I read a lot of Wired and anyone else that does as well knows that that outfit is extremely excited about 3D Printing along with Ars Technica. It is an exciting technology for sure, especially considering how the hardware continues to fall in price – the Printbot Simple and Makibox A6 LT sell for $300 and $200 respectively assuming you can find an outlet nearby that sells either. I’m (sadly) not any kind of industry insider and don’t have any new insight into the future of the hardware itself. However in my last post I pointed out how the Rift headset was not going to sound the death knell of 2D gaming any more than video gaming hurt tabletop gaming. Indeed, with Gencon attendance at four times its attendance of four years ago it would seem that tabletop games are as strong as ever. This year at Gencon as I watched a friend work on painting mini gaming figures it occurred to me that the painting of these minis was in and of itself and entire hobby, not just something that you do as a further investment in playing games with the minis. Surely most people do both, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way and the investment may not be entirely equal.
When any kind of end user technology this powerful comes along, inevitably there is the question of whether it will disrupt industry control – think cassette tapes in the early 80s and MP3s/file sharing fifteen years ago. Alex Castle already has a decent look at how 3D printing could impact table top gaming over at Tested. That blog post is certainly worth your time but in short, Castle’s conclusion is that 3D printing is not going to turn miniature gaming on its head – at least not in a destructive way despite what Games Workshop might fear. I have to agree, but I do think it could do something great for gaming in general. One way it could is to engender a modding community for table top games akin to what has been around for ages in PC gaming and has in the last few years become extremely user friendly thanks to Steam and it’s mod subscription service.
I’m a lifelong video gamer but have only in recent years become really active in tabletop games, so keep in mind as I write this I am no kind of expert in the analogue side of the gaming world. So far, however, the real lifeblood of any gaming company seems to be expansions. Nearly any game you pick up has an expansion pack or some such other add on. This is of course akin to digital expansions which as we all know are now more prevalent than ever as DLC. Expansions are a great feature and I don’t see any reason for them to go away or be replaced by home job printing. What I do think would be a great addition to the hobby would be not just community and player created miniatures for wargaming but just the tweaks and personalization one can achieve by generating stylized chits, tokens, and theme appropriate accessories for games that already exist. The full bodied, well executed, and final polish of proper expansions can coexist with modding as successful franchises like Elder Scrolls and Neverwinter Nights have shown.
It isn’t just the gameplay of tabletop games that draw the hobbyist but the bits and pieces – a well-made game set is just as satisfying to play with as a cheaply made one is unsatisfying. Even the best made games often come with one set of pieces that you might wish were just a little higher quality or shaped differently. Being colorblind myself I’ve already had to begin modifying games pieces to make them more usable. These are the kinds of tweaks and adjustments that a community can contribute to one another without taking the steam out of a traditional publisher. As we’ve seen with previous technological innovations it’s the companies that embrace the new environment that thrive.