Our story begins in the Kingdom of Knighton with five young knights—Clay Moorington, leads Lance Richmond, hipster Aaron Fox, Macy Halbert, the princess who'd rather be a knight, and a giant named Axl. With the help of the Great Digital Wizard Merlok 2.0, they must battle the evil Jestro, a former court jester-turned-bad guy, his sidekick the Book of Monsters, and their Lava Monster Army. Okay, okay, whoa, hold on. Do you understand any of this? Maybe not, but according to Lego's research and development, your kid totally will.
This is Nexo Knights, the brand's latest blockbuster original creation that has hit toy stores, TV screens, and tablets over the last month. Following in the footsteps of Ninjago and Legend of Chima, Lego is hoping this is its latest multimedia sensation. And considering the company credited Ninjago as a driving factor in boosting profits by 27% and revenue by 23% in the first six months of 2015, Lego sees the prospects for Nexo Knights as, to paraphrase a hit song, pretty awesome.
At first glance, Nexo Knights doesn't look all that different from the brand's other properties. Toys? Check. Cartoon? Check. Digital gaming? Check. But what makes this launch unique is how all three of these will interact with one another. There are more than 150 unique Nexo Knight powers—represented as knight shields—scattered across the kingdom of Knighton that can be found in building sets, online, in print, and directly in the cartoon. Kids can scan and collect the powers using the Merlock 2.0 app. So they can find powers in a Lego set, on the TV screen, in books, comics, and online to use in the online game.
According to senior design manager Joakim Kørner Nielsen, this digital integration was the most significant challenge the brand faced created Nexo Knights. If you read Fast Company's Lego feature last year, detailing the company's ultra-secret Future Lab design group, you'll know why Nielsen's description of the design process isn't exactly a dive deep. But it is a glimpse into how the brand comes up with, nurtures, and ultimately builds on original ideas.
The idea for a new original Lego line first comes from recognizing there is a need or opportunity for something else in its portfolio. And when starting to think about potential concepts, Kørner Nielsen says, since Lego stories extend beyond the toys to books, TV, video games, and more, they take all the various aspects into account right from the start.
"We’re learning to think in a bigger picture beyond just our playing range," he says. "We set up with an IP mentality to make sure we have all these other things in scope. We make sure to start with the bigger story and concept. We can’t say we start by crafting the vision because when we start no one really knows what we’re aiming at. At the beginning the goal is to create the vision of an IP."
Thinking about the business prospects for the new property actually helps to sharpen that vision, as they gather the insights, evaluate the opportunities, and talk about how kids would interact and engage with any potential ideas. "When shaping the business opportunity, we explore the creative and play experience, bouncing ideas back and forth so in the end we have something that works for the business but also has a really cool concept and story that works creatively," says Kørner Nielsen. "That process is much longer for a project like this, as opposed to a smaller scale because there are more players involved and needed to be taken into account—TV partners, the digital dimension, app development, scanning technology—all these things that need to be considered in the planning. At some point it all lines up and you have this vision for the IP."
Kørner Nielsen says coming up with an original property is a very controlled, thorough development process. "Taking inspiration and learning from the insights we have on kids and current trends, would be the basis for idea generation on different themes and one of those directions was Nexo Knights—taking something very iconic and giving it a futuristic, tech dimension," says Kørner Nielsen.
The brand does a significant amount of testing with kids around the world. "When we launch something this big we want to make sure that we have something that is appealing on all the levels and aspects that it’s supposed to be for the kids in the right target group," says Kørner Nielsen. "We’ve done a lot of sketch models, mood boards, concept drawings, that we’ve travelled around the world with them, testing and making sure kids around the world got the point, got the key messages of the story and things like that. There’s a lot of concept work like that that goes into it before you’re actually able to execute the vision, and building the final models."
Even though the new property goes well beyond the bricks, Kørner Nielsen says they are always aware that Lego is first and foremost a toy company. "We don’t start out talking about the entertainment, we have our foundation in the building, toys and play experience," he says. "We want to shape the IP so that’s always at the center, and we learned a lot about that balance while doing Chima and Ninjago. We bring these stories to the kids, see how long before they know the theme, and that definitely sharpens the thought when we launch Nexo Knights."
Lego is no stranger to gaming, with its properties starring in both console and mobile games, but Kørner Nielsen says the challenge of the Nexo Knights concept was a first for the brand.
"Making sure the experience is relevant and works for both the digital and physical play experience, getting the scan experience perfected, making sure it’s possible and that it’s up to our standards, that’s been the biggest challenge," he says.
Before Nexo Knights, Kørner Nielsen worked on Lego Dimensions, so crossing between the physical and digital was familiar but Nexo Knights took things to a new level. "It’s similar but also very different in that a console game is in a contained experience, whereas the app game is more open and more difficult to predict what will happen," says Kørner Nielsen. "Also, Nexo Knights is more closely linked to the core experience of Lego. It’s a digital aspect of our core experience, whereas Dimensions was a physical add-on to a digital game."
The biggest surprise is just how easily kids were able to bounce between the digital app and the physical toys. "We talked a lot about the scale between the two, the core experience and where to be on that scale," says Kørner Nielsen. "Another thing we learned was, when testing with kids, they just see things in a different way. Things just flow together for them so easily between physical and digital and sometimes the boundaries just aren’t there for them."