As I’ve previously stated, the most interesting thing about Microsoft’s Windows 10 announcement was the HoloLens reveal. It jumpstarted me into thinking about real world applications for the product. Harvard Business Review has an article on why businesses should stand up and pay attention to the HoloLens and I couldn’t agree more! As a Lego and Microsoft fan, I keep coming back to ideas that use both Lego bricks and the HoloLens.
The HoloLens is the next platform Lego should develop for, similar to what they’ve done with their Fusion line and iOS devices. There are two benefits for developing on the HoloLens platform. Building a Lego application on the HoloLens keeps the investment lower than if Lego were to develop their own hardware solution. Also, when you are dealing with digital content, it is much easier to scale up or down quickly and adjust to market trends.
Much of this article is inspired by “How Lego Became the Apple of Toys”, my own experience with Lego and working in IT, and watching my kids play with the toys and the video games.
My son at LEGOLAND Florida
In an effort to start a conversation between Microsoft and Lego, let’s jump right into it!
Lego Sets – Enhancing Play
There is so much you can do with a Lego set combined with a HoloLens. The hardware has an advantage over Fusion, eliminating the need to switch to a device in the middle of play since it can be worn throughout the play process. An entire eco-system can be built around the consumer’s lifecycle from opening the box to destroying the set and re-purposing the bricks into new creations.
Lego Account: Everything outlined in this section is works with a household and/or individual Lego accounts. Each account has content tied to it that is accessible via a Lego HoloLens application. The application can be published in the HoloLens marketplace (which I can only imagine Microsoft is building).
The account is optional for those who want HoloLens content. Keeping it optional won’t disrupt consumers that just want to purchase the sets and enjoy them in the traditional way. This also gives them an easy entry point into the program later should they change their mind.
There are revenue streams that could be explored with a subscription model however there are a myriad of considerations before going down this path.
Let’s imagine that there is a builder who has just registered an account and purchased a new set. Let’s go through the consumer lifecycle leveraging the HoloLens.
Lifecycle Stage 1: Opening the box
This is where the fun starts. Lego has been including mini-comic books with the Superhero sets. Instead of a comic book, a short holographic video could play when the builder scans the box with their HoloLens. This video is automatically saved to their account’s library, for replay later, and information regarding the purchase of the set is stored to their account.
There could be more holographic content around starting the set or building the first minifigures.
Not only will this enhance the builder’s experience, but this data can be matched to a licensing property for future relevant content.
Lifecycle Stage 2: Building the set
While the set comes with a paper instructions, the HoloLens has optional holographic instructions that are automatically accessible in the cloud. The builder can see a virtual model of each step in their workspace that stays in step as they proceed through the instructions.
If the builder is stuck on a step, they can manipulate the hologram and view it in 360 degrees. The next bricks to be placed will show placement in an animation.
As the set is built, the included minifigures could appear as holograms and perform different activities, such as examine the progress or possibly attempt to help find pieces.
Lego could monitor the time on the particular build from the application and gather stats on difficulty. These numbers could also be used for social media postings and allow the builder to try to beat a friend’s time on the same set.
With a second HoloLens, people in the same location (a parent and child, for example) can sit and work on the same set together.
Lifecycle Stage 3: Completing the build
The builder has now completed the set and takes a picture of it. The software recognizes it as complete and logs it complete on the account. Three things happen:
1. As when they opened the box, holographic content (a video or puzzle) plays celebrating the completion of the set. This content can be specific to the licensing property associated with the set.
2. Along with the intense pride they are feeling, the builder receives an achievement tied to their Lego account (or Xbox or PS4). They can also post the information, along with custom reviews or comments on social media sites.
3. The builder also gains digital rights to the completed set, which is a holographic representation. This can either be used for general play and interaction, but also enhanced play with additional content.
The holographic set can be exploded and reassembled via the HoloLens interface, similar to the way it happens inside the Lego Digital Designer. For a licensing property like Star Wars or Elves, this content could involve magical gestures for reassembly.
Lifecycle Stage 4: Destroying the build
Since the digital rights have been added to their account, the set is now available as a hologram at any time. The builder can now destroy the set and use the bricks elsewhere knowing that their digital copy is preserved. They can now play with the hologram at any point if they wish.
Lifecycle Stage 5: Other builds
Many Lego sets come with additional builds on the back of the box. The instructions for these builds are not included with the set upon purchase. After completion of the set however, there could be downloadable holographic instructions for the secondary builds on the box or even other sets that can be built.
Did you know that many of these alternate building instructions are available online? Go check it out!
Lifecycle Stage 6: New Content
To incentivize customers further to enroll in a Lego account, additional content can be added to completed sets. This could be episodic content delivered via the HoloLens or maybe new content relevant to the same licensing property. For example, when the builder purchases the Lego Avengers Helicarrier set and completes it, they see new content available around upcoming Marvel sets or even a puzzle that leverages a component of the set.
A good example could be found in the recent Batman Be-Leagured special and the 76013 set, Batman: The Joker Steam Roller, which appears in the special. If the builder has the set and is watching the special, additional content could play or the entire special could be distributed with the set and their Lego account.
This scenario results in a fully cyclical consumer Lego lifecycle, resulting in more sales (and more opening of boxes) from intelligent content placement at each stage in the consumer’s lifecycle.
While this creates a natural lifecycle, it doesn’t need to be followed exactly. For example,
– “Completing the build” can move right into “New Content” if the builder is a collector and only wants the set in tact (like President Business).
– “Destroying the build” can follow any stage after it.
– “Building the set” can be completed at any point after “Destroying the build”
Lego Free Play and New Ways to Collaborate
Lego has a massive community of fans and they embrace them. Utilizing this community along with a Lego Digital Designer and Fusion-type software built for the HoloLens, Lego could find additional revenue streams just new sales.
Scenario: As a builder constructs a set in Free Play (ie. not a designed Lego set), the HoloLens can record the actions. When complete, the HoloLens can save the design, along with the steps into the accounts library. The build can be named and then shared on social media sites and within a curated Lego community.
Since the build is recorded and stored to the builder’s account, the builder can play with it anytime by calling up with hologram. It can be also be shared via the application to other Lego fans or on social media sites.
Scenario: Group collaboration could be particularly interesting. The Lego Digital Designer could be expanded to allow collaborative play using the HoloLens. Builders from all around the world can collaborate with anyone, anywhere in realtime, share their ideas, and post their instructions.
Lego Video Games and Movies
Lego video games are already very popular. In looking at VGChartz’s report (and taking out PC, iOS and Android sales), they has been 115 million units sold globally. Traveller’s Tales Games and Lego have taken licensed properties to new levels through entirely new virtual worlds. As you can see in this chart, which contains the Lego video games selling over 1 million units, games from the licensed properties are the highest selling.
It is important to note that Lego Battles and Lego City Undercover, which are not tied to external licensed properties were only released to limited platforms. This could have contributed to their lower numbers. Regardless, the HoloLens could be an opportunity for Lego to bring customers to characters built around their own intellectual property, like City and Friends.
For many years, Lego had generic minifigures. In 2010 though, Lego released their first mystery minifigure wave. Since then, even the set minifigures have become more interesting and expressive. Lego has suddenly greatly expanded their own universe into its own intellectual property and has a chance to make set minifigures recognizable via new holographic content.
Traveller’s Tales and the folks who worked on the Lego Movie have taken great care to ensure that the models in the games and movies can be built in real life. When the games and movies are sold, there could be additional digital content. This content gives the consumer digital rights to the sets and/or minifigures that appear in the games and movies. Of particular note, since the minifigures are virtual, you can interact with them and they can also interact with each other.
A consumer purchases a HoloLens ready version of the next Lego City game. They also get digital rights to the minifigures along with all the vehicles that appear in the game. If there was a concern about physical set sales, Lego could limit it to sets in the game that do not have corresponding real sets.
HoloLens really could become the next immersive entertainment experience. Lego could start by dipping their toes in holographic videos content and move into games next. This experience would allow players to interact with the holographic content, moving lifesize bricks to drive the story along.
Lego Mindstorms really deserves its own development application for the HoloLens. Some amazing things could be achieved if always on connectivity exists between the HoloLens, the Mindstorms EV3 Brick, and different engine components.
Based on the HoloLens video demo, it appears that it will have the capabilities to understand modular environments. With the right development toolset, a builder could use gesture based programming to create tasks around any environment without the need for any code. Depending on camera advancements, the builder can become immersed in the environment, using gestures to control actions. These actions are interpreted to software that builds the code on the fly through image recognition of engines and capabilities, but also specific objects.
The gestures can be mapped to real EV3 code, which can be graphically displayed via the HoloLens. This allows for easy manipulation of the EV3 project without the need for a computer.
Big Data Enables Everything
Lego’s online consumer experience is incredible. Their supply chain management and licensing capabilities are truly amazing! Clearly, there is a lot of big data behind the scenes. A builder can find Lego instructions and purchase bricks to complete a set or augment their inventory. Data is key to making this work.
Lego sets, while often complex, can be broken down into datasets. For example, each Lego instruction page has the set in a stage of assembly, so that dataset is known. Another dataset is the inventory for each set. If you are missing a piece, which has actually happened to me, you can login to their website, look up your set and order the replacement piece from a catalog of bricks specific to that set.
There are 3 ways to make this data work for Lego with a HoloLens application:
1. Augment Lego’s Fusion and Digital Designer technology with Microsoft’s recent advances with image recognition software and machine learning to further enhance brick/minifigure/set recognition through a second phase of digitizing Lego bricks from the on-premises SGI computers at Lego into Microsoft Azure.
2. Build HoloLens applications with APIs back to Lego’s big data systems, globally dispersed within Azure for redundancy and consumer performance.
3. Carve out cloud based storage to save the data for each customer’s account information in order to improve performance and give the user a better experience.
Microsoft should be very incentivized to get these types of solutions deployed. Even with the built in capabilities of the HoloLens, a strong cloud back end is required. Microsoft has been using Azure to back Xbox for some time now. Lego and HoloLens will drive Azure consumption. This consumption along with a partnership with Lego, the world’s most popular brand, should drive Microsoft to help Lego deliver this solution to consumers.
Considerations for the HoloLens
Even though this information is actionable, there are still unknown challenges around the HoloLens that may need to be overcome.
The HoloLens appears to be geared towards adults and an adult sized head is larger than a child’s head. Lego needs to be sure that Microsoft is building this technology so that can be accessible by both adults and children.
There may be challenges to overcome with Microsoft around making the HoloLens appear as a toy vs. a productivity tool. In order to appeal to both adults and children, the Lego application should appear as an entertainment platform layered on top of the physical toy experience.
Another consideration is the image recognition of the sets. The Microsoft demo has shown complex 3d holograms interacting with simple, flat surfaces. It still remains unclear as to whether the HoloLens can take advantage of interactions with real 3d objects and correlate the information to 3d holograms.
The Time to Start is Now!
There are a few assumptions in this article and obviously I don’t have access to internal Lego sales data to perform any kind of deep analysis. The ideas in this article simply try to push Lego’s “One Reality” idea forward using Microsoft’s HoloLens.
With the HoloLens just being announced and content being offered at Microsoft’s Build conference, the time for Lego to start thinking about this is now. There would likely be significant infrastructure, cloud based applications to build, and big datasets to gather.
Just thinking about the possibilities gets me excited as a Lego consumer. I can’t wait to see what’s next!