goes on, Cuusoo seems much more relaxed about removing projects due to these high level decisions. For instance, there are several Dr. Who projects still on Cuusoo even though they have decided that they won't pursue the license.
Back to larger issues though. This is a worrisome for all supporters of any project as it demonstrates a very unforgiving business case. If this did not pass, is there a chance for any space ship based project? It would certainly be nice to know if the scale of the ship or licensing costs were a factor in this decision. Regardless, this has certainly raised the barrier.
Modular Western Town
I would have loved to get this set and I would have loved even more to park a DeLorean outside of it.
Yes, there are a lot of western fans out there. And yes, it has been over a decade since LEGO has released a western theme. Almost every other theme has been represented during that time, some more than once. The lack of any solid western sets however implies that LEGO feels there is a limited market for the westerns and a modular based on a western would have a significant price tag on top of that.
The market might be so low in fact that perhaps without The Lone Ranger marketing, we may not have gotten western builds at all. If this is the case, then The Lone Ranger theme unfortunately is likely to saturate the demand for LEGO based western builds.
The modular, as has been repeated often, is a victim of timing.
Many have asked, "Why not let it roll on to the next review?" Well, for every vocal poster who says they would buy everything western, there is likely another who will say "I've waited 10 years for non-fleshy Western, I can wait one more for The Lone Ranger to be over, then buy the Modular." That is the kind of talk that businesses and business partners don't like to hear. I would not be surprised if the LEGO partnership on The Lone Ranger theme does not in fact preclude them from producing a western set for a certain time frame after The Lone Ranger line is concluded. Even if it is not written down, it would certainly affect their otherwise friendly relationship.
In the end, Cuusoo actually has the proof of how much support there is for a western theme.
|Pif Pac City||1.3k||3 spd|
|Western Wip||0.5k||<1 spd|
|Lego Historical Periods||0.5k||<1 spd|
|Western Ranch||40||<1 spd|
If there is a strong outcry for western projects, why do these not show the support for it? And why so few projects?
If you want to see western projects, you have two options, keep posting and supporting as many western projects as you can to prove a market for it, or much more passively, wait for The Lone Ranger to come and go, then support the heck out of the theme. Simply walking away from Cuusoo will not have any positive effect.
Thoughts on Cuusoo in General and the LEGO Fan-base
Many people are hurt and dismayed by the review results. Many are saying that Cuusoo is a failure. That they are done with it. That the implementation is horrible.
While these emotions and comments have merit, it is important to keep in mind what that Cuusoo is in open beta, it is not a finished product, it is a WIP.
Cuusoo is not the kind of product where you can take a handful of people and quietly test it behind the shield of an NDA. Its very nature is dependent upon user interaction and that on a grand scale.
Cuusoo can only be tested and developed by actually attempting to do it. Everything Cuusoo is doing right now flies in the face of standard business practices. Movie studios don't ask people what movies they should produce and then try to get the rights to them. Game studios don't either. Nor do publishing companies.
The LEGO contract negotiators are used to quietly doing their job behind a veil of secrecy, where time does not exist and they are able to walk away if things go sour without causing a public outcry.
LEGO is attempting to let you give them feedback in what avenues you want them to explore. They have given you a tool for suggesting those ideas and a method for proving that they should investigate it. They have also produced three excellent sets based on that model of operation and are now working on the forth. That is an amazing achievement and I don't see how anyone, evidence to the contrary, could not say that is a success. It might not have yet produced what you want and it might not work the way you want it to, but that does not mean it has failed.
Cuusoo is not done though. It is not a final product. It is an evolving undertaking. They are very clear on this:
LEGO CUUSOO Remains in Beta
It’s important to note both the LEGO CUUSOO website and the operations that produce fan-inspired sets remain in a beta testing period. LEGO CUUSOO is breaking new ground for the LEGO Group, for LEGO fans, and for brand fan communities as a whole. As we work to produce your favorite CUUSOO projects as LEGO sets, it is important that we do so in a way that is scalable and sustainable as a business. Our team will continue to improve and refine this process, and we’re exploring possibilities that will allow you to share the risk of production costs so that your favorite projects can make it into production faster.
It is very fair to complain about the interface and the methodology, but many people are saying they are "done with Cuusoo." That is not productive. Boycotting social systems is just opting out of guiding their evolution and slows down their development into something spectacular.
Instead, give feedback to Cuusoo. You can do so at the Knowledge base. Click on "Contact Support" and leave your feedback on how Cuusoo can be better.
I can personally attest to the success of giving Cuusoo feedback. I have made comments and I have seen Cuusoo implement these suggestions.
In the end, despite any faults you might see. There are two worlds: One with Cuusoo and one without.
In the world without Cuusoo, we have people post to MOC pages or other parts of the web and people stop by and take a look. Depending on the interface available, they might leave a comment or two but that is as far as it goes.
In the world with Cuusoo, people can see a MOC someone has done and they can say, "I want that" and there is a chance, not a great one mind you, but a chance, that you can get it. If you don't get it, well, nothing lost.
How is that not a cooler world to live in?
And that hope is a powerful force. United by a desire to see what we can make happen I have made friends in the community that I otherwise never would have. I am not the only one either, Cuusoo is genuinely creating communities.
Future "Cuusoo of the Week" posting
It does appear that the business case is going to be a hard nut to crack going into the future, but without being a employee of LEGO I have no idea what the explicit details of those cases might be. I am sure I will be getting a lot more feedback along the lines of "Well if they rejected X how could they possibly not reject Y." I continue to respond, If you like it, support it and see what happens.
I am going to continue showcasing projects I think are awesome, I am going to continue to hope a decent number of you agree with me, and though my hope for their eventual production is a little less than it was before, I will keep in mind that it was never a certainty to begin with.
As a final point, I would like to reiterate that I am very curious about what they mean by:
"we’re exploring possibilities that will allow you to share the risk of production costs so that your favorite projects can make it into production faster."
Who knows what that really means but it could mean a day in the sun for all those "no IP projects that LEGO will never make."
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