This year, I had the good fortune to visit GenCon after a 2 year hiatus. Not much has changed, although I was surprised at the number of KickStarted projects on the show floor. There were a lot of really interesting independently funded games, including a few print-and-play games. Print-and-play has been around forever, but with the advent of the MakerBot, and the rising popularity of 3D printing, both at home and for contract, I am surprised at the lack of 3D-print-and-play games.
Maybe I’m biased, since I have nearly unfettered access to a 3D printer through the LVL1 hackerspace, but I strongly believe that this technology is our future. In ten years, I truly think that everyone reading this article will have trivially easy access to a 3D printer, if they do not already have this access. It astounds me that gamers haven’t adopted this technology in droves. The maker crowd and the gamer crowd have a huge amount of overlap, so what gives? Why aren’t there more 3D printable games?
Sure, there are a few examples of printable games on thingiverse, but most of these are clones of other games. Not only is this a legal and moral gray area (at best), but it’s boring and unimaginative. Pocket Tactics is the best example of a printable game that I can find, and it’s a game in its infancy, at best (but serious props to these guys!). There just aren’t a lot of 3D printable games. Why? The technology seems like a perfect match for the gaming community! Everybody loves to invent and modify and tweak rules systems, and printable games make it simple to create your own game universe without relying on game pieces stolen from other games, or figuring out how to do injection molding in your garage. The world of indy game publishing should be eating this up, since a small team can rapidly iterate on a game design, complete with unique tokens and artwork. Wargamers especially should rejoice! The huge barrier to entry for games like 40k is the cost of outfitting an army, and 3D printed parts are pennies on the dollar compared to ordinary wargaming miniatures. A 3D printed wargame should be a no-brainer.
There are event successful business models that a prospective game maker could take advantage of. There are already indy tabletop games releasing game guides and modules as for-profit eBooks. 3D printed games could use the same model, selling the rules and models in digitally distributed packages. A game designer could give away the rules, and sell the models, or sell the rules and give away the models. This sort of distribution makes it possible to give away a starter set of models, along with the rules in order to get people hooked. Game designers could even adopt a “value-added” model, bootstrapping with 3D printed game parts, and selling nicer injection-molded parts later.
So, why aren’t there many 3D-print-and-play games? Any ideas? I, for one, would very quickly purchase any compelling 3D printable game that came across my desk, as long as it wasn’t a clone of something else. In fact, I’m printing out pocket tactics right now.