A lot of my friends play the tabletop version of Warhammer 40K, and while I’ve played a lot of the computer games associated with the franchise they’ve never been able to convince me to take up the physical version. For me the computer games have always been more entertaining, possibly because all the random nature of the game is being done behind the scenes and quite frankly the fights look a lot better. Having said that I do like the idea of building and painting a 40K army but the thing that has stopped me doing that so far is price. The models seem too expensive for what they are, and so for now I’ve stuck to the digital versions. This could all change however with 3D printers, and if it does I don’t think Games Workshop will like the outcome .
3D printers are devices that allow you to take a model that you’ve designed on a PC, or scanned from a real object, and then build it up layer by layer from plastic. These models can be anything from spoon holders to 1/4 inch lead screw nut adapters, and maybe even full 40K armies. Now at the moment the physical models produced can look very amateur, either due to the printing process itself or because the initial CAD model wasn’t particularly good, however I think both of these will be solved if the technology improves and becomes cheaper.
The technology improving part is, I think, almost certain. I don’t think it will take too long before the quality of the materials and resolution of the printing make any home made 40K models comparable to the ones you can buy from Games Workshop in terms of detail. The real question is whether the technology will ever become cheap enough to become a household process? If it does then I think this will solve the issue of poor quality 3D blueprints. The more accessible the technology is, the more likely it is that the fanatics and the obsessed will get involved. These are the people who have made the amazing things like the Lord of the Rings Total War mod, the TF2 Mann Co store and the Steam Workshop possible. To me these three examples show that there are people out there willing to put the time and effort into, in some cases very high quality, 3D modelling for little to no monetary incentive.
Now I’d guess that not many people design mods, maps or weapons for games they can’t play and I’d also guess that this will apply to 3D printing as well. The vast majority of people will probably only make models if they can print them themselves, so if 3D printing is too expensive I think the pool of high quality modellers will be limited. But if it does become cheap enough then I don’t think it will take long for high quality Warhammer models to become readily available.
Of course price isn’t the only potential stumbling block, there is also the legalities of 3D printing. When it comes to the models, specifically if you’re printing them for non profit use in your own home, then trademark and patent law doesn’t really apply. The only thing you’ll have to worry about is copyright . If the models too closely resemble the GW designs then there may be a case of copyright infringement. Once again though I think the ingenuity and creativity of the people of the internet will find a way round this, maybe by altering their designs enough to avoid infringement, or even by starting up their own war games from scratch.
I’m unsure about the legalities of the ownership of a set of game rules but after talking about it with Pete Hague and doing a bit of online investigating it would seem that the mechanics of a game of 40K cannot be trademarked or copyrighted but there is a chance that some of the finer gameplay mechanics may be patented . Patentable gaming mechanics are extremely limited and I would guess that most of the game play of 40K i.e. dice rolling, counting and measuring, is not covered by any patents. This means that provided you took out all the fluff, artwork and trademarked names you could probably freely distribute the bare bones of a 40K codex .
Imagine the scenario, a person or group of people want to take up 40K, or any other tabletop war game. They will be able to get a free set of open source mechanics online and then they can go to Thingiverse or Shapeways or somewhere else and find an army template. They could then modify this using software like Blender or just print them out as is, and then paint them (or have them printed pre-painted). At what point do they have to give any money to GW?
Games workshop is currently paid to create the fluff and artwork for the rules and to manufacture the figures of 40K. The rules and fluff can be done just as well by people online, and with 3D printing maybe soon so can the models. And there’s also the option of a group of people getting together and providing a 3D printing service for people who can’t afford the initial cost of their own printer but could afford to print their armies. I think Games Workshop are going to have to work very hard soon to make sure 3D printing doesn’t become the Exterminatus to their Typhon Primaris.
- To see what an actual 40K table top gamer thinks read this blog post.↩
- For a good introduction to the ways trademark, patents and copyright apply to 3D printing read What’s the Deal with Copyright and 3D Printing? and It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology.↩
- Both Magic the Gathering and Scrabble have some of their mechanics patented.↩
- Although you couldn’t call it a codex as I think that is trademarked.↩