The Most Important Economic Question of Our Time: Will 3-D Printers Kill Table-Top Minatures Gaming?

Because the table-top miniature wargames sector of the economy is a critical one-zillionith of GDP. Or something. Anyway, we read at Wired that 3-D printers are close to becoming a reality in your home:

The BotCave is home to MakerBot, a company that for nearly four years has been bringing affordable 3-D printers to the masses. But nothing MakerBot has ever built looks like the new printer these workers are currently constructing. The Replicator 2 isn’t a kit; it doesn’t require a weekend of wrestling with software that makes Linux look easy. Instead, it’s driven by a simple desktop application, and it will allow you to turn CAD files into physical things as easily as printing a photo. The entry-level Replicator 2, priced at $2,199, is for generating objects up to 11 by 6 inches in an ecofriendly material; the higher-end Replicator 2X, which costs $2,799, can produce only smaller items, up to 9 by 6 inches, but it has dual heads that let it print more sophisticated objects. With these two machines, MakerBot is putting down a multimillion-dollar wager that 3-D printing has hit its mainstream moment.

…And that’s just the tooth business. Practically every consumer item or electronic gadget you own has been prototyped on a 3-D printer; ditto for the newer buildings around you. Today you can get a custom 3-D-printed action figure of your World of Warcraft character or your Xbox Live avatar. And if you go to Tokyo, you can have your head scanned for a photo-realistic action figure of yourself. (Try not to get too creeped out.)

Most of the table top miniature games companies (Games Workshop is the largest, but there are dozens) already use 3-D printing to design oversized mockups of their miniatures, which are then mass produced in plastic, resin, or metal (an aside for nerd historians: the progenitor of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons was a miniatures-based wargame known as Chainmail from the early 1970s).

It should be relatively easy for someone to figure out (pun intended) how to make copies of existing miniatures that can then be produced at home. In essence, this takes Napster et alia to a whole new level. On the other hand, maybe these companies will stop making models, and simply become rule-making and template-selling companies?


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4 Responses to The Most Important Economic Question of Our Time: Will 3-D Printers Kill Table-Top Minatures Gaming?

  1. The RPG industry seems to be moving strongly in the latter direction. Only the really big publishers even make books any more. Indie publishers are a big part of the industry these days, and most of them sell their wares in a purely-electronic format.

  2. EpiGrad – Epi_Junkie is a graduate student of Epidemiology with an unhealthy fondness for infectious diseases, a tendency to stay up later than is perhaps advisable, and an implanted link to the Internet.
    Confounding says:

    My guess is before we hit the “rule-making and template-selling” stage, what will probably end up happening is the mass manufacturers will see their margins shrink. I think it’s a much longer time before a 3-D printer, even with a perfect copy (which the Wired articles were not – not even close) can compete with an industrial operation for any sort of volume. Just like it’s hard for my laser printer to compete with a print shop for printing massive amounts of paper.

  3. kaleberg
    Kaleberg says:

    There will also be the sale of 3D printing patterns. Not every fan will simply download and share them, especially not if they want to support their favorite artists. I also expect that we’ll be seeing more kickstarter-like get first buy of the new series and offers of a variety of bonus pieces.

  4. TheBrummell says:

    Given what I’ve heard about Games Workshops normal business practices, I say “Turnabout is fair play”. They’ve built a business model on customers constantly buying new products, in their case plastic figures, by wiping out local “mom-and-pop” (OK, this being the gaming business, more likely “uncle Gary”) stores. If their industry experiences a major disruption, they’ll adapt or die.

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