So far, the only video game characters that have effectively made the “transition” from the virtual to the physical world have been those born in the universes of Activision’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures and Disney Infinity. It is this writer’s (often manifested) opinion that it is just a matter of time before the affinities between video game 3D modeling and 3D modeling for manufacturing will make 3D printing an integral part of most video games. And the new Smart 3D Printed Figurines endeavor from Things3D seems to confirm it.
In video games – as in consumer toys – brands (or franchises, as they are often referred to) are everything. Recent projects such as Gambody, the Toyz App and, previously, FabZat, hinted that big brand’s might be moving towards embracing 3D printing. Things3D – who is already working with animation entertainment brand Aardman – wants to cater to the 3D printing needs of large entertainment brands, while also making its ecosystem available to large and small mobile game developers. To do so, Things3D will leverage on its Ownerchip and T3DSECTURE platforms to allow developers to create 3D printed figurines capable of interacting with their digital games, thus opening up the now rich physical video game market to a wider number of developers than ever.
Things3D’s experience and knowledge of the mobile gaming market is extensive. The company was founded by Joe Wee and Chris Byatte, who had previously founded Chillingo and had been the first to publish games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, downloaded several hundred million times since. Angry Birds also introduced interactive figurines last year but, just like Activision’s Spyro and Disney Infinity, we’re talking about a multimillion fan property. Things3D will open up this possibility to everyone
“This platform creates a 360° digital-to-physical bridge for game developers to engage with their fans,” said Byatte. “It taps into the propensity for gamers to create collections of characters in which they have an emotional tie-in. Through the Things3D platform, both digital and physical manifestation of the characters are inherently tied via smartphone imaging and scanning technology through our Ownerchip and T3DSECURE platform”.
Creating “smart” interactive and personalized physical gaming characters will definitely give Things3D a competitive edge, compared to all other similar ventures; however, the company must also consider that the reason why Disney and Activision were so successful is that they already have a gigantic following of fans who all desire to have the same object.
In the logic of current gaming and toy merchandising, the great majority of users still want to have what everyone else has – “the thing to have” – but personalization has begun to make headway. Even in World of WarCraft, there are virtual items that are more valuable because they are extremely rare and the same has followed with Spyro’s interactive, physical characters.
The value of full individuality is something that will be treasured most by the generations that are born with 3D printing, so it might still take some time before Things3D’s business model fully takes hold. Nevertheless, they may prove to be a valuable option, even for those large video game publishing companies that want to get involved and have not yet done so. I’m thinking Japanese publishers, such as Namco Bandai, Konami, even Nintendo and Sony. Or, in America, even giants such as Electronic Arts. All of these companies (and their developers and designers) seriously need to find a way to start innovating again.
When Activision launched Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, my day job was writing about the video game industry. That was October, 2011, and the idea behind Spyro had been in the works for a couple of years. Many thought it was a risky bet, but Activision came out on top and won it, creating what is still one of the biggest gaming phenomena of recent times, out of a brand that had been losing its appeal for the best part of the previous decade. Disney followed suit. This all goes to show that, just as people preferred virtual 3D over virtual 2D, now people prefer physical over virtual. And that betting on the physical – even in video games – pays off.