Last year I discovered an intriguing kickstarter campaign. The concept was simple. Backers would send in pictures of themselves. The company would scan the images and 3d print the resulting composite features onto one of their custom models. My wife and I collect minis, play lots of miniature games, and play RPGs that use character figures. The idea of playing games with truly personal avatars was an instant hit. We pledged $200 for 10 30mm figures. This was a significant commitment; but one that seemed in line with the product’s boutique niche.
I did some research and found that this was the project creator’s second attempt funding this concept. He had a mixed record in the gaming community—several over hyped ideas that were not as big as the marketing suggested, but in general he seemed on the up-and-up. The project generated a lot of noise between con appearances, fan referrals, and an aggressive marketing campaign by industry figures. Between that public presence and Rich’s prompt responses to our questions, I figured that the campaign had to be a genuine offering. MM closed October first, 2013 with 482 backers pledging $31,408 of the $5,000 goal. The tentative completion date was pegged for December—just in time for the holidays.
Months passed. We received updates regarding the production process, the challenge of scanning 400+ orders, and general delays. Needless to say, the Christmas deadline most backers had hoped for wasn’t met. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Project creators often underestimate the amount of effort required to bring their ideas to fruition. This is particularly true for over-funded campaigns like MM. Backers didn’t have a lot of information at this point, but the communication frequency and content left us pretty sure that something was going on even if the train was behind schedule.
Then January turned into February which turned into March. Inconsistencies began to crop up in the increasingly scarce updates. Mimic Miniatures had the means to scan and upload our images but didn’t even have a cell phone camera to take pictures of the first run. MM declined to address several pointed backer comments and requests for clarification. Boardgame Geek, one of the premiere gaming forums, hosted dueling negative reviews while Rich claimed that MM was simply experiencing technical problems and would honor all pledges. My wife and I were told on three occasions that our minis were in the next run, would go out as soon as he got a new printer, and would be mailed in the next week or two.
Finally, models began to ship. We received our miniatures in June—six months after the expected completion date, but within tolerable kickstarter limits as such things go. The figures were supported on three sides by resin filaments which connected to smooth segments of the production material. I assume this was an artifact of the 3d printing process. In affect each figure came in its own personalized phone booth.
• The figures lacking helmets and hats clearly showed my jaw line and hair.
• The models were generally what we had ordered.
• Several of the models were sculpted in such a way as to leave no visible facial detail. There was no way to tell that the model represented a specific person.
• Eight of our ten models bore no specific resemblance to their subjects. This was in part due to the fact that MM used stock hair styles in the fulfillment process. It wasn’t that the models were bad per say; it was more that between an indeterminate hair style and lack of distinctive features the models had nothing to distinguish themselves.
• The sculpts lacked fine detail. Eye shape, small carried items, and mouths were either cursorily sculpted or not present at all.
• The figures were printed using a very brittle resin. Limbs and hand held items were exceedingly easy to break off through casual handling.
I give the project a C- over all. The communication was atrocious—no question. However, I got what I ordered. Customer service and delays aside, the transaction completed.
On the one hand, at 30mm scale, there’s only so much detail a model can hold. Picking an affordable printer, finding a printing medium that will stand up to table play while holding detail, and building a computer model to process the orders isn’t easy. Building a production cycle for thousands of individually customized figures is a labor worthy of Hercules. This project was a test run of a new business model. The campaign ended with a ruff manufacturing process in place. There were some major failures, but that’s what a test run is for.
On the other hand, there were three areas where MM could have done better without sticking it to backers. First, the wrong expectation was set from the beginning. Backers never got to see the unfinished product. The only images available to the public were professionally painted models. Had there been pictures of the newly printed sculpts, I feel backers would have been happier with their minis despite the excessive flash involved. Painted models do not give an accurate impression of material, sculpting, and printing quality. Rather, they unreasonably inflate the public’s expectations. A time lapse video showing a figure from image, to printing, to assembly, to painting, and finally to arrival on a gaming table would have acted as a marketing tool while giving backers clear and accurate expectations.
Second, the stated intent of this campaign was to put recognizable likenesses on miniatures. The expectation was that the associated sculpts were designed with that in mind. Several of the sculpts, the noble in my case, were built in such a way as to completely obscure facial detail. This is a fundamental design failure. All sculpts should have been designed to provide clear facial visibility even if the model was wearing a hat, helmet, hood…etc. Even excepting poor model design, 80% of our models could only vaguely be identified as their intended subject. I can’t count that as a win.
Third, the communication for this project was at best unintentionally misleading. At worst backers were shamelessly deceived on a regular basis. Deadlines and promises were broken without apology or follow up. Several claims were trotted out which were impossible to take seriously. Simple reasonable concerns were left unaddressed. What was said in public often didn’t hold water in private. Nobody likes to hear that their order has been delayed months past the advertized delivery date. However, people can be tolerant, provided they are treated with respect and deference. That didn’t happen and my impression of Rich suffered accordingly.
In conclusion, despite numerous communication issues, I received my backer rewards. The quality wasn’t up to the advertized standard—though given the nature of kickstarter I can forgive most of that. I am satisfied. That said, I am unlikely to do business with Rich Nelson or any of his associated ventures in the future.