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NetDevil and LEGO Universe: Louisville game developer changes hands in internal shake-up

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Last January, we looked at the high stakes for NetDevil, a Louisville game developer building LEGO Universe, a massively multiplayer online game based on LEGO bricks. Building a successful MMO can be risky, much less one based on one of the most revered toys of all time. As it turned out, LEGO Universe was a critical hit, but now the company is struggling with another challenge: the whims of corporate machinations.

The problems began right after LEGO Universe was released late last October. In the last few months of 2010, NetDevil's three founders and some of the leading forces behind the LEGO game -- Scott Brown, Peter Grundy, and Ryan Seabury -- left the company.

That was worrisome for LEGO Universe, since unlike a typical video game, much of the heavy lifting and development on an online game occurs after it's been released. To keep players coming back (and paying the monthly fee), the company has to continually update the game.

The troubles appeared to reach a fever pitch late last week. Rumors emerged that the 100-employee-plus company was shedding staff. Reportedly, some laid-off workers discovered their fate via Facebook postings (ouch). Then it turned out that the LEGO Group, the bastions of all things good and fun, had swooped in from Denmark to take control. On Thursday, LEGO announced it was buying all rights for LEGO Universe from Gazillion Entertainment, the giant game company that owned NetDevil. The remaining NetDevil developers working on the game will continue their efforts in Louisville, but will now be LEGO Group employees. Gazillion, meanwhile, will just be focusing on free-to-play online games.

No word as to where that leaves the NetDevil brand, not to mention the other games the company had in the works, including Fortune Online and Jumpgate Evolution.

Will one of the few Colorado game companies, as well as the most successful, be moving on to the next level -- or is it game over?

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Next Big Sound: Billboard's new "Social 50" chart powered by Boulder music startup." Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner.

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