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3D Printing of Game Characters

December 21, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 11:35

The idea has been discussed in the past and now it’s a reality. Ed Fries, former vice president of Microsoft’s video games business, rolled out FigurePrints last week. The 9.3 million subscribers of World of Warcraft (WoW) can now order a 100 mm (4-inch) tall model of their personalized character from the online game. The models are manufactured on a 3D color printer from Z Corp. Fries was inspired by an Electronic Arts’ exhibit at the E3 show last year. The exhibit included 3D printed figures from EA’s new Spore game.
 
Fries has partnered with Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of WoW. Blizzard is expected to promote the FigurePrints service inside the game. The cost for a model of a character: $100 plus $15 for shipping.

Due to demand and other factors, the service is not rapid. Delivery takes 1-2 months from the time an order is placed. Even so, this exciting new application of additive fabrication (AF) will introduce 3D printing to millions of people. Until now, the estimated 2.3 million commercial CAD installations worldwide have been the source of data for 99 percent of the parts produced by AF technology.

FigurePrints is facing technical challenges that could adversely impact a high volume, low margin business, such as this. For example, the polygonal mesh resolution of a game character is typically not good and the mesh is often not a closed, “water tight” volume, a requirement of AF. Normally, these problems require a trained individual to review and revise the data to make it suitable for fabrication. FigurePrints will need to streamline and automate as much of it as possible and I’m sure that Ed Fries and his staff are working diligently on it.

Will the manufacturing of video game characters become a sizeable business? Yes. How quickly will it take off? FigurePrints/Blizzard and Electronic Arts (likely next year) will motivate Microsoft, Sony, LucasArts, Ubisoft, Activision, Nintendo, and others to follow. In the short term, the challenge will be to fine-tune the file processing and part finishing steps, and then build capacity. And, FigurePrints will need to turn the jobs more quickly. I suspect that many customers will not wait 30-60 days.

1 Comment

  1. WOW! This article brings great news for the 3D Printing Industry! It is certain that FigurePrints will have many hurdles to pass before it can streamline the technology, the parts etc .. to get it working to where it would be able to produce game figures (avatars) to an exacting and efficient manner. I also have great faith in technology and the creativity and ability of people to work around these obstacles and find the way. Kudos to Ed Fries for stepping up to the plate! Partnering with Blizzard is phenomenal! I will certainly be following up on FigurePrints!

    Thanks Terry!

    ~ Carmen

    Comment by digitalfemme — January 3, 2008 @ 06:27