Fresh off the success of its 2012 Minecraft kit, Lego is diving deep with two brand-new sets that let fans of that mega-hit virtual world continue to build with physical bricks instead of digital blocks.
Lego has told CNET exclusively that it is expanding its Minecraft playtheme with two new models centering on the popular biomes, The Village and The Nether. Both will be available September 1 for $35 and are being officially unveiled at Comic-Con in San Diego today.
The sets each measure 3 inches by 3 inches by 3 inches and include a number of Micromobs, the characters known and loved by more than 40 million Minecraft players around the world.
A collaboration that blends two of the biggest play brands in the world, Lego's existing model already allows a unique way to translate Miecraft's virtual 3D block world into the decades-old pastime of building with plastic bricks. "Expanding the playtheme will offer builders (of all ages) the opportunity to enhance how they build and rebuild their Lego Minecraft micro-worlds," said Michelle Wilson, Lego's Minecraft brand manager. "New characters and environments will allow even greater creative potential for fans to physically portray their digital Minecraft passion."
Lego and Minecraft are a natural marriage, according to Russ Crupnick, an analyst with the NPD Group. "The genius of the Lego Minecraft alliance is that it links the virtual experience of videogaming with an equally creative toy," Crupnick said, "a link that will appeal to young kids who play online or on a console, and [to] their parents, who might sneak in a game too."
In The Village, Minecraft fans can build a personalized village, constructing houses and cultivating crops, and developing their own narratives around the central storyline of villagers watching out for dangerous and menacing zombies, and trying to avoid dynamite in the below-ground mines with removable walls. The set includes constructible villager, pig, and zombie Micromob fitures. It can be split into four sections and be reconfigured in multiple ways.
The Nether features the Obsidian Nether Portal, flowing lava, gravel, and bedrock, and includes two Ghast and one zombie Pigman Micromob figures. Plus "plenty of Netherrack," Wilson said.
When the sets launch in September, there will be limited availability due to what Wilson called an "expedited timeline" of about six months for design and production. She explained that Lego worked closely with Minecraft's publisher, Sweden's Mojang, and that Lego is hoping to expand availability of the new sets as quickly as possible.
Those production delays reflect what Mojang director of fun Lydia Winters told CNET was the biggest challenge in collaborating with Lego. "The challenge comes mainly in the form of the differences between a small nimble digital company and a large established company creating physical products," Winters said. "We could add a new feature in the course of a few days or weeks, whereas creating physical products could take six months to a year or even more. Luckily, both parties knew these challenges ahead of time and the working relationship has been great."
Indeed, Winters said that Minecraft's partnership with Lego is a natural fit given that Minecraft creator Markus (aka Notch) "always made the comparison between Minecraft and Lego...It's an ideal mash-up."
Given that playing Minecraft involves building with digital blocks and that playing with Lego means building with plastic bricks, the two products do seem a natural fit, especially since both products seem to inspire passionate communities that are always looking for new ways to expand what they can do in their chosen play universe. Together, Winters said, "I think Minecraft translates brilliantly to physical bricks. It was important for us that the sets feel not only very Mineraft, but also very Lego. When you look at the sets, they can be immediately recognized by a Minecrafter."
That would seem to be largely due to the fact that Mojang was part of the sets' design process from start to finish. "Our art director, CEO, and lead [Minecraft] developer were involved in the design process," Winters added. "Lego understands that we really know our audience, so they implemented the design suggestions we made."