Spielwarenmesse: Florian Gmeiner: “We are constantly evolving digitally”

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Florian Gmeiner: “We are constantly evolving digitally”

from Peter Thomas

Florian Gmeiner has been Senior Marketing Director of LEGO GmbH since July 2019 and has been working on digitalisation within the company since 2015. The father of two kids, themselves enthusiastic LEGO builders, explains why children love fluid play and how the new Hidden Side play world contributes to this.


Spielwarenmesse®: Mr Gmeiner, why is digitalisation so important for LEGO? Building blocks and figures are still generally considered the heart of the brand. And these are definitely physical toys.

Picture of Florian Gmeiner, Senior Marketing Director of LEGO GmbH

Florian Gmeiner: At the Lego Group, we have a mission: we want our products to inspire children, the builders of tomorrow, and foster their development through inventive play and the learning that comes from this. And, of course, we use our insights into how children play to come up with new sets and entire play worlds. One example of this is what experts refer to as fluid play: play that seamlessly transitions between reality and the digital world as one creative unit.

Is that why you have integrated augmented reality (AR) technology (superimposing digital content onto real images) into the new series?

F. G.: Precisely. Our specially developed AR app brings constructed models virtually to life on the smartphone screen. In this way, children get to play in both the physical and digital worlds at the same time. With LEGO Hidden Side, we are therefore emulating the natural way in which children play. Nowadays, they move in both worlds without differentiating between digital and tactile play. This fluid play experience is precisely what we are now offering them with LEGO Hidden Side, developed by our LEGO team.

The Spielwarenmesse’s international TrendCommittee recently identified the Digital goes Physical theme as one of the most important trends in the industry. Are you not swimming against the tide with Hidden Side?

F. G.: This is not comparing like with like. After all, LEGO Hidden Side is not about transferring content to a new format, but connecting two worlds: the AR component enhances the tactile building experience without replacing it. All LEGO Hidden Side adventures take place in the fictitious city of Newbury, which looks like a very normal city at first glance with buildings built in the usual way. Its hidden side is revealed when it is viewed via a smartphone app and children can engage with the digital play component.

LEGO Hidden Side

What happens then?

F. G.: They discover that all of Newbury is haunted! Ghosts and other fantastical creatures appear on the screen. Playing then takes place on both the screen and with the models. If children change their structures or add elements, the play also changes in the app – for example, new virtual ghosts appear or new features are unlocked.

What has been the response?

F. G.: I can give you a great example – we are currently touring Germany in an American school bus that looks like the LEGO Hidden Side Paranormal Intercept Bus 3000, calling here, there and everywhere. Children bring the sets to life with the LEGO Hidden Side app and engage in various adventures requiring courage and skill in order to get off the bus again as successful ghost hunters. And wherever we arrive with the bus, we find the children are really excited.

Have findings from the LEGO Play Well Report also been used to develop the new play world?

F. G.: The report certainly draws attention to the potential of Hidden Side. We surveyed more than 3,700 children worldwide for the study. The report showed that they absolutely love to play with tablets and other smart devices and that they do not differentiate between tactile and virtual play. The creativity and imagination involved in play is what matters to them.

Is this openness shared by all family members?

F. G.: No, not yet: in Germany, in particular, mums and dads are very critical of digital play and believe it to be less creative. Our study really identified a digital divide between the generations in this respect: the children in our study rated digital play top of ten different leisure activities, while it only ranked seventh among parents. Families will have to learn to bridge this divide. After all, shared playtime is extremely important for quality of life and happiness. And yet 38 percent of the parents surveyed in the LEGO Play Well Report said that their family does not spend enough time playing together.

LEGO Boost

Where does Hidden Side fit in the LEGO product strategy?

F. G.: We have been pursuing our digital strategy for years now. Examples include the LEGO Life platform and LEGO Boost products with which children can learn to program through play. LEGO Hidden Side now offers a new form of mixed play involving an in-depth play experience that is anchored in both worlds and goes back and forth between them. There’s never been anything like this on the market.

What does the future hold for the new play world?

F. G.: The creepy capers in Newbury will continue in 2020. New Hidden Side sets will come on the market in late December 2019 already. Children and parents can also look forward to new features and functions in the app.


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