Shapeways is a 3D printing service that enables people to upload their designs for jewelry, toys, or whatever, and have them made into real, physical products. It also provides an avenue to sell the stuff: This lovely Amulet of Mara, for instance, goes for $28 (or higher, depending on material) plus shipping. All of which is relevant to our interests because today the company announced a deal with Valve that will allow people to upload, print, and even sell objects based on its games without having to worry about receiving a nasty letter from the legal department.
"Starting today, you can take advantage of a new Valve licensing agreement on Shapeways. This will not only allow you to create merch around any of Valve’s games and game assets, but also mods and accessories for hardware like the Steam Controller and Steam Link," Shapeways explained. "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."
The process for setting it up is by all appearances very simple: Set up your shop, upload your model, adjust pricing, tags, and other elements accordingly, and accept the license, which grants Valve a ten percent cut of your sales. The full process is a bit more detailed that that, naturally (assuming you want a shop that people can actually find and buy things from, anyway), but by and large, that's it.
"Once you opt in, you’re good to go. No other approvals needed. No takedowns, no missed revenue," Shapeways wrote. "We’ll automatically deduct a 10 percent royalty from sales of merchandise connected to the game franchises and send them to Valve. No royalties are deducted on accessories developed for Steam hardware. And that’s it!"
"Never before has it been so easy for designers and fans to make physical objects based on their favorite games," Shapeways internet CEO Tom Finn said in a statement. "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."
That, in a nutshell, explains why Valve would want to get involved in this kind of arrangement. The advent of 3D printing means it's super-easy (and getting easier) to make these sorts of things, and anything that one person can make, other people will want to buy. It's going to be out there anyway, and a ten percent cut keeps Valve's finger in the pie without too much risk of scaring off creators. Better to give up a small percentage of your profit, after all, that risk a cease-and-desist smackdown, or worse.
And people are already taking advantage: These wonderfully clever Portal earrings, available in blue, orange, or polished silver for more formal outings, are among the first to take advantage of the new license, but I expect we'll see a lot more to come very quickly.