I more or less wanted to let this slip under the radar quietly, but now that I have bought more of the LEGO VIDIYO stuff than the initially planned “handful of minifigures”, I figured it would not be a bad idea to pour this into some sort of mix between a review and opinion piece.
Crazy is Beautiful!
As you well know from reading my blog, I’m not big on minifigures. I like the occasional specimen I get with one of the sets and I even have been known to buy one or two examples from collectible minifigure series if I really like them, but I certainly don’t go out of my way to get complete sets. This is slightly different with VIDIYO as it really tingled my nerves as soon as I saw first pictures of the figures. This is my kind of crazy done the right way. I immediately loved the flamboyant colors and exuberant designs.
This is such a nice deviation from LEGO‘s usual often uninspired, way too conservative and boring stuff. And I’m saying this buying Friends all the time and having had my share of Hidden Side and Elves. Point in case: At the end of the day some Chinese knock-off sets often look more extravagant and daring, as it’s all too obvious that LEGO‘s sets have reached a point where they get smoothed over way too much in order to not offend potential customers and thereby negatively impacting sales. It’s really great to see them taking some risks here. Unfortunately, though, they don’t seem to pay off, so let’s delve into the many reasons why VIDIYO may still not be as great as I had hoped.
Somebody told me…
…there’s an app and from what I hear (and found on ze Internet) it’s not particularly good. It’s functions are similar to the Hidden Side app where you scan a bunch of sets and in this case also individual figures and your device will bring up virtual scenes on its screen that line up with the physical world thanks to Augmented Reality (AR) technology. In addition, the app also analyses the BeatBits, a selection of printed tiles that come with each set and trigger specific actions or grant you bonus content.
Now obviously I don’t have a suitable mobile device and never used it myself, so definitely I’m talking out of my ass on some points and rely on other people’s opinions, biased as those already may be, but there are at least some facts that can objectively not be denied.
- The initial launch was a complete debacle with many people not being able to download or launch the app at all or the app refusing to launch again after a number of previous uses. This apparently boiled down to data corruption damaging the application packages and/ or their signatures as used by mobile operating systems to validate their genuine status. This was fixed a few days after launch in an update.
- The app as a whole is slow and unwieldy even on relatively beefy devices. You can verify that yourself to a degree by watching captured videos of the gameplay mechanics. This seems to be a two-fold issue: For one, not much care appears to have been spent on actual performance optimization because the app likely was released in an unfinished state too shortly before the deadline, and two, due to the inclusion of a massive amount of assets (3D models for the sets and figures, extra contents, moves, music, sound effects and so on) the packages are huge and looking up stuff and loading takes a while.
The consensus from most commenters/ reviewers is that it’s just not fun enough and they quickly moved on. That of course most definitely affects one of the core functionalities as well – creating and sharing clips, which simply doesn’t seem to be a thing people are interested in because it is way to convoluted and only works from inside the app. That’s because LEGO want to ensure everything stays kid-friendly and submissions are reviewed before being released for sharing, but naturally this does make very little sense to users who are used to sharing everything they want to at whim – including young kids. Arguably this is probably dead in the water and can only be considered a failure.
Another point is that the app goes way over the top uses LEGO elements that do not exist in this shape and form in the real world. Yes, we’re of course talking about that old thing where even some thirty year old molds haven’t been done in a given color to date yet. Now my nerdy obsessions are arguably my own business, but it’s a major disappointment and I’m sure there are some other people out there that might feel the same way.
Point in case: In a modular building system any new piece can open up new creative avenues in unexpected ways the original designers haven’t even thought of. You know, it’s that old gag where you have waited for a simple slope to come out in a specific color that suddenly makes it feasible to build a project you had on your mind for years. Therefore at least some of those elements should have counterparts in the real world and not just exist virtually.
Another Packaging Disaster
One of the biggest obstacles for physical retail with Hidden Side was the poor packaging design that did not clearly communicate what it was about. I laid out some of the many reasons in my Post Mortem then and sadly LEGO seemingly haven’t learned anything from that debacle. Let’s begin with the collectible minifigures.
Those are sold in small cardboard boxes and not in foil bags like other minifigure series. People have moaned and groaned about this a lot, as apparently it makes it a lot more difficult to figure out which figure is inside if you can’t mangle and scrunch those bags to feel with your fingers, but hey, that’s life. It adds a bit of thrill to the experience as you may get duplicates unless you happen to have a mobile x-ray at hand. Some people also have claimed that in a freshly opened carton with 24 of these small boxes you get all characters twice neatly sorted, but I have no way of verifying this.
You would think that LEGO at least would have put the available real estate to good use and printed something nice on the box, but no, it’s a boring mess of black, magenta and dark cyan where ironically the minifigures are barely even recognizable since they blend in with the background. The cardinal sin, however is – you guessed it – that a good chunk of the available area is occupied by a fake mobile phone screen that itself is completely overloaded with details and nonsensical garnishes.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the boiler plate text doesn’t help, either. I don’t expect anyone buying any of this stuff without having informed himself/ herself about what VIDIYO actually is, but let’s assume you haven’t done your due diligence. Wouldn’t you wonder what a BeatBit is actually supposed to be? This is just marketing gobbledygook that tells you nothing.
The BeatBoxes don’t fare much better and repeat the same mistakes. Personally I find it amazing how you can manage to plaster multiple 12 x 12 cm squares with so many details that it all ends up being visual noise while at the same time not providing any real info about the product inside.
This tragedy is revealed when you inspect the box from all sides. Again the mobile device aspect is put front and center with hardly any actual product shots. If you didn’t know it, you would think LEGO are trying to sell you mobile phone accessories rather than a buildable toys. This is not helped by the muted colors and images generally appearing too small, contributing further to the overall noisiness. The design would need to be much more clear cut and vibrant to really look attractive on a retail shelf.
Little Value, High Price – The BeatBoxes
The BeatBoxes are a new product idea for VIDIYO and apparently are meant to appeal to kids who want to take their favorite toys with them everywhere they go. Whether this has any real merit I cannot tell, as I haven’t seen any children running around with this yet, but conceptually that’s sound. At the time of writing there are eight of these boxes, six from the first wave and two from the second wave in summer. Whether there will be any more in the future remains to be seen, but I’m not too optimistic for various reasons.
One of those reasons is that I’m in fact only able to show you some of the boxes because I got them cheaply from Amazon Marketplace and only paid around 8 to 10 Euro for each as opposed to the 20 Euro official suggested retail price here in Germany. Yes, if it wasn’t for the possibility of importing discounted stuff conveniently from the UK and other countries via Amazon, you’d be stuck with pretty insane local pricing. This is a grim realization, though just as luck would have it as I’m writing this I just ordered the remaining four boxes from a German web site for 10 Euro each as well.
Generally, though, and there is no way to put it nicely, LEGO are completely out of their fucking minds! This is utterly bonkers and those original prices are in no way justifiable. This becomes even more clear when you consider that ever since prices have occasionally dropped down to under 7 Euro for some of these boxes, which makes them only 2 Euro more expensive than a collectible minifigure pack. I have no idea how Amazon UK or other retailers even make revenue off those low prices, but the whole affair may simply prove that the prices for VIDIYO are indeed artificially inflated beyond all reason.
The real point in all this is that you are basically asked to pay for a custom packaging, which is a big “No-No!” in my world. You see, there are other toy lines out there where you would get such a small suitcase more or less “free” (on a strict ideological level; of course you still pay them, just not that much), but somehow when it comes to LEGO they always ask you as a customer to pay for their crazy ideas that you didn’t even ask for.
This is what rubbed me the wrong way with the Friends cubes, and it’s even more upsetting here, given how they went overboard. You should not have to pay this much for non-functional elements. If they feel they need to have a trés chique custom container the investment in the molds and production logistics first and foremost has to be on their own dime.
That said, there is nothing wrong with the way it turned out. The container looks nice enough from the outside with the rounded corners, the transparent top section with the slightly frosted sides, the silicone band and the fake headphone ear muffs. The level of elegance varies with the color combinations, as some look a bit more pleasant than others, but of course you can always re-combine elements if you have multiple of these boxes.
The whole thing falls apart into three main sub-assemblies with one being the transparent cap with the handle, the second one being the lower container and the third the minifigure stand. The container is two rows of bricks high and has slots for holding up to 16 BeatBits, i.e. 2 x 2 tiles plus there is some room left to throw in some other accessories and a few building pieces or even a second minifigure, but you have to decide your priorities. There’s not enough space to throw in everything.
The minifigure stand and the window shutter plates on the sides are new elements in the LEGO portfolio and no doubt also contribute to their misguided attempts at recouping the cost by cashing in at the back of their customers. Yupp, to me this is yet another case of “Nobody asked them for this.” where you pay solely for the presentation when the functionality could have been achieved with existing parts. It may just not have looked as sleek and might have required to be built from more pieces.
The central stand in the end is going to end up as useless fluff in your LEGO collection. It’s essentially an oversized old style “pilot chair” bracket (which they only use very rarely these days) and shares the same limitations like needing extra space to even attach to other elements, multiplied by four times the size. Another limitation is that the hinge attachment points only have notches for ninety degree increments. This makes sense for how this setup is used for stowage in the box, but would prevent using other angles in a custom build.
The hinge plates’ primary function is apparently to hold the BeatBits, but they fit standard measurements and can be integrated into your MOCs without problems. More on the tiles in a different section further down.
The figures in these BeatBoxes are nice, and top off the already elaborate regular minifigures from this series. Aside from some of the molds for the heads being exclusive, they also distinguish themselves with extra prints on the arms and dual molded leg pieces in some cases. My personal favorite is the alien DJ with his waterdrop like transparent helmet and the overall friendly feel.
The Collectible Minifigures
The more affordable part of VIDIYO are the collectible minifigures, though even that is a relative term. After having ramped up the price to 4 Euro from the original 3 Euro two years ago, this one adds yet one more on top and can cost you 5 Euro per pack. A few online retailers offer bulk buying where this can cost around 3.50 Euro, but that’s still expensive enough. For me, anyway. The “fault” is of course with the extra pieces for the stand and the BeatBits, for which LEGO siphon your wallet. I wish I could say this was justified, but when you consider what extras, custom prints and even new molds for hair, heads and accessories other minifigure series include at no extra cost, this hypothesis doesn’t hold up. Again one can only state that LEGO are milking the cow.
That doesn’t take away from the gorgeous figures and the love and effort that went into creating them. The prints are finely detailed and elaborate and for the most part also produced in good quality. There are a few smaller issues where sometimes the opacity/ density is a bit lacking, but given the fictional nature of the characters I never found this as annoying as e.g. white prints on Star Wars figures not being thick enough. If you will, even a technically incorrect faded print will look alright in the context of the figure and just appear as yet another color or print detail.
Another benefit of this series having come out is the plethora of new color combinations and recolors for some elements that should provide plenty of opportunities for mixing and matching them to create custom minifigures. In addition you will likely also see a lot of these pieces in other sets in accordance with the old rule that once LEGO have introduced a certain color for an item, it tends to appear more often, be that just to deplete their surplus stock bit by bit.
On the other hand I find the extras a bit lacking. Every other character only has the standard microphone and it would have been lovely to get the boombox in a different color instead of just the ones that were used in other minifigure series already. On the bright side, some characters come with vinyl disks and each of them has a different print and color combination, so if you want to fancy up e.g. your recording studio/ radio station in the Downtown Diner (10260) then here’s a good opportunity. One of the characters (of the ones I don’t have yet) also has a saxophone and another one a Keytar, but overall nothing too crazy.
Tiled Logic – BeatBits
The BeatBits are meant to expand the functionality of the AR app, but for most people not interested, not able or downright refusing to use it they will simply be welcome additions as colorful decorations. At this point there are allegedly 102 of them and with every new set and minifigure this number will grow, as each one contains at least one unique and exclusive tile. The graphical style is overall pretty consistent and based on contemporary graffiti styles, mangas/ comics and video games with heavy text stylings, abstract art and characters displayed in exaggerated poses. Some are more fancy, others just bits of text on a background pattern.
Despite not having used the app myself, I think a pattern to the specific functions of each tile type can be deduced easily. The largest group is represented by the Dark Turquoise BeatBits and they appear to be sound effects and sound-driven graphical effects such as a VU meter/ equalizer spectrum. The Yellow tiles indicate specific additional dance animations for characters. The Black items are technical effects such as transitions and wipes, counters and clocks or even test and calibration patterns. The Lime Green tiles hint at backgrounds and environmental effects, whereas the Magenta ones look like ones that transform the characters and place them in a different environment similar to costumes and scenes. Finally, the Orange pieces look like another set of technical effects such as adding shake/ vibrations (or removing it), slow motion and a few others.
From a technical point of view it is worth noting that you do not really need the actual tiles. It seems that the whole thing also works with photos/ scanned images of the tiles and other web sites have already provided long lists and suitable materials. My own photos are probably too low resolution and too heavily compressed already, but even they may work, at least intermittently and unreliably if only you get close enough to the screen. I’m stunned that LEGO didn’t add extra measures to prevent this since one of the core arguments of actually buying the sets and minifigures is circumvented this way, but I guess having a personalized QR code in every package to prove ownership would also be a bit weird and not kids friendly.
How the detection of the images works is an open question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the app actually only tries to match a specific set of pixels in each tile. A full pattern detection is of course also possible and these days nothing particularly challenging as long as you keep updating the app with references for every new tile set. It would be interesting if someone found out how it actually works.
Sadly I feel that the whole VIDIYO story is going to end up like Hidden Side. LEGO could easily have a potential hit at their hands, but more or less already screwed it up by once again having wrong priorities about the content and in addition simply being greedy.
Especially the latter needs some major course correction. I’m not going to bore you with my anecdotal observations, but around these parts the sets and minifigures aren’t really flying off the shelves and that’s never a good sign. You know, in order to sustain a series like this you have to sell a minimum every month to justify investing in more future stuff. I just don’t see that happening here and so the series may go “Byebye!” pretty quickly after only two years if it even lasts that long.
The technical issues with the app and the lame concept of a TikTok-knock-off are another major problem. Until they drastically improve on that front and re-invent the gameplay loop I cannot see how half a year down the road there is even anyone using the app, let alone contribute to the video community they are trying to build. This seems so ill-conceived on so many levels and LEGO are simply moving too slowly in these markets that change every day.
So there you have it – I wanted to love VIDIYO and for some parts of it I certainly do, but overall I see just a lot of bad things ruining the whole thing. What are your thoughts on the matter? Feel free to comment below.