At first blush, Lego’s newest toy seems like the same brick-building fun you know and love. You follow the instructions and build a cute little box to carry around a Lego figurine. But then, things get weird. You’re told to snap a picture of that figurine from the accompanying smartphone app, and, like magic, it comes to life on the screen, dancing and singing to the latest pop tunes. It’s a dream come true: You’ve animated your plastic Lego character.
This new toy, Lego Vidiyo, hits shelves March 1. Vidiyo, made in collaboration with Universal Music Group (UMG), allows kids to create music videos starring a new slate of quirky Lego characters. Geared toward kids ages 7 to 10, it seamlessly blends physical and digital play and is Lego’s latest effort to appeal to a new generation of digitally native kids.
The quirky, chaotic world of Vidiyo
In some ways, this new toy is a radical departure from the plastic bricks of the past. After initially building the box and scanning the figurine, kids will play almost entirely on an augmented reality video game. To start with, they find a fun spot in their home for a concert and pick a song for the figurine to sing. To take things to the next level, they can even create special effects during the song: One makes your figurine sound like a mouse, another makes her play a sax solo, a third creates a confetti shower.
The app is free to download, and you can create a bare bones music video even without buying the physical toys—but the more components you buy, the more tools you have to create your video. When you buy a starter set for $19.99, you get a box and a character, like a mermaid who plays pop music, a pirate punk rocker, an alien into electronic dance music or a raggaeton-loving llama. You can buy additional bandmates that come with special effects for $4.99.
If this seems like a lot of moving parts, well, that’s the point. Ross Haynes, a designer who worked on the project, wanted to create a toy that captured the core elements of the original Lego. Much like modular Lego bricks, which you can organize into infinite configurations, Vidiyo is also a modular system: You pick the character, backdrop, music, and special effects to create a different music video every time. “The Vidiyo is about designing something new and unique based on a few components,” says Haynes. “This was always at the heart of the Lego experience.”
For Universal Music Group, this is a way to get young listeners into music. Joshua Burke, who spearheaded the project as VP of global partnerships, says UMG’s focus groups have found that kids start showing interest in contemporary music around age 7. The company curated 30 songs for the app that range from music their parents love (like MC Hammer and Imagine Dragons) to up-and-coming pop artists; more songs will be added over time. Each song is vetted to ensure the lyrics and the themes are clean, but also catchy enough to capture kids’ attention. “From a business perspective, we can introduce emerging artists to new markets, particularly since the game will be available around the world,” says Burke. “But more broadly, we’re eager to empower the next generation of music creators.”
Innovating for today’s kids
Lego has experienced a lot of turbulence over the past two decades. In 2003, after years of growth, the company was on the brink of economic collapse, partly because kids began playing with video games more, which created stiff competition for analog toys. Lego scrambled to reimagine its toy selection: It created more products for girls, partnered with popular movie franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and even created Lego-based movies and video games. This brought the brand back from the brink. But then, in 2017, its sales dipped by 8%, the first decline in 13 years, which forced the company to cut 1,400 jobs, or 8% of its global workforce.
Around the time of this most recent decline, Lego redoubled its investment in innovation. In 2016, it launched the Creative Play Lab, where toy designers come up with new concepts. This was where Vidiyo was born. William Thorogood, who helped launch the Lab and serves as VP of innovation, says that this new toy is designed to win over some kids who aren’t interested in building things with old-school Lego bricks. Meanwhile, many kids are already into pop music, social media, and video games. Vidiyo weaves all of these threads together. “This toy brings [a different set of kids] into the Lego universe,” he says.
Many parents are concerned about how much time their kids are spending on screens and worry about their safety as they roam the internet. The Vidiyo team is aware of these anxieties, and says it created a space that’s safe for kids. You can upload your videos to the app where others can see them, but each user is fully anonymous; all uploads and comments are moderated before they’re posted; and there’s a parental dashboard so parents can stay on top of their kids’ activity.
Thorogood says Lego has worked to ensure that the app isn’t purely passive, as kids must manipulate the Lego pieces and choose a setting in their physical environment to create the music videos. As such, the game is meant to be more akin to educational platforms like Osmo, which blends digital and hands-on play.
But many parents may not be so eager to swap their old-school bricks for an augmented reality video game: In a toy market drowning in electronic toys, many parents see traditional Legos as a safe, enriching activity for their children. This game also deepens the digital divide between the rich and the poor, because it assumes that kids either have their own smartphones, or can use their parents’ for extended periods of time. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, many kids don’t have access to the internet to do their homework, much less play a high-tech game.
What is clear is that Vidiyo gives kids a platform to be creative, much like the original Lego toys. On an emotional level, Haynes believes the reason kids resonated with Lego is the rush of pride they felt whenever they built something big and impressive, and could show it to their friends and family. “We were focused on how we could unleash kids’ creativity and imagination in new ways,” he says. “We see this as a new way for kids to express themselves.”