Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weekly Cuusoo

Interview with Tim Courtney

I recently had the opportunity to meet Tim Courtney and other Lego employees at SXSW Interactive.  I certainly had a lot of fun meeting the team but I also manged to score an interview with Tim. 

For those of you how don't know Tim Courtney, he is Lego Cuusoo's Community Manager.  For a quick bio I present this brief excerpt from his Cuusoo user profile:

I work in Community Engagement & Events at the LEGO Group leading LEGO CUUSOO site operations and communication. My home is in Chicago and I travel to the LEGO offices in Denmark and Enfield, CT, US. You all keep us on our toes and this is the best job in the world!

Personally I'm into travel, airplanes, and Scandinavian design. I'm also an AFOL who first discovered the LEGO fan community in 1996. I grew up on LEGO Space (Futuron, Blacktron, M:Tron, Ice Planet) and co-authored the book Virtual LEGO in 2003, all about the LDraw tools.

Now on with the Q&A!

How many projects get reviewed each day?  How many are rejected?  What is the most common reason for them getting rejected?

Of the projects that have been submitted in the last week, we published a little over 2/3 of them (68%). The #1 reason we don't publish a project is it doesn't meet our basic quality standards. Most of those submissions have dark or blurry photos or clutter in the background. Quite a few submissions use poor grammar or have a one-line description. Fans whose submissions are rejected may fix them to meet the Guidelines and House Rules and may then re-submit them.
How many people are on the Lego Cuusoo team?

A few of us are devoted to the project full-time, and many more provide part-time support on various tasks spanning the gambit from legal to model design and graphic design for our products.

I am a full-time "community manager" and that spans from operating the site, moderating, and handling social media, to public communications and copywriting (including new product announcements and the LEGO Review). I'm supported by the Community Co-Creation team within our Community Engagement and Events department. That includes our team lead Peter Espersen and fellow community managers Signe Lønholdt and Sara Moore.

We also have a full-time platform manager (Troels), business manager (Daiva), and project manager (Karen). This list doesn't include the dedicated staff working for our platform provider, CUUSOO System.

What has been your favorite experience as the Lego Cuusoo community manager?

Wow, that's a tough question, I feel like I have a lot of favorite experiences. If I have to pick, it’s meeting CUUSOO users in person, especially Michael Thomas, Chris Malloy, and Bjarne Panduro Tveskov who worked on LEGO Minecraft. I also very much enjoyed meeting you, Glen, when Peter and I spoke at SXSW Interactive.

Is there a current roadmap for Cuusoo leaving Beta?

Yes. But we aren't ready to share details about that yet. In addition to improving the online experience, a lot of the "beta" process also involves working on our business and product development setup so that we can scale LEGO CUUSOO and produce more of the excellent product concepts you submit to us. This doesn't happen overnight, so don't expect the site to leave beta any time soon.

Why 10k?

10,000 is the number we picked as a threshold to show us there is significant demand for a product concept. When LEGO CUUSOO was in the Japanese beta, the threshold was only 1,000 supporters.

What would you change about Cuusoo?

I'd like to be able to share more with everyone about the limits of what is possible. For example, people frequently ask if there's a size/price point limit (there is none, but model size does affect the business case). As we refine our processes through the beta, I hope we can more transparently define the scope of what we can make, to help you submit more effective projects.

That said, it's in our interest to keep the scope wide and allow you to challenge us. We do consider each project that reaches review thoroughly and honestly and even if we say no, we appreciate that your project caused us to stretch our thinking of what could make a good LEGO product.

What is your typical "day at the office?"

My days vary a lot. Most of the time you just see me handling basic moderation tasks and clearing the incoming project queue. Sara and Signe help out there regularly too.

But I do a lot more than that. I work on improvements to our internal operational processes, meet with our product and platform managers, other departments, plan and execute communications for major announcements (like new products), contribute to our medium and long term strategy, post and respond to people on Facebook and Twitter, and write the occasional blog post. I also attend and present at 3-4 LEGO fan events and 2-3 industry conferences each year.

What is the biggest misconception about Cuusoo that you would like to clear up?

There's no way to game the system and guarantee a positive outcome by building a model a certain way. Also, while we try to be consistent (and try to make forward-looking decisions), past precedent doesn't guarantee a similar decision in the future. My community management team makes all decisions about the Guidelines and House Rules, and the LEGO Review board makes all final decisions about what gets produced as a LEGO CUUSOO set.
LEGO CUUSOO isn't a way to force us to do something that doesn't work for us. What that means is, any product we produce must be in the best interest of the LEGO Group, and we're the only ones who can decide that. While we can give you Guidelines and a framework for how to help your project succeed, we pick what gets made.

These are probably frustrating things to hear because I know how badly people want to see their ideas become a reality. But know this; everyone here at The LEGO Group is passionately on your side and we want you to succeed, even though sometimes we must deliver disappointing news.

What single piece of advice would you give to Cuusoo project creators?

Promote, promote, promote. Don't be shy to share your project with blogs, fan forums, magazines, companies, and anyone you think would have an interest in helping you reach your goal. Also, be persistent - sometimes people need to be reminded multiple times before they will make the effort to support you. Just make sure to do your promotion off-site; please don't spam other projects' comments with your links. :-)
The projects that succeed in reaching 10,000 connect to passionate interest communities outside of the "traditional" LEGO fan community. We see that as a good thing; it identifies new markets and audiences for our products and creates a better business case, which makes it easier for us to say yes to producing your project.

Do you have a favorite project?

Yes. :-)

The Rifter was rejected for business case.  If a project based on many known subscribers can be rejected for business case, is there any hope for projects that don't have a strong IP supporting it?

That's a very good question. I don't think there's a definitive way to answer it, because each product's business case is unique. Think positively; each year we release a few hundred sets that have strong business cases, many of those without a strong IP or outside fan community.

What is your favorite, non-Cuusoo, Lego set?

Of all time? The 6923 M:Tron Particle Ionizer from 1990. It was one of my first Space sets and I love all of the play features on it including the gun (sorry, “laser tool”) in the front, “helicopter” blades, robot, moveable wings, and magnetic cargo container. It sits on the shelf above my computer next to my Minecraft set, so I look at it every day.

Why isn't the Lego Group pushing Cuusoo?

We're in beta, so we've decided not to promote the project further just yet. Word spreads about LEGO CUUSOO without us having to do much of anything. Our team feels there's a lot of potential for new members and projects, and even without promotion we've been able to build a substantial pipeline of concepts to evaluate and produce as new products.

How does the staff pick work?

(Note: The "staff picks" are posted on the Cuusoo facebook page and twitter account three to five times a week)

Our team picks projects to feature based on a new theme each week. We try to choose projects that are high quality and have a reasonable potential of being produced. There are some ideas about mixing it up, for instance we could feature a new curator each week or even celebrity guest curators. These are our picks and we don't take requests to be featured.

Plagiarism on Cuusoo is when a user posts project content that they did not design themselves.  About a year ago plagiarism was a pretty common occurrence.  At this point it happens rare enough that I am pretty surprised to see it at all.
Is this reduction in plagiarism due to a reduction in the number of plagiarized projects being submitted, or has your review team has just gotten better at recognizing plagiarized material before publishing it?

Both. While we’ve seen the number of plagiarized project submissions go down, our team has gotten a lot better at spotting them. Most plagiarized projects follow certain patterns that make them suspicious. Also, we now know how to quickly find the original creator of an image. This means our team is better able to keep plagiarized projects from being published.

What question have I NOT asked that you would like to answer?

My (Tim's) question:

To what degree does the fan-created model factor in to the LEGO Review and the final product?

You take a lot of pride in the models you create, it’s what we at the LEGO Group call “Pride of Creation,” and it’s part of our Play Promise. So, it is natural to us that you want to see your own work immortalized as a LEGO set. However all products released by LEGO CUUSOO must follow the LEGO Group’s design standards, so it isn’t possible to release a model exactly as you design it. We see a lot of comments from fans worried about the model submitted and how it will be interpreted in the LEGO Review.

In our blog post “How to Pass the LEGO Review with Flying Colors,” the first point talks briefly about the function of a good LEGO model in a LEGO CUUSOO project. In the review, we do try to keep our concept models as close as possible to your creation, but in the end we apply our own building rules and quality standards to them. The process is actually quite forgivable; we don’t penalize a concept if your submission doesn’t precisely fit our standards. After all, those standards aren’t published, so how fair would that be? If your project is a strong contender, and we can make something work that both stays true to your original concept and fits our standards, we’ll do our best to do so.


I would like to add that in meeting Tim I can say that he is very passionate about both Lego Cuusoo's mission and the users, and I can say the same of every team member I had the opportunity to talk to.  My appreciation for what Lego is attempting to accomplish with Cuusoo was only strengthened by meeting the people behind the curtain.  



I am very pleased to present my latest project: The Discworld

This was a really fun project to design.  Getting all the features in just the right proportions was a good challenge.  Note, the body of the Turtle, not including the head, is 45 degrees off from the disc.  This allows the Elephants to "appear" to be off angle but it is really almost the entire build that is shifted.  

I can't take total credit for the entire project though.  I came up with a design for the elephants and asked Alatariel to take a look since she does fantastic brick built animals (check out her tiger and array of "woodland" creatures).  She came up with these brilliant elephant heads, far superior to my own.

I plan to include a few minifigs but I am still working on the printing for them.  The idea is to include the foundational character of each of the main storylines of the Discworld.  For those of you familiar with the Discworld, I hope you can guess who I intend to include based on these "silhouettes."

I have also included a variety of builds for "The Luggage."  I am leaning toward the one that is second from the left.  


People Getting Cool Stuff Made (Non-Cuusoo)

Small World 2 Computer Game Kickstarter

Small World is an interesting tabletop game of fantasy conquest.  The game stays fresh by pairing races (units) with various attributes so you one game you might have Commando Orcs, in the next Flying Orcs, and the the one after that Diplomatic Orcs.  The Tabletop video can be found here if you are unfamiliar with the game. 

Well, the producers, Days of Wonder, are Kickstarting the Computer/Tablet version of the game.  It is already funded but you can get in at a good price with a few extras.

Runners Kickstarter

Runners is a truely independent comic by Sean Wang.  The shortest description of merit that I can must is that is that thematically it is a bit like Firefly but with Aliens.  The writing is solid an the art is great.

This kickstarter is an attempt to publish the second volume in color.

Weekly Highlights

In this section I point out projects that came out this week that I think deserve notice.  I have three levels.  
  • The pick of the week : The best new project of published last week
  • Honorable Mentions: Projects of Quality 
  • Notables:  Projects that have an aspect that is interesting or noteworthy, sometimes.

Pick of the Week

The C.C.S. Gryphon - Galaxy Command
by Reekardoo

Support Level: 217

Ever since I watched Aliens (when I was WAY too young) I have been fascinated by the trooper drop ship concept.  The original X-com game only reinforced this concept.   So I am a bit partial to this project simply due to the concept.  Regardless of that though this is a great looking Sci-fi vehicle and the supporters appear to agree.   

The design is not as greebly as most of the  Sci-fi MOCs that grab my attention,  but this has enough to give it character.  Many MOCs nowadays use the brick wing techniques to get some unique shapes and colors patterns, but this design utilized the technique to also add a novel kick by using the expanded building options for extra features like weapon pods.  The wing's off-angle structure to the main body is another attractive quality.  The combination of the two factors does make me wonder how well the wings will hold up in heavy play but that is addressed easily enough.       

The fin elements snotted to the side of a cockpit are a really nice touch and I will have to remember that for later.  

The crew area (check the project for images) is well designed too giving enough room for accessories but still making it clear that the crew is the true cargo for this ship.  The one issue, and a slight one,  is that the stud count between the roof and the crew area needs to be reduced to allow for easier removal.

One of the other reasons I really like this project is that I am not sure we will see a project like this from Lego.  Lego tends to design its vehicles to precisely fit the number of figs that it comes with so a design like this is not all that common for them.  Additionally, all the well knows drop ships from IP's tend to be WAY too violent for Lego brand fit.  Star Wars, one IP that could easily get this made, interestingly enough, does not really have any drop ships where the troopers are safely seated inside a closed vessel, not including the droid deployment ships that is...or am I wrong about that?


Honorable Mentions

My Neighbour Totoro
by Jisr

Support Level: 16

I am really surprised by the lack of support for this project.  It is Totoro! A fine Totoro in fact.  I was tempted to make it my pick of the week.

This specific vignette harkens to this famous anime image:

This image that has been "homaged" time and time again for a multitude of genres.  The reason this got second fiddle to the Gryphon (for me anyway) is because, in the famous still, Totoro is holding the umbrella above itself.  I know that is a bit of a trifling but I would really like to see the image true to form and it would not take too much effort to pull that off, then again, it might not look right.  That is why I want to see it with the correct pose...I can't help looking at it an thinging..."Why are you holding the umbrella out Totoro?" The bus stop sign certainly need to be added too....

Otherwise it is a great build and a great scene and certainly deserves more support.  If  Jisr updates the project I will be happy to post it again.

by Bricksben

Support Level: 39

This is simply stunning.  I am very glad that Bricksben also shared a cross section of the build to help other puzzle out the elegant design.  I recommend that you go there to see how it was built, and while you are there, support the project.

Tmnt (Classic Edition)
by C3brix

Support Level: 32

Wow!  This build really puts Lego's official turtle lair in its place.  Many projects on Cuusoo apply the "UCS" label to themselves but this one would certainly deserve it. 

The only thing I can say about this really is that I would love to see this at a Con with a Subway section attached to a working subway MOC.  

Super Deformed (SD) X-Wing Starfighter
by Wolf.leews

Support Level: 33

There are a LOT of Star Wars projects on Cuusoo.  I think the ones the with best shot at getting to production are those that step outside Lego's style.  This is certainly a great example of just that.   

F/V Andrea Gail
by Mmbace

Support Level: 23

This is a very impressive build.  Incredibly detailed.  Mmbace however has a very long road ahead.  The UCS Ships project has been going for over a year and has only manged to get to 500 support. 


Oz (Emerald City)
by C3brix

Support Level: 22

C3brix has really been storming Cuusoo with some fascinating builds (Ghostbusters, Star Trek, TMNT ).  While still impressive I think this is the weakest of his builds so far.  There is just a little too much repetition.  That being said, that much Trans Green in on place is pretty cool looking!  Regardless, if you like the idea of an Emerald City set then make sure to support the project.   

Cloud City, Star Wars Architecture
by Pedrovezini

Support Level: 20

I really like the idea of pushing the architecture style into the fiction realm.  The scale demonstrated by this Cloud City appears to be very compatible with the scale of existing Cuusoo projects. 

 Operation Steam Knights: Thief
by Pittstop

Support Level: 17

Pittstop has a whole series of "Steam Knights" projects and they are all quite interesting.  The theme appears to be pre-victorian Steam punk. 

Flatiron Building New York City
by Lrevival

Support Level: 10

The Flatiron building is iconic and its unusual shape lends itself well to the Lego Architecture line, which often tries to push the usage of Lego in novel ways.  The problem with any architecture project on Cuusoo though is that if it is "iconic" then there is a very good chance it is already on the drawing board.  If Lrevival is serious about getting this project produced under this project, they better start campaigning...like the Poland: Poznań - Okrąglak for example (see below).

DigitalKnights Villain Packs
by Pittstop

Support Level: 9

I always really like looking at  Pittstop's designs.  He always comes up with some very unique stuff but the extreme nature of the designs, the aspects that make them so interesting would likely make them too delicate to actually be built.  

Medieval Realistic Knights
by Gustavowizar

Support Level: 46

This is an interesting idea.  A lot of really good work went into the designs and I really like the historical knights concept applied to the various countries in the project.  I do however wonder how the Christian Military Orders managed to get approved for publication given Cuusoo's avoidance of religious content. 

Week of Cuusoo

In this section I collect the projects that came out this week and sort them by level of support.  I always showcase the top three most supported project and, if I have not talked about them earlier, I give my opinion on them. 

This week I put the cut off at 20 support. 

The C.C.S. Gryphon - Galaxy Command
by Reekardoo

Support Level: 217

See above

Poland: Poznań - Okrąglak
by Wawro93

Support Level: 129

This was the second most supported project this week but I just don't see it.  Although accurate, the design is rather simple and uninspired.  I have a feeling that this project is being supported by people who identify well with the project creator and/or the actual building.  There is nothing wrong with this, on the contrary, it is exactly what people should be doing.

I am actually surprised that the support count is so low.  I know if there was a petition to make a Lego set out of the building I work in that I would certainly sign it (I have considered posting it from time to time actually). 

Minecraft World
by Vonsigan

Support Level: 118

I like Minecraft, and I like the Cuusoo Minecraft Lego set, but I just don't get all the ongoing minecraft projects.  On some level I can understand the projects that take the Cuusoo model and apply it to different "regions" of Minecraft, but this project is a bit extreme in its attempt to force Lego into the Minecraft mold.  

To create a Lego cube, as presented here you cap four 2 x 2 plates with a 2 x 2 tile (or a 2 x 2 brick, a 2 x 2 plate, and a 2 x 2 tile). 

I love the original Jubba Sail Barge, I hate that it has multiple elements held together with stickers.  To my knowledge, Lego has stopped this practice in recent years (someone please correct me on this if I am wrong)l.  The concept here is even more extreme, taking Lego and permanently "wrapping" it in decals.

There are some of you who might argue that this could be done with prints, but then this becomes an old cuusoo minecraft project that was archived long ago for being too impractical.  That project at least retained viable Lego studs to play with.

For those of you who really like this project I recommend Cubecraft instead of Lego.

RC Stephenson's Rocket
Support Level: 48
Medieval Realistic Knights
Support Level: 46

Support Level: 39
Star Wars: Mini Y-Wing
Support Level: 34

Tmnt (Classic Edition)
Support Level: 32
F/V Andrea Gail
Support Level: 23

Oz (Emerald City)
Support Level: 22
Avengers Helicarrier
Support Level: 22

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