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Building Contests and Clubs: How a Russian LEGO Fan Club Grows and Keeps Members

Bj_article | 08.10.2008 | 04:53 | Автор: Hor  | Разделы: BrickJournal | DoubleBrick

Article by Alexander Horoshilov
Photography by DoubleBrick Members

The DoubleBrick community was started four years ago, when almost nothing LEGO-related was available online in Russian. Since then, things have changed. Several other sites and forums have appeared. Even the official LEGO site was translated into Russian a little bit. Still we have a shortage of online resources in our native language.

We're trying to fill this gap. Our community targets every Russian-speaking LEGO fan: kids, their parents, and AFOLs, of course. We have users from various regions of Russia and other countries (mainly ex-USSR) as well: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Latvia. Our community is continually growing, so someday we'll separate users into different groups. Presently, we deal with all of them together. In this article I'll describe our experience of working with such a mixed community.

The simplest way to attract new users and motivate already registered members is building contests. We always have big problems with these because of the different levels of building skills among users. There are a number of adult builders that will always dominate over kids and win every contest. Typical children will only have a very small chance to win any prize, which is not what we want. We'd like to have as many participants as possible have a chance to win. The very first idea was to introduce age separation, which didn't turn out so well. We are not large enough yet to provide separate prizes for every age group. More importantly, in some groups we may have very few or even no participants. Another problem arises from the fact that our community is an online group. We have very limited abilities to check the real user age. Nothing prevents an unfair user from pretending to be a child. I must say here, that in the time the community has existed, there have only been a few cheating attempts. I respect the honesty of our members and do not want to treat them as cheaters. At the same time, all contests have to be as clear and fair as possible. Therefore anti-cheating efforts are more important to keep community reputation and credibility at high levels. Nobody should have any doubts.

We decided to have common contests for all users with some additional rules to help young builders compete with their older colleagues. After discussions and thought, we came up with following rules. A special group was created, named "MasterBuilders" (it's not exact translation from Russian, but it doesn't matter for purpose of our article, just don't confuse them with LEGO Master Builders). This group includes users, who have shown their advanced building skills: the "MasterBuilders". These users are highlighted on the forum; in this way, we respect their experience. The other aspect of membership in the MasterBuilders group is restrictions on awarding prizes in our contests. For example, in our contest "007's car" we decided that only one MasterBuilder can receive a prize. If more members of this group were voted for, only first winner is counted. Others keep their places but prizes go to users which are not MasterBuilders.

This rule has a lot of benefits. The author of the best creation always receives the first prize, so it's fair. Most probably it will be the master builder, but there are also no limits for other users to make something better and win over them. At the same time, we motivate more users which are not in this group. They know that the best builders will not get every prize and they also can compete for one. Depending on the contest, prize count and number of participants, this rule may be modified a little bit (i.e. allow MasterBuilders to win two prizes out of five), but the basic idea is the same - the Master Builder title forces the user to compete with other MasterBuilders mainly and passes prizes to others. Novices can still compete for first prize too.

If a non-MasterBuilder wins a prize before application of "shifting rule", he or she will become a new MasterBuilder. His new status will be noted in next contests. And, accordingly, if MasterBuilder get no prize places for a number of contests, he loses this status and will participate in new contest as an ordinary user. This system is self-regulated. There is no need to check age or something else; all users are in equal conditions initially. After they show their experience, they have to put more efforts to win the next prize, so they're motivated to perfect themselves as well. A great advantage of this rule is simplicity. Many other ways to weigh down winners are possible. But they are complex and not as transparent as this rule. We wanted to keep rules short and simple.

Now I'll give a short description of our latest contest. We asked our users to build a 7 studwide car. This width was especially selected to make car building harder. It's very easy, to build 6 stud-wide car, there are a lot of parts of that size. Cars with width of 8 studs are more complex, because there not as many parts of width/height of 8 studs. Cars with a width of 7 studs are the most complex of them all (we didn't discuss other sizes since they are not so good for minifig scale). Every LEGO fan knows that TLG likes even dimensions. There a few parts with odd dimensions - 1 and 3 stud bricks, for example. To make a car 7 studs in width, a builder needs to combine several different elements. The contest had to show young builders various unconventional techniques. The learning effect was increased with a specially prepared guide with some basic ideas and techniques to help in building 7-wide cars.

For more fun we derived a small story from size of 7. Participants had to build cars which "Agent 007" could use on his vacations between missions. So it had to be a civil passenger car - no trucks, no weapons (just a few maybe). This background added another side to the contest. It has almost nothing to do with car building. Still users enjoyed funny discussions on this subject. This factor is also important, because increases user's loyalty.

I discussed the problem of different level of building skills above. It should be noted that it's not the only problem which has to be solved to decrease discrimination between users. One more key point is the shortage of LEGO parts. Kids usually do not have large collections of brick. Our hobby is expensive and not everyone can afford a lot of the sets. To compensate this difference, we're trying to invent building contests, where a large LEGO collection doesn't give its owner great benefits over people who don't have so many brick. Of course, it’s impossible to exclude this factor completely. Large collections will provide wider selection of forms and colors, at least. But we can make contests where this doesn't play a key role.

The single car didn't require too many bricks or any special parts. A lot of useful LEGO elements can be found in every CITY set. Moreover, any single set from the recently released Speed Racer line can provide almost everything that's needed — if someone needed any parts, he could just buy one or two sets, as they are inexpensive. We saw several models derived from Speed Racer design and modified from width of 8 studs to 7 studs, but they didn’t win first prizes. I think that there are two reasons for it - voting users recognized the design and preferred original works and because these cars are simple designs. Still, not every skilled user had the ability to build a nice car and enter the contest. The natural limit on the size of the model and parts and ideas availability in current LEGO sets made the entrance level of the contest very low.

There were a lot of doubts on whether to allow virtual modeling (LDD or LDraw), because their authors will have almost unlimited part/color combinations. Finally, we decided to allow them to participate without any penalties. The only additional requirement was to provide a source file for the model (LXF in case of LDD) to check that the model is reproducible in real bricks. And we were proven to be right with this decision. There were a few LDD entries and none of them won anything. It seems that people like high quality images of real models (yes, we also teach people to make nice photos) much better than LDD screenshots. The LDraw tools probably will allow rendering really nice pictures with help of POV-Ray, but nobody has become familiar with it yet, unfortunately.

In our attempts to create a perfect community there are a lot of other interesting details. For example it’s not clear how to create the best voting system among large amount of participants. Simply polling "3 from 30" is not enough, because it's impossible to compare 30+ alternatives at the same time. We’re making experiments with various options, watch and make conclusions. Hopefully, I’ll describe this experience in a future issue of BrickJournal.

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Переведено и опубликовано с разрешения BrickJournal.
Оригинал статьи читайте в Серия 2, Номер 3, стр. 76-78
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