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3D printing has allowed gamers and fans everywhere to create their own figurines and accessories based on their favorite games, and to do so relatively easily. As we all know, the 3D printing world is full of murkiness when it comes to patent laws and copyright infringement, but Valve, the company behind games such as Half-Life and Portal, has decided to fully embrace the idea of fan-created merchandise. Today, the company announced a new licensing agreement with Shapeways, one that will allow Shapeways creators to sell their own 3D printed merchandise and accessories based on Valve’s games.

In addition to game-related merchandise, makers can even design, 3D print and sell accessories and modifications for hardware such as the Steam Controller and Steam Link.

“For Shapeways designers, this means that the Valve and Steam game communities will now have access to your products, and you can advertise and promote your Valve-related products anywhere you like,” states Shapeways.

Sniper from DOTA 2 by designer Bilal Khan of Miniature Den

Designers will be able to license their products through Shapeways, and when the products sell, Shapeways will automatically deduct 10% royalties, which will go directly to Valve, for any game-related merchandise sold. No royalties will be deducted for accessories or modifications created for Steam hardware.

“Shapeways is excited to enable our design community to fully explore their passion for the Valve universe. Never before has it been so easy for designers and fans to make physical objects based on their favorite games,” said Tom Finn, Interim CEO of Shapeways. “We’re thrilled that Valve has decided to embrace and empower its fan community in this way, and we’re confident it will pave the way for a new movement in companies engaging with fandoms.”

Portal 2 Companion Cube Pendant by designer Shane Smith of Sandman Artistry

3D printing has a lot of big companies worried about intellectual property theft, and some major corporations have gone out of their way to make sure that their merchandise can’t be reproduced – for example, Disney, which filed a patent application for a reflective material that would make its figurines harder to 3D scan and 3D print. Who knows whether anything will ever come of that patent application – it was met by the maker community with quite a bit of amusement and observations that reflective surfaces can easily be countered with a bit of talcum powder – but it shows the concern that companies are experiencing about 3D scanning and 3D printing among fans.

Look at any 3D model repository, and you’ll find plenty of movie- or video game-related merchandise, and for the most part, you don’t see giant entertainment corporations launching lawsuits against the makers creating that merchandise – there’s just too much stuff out there. But with a licensing agreement like this one, Valve can both capitalize on the popularity of its games in the 3D printing world and work directly with its fans, who will have no need to fear takedown notices.

Portal Companion Cube by Andrew Bougie

It will be interesting to see if other companies form similar partnerships with 3D printing marketplaces like Shapeways. By giving fans the opportunity to license their own game-inspired creations, the agreement allows those fans to more freely advertise their work – and there’s some great work out there. I’ve always thought that it’s wiser for companies to take a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to 3D printed content based on their products. That’s essentially what the music industry did through services like Spotify, and Valve may end up being a leader in a new approach to fan-generated 3D printed merchandise – one that works with fans rather than fighting against them.

Fans can still opt out of the licensing agreement, and Valve reserves the right to remove any licenses it doesn’t feel are appropriate. Shapeways has started a Valve hub where members can showcase their Valve-related creations, and several makers have already begun displaying their work.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: Shapeways]

 

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