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Keeping LEGO games free of NSFW content is nearly impossible

by Eric Frederiksen | June 1, 2015June 1, 2015 4:40 pm PST

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If you’ve ever wondered why one of the most creative toys in existence is the recipient of some of the most rote, repetitive games, there’s a good reason for it, and it’s not just “money.” It’s about the children.

LEGO games are entertaining, but haven’t really changed a whole lot since the original LEGO Star Wars games with a few minor exceptions. I was musing to a friend the other day that there are a million ideas I’d love to see done with LEGO games, and a LEGO version of Minecraft isn’t it. So why don’t we see more LEGO games that capitalize on the possibilities inherent to the property? Well, LEGO Universe, the online game that closed down in 2012, has a big part of the answer.

Megan Fox (not that Megan Fox), a senior graphics coder at LEGO Universe dev NetDevil, explained on Twitter some of the difficulties in bringing a game like that to fruition. It turns out that it’s a matter of trust. And penises.

“The moderation costs of LEGO Universe were a big issue in general. They wanted creative building with a promise of zero penises,” Fox said. “You could build whatever you wanted, but strangers could never see your builds until we’d had the team do a penis sweep on it.” That team, she said, was or was close to the single biggest money sink for keeping the game running.

The problem with all this is that LEGO is right up there – or maybe even past – Disney when it comes to being a parent-trusted, kid-friendly brand. During testing, one developer built a monument to the phallus inside his own private area of the game that each player had. One of the kid testers wandered into the space and the developer was almost fired as a result. The team even tried to build “penis detection” software, but users are always, always more creative than developers, whether it’s a spreadsheet or a massively multiplayer online game.

“Players would hide dongs where the filtering couldn’t see, or make them only visible from one angle / make multi-part penis sculptures,” Fox said. Like one of those shadow sculptures:

shadow-sculpture

As much as all us grown-up kids would love for LEGO to do some more interesting things with the brand’s potential, LEGO is a kids brand (that adults happen to enjoy and spend heaping piles of cash on), and the trust that parents have for the brand is something LEGO considers sacred. Games like Minecraft simply don’t have that expectation built in.

So it sounds like, until either someone figures out how to perfect software that can detect phallic imagery, or people stop trying to build them out of LEGO bricks, the kind of multiplayer LEGO experiences we know the property could have aren’t something the company is willing to take a chance on. There’s still room for more creative LEGO games, I think, but the more creative we get, the less room for online interaction will be allowed.

Twitter Polygon

Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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