Tuesday, January 31, 2006

NXT Marketplace

Lego Group CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp remarks in his annual report 2004 (page 7) that
The most serious threat, however, is that children are losing interest in traditional toys at a younger age, and that other products in the consumer-electronics sector – such as mobile phones and MP3 music players – are replacing toys to an increasing extent.
I believe robots still best MP3 players when it comes to "coolness factor". NXT is a great move to gain some ground there.

The CEO also remarks that

In 2004, the global market for traditional toys once again was under pressure, and in most countries the profile for total sales was either flat or in decline. In contrast, the market for electronic toys – video consoles and computer games – enjoyed a minor increase. [...]

In spite of [...] improvement, however, the profit/loss [...] remains unsatisfactory.

In my opinion, the profitability of Lego Mindstorms NXT can be improved further by exploiting it as if it were a video game console.

Having the best technical video game console is great, but what really matters is the games that are available. Games are incredibly complex pieces of software, that could never be built by the inspired individual.

With Lego Mindstorms NXT, the same opportunity exists. Once you have bought your NXT set, you can build you own robots, and this should certainly be encouraged. But beyond the educational side of NXT, there is also pure entertainment value. The user buys a "game" for the NXT, and can obviously play with the game. A "game" in this context is a piece of code that runs on the NXT brick, and possibly also on the connected PC. The more engaging the game, the more popular it will be. Robot intelligence would be pushed to new levels, just like video games are now becoming so sophisticated that they are rivalling Hollywood (or becoming intertwinned).

By facilitating "gaming" on the NXT, Lego can win financially in three ways:
  • NXT becomes even more "cool", resulting in more NXT boxes under the Christmas tree;
  • Some games may be more fun when pitting several NXT boxes against each other, resulting in families buying multiple NXT boxes, or friends coming together to game against each other with their NXT. Especially games that allow users to "tune up" their robot are great for challenging each other;
  • Lego could charge for "game" advertising space on their website. In particular, they could provide a marketplace where games are sold, and keep a small percentage per title sold.
I'll admit that the proposal is bold. On the other hand, the risk for Lego is minimal: it merely requires setting up a marketplace page on their site, and charging for titles sold there.

In that light, Jim's speculative discussion of the Mindstorms development environment is interesting. If he is right, there is a direct integration between the Mindstorms website and the development environment. It may be just a small step to providing a direct link to the marketplace as well.


At February 01, 2006 3:26 AM , Blogger Jim Kelly said...

I've been thinking about the state of education lately, Filip. A recent article here in the US in 'Newsweek' magazine covered a disturbing story about how young boys are falling behind in school - they are not doing well in math and science classes that were traditionally strong skills for them. I have a 4 year old nephew whom I watch explore and observe the world. He is constantly making discoveries and you can see the comprehension when he learns something new. This is why I like what Mindstorms offers. It offers the young (and older) tinkerer a way to constantly make discoveries. I love learning how things work - and I think the NXT is going to be a great little tool for encouraging our youth and make them wonder why things work the way they do.

I think your idea of NXT providing games is certainly possible. I think those of us who are Mindstorms fans can help by simply pushing the limits - asking what else can this thing do?



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