Will 3d Printing Kill Games Workshop?

Games Workshop is the king of the fantasy and scifi tabletop miniatures game, and they make beautiful models. Those models, though, are very expensive. To amass a sizeable army of figures, you’ll be spending several hundreds of dollars.

Will 3d printing kill Games Workshop? No, it won’t. Games Workshop does so much more than just make pretty model kits for their tabletop games. It’s those things that will keep Games Workshop profitable into the foreseeable future and expanding as they go. 3d printing, though, does have a place, and that’s in supplementing Games Workshop rather than replacing it.

Let’s look at what Games Workshop does to keep itself fresh and profitable. What tools do they have in their arsenal to combat the masses who yearn for their extinction? I’ve been playing and collecting Games Workshop figures and playing their games since 1995, when I owned the Game Guild retail shop in Lake Geneva, WI, USA. A good friend introduced me to the game, and convinced me that I should carry the line in my game store. I’ve been an industry insider for much of that time, and I have worked with many of the Games Workshop folks over the years.

The IP-Hammer Will Keep Games Workshop In Charge

Games Workshop publishes a wide group of games, but their most important staples are the fantasy miniatures game Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and the scifi miniatures game Warhammer 40,000. These games are huge. They’re easily the biggest things in their marketplace, and they are constantly refreshing the lines, bringing out new items and inventing whole new support items, like novels, graphic novels, “historical” sourcebooks (historical is in quotes here as the history isn’t real, but invented and reads as if it were real).

The legal arm of Games Workshop has traditionally been draconian in their defense of their intellectual property. The term “IP-Hammer” comes from the IP of intellectual property and the hammer from Warhammer. They wield their IP through their lawyers like a Warhammer at times, suing those that stray too close to trademark infringement or copyright infringement. They have successfully kept others from bringing out competing games and model ranges, and some would say that they have gone too far in some of these efforts.

It does mean that the company or individual that wants to take on Games Workshop can look at that history and be leery. Many have stepped back and decided not to directly compete in fear of being sued out of existance or being bled monetarily dry by the legal fees involved in defending themselves. Many have left Games Workshop’s properties alone and focused their energies elsewhere, probably to more profitable effect. Would Games Workshop care about an STL file for printing a 3d Space Marine? Yes, likely they would. Space Marines are the best selling Warhammer 40,000 model line that there is, and Games Workshop will likely defend that right to the bitter end. That being said, there is a single STL file on Thingiverse.Com from 2013 that is called WH Space Marine and looks a lot like the Games Workshop version.

The Games, the Sourcebooks, the Novels, the Accessories

Games Workshop does so much more than just produce model kits for their games. They produce an entire ecosystem of products that all intertwine and support each other. They have the rules, the sourcebooks for each of their armies, the novels (hundreds of them) for the stories in their universe, and all the accessories, like paints and paint brushes, dice, glue, hobby tools and just so much more. Games Workshop even has a line of hobby stores across Europe, North America and Australia, with others in farther flung places, that sell all of their games and items.

In short, Games Workshop has a support system. It encourages you to buy their products that work with their other products. They teach how to use their products with YouTube videos and how-to books published by themselves. At one point, Games Workshop didn’t believe that they were part of the miniatures hobby. They were instead the sole owners of the Games Workshop hobby! If you own it, flaunt it!

Even if you were to replace their entire model range with STL files that you could print at home, you would still want all of the ancillary items that they sell. We all still want the rules, the novels, the accessories, the paints and the dice. Games Workshop does a really good job with these items, too.

Games Workshop Pays Its Staff To Invent

Small game companies have a tough time selling enough to pay their creative staff well, and still maintain a profit for the owners. Games Workshop has been doing a good job of this for so long that they’ve got a large headquarters in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. They have a staff of several hundred at the headquarters, many of which are designing models and games for Games Workshop. Imagine having to go to work, day in and day out, to design games, or create the backstory for the Imperial Fist chapter of Space Marines, or work on the storyline for the next graphic novel on the Eldar race in their war against the Orks! Some of the most talented people in the world do just that.

The result is that new and exciting offerings are constantly coming from Games Workshop. They not only make new models all the time, but they improve their craft, making some of the best plastic models you can buy at any price. These are works of art, and the way that they are sliced apart to make the parts for a model kit is just genius. The parts assemble in such ways that it would be difficult to make a 3d printed model of some of their figures.

And as fast as a 3d modeler could create a detailed STL file to 3d home print a model of a Games Workshop model, another batch of figures would be released and the cycle would continue. That 3d modeler would have to want to put many hours into creating a good copy of the Games Workshop model, and fear that his creation could, or even would be taken down very quickly from any share sites like Thingiverse.Com. Would the effort be worth the effort?

The Gamers Themselves Want Games Workshop To Continue

Since I started in the hobby back in the mid-90s, I’ve heard people complain that Games Workshop models are expensive. They aren’t wrong. They are definitely expensive. They usually say this as they are standing at the counter of the games store as they’re buying the next model for their army. Much like in the Army, it is the gamer or modeler’s right to complain, and complain bitterly. It doesn’t seem to change the fact that the models keep getting purchased, built, painted and played with.

If Games Workshop were to go away tomorrow, and all their materials, models and artwork were to become public domain, the world would be a sadder place. We may gripe about the price and the loss with our favorite army last week against a particular opponent, but we would sorely miss it if it were gone. We would not have new items being created, or if we did, not collated, edited and published by a professional staff. The models would be of amateur design, some would be fantastic and others would be just so-so. The storylines would scatter to the winds, with each small group of enthusiasts going in their own direction.   

What Can 3d Printing Be Used For?

Just because we won’t kill off Games Workshop with our AnyCubic Photon and Elegoo Mars printers, there is still quite a bit that you can do with your home 3d printer to enhance your Warhammer: Age of Sigmar or Warhammer 40,000 army. Things like shoulder pads for specific Space Marine chapters (even with symbols that have never been created before) can be designed and printed at home. Can you print them for sale? That’s up to you! Can you dodge the IP-Hammer of Games Workshop? For me and my friends, I’m happy to do it. I’m not, however, going to make a business out of it.

Alternate weapons for existing models or alternate armor plates and weapons loadouts for existing Games Workshop models is an excellent use for your 3d printer. You may find that many of the pieces that you’re interested in already exist on Thingiverse.Com or other STL files libraries. But more likely, you’ll want to master 3d CAD design software and create your own, or meld two existing designs together. For example, the simple Space Marine shoulder pad is available on ThingiVerse.Com. Adding your own raised relief of a Space Marine chapter symbol onto it and printing enough for your army is perfect! Adding autocannons to a Dreadnought walking tank would be an easy addition to supplement the existing Games Workshop model.

There are even a bunch of “alternate” models for characters within the Games Workshop universe. I play an Imperial army called the Sisters of Battle (Adepta Sororitas). One of their leaders is a character called Saint Celestine, and the model that Games Workshop makes is exquisite. Still, some aspiring designer out there created a model called Undying Saint With Wings. It’s neither identical to the Games Workshop model, nor is it called the same name, so no intellectual property is infringed upon. It’s reminiscent of Saint Celestine, and it’s a gorgeous model in its own right, so for home games, I’d be perfectly willing to use it in my army after home 3d printing it. I think that’s perfectly valid!


Related Questions

How much does it cost to 3d print a figure?

A 28mm figure will const from 25 to 50 cents per figure in resin. I can print four or five 28mm figures on my AnyCubic Photon printer at a cost of $1.50 to $2.50, depending on how hefty or tall the figures are. Larger, heftier figures will, of course, cost more.

3d printing wargame miniatures. 

Games Workshop-like figures aren’t the only figures that you could print on a 3d printer. I routinely print 1:100 scale model World War 2 tanks for a game called Flames of War. Others produce figures for Bolt Action, a 28mm game similar to Games Workshop’s offerings, but set again in World War 2. Dungeons and Dragons-like fantasy figures are another popular topic for home 3d printers.

Remember, forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future, there is only war! – Games Workshop in their Warhammer 40,000 Universe

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