Hot-on-the-heels of our Gaming On Graphene article, we take a look at yet another major development in technology that’s likely to have a significant impact upon the ways in which we game: 3D printing.
A hot-topic of conversation amongst technologists for a number of years; it is widely predicted that 3D-printing is fast approaching a tipping-point that will see it become a regular, household occurrence.
But what exactly is 3D printing and why is it going to be such a game-changer?
In short: in the very near future, for a relatively low cost, you will have the power within your own home to design, modify, copy and produce inexpensive 3D products – the only real limit being your imagination.
Want a new mug? Print one. Need a new picture frame? Print one. Broken the door handle to the trusty old washer? Print one. The possibilities are fantastically exciting with the range of printable materials, colours and finishes growing steadily as the medium evolves.
But what does all of this mean for gaming?
Let’s look into VoxelAracde’s crystal ball, shall we?
Replaceable & Customisable Parts
We’ve all damaged peripherals from time to time. Sometimes it’s a genuine accident; other times it’s a fit of rage. But rather than trudge down to the nearest store or order something online, why not just download the design for your peripheral and print the part that you need? Consider how much inconvenience and stress this could alleviate, not to mention the money that it would save. Yes, the initial set-up costs of a 3D printer may be relatively high, but once people get into the habit of repairing and replacing minor faults as opposed to purchasing new products entirely, the technology will soon pay for itself.
Which leads us quite nicely to customisation. Sure, we’ve got all manner of mobile phone cases and a few gaudy Xbox face-plates knocking around, but what if you had a genuinely amazing idea that could make your peripherals more comfortable; more ergonomic? Perhaps you could alter the design of an existing one and then print your own modified version? Going a step further: what if you could scan yourself, process the data and then produce a design that’s tailored to suit the precise dimensions of your hands?
The Dual Shock 4 is working saliva glands the world over – but what if you could make it even better yourself?
Physical Rewards & Avatars
The roaring success of Skylanders has proven that there’s absolutely a market for game/figurine crossovers. But why not Skylanders in reverse? Why not play a game, receive an avatar as a reward, download it to your 3D printer and then make it at the touch of a button? In other words: collect toys as you play. Perhaps achievements and trophies could even be replaced entirely by all manner of little trinkets and keepsakes? Halo charm-bracelet, anyone?
Conversely, given that next-gen consoles will ship with complex cameras by default, how about being able to design and print your own avatars before scanning them into the game using said devices?
What would we call that? Augmented virtual reality?
Self-Assembly Consoles & Peripherals
With the cost of developing and manufacturing consoles on the up, what if there was an innovative business-model that could reward the hobbyist with a cheaper console?
What if you could purchase the innards of a device, download designs for the casings and then print and assemble the finished product yourself? Remember that complex, mechanical objects such as gears, fans and bearings can be 3D printed to full-working specification, so you’d be surprised how little you might have to physically purchase up-front.
It might be a frightening prospect for the average user, but for those with the necessary skill and the ambition, it would be no worse than building your own PC. It could shave a considerable amount of money off the initial set-up costs with the added advantage being to the environment: not having to manufacture and ship quite so many parts around the world from centralised locations would reduce carbon-footprints considerably.
The 3D Printing Aestheic
Lastly, and perhaps most subtly, is the fact that the brave, new world of 3D printing – with its distinctly ‘no holds barred’ aesthetic – will slowly start to creep into the objects that we see in game-worlds.
It’s perhaps difficult to fully realise how much the world around us – and our perception of it – is influenced by the physical and financial constraints of traditional manufacturing methods. Free from any and all such constraints, 3D printing’s additive manufacturing approach offers limitless possibilities – as borne out in the early examples that can be seen around us.
Yes, those are spiders printed inside the guitar!
As people being to take this level of complexity, elegance and imagination for granted, it will become the new ‘cultural norm’ and we will start to see similarly styled products appearing in games. Everything from product design, interior design and even fashion will eventually be dictated by this new, printable aesthetic.
Maybe in-app-purchases could even be extended to the downloading and printing of products that game-developers have realised within their virtual worlds?
Whilst the overall impact of 3D printing on gaming may not be quite as profound as that of graphene, it’s more than fair to say that it will bring a number of interesting and potentially game-changing developments.
If, for example, we apply its principles to past issues such as the XBox’s infamous RROD, we see that it could have possibly alleviated the situation by providing the option of being able to download and print new casings with more effective thermal envelopes. Even if consumers themselves were uncomfortable performing such a retro-fit, approved local technicians with industrial-scale 3D printers could perhaps have been drafted-in to offer support?
Could 3D printing have solved at least some of the problems?
Indeed, it is widely predicted that the growth in both local and home 3D printing will see a gradual return to the cottage industries and ‘fix-it’ mentalities of old; attitudes which have long since been forgotten in the face of our throwaway, consumerist culture and the planned obsolescence inherent in globalised manufacturing chains.
The benefits of 3D printing to the planet, then, may well be just as numerous and significant as the benefits to consumers and local communities.
Interesting times, dear Voxelites; interesting times …