Digital Distribution – Wargaming’s Future?

Now before we get into this discussion I have to throw up a bit of a disclaimer: There is going to be talk of pirated content in this post. I do not want to start a debate on the ethics of such an endeavor (so don’t go there!), but instead to focus on digital distribution as a model for facilitating the hobbies we all love. Ahem!

A story recently hit the news about well known content distribution site thepiratebay throwing up torrents of digital copies of their models. While the original creator of this digital document was hit by a massive lawsuit from GW (what else is new?), it got me to thinking. Why is a legal tactical nuclear strike being leveraged against a pioneer of such a promising use of technology? As three dimensional printing matures it’ll be impossible to avoid, why not embrace it as soon as possible?

Warhammer 40k Scratch Built 3D Printer Space Marine Dreadnought

Scratch Built "Sci-Fi Space Robot"

Digital Distrubution is your Friend

Make no doubt about it, 3D printing is the future. There are a few details that make it especially appealing to Wargamers in particular, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, we have to take a step back a decade to the lessons that iTunes learned.

At the beginning of this story the MP3 was the next big thing and the music industry was in full panic. How could they control sales when music could be copied and swapped with a few clicks of a button? iTunes figured this out pretty quickly – by making buying digital music REALLY easy. The music industry missed an important point, not everyone is a ravening thief just waiting for the opportunity to steal their products. If people feel it’s worth purchasing they will spend money on it! Prices can be lower and the process more sustainable because things don’t have to be packaged or tied to disposable media. This also means that if people feel they’re being extorted you just might feel a little backlash!

There are other examples of booming success here. I bet even if you don’t use iTunes you’ve at least installed Steam. The success of these products is no accident. Why fight piracy by bringing down the legal hammer? Make it easy and appealing to purchase your content digitally and people will flock in droves.

But how does that relate to Wargaming?

Now, for Wargaming in particular. First and foremost, conversion potential. Already in the industry, sculpts are being created on 3D modelling programs. Spartan Games is a prime example. If you could take a base model, modify it, and print it exactly how you wanted? That’s a Wargamer’s wet dream! Being able to cut that $100 model in half digitally is a much nicer prospect than screwing up the physical version.

Second, there is a lower barrier to entry, both for playing and making games. I’m sure you’ve had friends you’ve tried to convince to play Wargames, only to have them scoff and laugh at how much you spend on miniatures. By removing production costs from the equation, the product is no longer tied to fluctuations in the price of pewter, the cost of buying new moulds, or extensive warehouses for storage. The cost to the consumer will drop dramatically. The business of actually making games will be much less risky as well. When rules and models can be produced and distributed digitally, even amateur wargame designers will be able to try their hand in the market.

Scratchbuilt 3d Printer Typhon

It -never- gets old

Does this make the FLGS Irrellevant?

This is the hardest part of the whole discussion. What happens to your friendly local gaming store? First of all, I don’t see this change happening overnight. People will still need places to play, and the LGS will always be a great center for any gaming community, growing or established. Being able to print models at home won’t change that, and having organized play will still pull those players out.

Sales of pewter off-the-line miniatures would fall, ignoring the fact would be silly. I think the best way for the local game shop to monetize the homebrew nature of digital distribution would be to become pioneers of the technology themselves. Could you imagine if your LGS charged a reasonable markup on materials for having a photo store style printing booth? I would not be surprised to see this happen in the next decade, two decades at most.

  • How is Spartan Games an example exactly?

    • Their sculpting is all done digitally. No greenstuff / physical modelling.

  • Went Awqer

    Why does 2D-printing in collectible/living card games never seem to come up in the same place as the recent spat of 3D? Why does none of the things mentioned here as “boons” for the wargamer not force the hand of WotC with MtG as a prime example?

    It just seems like these two industries are not so dissimilar that the many of the (dis)advantages would not also be shared. Considering the cost of buying so many rare solo cards that are genuine I’m actually suprized this isn’t a constant and very widespread issue. Even more especialy with yearly turn over due to intentional card obsoletion.

    Why aren’t local game stores pioneering 2D printing of high quality cards?

    Exploring that question might offer a lot of insight into the topic at hand reguarding 3D-printing.

    • Jme

      Good response!

      Collectible games create artificial supply and demand curves by making powerful cards harder to come by and promoting sales. This drives a whole sub-economy (starcitygames) which still leaves the consumer thinking they got a good deal for the 15 cents of cardboard they just purchased. Don’t get me wrong, I play Magic. I just think the whole rarity system throws a component of “whoever spends the most has a significant advantage” into the mix.

      As soon as a game goes non-collectible anyone has equal access to the component parts needed to play. In Warmachine, for example, someone who spent $500 building a 35pt army doesn’t have a significant advantage over another player who spend $200 on the same one, assuming both are optimized in a strategic way.

      Now if you were to put forth the argument for 2d printing collectible card games, I’m sure you could see how sales would instantly collapse. Everyone would just print as many mythic rares they could fit into their respective decks, the whole concept of trading goes right out the window, and the aftermarket rendered obsolete.

      • Went Awqer

        So if I understand you correctly stores don’t jump all over 2D printing because their profit margins are tied up in scarcity economics. Wargamming isn’t because it’s not collectable based, and thus 3D printing is something store owners might get into (granting the tech develops). Essentially is comes down to money, which is a bit of an easy anwser.

        That’s only one side of the story though. The other being the consumer. If there was no demand for lazy-access to music iTunes wouldn’t be the success it is today. Theft of music electronically has driven businesses to develop downloadable content, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the same to CCG’s. Quite the opposite. Though it’s been a long time since I played MtG (I stopped shortly after Fallen Empires) the player base itself was pretty vocal against “cheaters” that made their own copies of cards. Is that still true today some 15 years later?

        So the question is the same just flipped to its other side:

        “Why would the community of war-gaming consumers embrace 3D printing, and force the hand of retailers that chase profit margins when the community of CCG players have failed (or not even tried) to do so?”

        • Jme

          Hmm, well, I think we’re comparing apples to oranges here. Any collectible game strives off the aspect that some components are more rare than others. Any business model where the parent company distributed the content digitally would completely ruin this, as rarity completely loses meaning.

          Since rarity means nothing in most miniature games (not counting Whatever-Clix!) there won’t be a fundamental shift in purchasing patters or army building, just a different means of getting them into your hands.

          • Went Awqer

            They may be apples and oranges, both they are both still fruits and rarity is just money by a different unit of measurement.

            Sure with 2D-printing in MtG, which could start up literally right now, there would be a change in play as suddenly everyone can play the cards they want, but that will be relatively quick, the game would re-stablize, and then move on in the same way all non-scarcity based living games do. The same thing would happen to a lesser extent in wargamming as money is still an issue.

            You are a MtG and WM/H player. Why would you be happy to 3D print? Why don’t you 2D-print or at least want to and promote it as the way forward for the industry?

            I, personally, think I am missing something on a fundamental level. When I think of 3D printing and miniature gaming then 2D printing and card gaming. There isn’t one single advantage 3D printing offers that 2D printing doesn’t.

            May be it’s the view that rare cards have value much beyond their use in a deck that makes the community, which is cross-populated with miniature gamers, that keeps 2D-printing in check. It certainly would be anathema to that sort of person.

  • As a converted of miniatures and a collectible card game player, I can say there is a difference in 2D vs 3D printing. However, I’m going to say it in the most convoluted way possible.

    2D card reproduction feels dirty. I’ve thought about doing it many times to proxy decks, but at the end of the day, I just write the name of the proxied cards on some lands and go forth. If the need arises, I buy the cards. In a tournament setting, cards are supposed to be the real deal. When playing with my friends, its generally proper to tell them your proxying cards in some form or another. If I sat down for a game with my friends and busted out mox’s of every color and a black lotus, they would call me a cheater. That’s just in friendly play too. There is a certain understanding amongst players of card games that your not going to go printing off cards.

    In 3D gaming (miniatures), innovation is appreciated. If you can build a model from something else and make it cheaper or cooler, its accepted. My friends and local tournament organizer would never call me out for cheating because I converted/copied a model made by someone else. I’ve cast models made by myself and others for personal use and its accepted. Conversions are accepted in the 3D world. There is an artistic appreciation for innovation in miniatures. I think more people would modify the existing digital models before printing, instead of straight up copying GW’s (any big manufacturer’s) models. If all it took was a few clicks to make your own unique space marine chapter (with badges, icons, etc) who wouldn’t go the unique route? Plus, you could distribute your modified files and share them. Eventually, there would be vast libraries of digital models just waiting to be downloaded. It makes me wet just thinking about it.

    Well, I hope this makes some sense.

    • Jme

      Well said!

  • drew

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    Thank you!