Democracy is awesome and all that, but there is a reason why direct democracy does not work with large groups and can thus only be applied to very small homogeneous communities : the power of a single stupid mind is magnified in a bigger group. That’s just what’s happening with LEGO’s endeavor Cuusoo. But let’s back up a little.
Cuusoo (Japanese for « wish ») is a Japanese Project-to-Product initiative. Basically, you submit a project idea on the Cuusoo website, people vote for it and if there are enough votes, the project is funded and becomes a reality. In many ways, this is pretty similar to Kickstarter. It is thus possible to be the best of things. Or the worst. LEGO Cusoo falls a little in between. While partnering with Cuusoo, LEGO’s goal was to turn user-submitted sets or ideas into reality. There have been in the recent years a few LEGO sets that were not designed by the LEGO designers. LEGO even launched a « Design By Me » line where you could use a Software (LEGO Digital Designer) to design and purchase your own set. LEGO Cuusoo is a step beyond that. The jury is still out on whether this is a step in the right direction. In order for a set project to become a reality, it first has to garner 10,000 votes. This may not seem like very much in the Internet age, but since the launch of the website, only three projects have gotten this far (more on that later). The second step of the process is a jury phase where LEGO executives evaluate the costs, feasibility and potential of the project. If they decide that the project is viable, it goes to the third and final stage, production.
The problem is people
While this is a very cool idea in theory, the website is unfortunately littered with a lot of junk or unrealistic projects. A quick glance at the Cuusoo ideas and something becomes immediately apparent : roughly 90% of the suggested ideas are licenses. You don’t even have to look. If it had remotely any success over the past 20 years, it’s on Cuusoo. From Back to the Future, to Star Trek, including every cartoon from the 80′s and 90′s. The best suggestions go even as far as suggesting set names and retail prices. Some even include mockups of the sets. Very often, the pictures are atrocious Jpegs with some of the worst photoshopping ever. It’s cruel of me to trash what is obviously the work of an excited child. But in this day and age where even cats play the iPad, you can expect a seven year old to be proficient in Cobol. Anyway, even though it is presumptuous to think that somehow the LEGO execs would go to a meeting with the right holders of some successful media property with a print out of sets with barely recognizable Phineas and Ferb minifigs, the major problem does not lie therein.
To me, the biggest problem of Cuusoo is that of traceability. Most pictures are stolen from someone else’s account. There is no way to say whether the user submitting the project or pictures is the one who had the idea or built it. When you have put your heart and soul in a building idea, it’s very upsetting to see your creation stolen poorly and stuck with a flavor text with typos. However, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, how are we to react when our own LEGO Nyan cat has been clumsily shot and uploaded as a brand new project. Several times.
The rest of the suggestions are of a different kind. They’re asking for the return of old sets in the shops, which is perfectly reasonable but equally wishful thinking.
There are three projects that have reached the 10,000. The first two, a submarine and a satellite look undoubtly Japanese in origin. They’re interesting constructions. They have gone beyond the jury phase and are going into production. The third one is not Japanese one bit, which makes it interesting in its own right. Moreover, it’s a license. You might have heard of Minecraft, the Indie game wunderkind. Many user-submitted projects called for the creation of a Minecraft line, but once Mojang, the society behind the game gave its official blessing to the idea, the 10,000 votes target was quickly reached. The LEGO jury will now decide if a Minecraft license is something that will happen in the near future. Next to some of the current LEGO themes – expensive licenses no doubt – like Star Wars, Marvel AND DC Comics, Minecraft might look a little lacking. [UPDATE: Minecraft will become the newest CUUSOO set!]
In the end, Cuusoo might be something that can only work in Japan.