Since 3D printing began going more mainstream on a consumer level, one group in particular has enthusiastically seized on it: the gaming sector. Tabletop gamers, especially, have seen the opportunities the technology offers for the production of miniatures and terrain for some of the most popular tabletop games, and one group of college graduates even saw the opportunity to build a business around it. Hobgoblin 3D, based in England, was started in 2016 by Kevin Miree, Jordan Knights, and Lawrence Williams, graduates of Teesside University, and has been officially trading since November. The company sells downloadable STL files for the tabletop games market, and has gained an increasing following since launching its first products.
It’s not easy to build a business from scratch, and we’re always interested in learning more about startups in the 3D printing industry, so today we had A Few Questions For Kevin Miree, Managing Director of Hobgoblin 3D, who filled us in on the company’s history and hopes, as well as some direct insights into the convergence of gaming and 3D printing.
Where did the name Hobgoblin come from?
“It just suits us I guess, the folklore behind hobgoblin’s in Europe is that they were the helpers in the wood shop, somewhat mischievous at times. It also reminds me of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay, Self Reliance, which is fantastic read by the way!”
Where did it all start for Hobgoblin 3D?
“That’s a tricky question, and as with all origin stories it was an amalgamation of sorts, a series of seemingly unrelated events that were brought together in a fortuitous way. It’s been somewhat of weird ride to be honest. We’re all Computer Games Art & Design graduates, and the skills we developed were definitely key, but it wasn’t a direct path.
Between my final years of uni, I sought out a Summer placement with a Product Design company – that was my first introduction to 3D printing – it was fascinating watching items that were just a concept then go on to become this tactile and functional prototype. I guess that was probably the seed where HG3D began to form, the inception point as it were, but it wasn’t like an epiphany, or eureka moment. I think I was inspired by the sole trader who owned the company, and how similar we were in our natures, I’ve always been one to look at the world in an abstract way, and see where things can be improved, or how know they worked, it was my time here that gave me an introduction to 3D printing, and entrepreneurship… But I’d always been a tinkerer, a dreamer, and a bit of a weird kid way before this point.
During the same summer, I also went through the death of two close friends, they were both brothers, and twins, they died through alcohol abuse within a week of each other, and this impacted me a great deal. You could say it was a wake up call in a way, they were both around my age, and the closest I’ve had to brothers in my life…it hit deeply.
I guess psychologists; when they talk of death encounters, and how they can be transformative of the self, I imagine this is what they would refer to. I’ve always been one to consider death… not in a morose way, but the finality of it, the temporal nature of our universe, and the decisions we make through life along the way, either by trying to deny death, or ignore it, or run from it, and in doing so we usually run from the things in life we’re meant to face or overcome…our calling as it were. I think the tragic death of my close friends brought home how rarely we manage to find our way in life, I was heavily into Buddhist philosophies as well, which aided in the realisation that I had little opportunity other than the present moment to take action in my life…Needless to say I completed my studies, and gained a first class degree.
In the Summer that followed I read deeper into eastern philosophies, writings by Alan Watts, Hinduism, meditation and began to look deeper within…I also took up the hobby of bonsai, something I’d always wanted to do. It was only through a chance encounter with a a mentor from a bonsai forum, (after I posted a 3D render of a bonsai pot) that led on to a chat with a member of the Doncaster chamber of Commerce (who also owned his own kiln & pottery business). We discussed the possibility of bonsai and 3D printing, but came to the conclusion it was too niche, but we did discuss further markets that would be more viable. This is the moment I consider as being the most pivotal, I was genuinely on a weird Zen ride, letting go of fears, self doubts, shame, anger, and following a path less trodden.
As I recall, I contacted Jordan around this point, we’d almost started a business together based around a group project back at university, but it never came to fruition (In all honesty the project was pretty terrible, and I don’t think we were fully committed at the time). Whilst at university myself and Jordan were fascinated with two forms of emerging tech: VR and 3D printing, so it made sense to invite him on board (not to mention he’s a wizard when it comes to social media, and community management). Lawrence joined us a month or two after, and that as they say was that, myself handling the business planning, and project management, Jordan heading up the marketing, and Lawrence on art production. I think a comment I made back then was ‘it’s only creating 3D files and selling them online… how hard could it be?’, turns out a lot harder than we thought… we’re still in the process of getting the website up and running over a year later… it is coming I swear!
We have come a long way so far though, we’ve seen positive reviews across the board, gained a respectable following on social media; our Goblin Horde as we call them, and we love our community dearly, they jumped in both feet first on this ride, and they’re the reason we drag ourselves out of bed in a morning, they keep us going, and we can’t do enough for them. What I like most about this journey is that it’s allowed three hapless geeks to design, prototype, market, and distribute products globally with just a few tools of the modern age, and all for a platform we’re passionate about: table top games. That’s not really been possible until 3D printers arrived.”
Why did you focus on 3D printing?
“Table top gamers have been quicker than most to seize on the potential 3D printing brings to their lives, they’ve seen something more than repairing a TV remote, printing a Yoda head, or printing a gun… gotta love the media hype train right?.. Like with the PC revolution in the 80’s it’s the entertainment based factor that’s pushing the home use market, and we’ve found ourselves with just the right blend of skills, insanity, creativity and the timing to deliver a service around what looks likely to be a pretty big market over the next few years.
It’s also thanks to the phenomenal work of industry specialists like Josef Prusa. Prusa Research are really pushing the boundaries with what can be achieved with FDM’s, and it’s the same with Formlabs and their SLA printers. Currently we prototype on two Prusa i3 MK2’s, and the quality we get out of them has blown us away! We can’t wait to see how the tech progresses. We’re hoping one day that full colour printing will be on the horizon, faster print times, better slicing software… It’s fantastic when you see fully the potential of things to come, not only for our current niche, but all industries, it’s going to speed up product development cycles, the forming and sharing of ideas, solutions, innovations, there’s some big things coming, and where it can take us we can only imagine!”
There are still obstacles, though, right?
“Oh definitely! We’re not at the point where it’s plug and play technology, there’s a lot of tinkering, fine tuning, repairing, fault finding and a whole heap of headaches in terms of print preparation…Not something the average consumer would be willing to contend with. We really need to get to a point where 3D printing is just as simple as using a laserjet, or a microwave, but for those willing to put in the time, the money and a little effort the rewards are there.”
Would you say 3D printing is still out of most people’s budgets?
“I’d say possibly, but when you consider the price of the Prusa i3 MK2 kit build, and the quality it can deliver for under £700, that wasn’t possible a just over a year ago. I’m remiss to admit though it’s still not quite in line with what most people would consider ‘disposable income’, especially if they have no real use for a printer, that’s why the table top market is perfectly situated, there’s a proven purpose for the tech, and one that saves the players a heap of money in the long run…the printer pays for itself when you consider what would be spent on the high street for the terrain pieces, and miniatures.”
What would you say has been the largest contributor to your success so far?
“Without a doubt it’s the team, we’re a trio, a band of brothers, and we don’t let the knocks phase us, we know our principles, our strengths and we hone them to their fullest. Beyond that it’s our fans, and what I think they like most is that we don’t cut corners, we don’t re-use parts excessively, and we never put out an item that’s almost an exact replica of a previous piece, but with a minor alteration. So we don’t double charge, as it were, or bloat out our product line with replication, we push hard to keep the aesthetic, and the technical requirements as optimised and original as we can, we’re always looking for further ways we can use the tech at both the software, and the hardware level. We always go that step further, because we know it’s what our audience expect.”
What is the biggest hurdle for HG3D currently?
“For us the hardest hurdle is understanding the price point. There’s an expectancy by many that digital art should come cheap, that you should just work for exposure, or that because a computer was involved, it somehow does all the work, the mythical ‘make art button’ as it were, but this isn’t the case. Ask any digital sculptor, or 3D artist, what it takes to create an item and they’ll tell you it’s a laborious, and technical process. Both the maker community, and the table top community at times are almost in direct opposition they’re both cultures of sharing, open source, and of creating items for as low a cost as possible, and that’s what we love about both, and we don’t want to upset that balance! We do everything we can not to take advantage of the communities that allow us to work on the things we love, but it can be hard to strike the balance between customer expectation, and ensuring we have food on the table. Many competitors use Kickstarter (which is mainly pre-sales) to help sustain the business, it’s where we need to be, and it’s something we’re considering, but the timing needs to be right. We’re not worried though, we keep going from strength to strength, we’re not greedy, we just roll with the punches!”
Hobgoblin 3D will be launching its website soon; if you’d like to be notified when that happens, you can sign up here. In the meantime, you can follow the company on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Discuss in the Hobgoblin 3D forum at 3DPB.com.[Images: Hobgoblin 3D]