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2017 Summary & 2018 Plans


Summary of yet another year of building and plans for the year ahead.

2017 was a complicated year. On one hand it has brought a decent number of models, while on the other hand the complex high-quality models were often interspersed with very simple builds, and there were long periods – up to two months – of not publishing anything. It’s a miracle that my YT traffic has improved slightly when compared to 2016 – even despite the LEGO company failing to deliver Technic sets for reviews early, as they used to do for years until now. Some of my very most advanced creations were completed and published in 2017, but they got disappointingly little YT views, while a model I didn’t care too much about became extremely popular. Let’s take a look, then, at what has happened in 2017.

The year started with two models: Pagani Huayra and “Aliens” M577 APC – both of which have taken plenty of work to complete, and both of which were very advanced and challenging. Both were well received and got plenty of media coverage, and… pretty much failed to generate any serious interest on YouTube. A full year later, the Huayra has 130,000 views total while M577 has 125,000. These are nice numbers, but not for the models that were pretty much the highlights of my entire building career, and these numbers are still far smaller than my total subscribers count. In fact, it has become extremely hard to engage subscribers on YouTube in 2017 – they constitute less than 15% of my entire YT traffic, and at the same time my videos rarely get past 50,000 views. This is disappointing and severely discouraging – especially when you put considerable resources in making both the model and the video. The Huayra is a good case of that, since I have not only spent months working on it, but I have even bought a soundtrack and hired a studio specifically for the Huayra video. The resulting video has earned $59 in the entire following year, meaning that it didn’t even fully cover the cost of the soundtrack, let alone hiring the studio. The M577’s failure was less costly, but even more disappointing as the model came from the “Aliens” franchise, which is alive and well today, despite mr. Ridley’s best attempts to murder it. Last year, I still had model of the USS Sulaco spacecraft from the same “Aliens” movie, but following the M577’s reception, I have eventually decided to cancel the entire project. I felt that if a complex, moving, good-looking and well-polished vehicle has failed to get any serious attention, then a mostly static spacecraft would fail even more spectacularly.

As you can guess, disappointment with YouTube was an increasingly noticeable trend of the entire 2017. Because of how YouTube works these days, the quality of a video has nothing to do with its popularity. When 50% of all YouTube traffic is driven by algorithms suggesting similar videos on some weird basis, most videos only get popular by accident. I used to believe that a high-quality project such as Huayra or M577, filmed with great care, can make it on YouTube thanks to its sheer quality – and in 2017, I’ve been proven wrong. I can’t emphasize enough how discouraging it is. I’m keeping the Huayra lesson in my mind at all times when building and publishing now. As a result, I have limited my buying of soundtracks to nearly zero and I film all models at home except for some really special cases. I won’t be hiring a studio anytime soon.

The rest of they year had a few inexplicably popular models, such as the GAZ 3351 and Mark V tank (whose immense popularity can be only explained by the fact that a lot of people played Battlefield 1 and discovered that there was something before WW2), and another round of failures. The Dancing Baby Groot figurine was a total flop because first LEGO has changed the rules of the Ideas program so that it could no longer be submitted, and then because I have used pushrods rather than cranks to operate it, resulting in jerky motion. I still think the project was mechanically sound and aesthetically pleasing, but it was clearly my failure to realize which solution produces smooth movement that killed it.

Ford Raptor Trophy Truck was another disheartening failure. It was a simple and quick project, but it combined amazing performance with excellent, realistic looks and in every way it was a vast improvement over the few trophy trucks I’ve built previously. I was very happy with it, and needless to say, I’ve worked hard on the video filming it outdoors at a nice location. The result? Measly 49,000 views and $39 earned.

There were two more notable flops in form of the BB-8 RC mod and Monster Bug. The first one had its release carefully timed with “The Last Jedi” premiere, was based on a popular LEGO set and – after some hesitation – I’ve published its building instructions completely free of charge. It was acclaimed by the LEGO fans community, got 42,000 views up to now and is barely watched by anyone anymore. The second was, just like the Ford Raptor truck, a good-looking and superbly-performing vehicle. In fact, it performed so well that up to this day I wish I could drive it some more. And as for its looks, I bet that a few years ago it would be a sensation among LEGO fans. Today, though? 35,000 views total, despite nice YT thumbnail and enticing looks.

Of course, the obvious explanation would be that I tend to overestimate my projects or that I misunderstand what makes them attractive to the broader audience. It’s been clearly seen time and time again that dead simple creations can get much more attention that the highly advanced ones. A silly “LEGO Zombificator” video I’ve released on April 1st 2017 has gotten a single day to make and well over half a million views so far. But it’s also seems to be increasingly hard to interest people with quality content. The mainstream YouTube has been filled with cancer content for years, but every time it seems like it hit rock bottom, another level of awfulness is revealed, as proven by 2017 controversy on video featuring a corpse. I don’t expect to become part of the mainstream, in fact I will likely never reach my coveted gold YT button, and I doubt I will hit 200,000 subscribers this year, but it’s still deeply disheartening to see some kids talking about Minecraft getting millions upon millions of views, while you’re putting months of work into models that then are watched by almost no one. “Almost no one” is an exaggeration, of course, but the point remains. The fact that my financial situation has deteriorated severely during 2017 only makes it bitterer. I was hoping that YouTube would let me enjoy my hobby while helping me to support myself with it, but that’s apparently not going to happen.

Finally, following the success of my 2016 video featuring a visit to Billund and LEGO factory, I decided to film the LEGO House before its official opening in September 2017. It was my own project and I’ve spent no less than $1,000 on travel and accommodation just to make this video. It barely got 85,000 views so far, despite featuring stuff not shown in any other video at the time. There’s another lesson to learn in here.

But let’s leave that behind and get back to models. Out of 12 models I’ve announced as planned for 2017, I have managed to finish just 3, with another only finished this March. That’s not a very good result. Again, the problem seems to be that I’m stuck with so many complex, time-consuming projects waiting to be finished that I keep starting new ones just to get distracted. Maybe I’ll finally get a grip on it this year. After all, I’ve managed to finish the Kenworth truck after 3 years, so perhaps if I do the same with one or two similarly overdue projects, things will start looking better. I believe that my not publishing any models in September and October was also mainly caused by the release of Destiny 2 – back then I couldn’t possibly know that this game would be absolutely not worth the time I invested in it.

For the 2018 plans, I’ve ended up picking 12 projects again, most of which were carried over from 2017. 12 is certainly a big number considering that I actually only have 9 months left until end of the year, but on the other hand every single project on this list is already in progress, and some are fairly close to being finished. These are:

  • Monster Mustang: another drifter car, but this time finally AWD, with a high-powered drivetrain that involves two LEGO RC motors and a BuWizz 2.0 unit. I’m building it slowly, testing it on every step. After several chassis versions I’m currently testing one that has a differential in front axle, different gear ratios in front and rear axle (the rear is slightly faster) and negative camber angle on all wheels for reducing the wheels’ contact area with the ground. I expect that this project will also provide opportunity for some cool stickers. It’s a pity that I have nowhere cool to film it, though.
  • Porsche 917K: a huge racing car propeller by four LEGO RC motors (I started with six, but there was not enough room to fit the necessary power supplies) and two BuWizz units. It’s close to being finished and performs really well – I have just geared down the drivetrain a bit a few days ago. The project progresses slow and requires plenty of shopping because of the rare medium blue body color, and I’m planning to use pieces coated in metallic gold in it, too. Due to the many pieces in rare colors, which I don’t expect to put to any good use in other models, I’m considering putting this model on Ebay once it’s finished. But we’ll see.
  • A-10 Thunderbolt II: the project I’ve been stuck on since times immemorial, it has recently seen some actual progress. I will certainly finish it eventually, but it will take a lot of work to get all the functions I want working in a plane model – a type of model I have very little experience with.
  • ORP Orzeł submarine: I don’t think I’ve touched it once in the entire 2017, but its time will come. The recent COBI sets featuring large-scale submarine models certainly provide some inspiration, and in fact COBI is planning to release an ORP Orzeł set later this year.
  • JCB 5CX Wastemaster backhoe loader: another model near completion, it combines plenty of motorized functions with a complex pneumatic system, which is controlled from a permanently attached remote. A controversial solution, to be sure, but one has to try something new every now and then.
  • Caterpillar 797F dump truck: a brand new project which was mostly inspired by third-party tires after I’ve noticed that – unlike any LEGO tires of similar size – they fit the proportions of the real truck’s tires perfectly. The use of these tires enables me to build a larger model of this truck what I could before, and I’m currently tinkering with some EV3 automated functions that could perhaps fit in it, such as automated transmission or self-levelling suspension.
  • Liebherr LTC 1045-3.1 mobile crane: this model has seen some decent progress last year. It’s very complex and very challenging, and will certainly take some more time, but it’s closer to being finished that it is to being started. It is currently still able to lift itself on its unusual outriggers, but I don’t expect this to be possible with final weight, which will be significantly increased once the boom is installed.
  • MBT-70/KPz 70 tank: a fresh and barely started project. It caught my eye because of the advanced active suspension system, which I would obviously love to re-create. Ideally, it will let me combine functions from my K2 Black Panther model with those from my S Tank 2 model. It’s not going to be easy, but I think the result can be something really new.
  • T-35 tank: my first multi-turreted tank project, it has seen little progress so far. I’ve done some work on the suspension design, but the main feature, which is multiple remotely-controlled turrets, is still waiting. I’d prefer to finish some other tanks first.
  • M4A2 Sherman tank: a project that has seen some, but not much progress in 2017. I have some very advanced mechanisms planned for it, and it will take a while to get them to work. If it works, it will share some functions with my Leopard 2A4 model.
  • Tatra T813 truck: Tatras have been done to death in LEGO form, but usually with technical solutions different than those in the real truck. I’m hoping that with the new wheel hubs and a few other new pieces I may be able to build a small-scale model properly recreating the real truck’s unique drivetrain and steering systems. I’m also hoping that small scale will keep stress low, allowing the model to be relatively fast and handle rough terrain easily.
  • King Tiger XL: another “slow” project, the only progress I’ve recently made was fiddling with the propulsion system to make the tracks less likely to slip on the sprockets. The main goal remains the same: a fully remotely-controlled tank model that has both exterior and interior recreated as accurately as possible.

I can’t realistically expect to finish probably more than half of these projects before 2019, but we’ll see. There’s also a matter of me getting married shortly, which will certainly have some impact on how much time I have for building with LEGO. However, stay tuned, and I’m sure that 2018 will bring lots of new and exciting stuff. And maybe some serious YouTube traffic, at long last 🙂

Happy 2018!

Paul

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