Remember games with physical pieces? You can download those too.

(Or, ‘You sunk my Monopoly!’)

Hackerspaces/makerspaces tend to accumulate certain types of stuff. One major category, measured by both money and square footage, is rapid prototyping. In concrete terms, this means things like CNC mills and lathes, 3d printers, laser cutters, and such. While many of these are a bit expensive for everyone to own just yet, that’s why we exist.

There’s a lot written on the subject of rapid prototyping, but it’s relevant to everyday people because it means a change in the way we think about products. As do-it-yourself gets faster and easier, it starts to displace traditional manufacturing in ever more situations.

When I explain the CNC area to guests, I compare it to a mechanical typewriter and a word processor. With a traditional machine, once you’ve made your first part, making a second one is almost as time-consuming. It’s like typing a whole second copy of a document, versus just clicking “print” again. With the machines here, you can “print” physical objects (though the setup is sometimes a bit more complicated than loading paper). This also means that certain design features, like curves and generated shapes that might be hard to do by hand, are easy to include in your digital design.

But the other cool thing about digital designs is that, just like documents, you can share them! Email a copy to a friend around the world, or post them online for anyone to download. That’s what Thingiverse is about — some of the people behind the Makerbot project started a website just for sharing digital designs for rapid-prototypable objects.

So when I spent a few hours last Thursday designing a simple laser-cuttable Battleshots board, I didn’t want that work to be spent on making just the single game I needed. With a few clicks to export the files in a Thingiverse-approved format, and a few minutes to upload them and write the description, I created my first Thing. Now anyone can download it, visit their friendly local laser cutter, and make a copy! A custom-made drinking game, the product of personal production.