Brick by brick: how Lego embraced video games | Games


For some parents, the idea of kids sitting down in front of a Lego-branded video game might be baffling: isn’t the point of Lego that it’s not on a screen? But the mega-success of Minecraft – based on building things out of blocks with different colours and properties – proves that Lego and video games have been influencing each other for at least a decade. There are now Minecraft-branded Lego sets: a real-life toy influencing a game that becomes a real-life toy again.

Many official Lego games have come out of a cross-pollination. Since the mid-90s there have been more than 50 of them, the most recent being this week’s Lego The Incredibles, based on the Pixar film. Video games aren’t replacing traditional ways of playing with the toy, but they’re providing new twists on Lego’s ethos: the ability for children to be creative in their play.

Lego Island game screenshot

Lego Island lets players build 3D jet skis and helicopters. Photograph: Mindscape

The first Lego game was the relatively recondite Lego: Fun to Build, which launched in 1995 on an obscure educational system called the Sega Pico, and challenged players to complete 2D models against the clock. In 1997, Lego Island offered a surprisingly accurate representation of the toy in-game: players built 3D jet skis and helicopters to explore a small island filled with quests.

In 2005, British developer Traveller’s Tales started making games based on Lego’s branded sets, starting with Lego Star Wars and continuing with games inspired by Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Marvel superheroes and The Incredibles. Its most ambitious game, 2015’s Lego Dimensions, brings toy creations to the screen. Players build something from a set – say, the Hogwarts Express – place it on a toy pad that’s connected to a games console, and voila: a bricky version of JK Rowling’s famous fictional train will pop up in the game.



Lego Marvel Super Heroes – trailer video

Peter Gomer, game director for Lego The Incredibles, likens the process of making video games to building a giant Lego set: developers possess ideas, components and mechanics, and it’s up to them to build something fun that people can play with. “When you’re making Lego, or a game, you can take it apart, modify it, mix it together. You can use your imagination to make whatever you want,” Gomer says. The developers of the modern Lego games weave a variety of influences into their games, he says, but always pay homage to construction.

“Every single prop in the Lego video games could be made out of real Lego,” he says. “If you were to build them, it would be super expensive, but because it’s digital we just make as much as we want and the player gets to build some really interesting models.”

Team up … Lego The Incredibles.



Team up … Lego The Incredibles. Photograph: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment

The satisfaction of feeling two plastic bricks slide perfectly together with a sharp click can’t be replicated through a PlayStation controller. But while video games don’t replace physical Lego as a construction tool, kids can use it as inspiration to design an imaginative playground. Gaming provides new ways to tell stories that use Lego as a prop inside virtual worlds which players poke, prod, dismantle and rebuild. Parents sit alongside their children on the sofa and help solve puzzles in the same way they might supervise building a difficult model in real life.

The relationship between Lego and video games benefits the Danish toy-maker, too, and has played a part in the company’s turnaround since the early 00s. Last year, Lego’s chief marketing officer, Julia Goldin, told the Observer: “We look at every year starting at zero, because you have to recruit every child again and make the brand exciting for them.” Video games, on the other hand, are a part of almost every child’s life – 98%-99% of kids play them, according to demographic data. Some kids might even play a Lego video game before they get interested in the physical toy.

Lego’s adaptability, as well as the company’s willingness to work with other mega-brands like Disney, has been a key to its survival. Video games are one way in which the brand is kept relevant, introducing a new generation to the potential of a single brick.



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