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War Gaming vs 3D Printing

Written on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 by Kyle posted by kyle

When I was still in high school I got my first job working at a comic and gaming show. Part of my responsibilities was learning how many of the games were played so I could demo them for customers. I’m still into one of the bigger games to this day from Games Workshop. Specially Warhammer 40k has been an off again- on again love affair of mine for about 15 years now.

Once common complaint you run into with games and companies like this over time is the ever increasing cost of the miniatures. This is something that should be expected and understood at some levels but games workshop made a move a few years ago now to get away from their pewter made miniatures in changing to resin for many of it’s important single characters leaving the rest in plastic. This would cost less than the pewter casting but the costs still went up afterwards. This unfortunately lead to issue with bubbling and imperfections in the parts forcing Games Workshop to move more over to plastic which was ever cheaper than the resin had been. Guess which way the prices went?

While many complain the truth is that as long as the game is interesting and people can get armies to play the game will continue. The biggest threat to them that I see coming isn’t their pricing but the coming cost effectiveness of 3D printers and customer modeling software. Within the next 5-10 years 3D printers will be affordable enough to keep in most homes. Modeling software that allows you to custom make designs or download designs from others are already widely available meaning it’s a matter of time before Games Workshop looses market share to people printing their armies at home.

I’ve only seen half a dozen of the lower end of the spectrum in use so far and while what they can do is impressive compared to years ago it’s nothing that a modeler will be impressed with. You can make a decent model of the human heart for an elementary science class but compared to professionally sculpted figures, they don’t really compare. As with all technology, this will change soon.

Just a few days ago a design for 3 different sets of medieval armor made to fit on Barbie dolls made its rounds on the internet. People were amused, and the designs we simple enough for people not to mind or notice the major lack of fine detail. The real concern will come when someone does the same thing with a custom design for a Barbie. When people can print GI Joe on their home printer the toy companies will clamp down on their image rights and their lawyers will teach them how to look for anyone selling too close of a rip off on Etsy. Gaming companies like Games Workshop will have it worse.

When someone buys a Barbie or a GI Joe that is essentially all they need. They might need accessories or a friend but that is largely it. Most people might not even be willing to spend the effort to use the 3D printer for a single child’s toy every few months or longer. Gaming companies provide figures that avid players will use regularly for years. Gaming companies provide figures that may only need replacing every few editions and the figures are (with exception) larger than your standard Ken doll. The moment a printer, spools of filament and time to make or find templates are cheaper than the cost of an army, Games Workshop and a lot of other companies are going to have to find new ways to keep everyone on board.

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