Pitfalls On The Way To 10,000 Supporters

The folks over at LEGO CUUSOO put out a weblog entry a while ago with various people’s (mostly well known people in LEGO circles) “tips” on how to gain more exposure and supporters for your CUUSOO projects.
For most of us, who aren’t riding on popular licences to get supporters, reaching 100 let alone 10,000 is going to be a massive challenge, and any advice that actually works will be useful. I would go with Huw’s tip about thinking “outside the box”, because there are far too many copycat projects right now.

However, I’m going to put out there what nobody else wants to say or admit: there are going to be many people who’ll make lame excuses, and perhaps even tell lies, about why they won’t support your project – whilst going off to support someone else’s project. I’m talking about everything other than,

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for a LEGO set.”

These are some of the pitfalls us small fry will face on our quest to gain 10,000 supporters. But before I continue: this post was kinda inspired but prompted by someone posting a list of what they considered to be the ten best modular buildings on CUUSOO. My own CATAWOL Records modular building didn’t make the cut, which I wasn’t too surprised about given it’s only gotten 71 supporters in almost a year – but it was implied that any modular building that didn’t make the cut wasn’t any good, and that got me mad.
Secondly, I’m making the assumption that you have a good original idea for an official LEGO set in the first place. At the end of the day, although I’m someone who favours ideas over aesthetics (unlike most), a bad idea is a bad idea is a bad idea.

So what exactly do I mean by “pitfalls”, “excuses” and “lies”? I mean those times when, instead of admitting the real reason why they won’t support or feature your project, people will give you a convenient story – if they give one at all. At the same time, it often feels like these people are doing their best to suppress your project.

Naysayers

From the outset, there are going to be people who’ll try to discourage you from having your project up – most often by telling lies or aggressively criticising your idea, but more often than not by speaking for “everybody”.
One such person in a Facebook group claimed that my Graduates and Gorillas: the game project would be construed as racist (i.e. gorillas = black people) and therefore not pass the review. Yet, not a single other person has ever mentioned racism, either in the few months the project’s been on CUUSOO or on display at this year’s The LEGO Show. Similarly, I’ve seen a handful of ideas get crucified by others over some reason or other.
From my perspective, this isn’t so much about them not liking your project as it is about discouraging other people from supporting your project. The sad truth is that most people aren’t anything like SilentMode: if they see someone else criticising an idea, they’re going to shy away from it in fear of getting caught in the crossfire.

Red herrings

One tip I would suggest people follow is to solicit and listen to your comments and feedback on your project, especially those that are specific and constructive. If someone gives you feedback, especially if they’ve already supported your project, they care enough about it to want to make it better.
The people to be wary of are those who are vague in their criticisms and suggestions, and especially those who try to blackmail you with support. The premise is that if you change just one thing in your project, they (and “more people”) will support you. Especially if you haven’t reached the 1000 supporter milestone, it’s tempting.
An extreme example of why this is a bad idea (although barely related) comes with the archived ARAKN3 project, which was previously tied to the Ghost In The Shell licence. The full story can be seen on the project’s page, but basically the idea had been significantly changed from its original, which may have meant that most of the 5000+ supporters (who supported the original idea because of the GITS licence) would have been duped.
If in doubt, there’s no harm in asking for other opinions. But be advised: there may be other people who see these red herrings as an opportunity to gang up on you.

Double standards

To illustrate this point: someone suggested that I remove the second floor of my CATAWOL Records modular building. That’s not actually a bad idea – however, the suggestion wasn’t made because it would improve the model, but to keep the part count down.
I’ve never built an official modular building, but they generally have around 2000 parts a piece; CATAWOL Records has just over 1600, not including minifigures. The double standards kick in immediately when comparing my model to some of the other modular buildings (especially the ones that made the “top ten”), which easily use over 2000 pieces each.
Not only that, but projects such as the UCS Sandcrawler seem to get a free pass because they’re more popular. 5000+ parts easily and nobody says a damn thing; it’s even being hyped up by certain online communities. (Not knocking the idea by the way; I’m not into Star Wars, but if the set passes it will be interesting to see the reaction.)
Basically, some people will place magical restrictions and rules on projects they don’t like (most often the less popular projects) that often don’t apply to the ones they do (most often the more popular ones). While I would advise keeping your model/idea as realistic as possible, and occasionally revising your idea in response to good specific feedback, don’t be afraid to call BS on these people.

Apathy

First of all, I still get the impression that some people – especially nonFOLs – think they can only support one project out of the thousands on CUUSOO right now, or more likely that supporting one project means they’re voting against other projects. I personally don’t think anyone has made much of an effort to mention that’s not the case, even CUUSOO themselves.
The bigger problem is that only the more popular projects on CUUSOO tend to be promoted: both unashamedly by CUUSOO (just look at their “suggestions” for other projects, their home page and their “discover” page) and by many other web sites, LEGO-related or not. As someone pointed out over on Eurobricks I think, the only way for many other projects to gain recognition is by chance through the “new” tab on the “discover” page, or from a project’s sidebar.
By heavily promoting these already popular projects, the end result is a severe case of

Wow, all these people are supporting this project? I’m gonna support it too, I wanna be on the winning side!

which then means that all these other projects will more likely be left alone, because

Woah, that project only has x votes. I’m not gonna bother supporting that!

Similarly, while many of the more popular projects have had a lot of help from other people (namely popular LEGO sites and the mainstream), anyone with a lesser-known project trying to make use of the same channels is going to run into some problems. Because your idea may not be a recognisable licence, or it has a small number of followers (supporters), they might wonder,

Who the hell is this [expletive]?!

I tweeted BBC Radio 1, NME magazine, MOJO magazine and Future Music magazine earlier today about my latest project, CATAWOL Records Studio One, in an attempt to gain some supporters in a related field. While I hope there’ll eventually be an effect, nothing’s happened yet.

Whose project it is

One last thing I wanted to mention is the frivolous but very real possibility that people aren’t supporting a particular project because of the person behind it. As much as some people will want to get at me for even thinking about it, the truth is that names are a big thing in the LEGO community. I’m not even going to mention any names; you know who I’m talking.
Just as you’ll find some people supporting someone’s project because they’re a popular and well-liked person, there are going to be some people who won’t support (and will even dissuade other people from supporting) a less popular or less-liked person’s project, no matter how good it is. Most often they’ll just completely ignore them.

Bonus: Acting dumb

Probably in an effort to discredit you and certainly to dissuade other people from even visiting your project, let alone support it, you might get people who want to “act dumb”. These people will either pretend not to know what your model is of, or refuse to use their imagination and see how things could actually work. Again, these people are full of ideas and admiration with the more popular projects, and most of the time become cosigners and apologists.
The sad truth is that, especially with us lesser-knowns, sometimes people won’t “get” your project. Most of the time it’s out of choice: if they really wanted to “get” it they would be asking questions instead of criticising – or “acting dumb”.

These and possibly more are the things we weren’t warned about that some of us have to deal with. In any case, good luck with your CUUSOO endeavours – and if there’s anything I can do to help promote your project, let me know.