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Lego offers up its own competitor to “Minecraft”

This screenshot of the game, from Lego's videogame Web site, gives potential a players a glimpse at the world. (Courtesy of Lego)

Minecraft is getting some new competition from a very familiar company: Lego.

The brick-maker announced Monday that it's releasing "Lego Worlds," an online title that emulates the open "sandbox" feel of Minecraft, the game so beloved that Microsoft bought it for $2.5 billion last year. (It also features blocky graphics similar to Minecraft's, but given that many people have described Minecraft's look as "Lego-like," that seems only logical.)

"Lego Worlds" is available to play Monday, by way of the digital distribution platform Steam, albeit in an early testing phase. According to the game's Web site, the company plans to have the game in early access through 2015. Next year, Lego will look at what it's learned and figure out when it should launch a full "Worlds" release.

Trying out the game costs $15; prospective customers will need to have a Steam account to purchase the game.

It may seem like Lego is a little behind, given that Minecraft has been a hit for at least five years. But Lego's been pretty savvy about the evolution of play, and may still even benefit from the success of "The Lego Movie."  (I don't know about you, but "Everything is Awesome is still stuck in my head.)

Lego has already said it will pursue the "toys-to-life" trend derived from the Skylanders, Disney and Nintendo playbooks with "Lego Dimensions." This effort lets players store data through a base attached to Lego's tiny figures, and kids can play with the mini-figs in the real and virtual worlds.

An open game such as "Lego Worlds," where there are no levels or objectives, gives the brand yet another chance to blend new and old types of play --  a digital version of make-believe where players' only limits are what they can imagine.