Monday, August 29, 2011

Rise of the MakerBot and the death of the miniatures industry

Looking at my own ability to publish a book, made me think of the death of large scale publishing. The number of big publishers is dying and I think a good portion of it is the ability of people to publish to PDF in unlimited numbers for basically $0. Anyone can take that PDF and go to their local Staples/Kinko's and have the book of their choice, no matter how obscure. The finer details of this democratization of print in the RPG industry (a different thing than the RPG hobby) aren't what I am looking to get into.

What I am thinking about is the upcoming unfortunate death of the miniatures industry. 3D home printing is at its infancy, its actual use at this point is pretty slim. But, for our own little commercial perspective it may have a big impact.

1.) The MakerBot is at a price point that a tech early adopter could afford one in their own home
2.) The RPG market has a large overlap with the tech early adopter market
3.) The MakerBot is really only useful for making small static plastic statues
4.) That is a miniature.

I can very quickly see someone starting to make their own custom plastic miniatures for games like Warhammer or Warhammer 40k where the miniatures are EXPENSIVE (I have a large Genestealer Cult, Orc/Goblin and Ork armies in hibernation) making their own miniatures that are iconic. "Look at my custom Chaos Daemon Prince"! and then someone will put the electronic file on-line and others will make their own copies. Then someone will make a 3-d scan of some trademark miniatures, illegal or not, and a whole counterfeit market will open up. How will you tell a real plastic ork from a MakerBot plastic ork after 3 layers of acrylic paint?

So how long do you think before the miniature market collapses from $10 for a plastic dwarf to $5 for a template file made by a hobbyist on RPG now?


  1. Hopefully pretty soon. One, I'd love to give my favorite sculptors some love directly. Two, I'd love to see an end to "game value" pricing (really back in WH40K but present in other systems and vendors too). Third, I'd like the ability to not have to worry about what's hot in terms of production. My favorite armies often aren't hot or popular and finding figs can be a pain.

  2. One possible means of saving the miniatures industry would be for it to embrace this coming change. Imagine if you will, miniatures companies like Ral Partha and others still offering physical miniatures at a fair price (after all, not EVERYONE will own a MakerBot), and also providing two other valuable services not easily offered by solo hobbyists. First, large budget promotion of their product lines. Second, a profitable environment for sculptors to ply their craft, thereby attracting the more skilled sculptors to their company rather than them selling minis individually.

    Parallels exist within the RPG pdf industry today. The promotion and production capabilities of larger companies like Paizo and WoTC mean that their products are better known of than many of the much smaller 3rd party publishers who are also releasing D20 material. Similarly, the authors within those larger companies are more assured of making money than they would on their own.

    Neither of these factors mean that one can't be successful or profitable as a smaller company or as a solo artist, merely that a larger, more prominent company increases your likelihood of success. I see no reason why these factors would not equally apply to the miniatures industry. Let us not forget that the same facility that so readily enables anyone skilled to publish a pdf, also allows those less talented among us to just as easily publish a pdf. A MakerBot Mini Market will be rife with amateurish and low quality figures being sold alongside some truly inspired works of art.

    As a prospective customer we will quickly tire of sifting through all the chaff, looking for the wheat. Well known miniatures companies, even if they are selling miniature MakerBot files instead of physical figures, will offer the frustrated buyer a trusted source of products.

    Consider, anyone can produce with ease, within their own kitchens, a hamburger and french fries. They can even readily modify their meal to suite their tastes and freely release online their recipe, or pattern if you will, for producing their version of this meal for anyone to reproduce in their own kitchen. Yet businesses such as Burger King or McDonald's still exist and are still quite profitable.

    Take care when predicting the imminent demise of any industry. MP3s may have forever altered the music industry, but this file format has existed 18 years now and recording companies offering promotion contracts to artists is still the dominant means of success as a musician...

  3. There are always going to be those that shun plastic; I'm one of them.