GI Joe proves he’s a Block(sworld)head

GIjoe
G.I. Joe now in Blocksworld

It slipped out under the radar for most of us interested in such things, possibly because it occurred on the same day as the sad news came of Sir Terry Pratchett’s passing; but for those wondering how things are fairing for Blocksworld, the one remaining product in the Lab’s portfolio outside of its virtual world endeavours, the answer would appear to be, “Well enough to get an extension of LL’s relationship with Hasbro.”

On March 12th, the Lab slipped out a press release announcing that Heroes Will Be Made…with Blocks! G.I. JOE® Comes to Blocksworld®.

the release reads in part:

Through the relationship with Hasbro, six fun new G.I. JOE games will be available for all Blocksworld players. The games present an exciting new storyline in the conflict between G.I. JOE and COBRA that ends in a cliffhanger, and Blocksworld players will be challenged to create and share their own interactive endings to the narrative.

As well as the games themselves, the launch included a set of G.I. Joe building sets, available as in-app purchases, allowing players to extend the G.I. Joe related adventures by using them to create additional characters, vehicles and weaponry.

This is the third partnering between Linden Lab and game / toy maker Hasbro, with My Little Pony having been added to the Blocksworld stable in 2014 alongside of – in what must have seemed an obvious choice for the game – Transformers, coinciding with that particular franchise returning to the silver screen.  Another foray for Blocksworld into the world of films during 2014 came with the release of the  Legends of Oz sets of Dorothy’s Return (tying in with the animated feature of the same name), and Heroes of Oz.

Approaching eighteen months on the market, Blocksworld is proving to be something of a durable title in the cut-throat world of apps, where titles can rise and fall almost overnight at times. According to App Annie, it continues to enjoy relatively high rankings in countries like the USA, UK, Canada, and Japan. In the USA, it has consistently been in the top 10 in terms of revenue for “educational” games, and in the top 500 for games in general.

While “educational” might seem a tad bit odd as a category for the game to be listed under,  Michelle Vuckovich, the Director of Product for Blocksworld, points to the game’s educational value in the G.I. Joe press release. “Kids love playing and creating in Blocksworld,” she is quoted as saying. “While having fun creating anything they can imagine, they’re also learning to think like programmers, game designers, and engineers – something parents and teachers can appreciate.”

The Blocksworld Premium banner
The Blocksworld Premium banner

As well as the G.I Joe release in March, Blocksworld also saw a change in January 2015, with the introduction of something which might have a familiar ring to it for SL users: Blocksworld Premium.

This appears to be an in-app (presumably purchasable) upgrade which offers those joining the opportunity to “build epic creations with infinite blocks, actions, textures, and more!”. In addition, Premium users get Standard Blocks as soon as they are released, with (dare I say it?) a “stipend” of Action Blocks added to their inventory every week.

It’s still not clear if Blocksworld will move into the world of Android devices; but it certainly seems to be quite comfortable in the iPad world, and quite likely doing very nicely for the Lab while there, as noted.

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Ebbe Altberg talks Blocksworld, SL and the “next gen” platform

Dean Takahashi has a new article up at VentureBeat’s GamesBeat column, featuring a conversation with CEO Ebbe Altberg.

I admit to finding the title of the article, Linden Lab explores VR for its next-generation virtual world (interview), a little bit of a misnomer, given the article actually covers more ground than just the Lab’s new platform and VR. In fact, it’s fair to say that much of the focus of the piece is on Blocksworld, and not the new VW platform – which doesn’t make the piece any less interesting a read.

Ebbe Altberg discusses the Lab's next gen platform, Blocksworld and SL with VentureBeat
Ebbe Altberg discusses the Lab’s next gen platform, Blocksworld and SL with VentureBeat

The article starts out by noting the company’s longevity and the fact that it has been in something of a transitional state (as we all know), divesting itself of almost all its existing products save Blocksworld and SL, while at the same time announcing it is heading down the road of building a new virtual world platform.

Takahashi suggests the reason for the Lab divesting itself of products is down to some of the products failing to have the right mix of talent, traction and resources to make their mark.

This is perhaps debatable; while Creatorverse and dio were perhaps lame ducks in terms of appeal, it has to be pointed out that both Versu and Patterns had potential – the former has since gone on to stand on its own two feet, and the latter already had a reasonable user-base even whilst still in a pre-release status (and its termination drew no small amount of upset from Patterns user on Steam).

In fairness to Ebbe Altberg, he does acknowledge the fact that some of the Lab’s nascent  products didn’t really get a chance to grown their own legs, and that some of them might well have worked out for the good of the company. However, hard choices were required, the Lab really being too small to handle everything at once (and we know what happens when it grows beyond its means: remember, the June 2010 layoffs came after a sustained 18 months of recruiting that saw staffing numbers increase by 50% for no demonstrable increase in revenue).

Turning to the meat of the article, it has to be said the the recent sale of Desura had led to some questions over Blocksworld’s future. However, Altberg’s replies to Takahashi about that product should put paid to speculation:

We’re also very excited about Blocksworld. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check that out before, but it’s a small up-and-comer. It’s one of the portfolio of non-Second Life products that we decided to stick with. We liked the user experience, the ease of creation, and the audience it targets: a much younger demographic than Second Life. Also, right now, it’s iPad only. It gets us into a lot of experience dealing with a younger audience. … You need to think about ease of use and simplicity but still enable them to create really powerful things, as well as working with the new medium of mobile. We’ve had good progress with this product. It’s still early, but we have good traction. The kids love it.

Blocksworld – the Lab “very excited” with its performance & harbouring further plans for it (image courtesy of Linden Lab)

In addition, and further into the interview, Altberg indicates that the game has around 400,000 monthly users. How this translates to revenue flow beyond the actual purchase of the game is hard to judge. While additional building sets and expansion packs are available as in-game “purchases”, these are paid for through “coins” which users can earn, rather than having to necessarily buy. Even so, buying coins is the easier option, particularly where the expansion packs are concerned (see the video below), so there’s a reasonable chance that Blocksworld is proving a “nice little earner” for the Lab, even if it is nowhere on the scale of SL.

Beyond this, it would seem clear that the Lab have further plans to enhance Blocksworld, including the development of an in-game user-to-user economy, which will allow the sale of creations and builds between users, somewhat a-la SL. Also, Altberg’s statement that, “right now it’s iPad only”, suggests that an Android version of the game is still under consideration.

One of the blocksworld expansion packs

Continue reading “Ebbe Altberg talks Blocksworld, SL and the “next gen” platform”

Blocksworld +1 week: opinions favourable

LL logoBlocksworld has been out a week now. I covered the launch on August 1st, but as I don’t have a iPad, I’m stuck with pining for its possible appearance as an Android app in order to review it myself (even though I haven’t got an Android tablet either *cough*).

This leaves me reliant upon reviews posted elsewhere. So, as with the early appearance of Creatorverse, I’ve been keeping an eye on the Lab’s press page and waiting for a number of reviews to pop-up there. It’s not an ideal way of doing things, but as the likes of 148apps and Kotaku do generally appear in the listings, I decided to see what comes up as well as Googling for reviews.

Overall, and allowing for it being early days, the reactions of reviewers seem favourable. Rob Rich over at 148apps gives Blocksworld a solid four (out of five) stars, noting that the interface is easy to grasp, building is relatively quick and easy to learn, and that the ability to create and build with blocks is something kids the world over can identify with. However, he also notes that there are some inherent weaknesses in the app: vehicles can be difficult to drive, and connecting blocks to build things is limited (you can only connect blocks face-on). As such, he notes that it is fun to play with, but in terms of using it as a form of a game, it’s not so much fun to play.

Mike Fahey over at Kotaku has a fair amount of experience in reviewing the Lab’s products. His reviews are always informative and also lighthearted at times, making them a fun read. It’s actually his reviews I turned to in order to get a handle on both Patterns and Creatorverse before I had access to either. In reviewing Blocksworld he notes that:

Linden Lab is all about creating, or at least they have been since Rod Humble took charge, transforming the company behind Second Life into a company that creates creativity. It was as if Linden Lab only made doughnuts before he arrived, and now they’re making a wide variety of pastries. The delicious, sexy, wildly deviant doughnuts are still there, but then so is Creatorverse and Patterns and Blocksworld and maybe, if we’re very good, some scones.

Blocksworld promotional image (courtesy of Linden Lab)
Blocksworld promotional image (courtesy of Linden Lab)

Like Rob Rich, he comments on the overall simplicity of design and that the UI is very easy to grasp. He also delves more into the mechanics of the app, noting that using it can be approached in a number of ways, from “dive in a build” through to using the supplied “kits” to learn how to build specific items and use specific capabilities.

Interestingly, both reviews touch upon a fact hitherto unmentioned here: that the number of blocks you can use is limited. If you run out, you have to either “win” more or purchase more.

“Winning” additional blocks is a case of using the in-built kits, each of which includes a puzzle / challenge. Build the kit, complete the challenge and your reward is more blocks.

Continue reading “Blocksworld +1 week: opinions favourable”

Blocksworld launches

LL logoOn Thursday August 1st, Linden Lab launched Blocksworld, the latest in its new product line, a day later than anticipated.

Announced in a press release from the Lab, Blocksworld was originally the work of Boldai AB, a team of three programmers who jokingly refer to themselves as being, “From the country that gave you Minecraft and the country next to the country that invented Lego”. It is described as, “A perfect mix of Lego and Minecraft.” Boldai were acquired by Linden Lab at the start of the year.

The press release announcing the launch of the application for the Apple iPad states in part:

Blocksworld is a light-hearted build-and-play system for kids and grownups alike that brings the imaginative play of toy blocks to your iPad’s touch-screen, allowing you to bring your digital creations to life. Snap together colourful 3D blocks to create anything you can imagine – from crazy characters to cars, space rockets, animals, robots, planes, monsters, and much more – and then bring your creations to life and play with them! Simple drag-and-drop controls make it easy to add interactivity and animations to anything you make. Tap “Play” and get ready to smile as your creations walk and talk, jump, drive, fly, shoot lasers, fire rockets, or even explode.

A new video accompanies the launch, which sees a return of some of the humour found in Boldai’s own video promos.

In keeping with the Lab’s philosophy with its new products, Blocksworld creations can be shared with other users.

The app is available free of charge on Apple’s App store, with the Lab going with the model they eventually adopted for Creatorverse – sell “themed packs” as in-app purchases which users can then bolt-on to the basic application and increase their creative opportunities. The expansion packs can be seen in action on the Blocksworld website, and it would seem that some of them call into question as to what capabilities are actually available in the free product. The promo video shows rockets flying, for example, but the rocket capability is one of the in-app purchases, along with wheels and walkers, which also feature in the promo video.

As a 3D building tool which has already been shown to have appeal among children prior to Boldai being acquired by LL, and allowing for the possible need to buy the various expansion packs to do much of what is shown in the promo video, Blocksworld could prove to be far more of a success that Creatorverse, and more visually engaging (think electronic Lego).

Whether Blocksworld will debut on other devices – such as Android tablets – remains to be seen. Boldai did originally have plans in this regard, but little has been said on the subject since they were acquired by LL.

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