LEGO‘s “Shut up and take my money” panel at SXSW was the story of LEGO’s Cuusoo site, its first attempt at crowdsourcing. Set up as a Japan-only beta in 2008, the site allows fans to submit ideas for LEGO sets which are then voted on by the community. The most favoured are then assessed by the company’s designers and the best is chosen to become a fully fledged LEGO product. The original creator is then given a percentage share of the profit.
Since its launch in 2008, the site has grown dramatically and four ideas have been approved so far. The gap between each has shortened significantly as the amount of users has increased. During the Japan-only beta, the first set (a Japanese submarine) took 420 days to reach the vote threshold for review and the second (a satellite) decreased to 77. When LEGO opened Cuusoo to rest of the world they increased the amount of votes needed by tenfold to ten thousand. In spite of this, the recently released Minecraft set took just two days to reach the review stage. This was driven by a call to arms from the Minecraft developers to their community, who flooded the site in such great numbers that it crashed.
While Cuusoo is open to everyone, LEGO places strict restrictions on what they will approve based on their company’s values. Sex and violence are rejected outright, and intellectual property is also carefully considered as to whether it is compatible with the LEGO brand. The most recent approved submissions (Minecraft and Back to the Future) were judged to be compatible with all requirements of the company. Due to the nature of the approval process, LEGO is careful to manage the expectations of its fanbase, and is careful not to alienate excited fans who enthusiastically endorse an incompatible submission (hence the panel title “Shut up and take my money”).
Cuusoo’s success has exceeded LEGO’s expectations and the company plans to expand it significantly in coming years. When asked, the two presenters briefly touched on another area of the future that was featured heavily at SXSW. As 3D printing becomes more widely available, it presents a possible threat to LEGO’s business model, hence their reason for ‘watching it very closely’. Perhaps, then, this will be the subject of the company’s next crowdsourcing project.