Looking at the issue of designing well thought-out 3D printed games and toys and why the market is full of repeats and reinventions. While some use the file depository sites to post the first and second drafts of their 3D printed games and toys to gain valuable design feedback, others misuse them and put up for sale or submission to contests. Identifying the differences between sculpture and design and how it applies to toys and games as functional or artistic pieces as well as the need for a design feedback loop.
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3D Printed Games and Toys
We thought we would take a deep dive into 3D printed games and toys today. Really, I think the questions come to us, “Why is it so hard to design or create a 3D printed game or toy? Why is it so hard to find a good one if you’re searching online to try and find one?” That was the question that was posted to us. It’s really hard to find good ones and there’s a lot of junk out there. I have to say, there’s also a lot of junk in mass market games. We’ve noticed that a ton.
You can basically take the same five games and slap a different Disney character on them and make it a new game and somebody will buy it. It’s unfortunate, but the games themselves are not improved over the years. There’s twelve versions of Sorry. There’s a level of game marketing and game design that is more about licensing than it is the game. Anybody who’s into Frozen this or Frozen that is going to get a Frozen Monopoly junior game or something. That’s one part of the market.
We see a whole bunch of new Kickstarters coming up with all these different card games because that’s how Cards Against Humanity came out. We’ve seen a bunch and I’ve actually reviewed a bunch and advised on a couple of them. They’re really target markets and they’re really cool ideas and they’re fun but you’re reinventing how a game is played. There’s so many new rules and other things. This is just hard.
This is what we see a lot in whether it’s 3D printed games or toys, 3D printed gifts in general, that they become either a vanity project, something that you love and are so near and dear to your heart or your close friends but that doesn’t make it a viable, saleable, searchable product or project. Or it becomes something that is all about the outside. In other words, it’s all really about like licensing something else that already exists or reinventing something else that already exists with some new character.
I think that especially people that are in the maker community or who have skills to build things, even from the time I was a kid, I was always taking apart my toys and turning them into something else. I got good at woodworking and I got good at metalsmithing. I would make things that I wanted to make that I thought were pretty and useful. It doesn’t mean that anybody else did or wanted to buy them.
I think that’s a hard thing sometimes for people who are having fun 3D printing things like 3D printed games and toys have to come to terms with. It is even for me, at times, because I enjoy the process, I enjoy the tech and I’m good at it. I’m also a designer. A lot of the times, I need a mirror held up to my projects and what I’m doing to then figure out how I can make them even better.
3D Printed Games and Toys – Getting Appropriate Design Feedback
When we were really looking at some of these 3D printed games and toys like on Pinshape and some different places thinking about other toys, we have found some gems out there. We had found those marble machines all over Thingiverse that were a bunch of marble machine that were impressive. Some of them are fantastic. To me, clearly the people that designed them spent a lot of time in designing and engineering them. There was a lot of care put into them. There are some really good ones.
It goes back to like even the White House ornament project from a couple of years ago. There was hundreds and hundreds of posts up there and 98% of them were just, I wouldn’t have posted them. You shouldn’t have posted them. They were so amateur. Maybe another way to say is you wouldn’t have bought one if it was for sale somewhere. It didn’t fit the level of the quality of the contest either. You’re talking about something that was sponsored by the Smithsonian and was going to be appeared in the White House. You needed to be conscious of that as you posted them up.
In this social share world where we think it’s perfectly acceptable to show off our first draft 3D prints, relegating that to Instagram makes sense to me, but posting them up into a directory for sale is a mistake. That’s really where I see the fall off happen. You need a place by which you can get critique, get feedback, get users to help you out. To give you a sense of, is your game good, are your pieces good, are they too small? There’s a whole bunch of feedback loop that needs to happen in the process. That’s great.
But is not a for sale site, a site where you’re going to really download these things and print them out, a share site even. This is a feedback loop you may need in the process of designing and developing. I think it’s great for that purpose. To say, “Hey, my stuff’s ready. It’s done. It’s good. It belongs in the directory.” Oh my gosh, that’s just vanity. You’re just in the silo. You think your stuff’s good enough and it’s not. You do need somebody to say, “Do you see all these other ones out there? Yours isn’t really good enough. You need to work more on that.” I’m sorry, but that’s the hard part about the design process. It requires a critique.
I know this probably sounds harsh to some of you out there. I think the reality is, not everybody is a designer. I do want to caution that in age relevance. Never for kids. Kids should be able to post up their designs, whether it’s for 3D printed games and toys or not,but it should be clearly not mixed. That’s the problem that I do have with Thingiverse, is it’s clearly mixed. Because you have a lot of those softwares that just post straight up into Thingiverse and there’s no distinction between what is a kid account and what’s an adult account.
I know they do have categories. They’re trying to curate things, like collections of things that they’re going and finding through there. There’s no account differentiation though between the type of account. Every time you do something in 123D or a similar program, you have the option to post it into the Thingiverse. We don’t let our daughter do that but she has the option to do it. That’s a mistake.
You get inundated with all this junk, which is crowding Thingiverse, which is problematic. You also don’t have that age relevance where her stuff is being compared to other seven year olds. Her stuff might be great compared to other seven year olds. I think again, some people are going to probably take that the wrong way when I’m calling it junk. There’s a point at which, for kids who are learning especially, that anything they’re creating is good and useful project. They’re learning a lot from it, they’re honing their skills, they’re going to continue to go on and make things that are better and better. But they may be posting those up as they go.
For the rest of us, that may not mean very much, it may not be very useful. You’re posting it up into the wrong environments. This is what I’m saying, is you should be posting it up into a critique environment, a feedback loop environment, like a chat board in a sense. Not into an environment that’s about downloading and printing in a sense, transacting and selling. Even though there’s zero dollars associated with it sometimes. Now, you’re crowding up what is a search directory for something I need to find to print. I’m looking for to print and it’s crowded with stuff that really just needs feedback. Nobody’s giving it feedback because it’s all mixed in there.
We’ve gotten a heck of lot of feedback on our 3D printed coffee sleeve on Thingiverse. People certainly do comment all the time, the good and the bad. I have replied to them. There hasn’t been as many comments now because it’s been a while since it was really new and out there. It was also promoted on the first page of Thingiverse for a while. Anybody who commented or post a question or commented, I did reply to. There’s definitely – it’s a feedback loop there.
But it takes somebody downloading it and printing it to comment on it and that’s not really necessarily good for kids in development and feedback either. I feel like you almost have to separate the two. You really almost have to create an environment in which you can really be critical, you can really develop something with a group.
Let’s use our Christmas gift as an example. Tracy had said back to me a couple of months ago, she liked the idea of having a 3D printed design that was representative of our family unit. Basically husband and wife and three daughters. I don’t know if they have this all over the country, but in California certainly we see them all the time on the back of people’s cars. They have these little stick figure stickers things on their back window that represents how many different people in their family there are. This is not trying to do that 3D printed. They were sculptures, they’re supposed to be sculptures.
I think families often times, like the idea of having some sort of representation of their family unit. We were thinking we could 3D print it physically. Maybe it’s something that sits on the mantle or sits on a piano or whatever you might display it. I have a bunch of these Willow Tree Nativities, for instance. I also have some of the characters, like mother and child and things like that that have been given to me by my daughter, by Tom over the years, my mom. I’ve always loved them but they don’t have one with a mom and three daughters, a mom and dad and three daughters. They just don’t have one.
That’s where we were looking at saying, “Oh gosh, wouldn’t it be great if you could customize these sculptures?” That’s what I was saying is I liked the idea of making them modular and sculptural at the same time in creating this. When I suggested it, I suggested it as a project we do together, which I think tom didn’t realize and he thought I just wanted one.
He clearly didn’t get that. He just thought I wanted him to go and design something, create it, and present it. When I opened it up and saw what it was, I’m sure the look on my face was just not what he expected and anticipated because it didn’t have … It wasn’t giving me warm fuzzy feelings, that’s for sure. Because it wasn’t collaborative, which is what it has to be to become something that people desire and people want.
3D Printed Games and Toys – Collaboration and Creativity is Key
That’s a point that I’m trying to make here, is that there has to be a collaboration and critique process in it that goes through in the development of something that’s going to become a game or a toy. Something that people are going to really love and use or collect in that particular case, a gift that people would collect. There has to be that process in it. It can just be done in a silo by you as the designer. That’s the lesson that I think we want to get across here.
I think there’s a big difference between sculpture and design of an object, whether it’s a toy, a game or other product. A sculpture, an artist is doing that, creating that object for themselves most of the time or for their message. For their message, to convey and communicate something in their mind’s eye. Really, although there can be commissioned projects where they take other factors into account, by and large, most sculptors and fine artists in general are practicing an artistic expression. Creating some of these, an expression that’s truly their voice, their vision alone. That’s the way it is.
When you are creating something that you want others to buy or even others just to download and use if you’re not selling it, when you’re creating something for other people, you really need to have a feedback loop and you have to not just design it for yourselves, you need criticism, you need feedback. You need to filter a lot of different opinions and consider them in order to create something that is actually going to be bought and used over and over again.
I want to be really careful here. We’re not talking about design by committee, we hate that. That is not what we’re talking about here. Not everybody votes and say, “Oh yes, keep that feature in. Oh yes, keep that thing in.” What we’re talking about is critique and feedback that you then incorporate as the designer, take to heart, think about and say, “Do I feel that? Does this make sense? Is this where I’m going? Is it going to hurt the usability of my product if I don’t include this criticism and incorporate it in some way? How do I take what I heard and innovate into something that really truly is what they’re asking for?”
This is really a hard concept to get for a lot of people. In reality, if you are intending to create a product, whether you call yourself a designer or not, it really doesn’t matter. If you’re intending to create a 3D model that’s not just for yourself, that it’s for others, for some purpose, then you really need to get others’ perspective. You need to see past your own blind spots because we all have them. Nobody is free of them.
The whole process of developing a product is one that really takes having some thick skin. Don’t expect to be treated with kid gloves if you’re going to ask other people, and I’m not just talking about your friends or family, your harsh spouse. Other people. We are in a little different situation because we’re in business together. If Tracy were just my spouse, she probably would say, “Oh I love it,” even if she didn’t. “I love it,” and it stays in the box.
Seriously, in any product development field, everybody has an ego and that’s great but you really, to be a really good designer, you need to accept criticism and you need to have thick skin. Not that you’re going to reject anything anybody else says but just that you’re not going to get discouraged just because someone says they don’t like it or they don’t think it quite works and then you’re going to throw it away and not do it. You use that information to make it better.
In my experience working with Tom over 25 years here, actually longer than that, when I criticize something, I don’t mean this like I’m mean about it. When I say, “That’s not really working. That just doesn’t have the appeal that it needs.” Whenever I say that, even if it’s I’m not really specific in saying, “Here, fix it and do this,” because I try not to do that. I try to leave that design artistic expression still coming through because there is some amount of art in that design process, some amount of Tom’s voice that needs to come through in that piece. If I tell him what to do, then it’s not happening. If I tell him what’s not working, then it gives him an opportunity to figure out how to make it work.
He will usually end up solving it in a different way. Solving it in a way I would never have predicted. That’s what I have found over the years, I would never have been able to tell you how to do it and get the result that you were able to do, but by telling you what wasn’t working, gosh, the innovation level and the place that the designs have gotten to because of that are amazing.
Tough Love for Designing 3D Printed Games and Toys
We experience this with all sorts of people that come to us in our core business. They have this product they’re developing and they don’t see past their own blind spots. That becomes part of our job, not only in designing or developing things for them or with them but to help give them other perspectives and things they haven’t considered. All it does is make the product better. In all fairness, I think people reading will probably think, “They are mean.” It definitely comes across that way if you don’t know us personally.
It’s tough love, but know that it does come from a good place, in a well intentioned place. It can come across as harsh. That’s the tough thing, even especially teaching students about design, whether it’s in college or even some high school curriculum exercises, is you got to be very careful at times, especially when people are younger, not to hurt their feelings.
We don’t do that to Lannea. At the same time, we don’t believe in this “everybody gets a trophy” thing either. That’s the thing. I’m not harsh about Lannea’s design. Lannea’s design was completely appropriate when she made those cute little bookmarks that she made, she did a great job on it. They were maybe a little pointier than I would have made them. There’s a bunch of changes that we would’ve made. But they were perfectly relevant and fine for a seven year old. It was in that sense, perfect.
We go into this and my job is predominantly to deal with people who are going to spend money. If they’re going to spend money, then I need to be harsh about it because we need to be clear. You shouldn’t be wasting your money on something that I know is not going to succeed because I’ve done this 250 plus times and I know what works and what doesn’t. For you to go down and make those same mistakes, that’s my job, is to save you from that. That’s where the perspective that I bring in and that I do comes in. I try not to do it in a harsh way all the time, but sometimes that’s what it takes because if you’re too nice, they don’t hear it. I found you have to insult inventors. That’s what I found over the years, that’s the fastest way to get them to wake up a little bit and think twice.
I always call it the moment where you hit them over the head with a sledgehammer. Figuratively, obviously. That is just waking them up to a perspective that they didn’t have. That’s all. Sometimes, they keep hanging on to their idea. Sometimes we call it their dolphin. They keep hanging on to their dolphin, they have it up on a pedestal, they think it’s the best thing in the world. While there may be a lot of great wonderful things about it, at the end of the day, if they’re going to invest money in it and it isn’t going to work, we need to let them know.
3D Printed Games and Toys – Speak with Your Target Market
Your time is money, and that’s the problem that I have with it. It’s like, you’re going to keep on finding something that has a glaring flaw for the market. Not appropriate for kids or it’s not right for this type of game. If I can see that and other people within your market are the people you share it with, and not people who are direct enthusiasts, mind you. We are not a big fan of asking the converted. You need to ask people who are outside of it.
If it’s a game focused on ten year olds, then talk to ten year olds, however you do that. It’s got to incorporate that perspective in it because if you don’t hear that and if you are too blind to it, you don’t see it either, then the problem becomes that you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy. That’s the thing that I don’t want to have happen. We talk about it all the time. Our goal is to take half-baked ideas, fully bake them without burning down the house. Because we’ve seen a lot of people burn down their houses, their relationships, their whole businesses. We’ve seen them burn it down because they got too locked in and too enamored with an idea that wasn’t even fully baked.
This all comes back to, it’s not easy to create a really good 3D printed or otherwise made toy or game. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a process. You can make one, like if you have a toy that you like and you want to, in terms of exactly what it does, you’re not reinventing that at all but you’re just going to make it a different way. Sure, you want to make a chess set and you want to make it all the … I don’t know, if you want to make it Trolls characters from that movie that came out recently or you just have an affinity for sculptures, you’re going to mimic a lot of sculptures that others have done.
I don’t actually recommend selling that if you’re going to do that. You can get in trouble. You could just have things that you like. Let’s say you like owls and you’re going to create a bunch of different owl motifs or looks and create the chess set. That’s an entirely different thing because you’re not reinventing a game or creating a new game or a toy. If you’re creating a toy that’s breaking some new ground, it’s a really involved process.
Coming up in about I think two weeks, we have an interview with Mark Trageser of Insani-TOY. You’re going to want to check out to that one. He’s a contemporary of ours. He’s got about 25 years experience as a toy designer for the likes of Hasbro, Mattel, companies like that. Now, he’s an independent toy designer, used to work in house at some of them. He’s a huge fan and proponent of 3D printing. If you think we have some harsh opinion sometimes, he’s got some significant opinions of his own, which I think are very healthy and good opinions. Everybody has different ones.
Again, it doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s super passionate about 3D printing. He’s a harsh critic of it because sometimes that’s what it takes. It’s little tough love to get this industry to turn around. A little tough love to get your designs going and getting them in the right directions so that they become great instead of okay. That’s what our goal is here and that’s what my goal is.
3D Printed Games and Toys – Final Thoughts
I just want to touch on the three things that we know make designs successful. Feedback, critique is one of them, significant, from the right people. From other professionals is always a great way. If you have access to someone like a Mark and you’re designing toys. A feedback from another professional is actually one of the best ways to progress your design to the right place. That’s the first thing.
Hours. We have not been able to do it and we are good at this. Do less than a great design in less than a couple hundred hours. You have to be willing to really put some significant time in iterations and models and variations and really refining it and printing it and then testing it in the market and then using it and then doing it again. 200 hours, that’s our benchmark. Really, every great design we’ve done over the last five years has been 200 hours. It takes a long time.
Three, you really also have to be willing to trash it for a while, shelf it if necessary and come back later. Sometimes, it’s just not right right now. If you can let go of your design and just … We’ve always talked about, like the a game of cards, a discard pile. You discard them quickly when it’s not working because if you put too much time and energy into it and you just spin your wheels, you don’t get anywhere. It’s better to discard it and come back to it, shelf it if that’s what’s necessary. Shelf where it is. Keep looking at it because something will happen. You’ll come across some other podcast, you’ll see something on Pinterest, something will go, “Ah! That’s the solution. I can now fix it.” It’s way better than working it to death.
The one thing that’s related to that that I’d like to add is, don’t put your ideas on a pedestal, really. If you’re going to do this enough, you’re going to come up with hundreds and hundreds of ideas and a very small percentage of them are actually going to be worth something or be able to make it. We do have a lot of successful products out there, that’s true, but we’ve had a whole heck of a lot more concepts that are sitting on a shelf somewhere, that never went there. It’s because we got feedback, we got critique, we considered everything and realized, “All right, that’s one that’s not likely to go. It’s not worth spending time on.”
That goes back to the last point, and to tie it back into beginning of what we were talking about. Thingiverse and those kind of directories and your little profile within that is not the place to stick everything. It’s only the place to stick the great things. It doesn’t do you any good if you’re a future designer to have that mix of bad and good or mediocre and good. Your stuff should be the stuff you are the proudest of. You will not see our half-baked ideas, you don’t see our half-baked designs, we have lots of them. You’re not going to see them out on our Instagram and our Pinterest. You’re just not going to see them there.
You might see our in process work on something, you might see that but you’re going to see end product and us glorifying it in a directory somewhere. It’s just not going to happen because it’s like everyone getting a trophy. I don’t need to have social feedback saying my stuff is good when I know it’s not. Believe me, if you put something out there that others don’t like, they’re going to let you know about it too. You think sometimes we have some harsh criticism for each other or for other things that we’re talking about, the internet has a lot of harsh critics out there, that’s for sure.
Anyway, I hope that this has helped you guys thinking about what you’re going to print this winter. Thinking about it, are you going create 3D printed games and toys? Have some fun doing these things, but do it in a progressively smart way. Get some feedback. Go through these things. Hey, we’re always here to help and we’d love to give you feedback. If you want to send it to us, tag us on 3D Start Point on Facebook or on Pinterest. We have a board, you can post it up on our board and we’ll be happy to give you feedback and answers.
We’ve done that before. We had the Locknesters a while ago where we took you through an evaluation of our product and some constructive critique. Boy, I forget his name right now off the top of my head from Locknesters, but boy, he really appreciated that. He’s going onto make his products the best they can be. It was very helpful to him. You got to do that.
Anyway, this is all coming from a place of good intention. I hope you appreciate it. I think we need in 2017, I want to create some more projects of our own to help people utilize 3D printing and explore product design development or whatever. We need to start creating some content. I think first off, you better 3D print a second version of ourselves. We need a clone because there’s not enough time in the day for all of that. We’ll see. Maybe that will happen. I’m saying it’s a goal, our New Year’s resolution. Actually, I don’t want to make it a resolution. Resolutions are too easy to break. For me, it’s just a goal. I think that content is king, so we believe and queen.
Anyway, you guys can find us anywhere on social media or anywhere on Facebook and Pinterest as we have mentioned before. We are giving up the rest of our social media profiles, well really just Twitter we’re abandoning. Comment in the blog post as well as there’s a form you can fill out on the main site, submit a question. We’d love to hear from you.
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