Of all the trends I see in the gaming industry at the moment, the one that I find most concerning and potentially disruptive is 3D printing.
Currently, companies use this as an increasingly important part of their design and mastering process for the plastic, metal and resin models you buy for your games. It’s actually been quite a big help in that regard. The problem potentially comes when the 3D printers get cheap enough that a 3D printout of a file becomes less expensive than buying a plastic, metal or resin model from someone. What happens then?
We’re getting there fast. Prices of the printers themselves, and of using them in a copy shop sense, has fallen dramatically over recent years, and like all other technology it is likely to continue to do so. The 3D files they use to print from are easily made (if you have the software) and transferred via email or file sharing sites. As you can 3D scan existing objects, I can’t see that there will be any trouble in a customer wanting, say, a Space Marine and getting hold of the 3D file needed to print from. And once he has the file he can print as many as he likes.
Now I can imagine there being some of the usual “GW deserves it” kind of chatter, but that’s not the point. This applies to every company, not just GW. Clearly the most expensive models and the best known ones will be the first to get pirated. However, as the price of the tech comes down more and more companies will be vulnerable. Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone will spend the time to copy the Pig Tickler models early on, but it only takes one person to do it and the file could be available on torrent very easily. Of course, the more obscure and cheaper models will last longer, and I can see some customers supporting favourite companies because they think they should. Like I said though, it doesn’t take many people to cause a problem.
So what? Well, if a company cannot make enough money selling the models they won’t make more. If people make 3D bootleg versions of Space Marines what happens to GW’s bottom line? If this were to happen to just GW that’s one thing, but if the tech applies to everyone?
Maybe I’m just being alarmist. I can, however, envisage a time not too far away when a combination of the 3D software and the animation programmes allow me to pick a human 3D model from my files, select a fighting pose and a uniform to print him in, and hey presto, 3D prints of a human in any period of history and in any pose and scale I choose. And these 3D models already exist for all the computer games we’ve seen. Including all the GW IP.
The next step would be to print in colour. That tech is not with us yet, but do you really think it’s not going to happen? Accurately pre-coloured 3D models anyone? Who needs to paint then?
Now I see this technology as inevitable rather than possible, so I’m interested not in whether it will happen but what the implications will be. This, more than anything else, seems to me to require a sea change in the way large miniature companies think and work. Smaller companies and those making less expensive models will be immune from this for longest as humans are fairly lazy, and for most it will be a long time before it’s easier to print out than it is to simply buy what’s on offer. Even expensive boutique companies will be OK as their stuff is too obscure to be bootlegged quickly. At least, they can hope. GW and Privateer are probably the first targets, with the large and expensive display figures from Pegaso or Andrea coming up close behind. I already know people who routinely make resin copies of GW stuff for their own use, we’ve all heard of the Chinese commercial knock-offs, and they’re just using traditional technology. The intent is there, and the 3D printing technology is catching up.
This will not happen overnight. It will, however, become a staple of the forums and as it gets cheaper it will become more commonplace. The rank and file plastics will continue to be cheaper than 3D prints for a long time, so we’re talking about character models and suchlike as the first targets. The lack of a bits service from GW has long pushed people into making their own copies and 3D will exacerbate that.
Perhaps GW’s reliance on new, young gamers to provide the bulk of their sales will insulate them. These won’t have access or knowledge of the 3D options immediately, and as long as they go to nowhere but the GW stores they aren’t likely to be told. How long will that last?
Not All Bad
I am hoping that this will encourage good things as well, and would like to see the benefits outweigh the problems. There are a number of ways this might happen. Firstly, it may become a practical industrial process, so that models which sell in smaller quantities such as characters could be 3D printed by the manufacturers themselves, bringing their price down to closer to the rank and file. The industrial version is bound to be cheaper than the desktop variety, and probably better quality too. Wouldn’t this be a better leap forward that Finecast?
It’s not just the price either, though that’s important. 3D models can be printed in a single piece, without assembly being necessary, and high end prints won’t need clean-up either. I’d really like that.
The prices of some other mass production technologies are themselves dropping and this makes companies more able to compete. The lower the price of the traditional figures the less threat from 3D printing and there is perhaps a meeting point. If the lowest point of 3D print cost is still a few pounds or dollars per figure then the rank and file models will end up being plastic and still no more costly to the end user. It’ll still be easier to get them from the company rather than go through the fiddle of 3D print and the companies will chug along as before. Well, having modified what they do with the expensive characters.
And what of collectable figures and limited editions – on eBay as well as directly from companies? Hmmm.
3D printing is an intriguing option that is already impacting on the way models are made, and has a lot more yet to do in the way of changing things. Here’s hoping that the changes are for the better.
At least, that’s my view 🙂
I think it’s a view shared by a lot of us, but like pirated versions of the rules, their will be a saturation point one thinks and no matter how good the 3D software, figure sculpts still look better from the green stuff than via software for the most (70%) as 3D tends towards to fast in the production and lacks depth of character, and yes we are seeing this at times, but who knows.
With gaming being so much a comunity gaming even and only official production models being allowed, things will find a balance.
The problem is Matt that I can 3D scan a model your company has made traditionally and then print it out in 3D as many times as I like.
My 2 cents.
Though this debate is not unlike the MP3 and DVD industry’s problem with piracy, the key difference with 3D printing is the amount of work required to produce a copy compared to the price. Additionnaly, the product insofar is more fragile.
Is it work taking an hour or more to scan, adjust the settings, test, print and clean a 3D print compared to paying 2$ or perhaps 5$ for a mini? That’s a factor unique to the miniatures industries to take into account!
Mantic’s minis are so cheap that copying them would be a waste of time and money even for the most unscrupulous scoundrel. For companies, such as Citadel, that sell a mini for 15$ or more, that’s definitely another question, but in my view paying such a hefty price for a 2 inch tall plastic toy is insanity. I have collected well over 400 models in my collection, mostly conversions by far, and I’ve never paid more than 2$ for a mini out of principle (aside for AT-43’s painted resin models, where I went up to 4$/mini), except for special bits on big models or vehicles. It’s possible to be miserly if you’re wise in looking for deals and bits, and Mantic is a haven for misers such as myself (Dreadball’s Striker-level kickstarter and the Buy One Get One Free deal went about 1,50$ per mini (16 minis for 25$), which I call quite a deal. No 3D printing needed here!
$1.50 per mini? With Mantic, you get what you pay for.
It’ll change the minis industry but as long as the demand exists for the product then it won’t kill it anymore than torrents have killed the music, film, or publishing industries. The change may be sufficiently traumatic that it takes down some big names, the same way online shopping has taken down some big highstreet names, but other companies will fill the void. I’m sure we’re not too far away from the minis version of Amazon.
Any technology that allows for the cheaper and easier creation and distribution of minis can only be good for the industry. PoD technology is already allowing games designers such as yourself to self-publish your own games. How much better would it be if you could partner up with a minis designer and have a range of minis to go with them?
I share that idea. A kind of miniatures Amazon where sculptors could “upload” their designs and the public could buy them ready to be printred. That would be quite good for the sculptors and maybe quite bad with the companies (just imagine high level authors leaving their editorials and selfpublishing at Amazon).
This a darwinian world. Those who are wise enough will remain, meanwhile some will complain. Just think on those scribes with the arrival of the printing press; it was bad for the scribes, but great for the (not so rich) readers.
This is the good thing I see from 3D printing: we will have an artitsts’ bloom. To the traditional sculptors, add up all the digital sculptors that will be able to print their portfolios, and we will be in the most creative moment in the history of wargames (and modeling).
Well let’s look at the analogous industry: The DVD, music and PC games market.
You can get 99% of the movies released on DVD via illegal torrent for free, or any of the above as a digital download for (usually) less than the in-store cost (eg: via iTunes, Steam, etc.). So why are DVD, games and media stores (like JB Hi-Fi or EB in Australia) still in business?
Firstly, because if people can get something legally, many will just fork out so that they’re not doing “the wrong thing”. Secondly, people may not have the technical know-how to set up their own 3D printer and use it effectively. Third is “special features” that are not present in a straight DVD-rip or electronic file – DVD commentary, included subtitles (for foreign movies), a sleek metal case for the game that looks boss on your shelf, limited edition artwork etc.
Lastly because some people just like to browse through or leave a store with something physical in their hands.
I’m not sure it’s going to be an issue until 3D printers are basic enough that they are almost a necessity of living. Dad’s not going to fork out for a 3D printer and spend all that time figuring out how it works, just for his son to print out space marines – the family unit is going to need them for frequent use, otherwise they’ll go to a 3D printshop or something.
I would say the main users of 3D printers at the moment are 20-something nerds – People who can assemble their own electronics and work the programs, but who also have the capital to spend on a 3D printer. The two people I know with them use them to print out Nerf Gun parts and stuff.
I think minis designers will still be able to make a buck, if they get in quick.
For example, they could straight-up sell the electronic files, like iTunes. This leaves them without copy protection, but means they can be cheap microtransactions (“It’s only $3 for the file, is it really worth the bother of finding a legit pirate copy?”).
Your local Games Workshop store could stock overpriced “recommended brand” plastic for use in the printers and make a buck that way.
You could go to a secure-platform model, like Steam, where you would put the encrypted 3D file on Games Workshop servers, and to print off a Space Marine, you buy a one-time connection to the server via a program that keeps track of the copies you print.
Sure you would eventually get cracked versions, but if it was cheap enough, I think most people would go legit.
You could even have a 3D printer in your local gaming store, and you pay the store to print what minis you want, and the store then pays the IP owners of the mini for the use of the file (leased to them on a monthly basis, maybe?).
Plus, you will probably still shift packs of Special Edition Space Marine Dudes with laminated stat cards and plastic tokens and a nice box or something.
Not saying all these would work, but those are some directions that minis designers could go in to sell a product that is easily replicable through electronic media. Anyway enough of me talking.
Also, as the music industry is learning now, the critical thing is not to try to stand like Canute in the path of the inevitable tide and command it to turn back, but to seek out new ways to monetize the tide by flowing with it. The landscape of games and miniatures will change. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.
Miniature Vending Machines… mmm interesting. A coke, a bag of crisps and a Lord of Chaos… I agree also in the value of add-ons. “Traditional” casts will include signature from the artist (I also see that limited runs will increase) or some sort of extra feature that will make the product more appealing.
I would hope that 3D printing could be used by legitimate model companies to reduce their own cost of production. Hopefully some of the benefits would even be passed on to customers in the form of lower prices. I don’t believe in pirating myself. I buy songs on iTunes even though you can find them in torrents online. Really 3D printing should be embraced and used by game companies to improve the way they create their products. Hopefully companies will be flexible enough to acknowledge the existence of new technology and make the best use of it.
As you say, it’s inevitable but I believe the industry will be able to adapt. I don’t know how but I’m sure we will!
That said, digital technology is already having a negative (as well as positive) impact. I’d go as far as to say that the majority of digital sculpts I’ve seen are rather poor, either being badly sculpted, sculpted in symmetry and badly/lazily posed or being unsuitable for miniature production; or indeed all three! The latter is the most worrying as often renders are used in the promotion of Kickstarters and thus are paid for before the figure becomes tangible. Of course, the same issues affect many, many traditionally sculpted figures, but for me the charm of a hand-crafted piece will beat a poorly done digital sculpture, and generally, if a figure is hand-sculpted, the details will be suitable for production of some sort.
Additionally, we’ve already seen one case of a digital file being ripped from a computer game, printed and put into production. Luckily the results were so cack-handed (and the perpetrator roundly mocked) that the figure was almost immediately removed from sale. There are other cases I am less sure of, including some very recently released figures, though whether these are ripped files or just very, very close copies is debatable. Neither is justified however.
Please note, I say the above as a traditional sculptor turned digital sculptor. The transition has been wholly to my benefit, allowing me a faster work-rate and greater detail. However, I see too many short cuts being taken with digital sculpting for miniatures and I believe the result will be poor miniatures. I love miniatures and I want to see them done right, not knocked up by some digital forum guy of dubious talent. Done well, digital and traditional sculpture are equals, with bragging rights to the traditional sculptor for having a steady hand (I never had that steady a hand…)!
So unfortunately, the result of further technological advances such as cost efficient scanning and home printing will probably be a reduction in the quality of miniatures on sale. However, I’m hopeful that any dip will be followed by a renaissance as customers re-evaluate where they want to spend their money. Hopefully…
Hi Andrew, this is an older post but I was hoping to see your portfolio. Do you have a link or easy way to contact?
The tech isn’t really cheap or effective enough…yet. But when it is, it will have the same effect that file sharing and mp3/epub has had on the music and publishing industry.
My guess it that 3D printing will turn out to be positive overall because it is a productivity improvement. However like any productivity improvement it will change how business it done. We can expect a change in where the profits are as a new product might become more digital at the expense of the physical and of course the traditional mold maker will and already is taking a hit because of the dramatic reduction in the man hours required to produce a mold.
While cost and quality of 3D is really going down we do not know the future trend in cost and quality so it could be a while before it is a real issue. I had to wait a painfully long 10 plus years for the cost and quality of digital cameras to become practical after I knew they were the future. Companies who do not realize how 3D printing will impact their business and fail to adapt will suffer as they should for not running their business properly.
Im afraid your the expert on this one. Ive no idea on the production costs or mark up on PP and GW products. I do know however that £100 for model….that i have to assemble and paint….and that doesnt actually DO anything…can feed my family for a few weeks. IF it costs that much to produce a large 120mm base model…then thats fine…i wont be buying one regardless. BUT if its costing the
m a small percentage of that cost to produce, maybe 3d printing will create a bit more competition with pricings. I bought dreadball for a fraction of that and the contents and hours of enjoyment i have been wirth every penny…but if you bring out a massive model and slap £100 price tag on it…ill be passing it by (not that i think you WOULD of course)
It’s a very timely question put very eloquently but one I fear that misses a piece of the argument; what is the per unit cost of printing your own miniature?
Example using RPGs and a laser printer: I buy 3 core rulebooks and 3 supplements from a supplier as PDFs it runs to about £55-£60 pounds vs 120ish buying them from my retailer. At roughly 2000 pages the cost for me to print them out myself is based on £20 for the paper and £320 for the toner (CMYK) giving a total of £395 to £400 to do this myself vs the £120 to buy the physical books. I appreciate that this is a) a different genre of gaming and b) a simplification as you’d have toner left, you’d have to bind the books…. but it highlights the key issue IMO.
I recently released my first miniature. This was going to be sculpted digitally but time constraints meant it had to be done traditionally. The cost for getting the master printed in 3D was going to be £25 which, if you take off the company’s overhead, would have been an actual cost of between £10 and £15 for a single miniature in a single colour. This means that, right now, if you were to buy a digital model with legal production rights for a copy (or copies) you’d be paying that in materials in addition to the price for the file, call if £3-£5 per file, and the utilities cost. that’s £13 to £20 to produce a single 28-32mm miniature in a single colour.
How is that competitive? I can buy a detailed hero level miniature from different manufacturers for between £8 and £12 and a unit of 8-10 minis for between £15 and £35. I think the only real problem it solves is delays in shipping and therefore will potentially be an issue for distribution models. Though, if we can print our own models cheaply why will manufacturers not be able to use the same technology in bulk to release product which is more competitive?
Yes I agree that it is certainly going to be an interesting couple of years in miniature gaming with the advent of 3D scanners and printers but TBH I think at the end of the day companies will still produce their product and people will still buy it. As for the impact of the technology becoming more competitively priced, the RPG example is contemporary. The technology has been there for over two decades and it’s still cheaper to buy a book than print one at home. Not to mention that this is for an aspect of gaming where you don’t need to print out every product, For wargaming you would.
I might not print a copy of my D&D books because of costs, but i do read my illegal pdf-s on an iPad. Printing in black and white saves a lot of money. I print all the expensive magic rares i need for my decks though. I don’t have to go through all the hassle of collecting them or buying them for insane prices at a web store.The books that i use a lot i still try to buy secondhand on ebay.
Color 3D printing is already here. It’s a little different to monochrome printing, and a little grainy… but yes, you could print a ready painted Space Marine today.
Well instead of repeating a ton of excellent thoughts by all the comments above, I’d just like to throw in that I am very much looking forward to a high quality affordable desktop printer. But not for miniatures.
I am really hoping the world of awesome terrain and terrain mod’s just explodes! Because I’ve always wanted nice terrain and I am just never gonna build my own.
that would be awesome
I believe you want this then – photo realistic 3D paper printing
Get photo of your city from google earth and street view, fill in gaps or have software that does it for you, hit print.
I suppose the difference between printing pdfs and printing miniatures is that the miniature may well be printed using the same machine and materials the company uses to make its own models.
In this kind of industry you need to value add in order to get people to buy. Release the DVD with a book/figurine, exclusive blabla that you can’t get from a download.
For an RPG the book itself is a draw as books have a collectible quality and certain air of awesomeness that appeals to the truely discerning individual….:p
Currently PoD cannot match off-set printing quality. It’s close but laser toner fused into paper just doesn’t have the same feel as high quality off-set printing. Therefore even if you can print the pdf off, it just won’t be as ‘good’ as the book and that quality difference will appeal to some customers.
With the miniatures though, you may not have that quality problem. They’re actually simpler to produce than a book, in that they’re only a single piece and they don’t have to be multiple colours etc. So long as the detail matches the original you aren’t going to be able to tell difference and at the small scales of a miniature it only takes a 3D resolution of say 20ths of a mm to get there.
However companies could compete with home production on scale – it will still be cheaper for them to produce the models. Not only that but they could provide you with your own modelling studio account you log into – you have access to your army’s models and can pose them how you want then hit the buy button and the company’s machines start printing out your custom order.
Surely this discussion is needless? Video was going to kill the radio stars, cassette was going to kill the music business, video was going to kill the film industry, digital downloads was going to kill vinyl, illegal torrents were going to kill EVERYONE!!!
And yet it all still rolls on.
Yes people will steal/pirate/download things, but then they pay for a lot of things too, especially if the service/quality/experience makes it worth while, and even more especially if they’re fans of said items (I would say ‘product’, but it has become my most hated word).
It has ALWAYS been thus.
How do gaming companies fit into this? I have no idea, I don’t work for them, but I’m sure they’ll find a way. But I would say building a loyal fan base is the most important, just look at Kickstarter
The question is – is the miniature market large enough to take that kind of hit? It’s fine for mass market products to lose a percentage of their base to piracy, they still have a huge base.
But gaming as a niche market will see a larger % of the over all profit disappear with each individual pirate.
Illegal scans of rpgs are everywhere and it has affected their sales. Especially for the smaller players who use online distribution – a dozen people getting the free download is a big dint in your wallet.
Have you got any evidence that illegal downloading has had a detrimental affect on rpg sales? I personally know a “smaller player” in the rpg market whose product is available for illegal download and it has not impacted on his sales at all.
“Perhaps GW’s reliance on new, young gamers to provide the bulk of their sales will insulate them. These won’t have access or knowledge of the 3D options immediately, and as long as they go to nowhere but the GW stores they aren’t likely to be told. How long will that last?”
That’ll last until the new, young gamers flick out their phones and start looking up information on this cool new hobby they’ve just got into. Unscientific estimate – about 5 mins after they leave the store! 🙂
You can buy GW online for 25-30% off. Hell shops sell at 20-25% off. And yet GW stores keep selling…
I enjoyed both the article and the follow up comments in this discussion, especially as they are topics that I discussed extensively in my ebook “3D Printing: The Next Technology Gold Rush – Future Factories and How to Capitalize on Distributed Manufacturing [Kindle Edition]”
If there is anybody here that would like a complimentary review copy, please drop just let me know which website you are associated with, and whether you prefer mobi or PDF format.
Young gamers being insulated? Are you mad? They’ll be the ones doing the most illegal pirating.
Tech savvy and with little or no money, they’ll be all over it like a fat kid on a cup cake
I think the world of 3d printing is a new and exciting one.
Not only in respect to miniatures and wargaming, but in all facets of the manufacturing industry. The Industrial Revolution meant that anyone with enough money to buy a factory could produce near unlimited quantities of their chosen product at a fraction of the cost. With personal office 3d printing, anyone can produce almost any customised product on the cheap.
The first consideration (from my humble position) is how companies (or individual artists) can protect their IP – the easy solution is to just give up… Alternatively, they “could” pursue those who have stolen their IP… But what if they were to embrace the new technology???
Imagine an online store where you pay per print. These systems already exist for university online libraries. Your own personal vending machine where every $1 you charge to your account permits you to print another Space Marine. Sounds pretty cool to me!
Much like my comparison to the industrial revolution above all manufacturing companies (and subsequently retail outlets) will have to adapt to new marketing models or die out… It means bad news for many employed in the industry, but they will have to adapt also… I’ve recently seen a video of a concept for 3d printing a full size house… No Bricklayers, or Carpenters required… these guys too will have to reconsider the business model but you cant stop progress!
I think, to do a whole house, you’d have to do it modular in order to be able to get all the plumbing and electrics in, and you’d still have to concrete it to the foundations and mortar the gaps between the modules, and put internal doors and the like in, so probably still need carpenters, and there would be work for the brickies, just not involving actual bricks.
I think Jake’s final paragraph sums up my current feelings about 3D printing quite well. I guess I’m on the side of optimism, and think it will simply become another manner of game component delivery. Terrain is already possible, and if you’re playing urban environment 5-12mm scale you should probably not bother with anything else, 3D printing does it so much faster.
One use I haven’t seen 3D printing put to yet is modular walls for games such as Descent or Space Hulk, seems like an opportunity.
Interesting. A lot of good comments.
Does anyone remember the “desk-top publishing” “revolution” of the 1990s?
I’ll go with “manufacturers themselves will embrace this or perish”.
The entire back catalogue available on demand? GW has retired more models than most companies have made. I know someone who would like a vintage Thrott the unclean. (Three armed .. I want to say Skaven?)
It would be great if GW transferred all their old moulds to digital and made them available “sculpt on demand”. Sadly, I can’t see it happening. Partly because of the time and money it’d take to resculpt everything in digital, partly because GW don’t want you buying their back catalogue, they want you to buy the current releases.
As with color lasers and laser-cutters, the technology will get cheaper, but consumer-grade machines will not be able to produce the quality professional (and way more expensive) machines achieve or the medium will be that expensive that it will be cheaper to rent time on a professional machine. Also, nearly all prototypers need supporting structures for the object to be prototyped, which means that cleaning up is still necessary.
Also consumer-grade machines will be quite slow and the faster ones will not produce layers fine enough to not need cleaning-up of all the layers.
Besides, a good-quality file takes quite some time to produce and I don´t think that most people capable to produce such a file would be willing to give it away for nothing. The free files are nearly all of poor quality if we take a standard miniature as point of reference.
It will make life easier for sculptors and companies and people who just want to produce simple prototypes, but it will not get cheap enough in the next decade for consumer to consider to print their miniatures instead of buying them.
An interesting use for a 3D printer here (scroll down past the first couple of sculpts) –
To keep with the times perhaps companies can save a few dollars by selling users
the 3d documents over the internet AND sell figurines.
$4 for those who cant print one
and $0.49 for those who want to download the file?
I really believe that this is a bit alarmist. While all of the arguments made have validity there is a technology that has been around as long as casting miniatures has existed. Recasting from the original models is something the average consumer has been capable of doing since the beginning. The cost of recasting is significantly cheaper than 3d printing with much better accuracy in reproduction. The industry doesn’t see rampant piracy in the form of recasts. I don’t think the 3d printed model will have any significant impact.
The important difference between recasting and pressing a button to have a new model is simply one of utility. People are lazy and want immediate results. Recasting will always be more fiddly and time consuming (and require more skill) than clicking a button to get a new 3D print.
I would be surprised if 3D printing failed to have a significant impact. In fact it has already made a fair difference to many figure producers. The question is how far the food chain this will go.
It’s not about deserve or anything like that. However, I will say a larger competition base is always better for ingenuity and advancement of any industry.