January 5, 2016 by crew
Massive Awesome is Simon Barlow and John Taylor, friends and business partners whose shared love of gaming and a desire to make something awesome prompted us to set out on our own. We are currently deep into preparation for the launch of the tabletop miniatures game Shattered Earth on Kickstarter…
In this ongoing series – the previous entries of which you can read HERE (Part Two – Stay On Target) – our aim is to write about all the steps we’ve taken along the way, and to create an ongoing discussion with the community about what it takes to launch a brand new game into the market.
7. Miniature Production
As we mentioned last week, Shattered Earth is being created using a full digital production pipeline, which means that everything from the initial artwork to the final master model is produced on a computer. This is a long way from how your favourite orcs and wizards were produced decades ago, where a hand-drawn character would be sent to a sculptor who would then sculpt the master model by hand.
That is not to say that the modern method is necessarily better than the traditional, just that it is much more convenient for Massive Awesome, where we have Simon, myself, an artist, sculptor and 3D printer spanning five different locations across three continents. The level of collaboration and iterative working towards a product that we’re all happy with would be near-impossible if we had to keep posting art and photos of a physical sculpt around the world for every model.
Aside from the logistical convenience, the main advantages of going digital lie in greater flexibility. Changes can usually be made more quickly and, crucially, undone if necessary. Miniatures can also be re-scaled to fit the overall range better, or even to produce larger ‘three up’ scale pieces.
Finally, if anything should happen to your master model, it’s simply the case of having another one 3D printed rather than trying to re-create a mould using one of your prototype casts.
All gamers will likely have a preferred material that they like their models to be made out of. This might be based on price, ease of painting or nostalgia for the models of their youth. I could write an entire article about this decision alone, canvassing opinions, and likely struggling to find a consensus.
It goes without saying that there are pros and cons for each material, but the ultimate decision for a new start-up will likely come down to cost.
The traditional view of metal being cheap and cheerful, plastic being mass-market and resin being a premium or luxury product is based upon a slightly dated view of the market. Yes, there are a lot of companies that still fit this description but there are now many exceptions. Look at the great quality of Corvus Belli’s metal Infinity miniatures for example, or the level of detail that Games Workshop manages on some of their injection moulded plastic kits.
In all likelihood you will find metal to be the cheapest option due to the reasonable mould length and the ability to melt down and reuse any miscasts. Whilst resin has a higher cost per miniature due to more expensive raw materials and the lower yield from each mould, the difference isn’t quite as stark as it perhaps was a decade ago.
Regardless, for both of these materials you have a fairly predictable price per model you can use to calculate your costs as production ramps up. Just remember to factor in miscasts in your overheads if you decide to go for resin.
Plastic injection moulding – most often using HIPS, or high impact polystyrene – is very different. Instead of building a rubber or silicone mould, injection moulding uses metal tools that have a vastly higher yield. These are very expensive, running into the tens of thousands for a single 6” by 8” tool but, once you’ve built one, you only pay pennies for the cost of the plastic.
This is why few companies start out this way as you need to be very confident of selling the necessary volume of models to drive down the cost per model to an affordable level. If you look at the top five or so miniatures games and see when in their lifespan they switched over to plastic, you’ll get a good idea of the sort of volumes you need to be selling.
(Hey guys, Simon here. There is a lot of very bad information out there on the internet regarding the difference in production costs between the three main materials used in miniature gaming. If anyone would like to know more about this volatile subject, drop me a note in the comments.)
Once you have your master sculpt, either produced by hand or as a 3D print, it’s time to send it to the caster for mass production. But wait! First you need to make sure you’ve checked all the pieces very carefully. If any of the keys are off or some details are missing or incorrect, now is the time to spot it and rectify it.
Anything that looks a little flimsy and prone to breaking will likely do just that and it can be an expensive lesson to learn if you didn’t check the initial master and you end up with 3,000 models whose arms don’t attach properly. Take your time, bulk out any pieces you think could cause you problems, and get your caster to run a final check on them before you commit to a production run.
A Final Point
One final point about casting that is especially important for Kickstarter fulfilment is to check what sort of volume your caster can produce, and what their schedule is like. If your plan is based around 5,000 miniatures and your caster can only produce 200 a week, that’s six months of production time just to get everything made – and that’s after you’ve designed and sculpted everything.
Most Kickstarters are late – as consumers we expect that, and are happy as long as the company is in regular communication with us – but you can mitigate those delays by arming yourself with knowledge in advance. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and listen to your production partners. They’ve likely been doing this for far longer than you, and whatever advice they give you is worth its weight in gold.
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"It goes without saying that there are pros and cons for each material, but the ultimate decision for a new start-up will likely come down to cost..."
"...we have Simon, myself, an artist, sculptor and 3D printer spanning five different locations across three continents. The level of collaboration and iterative working towards a product would be near-impossible if we had to keep posting art and photos of a physical sculpt around the world for every model"