Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Future of Gaming

Personally, I'm not a fan of technological advancement in gaming - I like pen and paper. As I've written before, for me, RPGs belong to a certain category of pastime that benefits from being lo-tech.

Nonetheless, I do sometimes think that 3D printing could be huge. I'm a subscriber to the Economist (in dead tree format, natch), and they go so far as to suggest that 3D printing will be part of the third industrial revolution. I don't know about that, but I do know that I can imagine approximately ten billion uses for 3D printing in gaming, including:

  • In-game 3D dungeon mapping
  • Printing dice (no more "Can I borrow your d20?")
  • Printing customised minis
  • Printing 3D tactical maps

I also think it won't be long before you will be able to go to the Games Workshop website, fork over some cash (undoubtedly grossly inflated), and have a file sent to your computer allowing you to print 30 space marines or whatever in the comfort of your own living room.

I won't welcome these developments, necessarily, but I think they are probably inevitable. 3D printers may be in the hands of consumers within the next few years, and I do not doubt that the major gaming companies are already thinking of ways to exploit them. I think this, more than actual online gaming, will be the major development in the hobby through to 2020. You read it here first.


  1. On the other hand, you will not need gaming companies to print your own dice, miniatures, etc. Files for these will be available free online, or you can make them yourself. Should be interesting...

    1. I don wonder how the infrastructure will work. If it's a matter of downloading a file to your PC to print minis on your 3D printer, for instance, file sharing will become a major headache.

    2. For a peek at some of those issues and some of the possible responses and complications:

  2. These printers are already in the hands of consumers.
    See also:

    ...But i think you're wrong about this being bigger than virtual table-tops. This makes it easier to customize the accessories to the game. VTTs are a whole new way to play - removing the physical boundaries while at the same time alllowing for the customization that 3d printing enables, all for less cost. Tough to beat that.

    1. I don't buy it. I know that online gaming is used, and becoming more popular - I'm not denying it will have a big impact on the hobby. I just think that on an industrial level, 3D printing will be huge. More so for games reliant on minis, of course, and much more so for table top war games.

    2. On an industrial level, yes - cheap 3d printing will have a profound impact on society. But at the same time, actual physical game playing will be a smaller and smaller niche. Board games, minis, rpgs - all are moving towards more and more computer-assisted play, which goes almost hand-in-hand with online play.

      Let's just lay a wager on it and check back in 10 years - drink of choice to the winner. ;)

  3. Someone still needs to paint the minis, though. Maybe something like the Reaper 'white' unpainted plastic minis could be sold as e-files, but I think it's more likely to spur a cottage industry in home made pre-painted minis, dungeon terrain, vehicles, spaceships etc.

    I think the biggest use for it could be in sf gaming, which does not currently have a great selection of props available that are not tied to the Star Wars or WH40K franchises. I don't particularly want my own 3d printer but I'd love to be able to order some nice Mutant Future minis, for instance - mutant plants, mutant animals, androids, pigmen, spidergoats et al.

  4. My guess would be that miniatures, special dice etc will be treated as rules are today. That is, lots of them will be made available for free, and lots will be pirated.

  5. I would be quite surprised, actually, if companies that have been around for twenty or thirty years do successfully adapt to a technological revolution. I've seen a lot of companies struggle - which is a kinder way of saying "outright fail" - to figure out the paradigm of the new technology or platform.

    Consider WotC's many fumbles in trying to engage D&D players in any electronic medium - they blew it with cutting off PDF sales, and only the Character Builder and Monster Builder (out of a long history of electronic products) really had much use to the game in question. Even so, those products failed to embrace the DIY/kitbash ethos that is such a big part of gaming, regardless of whether you're an OSRian or a 4e fan of taste and breeding (understand that I use this description with tongue firmly in cheek).

    In the long run, though, content is king. Exciting ideas, and ideas made available to people who don't have time or inclination to develop their own, will be the goods for sale. If they can ever figure out a way to sell a service rather than goods (nominally what DDI was supposed to be, I guess?), then they'll have much improved security. Alternately, they could make their money by establishing a central marketplace for both Official Content and fan-generated content, allowing fans to profit off of sales to one another (with somewhere around a 30% rake on fan content sales). I've done a bit more pondering on this topic here.

  6. 3D printers allow a person without sculpting skill the ability to create sculpture, in the same way a 2D printer allows someone who is not an artist to create a portrait.

    I'm sure it'll soon become common to have a 3D scanner and printer, though we may be in for a long adoption cycle before they're both good and cheap.

    Today, people buy large prints because (1) they don't want to spend the money on a large printer, and (2) image files of high enough resolution are less available. With 3D printing, the problem will be the sturdiness of the printed object. I predict there will be home-based 3D printers that create objects made of light plastic, but if you want ceramics or metal you end up buying a "print" from someone who owns a big expensive 3D printer.

    Of course, this means I will be able to download files that let me print out plastic pieces for wargaming terrain (assembling a house from little parts kinda like Hirst Arts) or wargaming figures.

    Here's an example. Let's say Games Workshop sells paperback, booklet-fold, hand-typed wargame rules - or they have a big expensive machine that can photocopy them. They can sell these to people! But as soon as people have access to $50 printer / scanners, Games Workshop can't sell those rules anymore.

    They can improve the quality of the paper, the art, and the binding. Now instead of a B&W booklet we have a modern wargaming rule book. People can't just print that out at home and get the same quality. You will have people who are willing to suffer poor quality (just as you had people who would play with a handwritten copy or bad photocopy) but the standard will be gamers who use the nice rulebook.

    So if GW sells figures made of light plastic which can be duplicated with a 3D scanner / printer, their market for cheap plastic minis lasts only as long as we don't have that printer in our homes.

    GW simply needs to create a better product with qualities that the home 3D printers can't replicate. Some people will make do with what they can make themselves, but if the official GW product is a lot better then people will buy it.

    That's the rub: GW needs to make a better product or else fade away. Controlling the 3D printers isn't an answer, because then we'll all just buy Chinese ones without the DRM. Controlling the information (print files) isn't an answer since information moves so easily. Arresting pirates isn't an answer, because too many people do it and the police need to worry about actual criminals: violent offenders and million-dollar corp/bank insider thieves.

    The Internet killed print publishing, but it's okay because we made that trade and it was a good one. 3D printing will kill GW. The company can sell something else: Nintendo started out making playing cards. But it'll be a given that you don't make a lot of money selling little bits of molded plastic.

  7. "the police need to worry about...million-dollar corp/bank insider thieves."

    If only :(

  8. "Arresting pirates isn't an answer, because too many people do it and the police need to worry about actual criminals: violent offenders and million-dollar corp/bank insider thieves."

    And the fact that breaching copyright (which is what copying would be) is a civil crime (or at least it is where I am). Of course GW (or whoever) could sue you but if they won they'd only get damages equal to any financial loss they might have suffered. If the item was for your own use then that's negligable.