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Steam’s New 3D Printable Controller and the Video Game Industry’s Fear of 3D Printing

Exactly two years ago, on March 27 2014, in what seems like ancient history in 3D printing evolution time, I wrote an article about videogame industry leader Valve’s desire to release a customizable Steam’s new 3D printable controller for its online gaming platform. Exactly two years later Valve has done just that but the “weird” approach that videogame companies and videogame media take toward 3D printing – in that they seem to want to ignore it as much as possible – has not changed a bit.

During the past forty-some years video games yielded gigantic 3D virtual worlds, entire universes if you will. Video gaming and the concept of “gamification” (i.e. making everything more playful to do, especially in training and education) held great promise but in some ways they have failed to deliver a real change.

VR systems are coming, what about mixed reality?
VR systems are coming, what about mixed reality?

Now video games – as much as some can truly be considered works of art just like great movies and great books – have somewhat “stalled”. The latest consoles were commercial successes but did not really introduce anything new other than better looking games. VR Tools such as Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and event the Steam Powered HTC Vive may bring about a real revolution here directly tied to 3D. This, along with even more innovative approaches such as Microsoft Hololens, in a way, shows that video games may one day live through a new age of renovation by entering the physical reality realm.

However the initiative combining video games with 3D printing have been scattered at best. Company’s such as Fabzat have channeled this into offering the possibility of 3D printing in-game characters and communities were spawned by 3D printing of Minecraft virtual items. However the big game publishers, so far, have shown no direct interest for this technology. A new game concept, called XMODULE may change that soon, but it will be up to the larger companies to make the transition and if there is one company that has never been afraid to make big, even disruptive steps to explore new businesses and business models this is Valve.

You can modify the battery and USB as well on the new controller
You can modify the battery and USB as well on the new controller

The 3D printable, customizable open source controller’s side began two years ago today, when Valve spoke about the benefits of 3D printing during the Games Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. At GDC 2014, Valve showed a 3D printed version of its controller (which was being referred to as “Dog”), in which the company “dropped” the touchscreen of the original design and added touch sensitive buttons instead. Development of a gaming controller is absolutely critical: it is not sufficient that the controller is functional as gamers will quickly drop it if they cannot get an immediate feel for it.

Now that project has culminated into the controller’s CAD files being finally released through the Steam Community portal along with the following statement:

“We are releasing the mechanical CAD geometry for the Steam Controller and are eager to see the accessories and variations that come from your creativity. We are making available, under Creative Commons licensing, the geometry of all externally visible parts. This allows you to create and share to your heart’s content, but you’ll need to get in touch with Valve if you want to sell your creations.”

The archive contains several eDrawings viewer files: from Creo Express and native Modeling, to neutral exchange and 3D print files – for compatibility with a wide variety of your design tools. To kick off the sharing of alternate designs, Valve is also releasing a couple variants of the Battery Door, that allow you to carry your USB wireless receiver with you. The community website makes a direct reference to home 3D printing suggesting “You may need to revise the geometry for your particular printer”

These are the download links to get started:

ZIP archive[cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com]

ZIP archive with STL of separate parts[cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com]

While Valve seems familiar enough with consumer 3D printing to encourage its use, what is most surprising, is how some of a top videogame media portal such as Polygon makes no reference whatsoever to 3D printing when reporting the news, almost as if they were afraid to mention the term. Sure they point out to customization, modding and CAD files, but the idea of 3D printing seems to be off-limits. Yet, the fact that you could 3D print yourself a new Steam controller at home should be the main issue here.

This is also a reflection of how slowly video game companies, which were at the forefront of software development, are embracing 3D printing technologies. For many software developers who, in a way, “have been living in a virtual reality”, it may be difficult to “return” to the material world. Videogame professionals and videogame media seems to consider 3D printing a dangerous competitor for today’s number one, most valuable and most limited resource: people’s time.

For 3D printing start-ups this is probably a good thing as Valve’s Steam is currently the biggest computer software marketplace in the world and it really would not take them much to start selling digital models, once they start seeing it as a compatible and viable business. If you are interested in working with them, contact them at SteamHardwareFeedback@valvesoftware.com

valve

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