I’ve seen the question asked on many of the Warhammer 40,000 forums / pages / outlets I frequent: “How do you feel about 3-D printed models?” And an enormous outcry invariably floods the comment section in defense of these 3-D printed models. The claims range from simple enthusiasm of the medium to outright rage; most often it is a disdain for Games Workshop’s pricing model and how it’s their Robin Hood-esque duty to print the models at home, for pennies. Hadn’t Games Workshop gotten enough of our money, anyway? On the numerous occasions this topic surfaces on social media, the comments explode in a back-and-forth torrent of arguments. So here I am to settle the matter (but probably just start more arguments!). I’ll try to cover the myriad facets of the discussion, but will most likely (unintentionally) leave some areas out. Feel free to comment and ask questions because, as I said, this is a discussion and mostly just my opinion on the matter. So let’s jump right in!
Printing Games Workshop related intellectual property (IP) to sell is literally stealing and, as a result, illegal.
There — that’s it, it’s settled forever! Commence ticker-tape parade!
No sane person would ever try to refute that claim, it is unequivocally illegal to sell protected IP commodities. “But Andrew,” I hear the masses cry, “All you need to do is, like, get the data files, print them, and you can get these models at home for the cost of some filament and a decent printer. It’s practically free! It’s.. it’s not illegal, it’s sticking it to The Man. No, hear me out! They charge $35 for a Primaris Lieutenant, they had it coming! Isn’t that how BattleScribe works? They should lower their prices! Finecast is garbage!”
A real dilemma is whether or not the person making the CAD files is to be held liable for disseminating the protected content. But let’s just remove that whole legality part of the equation from the discussion. We’ll even stop talking about justifying the cost. Because at this point you’re either so entrenched in the notion that the theft is justifiable, or you’re correct, one or the other. But let’s not get hung up on semantics and instead move on to other facets of the debate that I find particularly interesting. Here’s an actual question posed by someone on Facebook a few days ago which can steer us into more navigable waters:
“How would you guys feel about playing against a fully 3-D printed 40k army?”
Do you want to see how quickly a comment section of 30,000 adults in a Facebook group can explode? Just ask the above question and kick your feet up and watch the carnage unfold before your very eyes. The dead rise from their graves, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! What is your reaction to the above question? Surely you have strong convictions one way or the other. But do you want to know my own feelings on the matter? I abhor the notion of a fully 3-D printed army, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. To really get into my head, I’ll need to explain myself a little better than I usually do.
Let me paint a picture for you which will illustrate my own sentiments. Imagine you’ve just walked into your friendly local gaming store (FLGS) after trying to find time and arrange a schedule, and brought your army looking for a pickup game. This is a rare chance you have to get out of the house and have a few hours to yourself, hopefully it is time well spent. Upon entering, you are then immediately approached by a decent looking guy who asks if you’d like a game. Awesome, you think, no waiting around and you can immediately play! Added bonus that the guy isn’t that sweaty neckbearded gatekeeper that lurks in the corner on Wednesdays. Shaping up to be a worthwhile trip! As he unpacks his army, however, they’re all just bizarre approximations of the model in question built with Lego. Not a single actual model among them. Even his tape measure is metric, and he insists on doing the conversions with each measurement. His rule-books are poorly printed PDF scans.
How would you feel about the game? We’re not talking about whether this guy can afford the minis, or whether or not he was doing anything wrong, that’s a later discussion. How would you feel about the game? Personally, I would feel disappointed that I wasted my time playing him. And I would venture to say an enormously overwhelming majority of others would, too. This is coming from a guy that is ultra-inclusive and willing to go the extra mile to help others of all backgrounds break into the hobby — I’m a Warhammer Hero, dammit! It’s not a question of the opponents means of playing the game, but my own selfish needs being met — was it a satisfying game of Warhammer? Was it Warhammer? If I use the main Warhammer 40,000 rulebook with a bunch of colored tokens on a table, the game is still fundamentally the same. We are playing the game. But is it satisfying our expectations of the game?
When I go to play a game of Warhammer 40,000, I want a certain level of cinema, of narrative. Even the most self-proclaimed net-listing, min-maxing, tournament-try-hard win-at-all-cost (WAAC) players want this visual quality, or they’d be playing a game that was more readily balanced and fair, without all the unnecessary frills: checkers. We buy into Warhammer because of the models, the story, the imagery. So, back to Lego guy. Would I hunt this guy down, along with all his other Lego cronies, and make it my endless mission to bring them to miniature justice? Of course not. I don’t believe it is fair that I force my views of how the game should be played onto others, I’m very laissez faire in my attitudes on other people’s methods of enjoying the hobby (as we all should be, honestly). There is actually a fairly sized community of “poorhammer” and “toyhammer” players out there, to which I have zero qualms. But the issue I take is that the game is a social contract, this oft-repeated term, where two players must make concessions between the two of them for the enjoyment of both parties. I would never play with Lego guy again, because the game with him wasn’t satisfying to me.
In the same vein, I wouldn’t play with a fully 3-D printed army for that exact reason. It wouldn’t be satisfying. Whether it was me knowing that they were just mass-produced in his basement, or the nagging guilt that I’m playing with a felon*, it would be no different than if my opponent were using his Lego figurines. The game is certainly Warhammer for all intents and purposes, we are playing the game, as far as the rules go, but it’s a cheap facsimile. It’s not what I signed on for. It’s not what I wanted to be doing with my time.
But it’s much more complex than this.
Entire websites exist where you can buy 3-D printed weapons, shoulder pads, and other accessories for “28mm sci-fi space warriors.” Perhaps my favorite thing about the 3-D printing market is the clever names they have to come up with to avoid IP infringement. But these websites provide a valuable service. They’re not breaking that sacred IP mandate laid out by Games Workshop’s ravenous legal team, they live dangerously on the edge, and I’m quite comfortable with that. If you want some of those “Shadow Angel” shoulder pads to make your sons of Caliban that much more epic, you can order them and I wouldn’t bat an eye at the notion. I find it particularly interesting that in my own formed opinions I have zero issue with adding these third party parts to augment official Games Workshop models. Where is the line drawn? How much of these augmentations can you add before it crosses that line? Games Workshop events have typically allowed a small percentage of a miniature to consist of these third party components, be it shoulder pads, bases, etc. I’ve won Armies on Parade twice, and Inner Circle (arguably more strict that Armies on Parade) with such components on my miniatures, and I know others have too. This jives with my belief that after you buy the full kit, say, Space Marine Intercessors, you can do with them what you like, as long as a majority of the original mode is intact. The fault in the full-army 3-D printing argument is that you are stealing directly from the company. Here, you’re adding to it — everyone profits.
Additionally, I know of folks that have entirely unique 3-D sculpts of miniatures that represent something in the Warhammer game. An Instagram acquaintance of mine that I respect highly has sculpted and printed, 100% on his own, an entirely new daemon prince model to use. This I also have no issue with. It’s no different than hand sculpting a greenstuff model to supplement your army — the issue was never 3-D printing as a stigma on its own, rather it’s the idea of stealing, cheapening the game through the typical methods it is employed as a tool of theft. The aforementioned daemon prince adds to the game. It has been expanded upon, and no violation of copyright or theft of IP has occurred. Many cases of this exist.
Which brings me to another long-winded topic I won’t go into excessive detail on at this time (perhaps another blog post?); how can I say Lego guy was cheapening my experience by using dinky toy miniatures, but I’m okay with someone else using (arguably) the same thing via a printed daemon prince of their own design? Who sets the standard upon which we determine the quality of a stand-in? The difference is in a combination of intention and execution, I think. Look at the examples below:
I would never expect anyone to magically pull off Adam Savage level kitbashes or scratch-builds, but a certain level of investment in even a build of amateur talent should be evident. Show that you care enough about the thing you are building to convey to your opponent that you aren’t wasting his or her time. Be passionate about the thing. Dropping a few Lego figures on the table took zero effort. But if you really want to get into some gray area discussions and slippery slopes, you could argue that complex Lego builds take a lot of effort and thought and passion in recreating Warhammer models.
The bottom line? I have no issue with 3-D printed anything, if that’s your jam. You do you! But if you come to play with an army of color tokens (or equivalent) armies, I sure as shit won’t be having a good enough time to play with you again. Remember that while your mission to save a few bucks is a valid one, make sure it isn’t to the detriment of the community you frequently play with. One of my good friends and co-workers keeps asking to use some Predator figurines as Officio Assassinorum agents. I’m absolutely against this idea, I personally find it on the same level as “Lego guy,” but I’m not going to let it cause any sort of strife in our group. Just because I disagree with something doesn’t mean I’m correct, or even that I need to throw a tantrum over it. But seeing this guy fighting Darnath Lysander takes me out of my immersion — why would I want to play Warhammer without using Warhammer characters?
What do y’all think? Surely my opinion isn’t gospel, so let’s hear what you’ve gotta say!
*It’s hyperbole, but just assuming the stolen value of goods exceeds the state minimum which often ranges between $500-1000 to constitute felony theft.