At this point in time LEGO is not least of all known for its many external activities, be that licensing deals with entertainment content behemoths like Disney or things like getting their feet wet in software. Inevitably this means other parties being involved and one of those is Apple, a little company you may have heard of. It’s the time of the year where they hold their WWDC and show of new stuff. You guessed it, one of those, the iOS 12 ARKit Presentation, rubbed me the wrong way, so here’s a few thoughts on it.
First let it be known that I’m not a great believer in all that VR/ AR stuff. I’ve written a lengthy article on that on my old main blog which you can read, but if you don’t, here’s the basic gist in one sentence: As long as everyone tries to squeeze VR/ AR for money by selling you expensive hardware, software and services, it’s nothing more than an industry-driven fad at the cost of the user, i.e. you. they want you to buy expensive new iPhones, headsets and what have you, because naturally last year’s tech won’t do and of course it’s all tied to some exclusive service you have to sign up and possibly pay for. Sounds damning, doesn’t it?
Interestingly enough I could see a use for AR for location-based services like finding shops and restaurants near you just by looking through some glasses with a HUD and on some level I can even see it working for games, but I don’t count LEGO in that category. To me the whole point of building models with physical plastic bricks is to get away from all that “computer stuff” when you may have a day job where you are sitting in front of some screen already. I should know, as I’m still doing so much work on my PC even in my free time, yet I’ve made a conscious decision to go with LEGO to spend time with other things. In so many words: I couldn’t be bothered about doing LEGO virtually, even if I had one of those expensive iPhones.
Therefore IMO the presentation hit all the wrong beats. Aside from the fact that it felt way too forced and rehearsed (How credible is it even when some higher-level manager tries to play cool?), they picked the wrong content. Modular Buildings are typically not for kids playing with them, they are expensive collectible sets! So how on Earth did LEGO even think anyone might be interested in seeing minifigures actually running around the Assembly Square (10255)? True, people integrate those buildings in big LEGO cities all the time, but the presentation probably couldn’t be further away from reality, as most users will probably just leave the models sitting there and enjoy how they look.
Could we see another sign of LEGO totally not “getting it”, meaning them not understanding their own user base? I do understand their desire to branch out in other directions, but when it comes to integrating their products with the digital world I could think of a million other things first. Clearly, they haven’t been very successful with their digital ventures and the stench of failure just doesn’t come off LEGO. Dimensions, anyone? Whatever AR-based world-building they may have in mind, it could end up being just the same thing happening all over again.
The small streak of hope is of course that it’s all just a preliminary demo made to impress and no actual commercial product may ever come from it. Still, in times of diminishing revenues (totally their own fault) there’s always the risk of LEGO falling for a quick cash grab and that could have lasting long-term effects. One of those incidentally could be that they totally de-value their sets when making them available virtually, leading to a further decline in sales. The term “death spiral” all to easily comes to mind…