The 3D ‘Content Problem’

by Fred Abler

A problem with most CAD software companies is they are not abundant thinkers. They operate in a paradigm of scarcity. The market is a zero-sum game. There are ‘winners and losers’, and so content creators and other third-party developers are guarded jealously.

This mindset becomes a real problem when the industry needs ‘consumables’ that are greater than any one software company can deliver. For example – 3D model stock. Everyone wants professionally made high quality 3D content their software (and only their software).

Yet it remains unlikely that any one company can provide the entire AEC industry what it needs modelwise. Thus, you would think these companies would at least give their own 3D content creators the tools needed to prosper. But actually…not!

Jealous CAD/GIS software companies never want to invest is DRM (Digital Rights Management) or DEP (Data Execution Prevention) for content. Why generate tools that help professionals earn a living making quality 3D content?

Quality 3D content for (our software) should be available free.. Right?!  It doesn’t cost anything!  We swaggle ambitious third-party developers into making it for us for free!!  In short, CAD companies still mistakenly believe content doesn’t really matter.

Sure! Just ask Apple how that mindset is working for their new maps! Map content can’t be that hard! Never mind Google has upwards of 7000 paid professionals making 2D digital maps (and thousands of unpaid SketchUp users making 3D content).

The result of these complex conceits is a forced-compromise generally referred to in the 3D software industry as ‘The Content Problem’.  It’s a wicked problem, and no one except FormFonts, seems particularly interested in solving it.

But it’s no longer a peripheral problem. Once again, Content is King! As we painfully witnessed with the Apple maps fiasco, high-quality content has become (at least) a key product differentiator, and (increasingly) – a sustainable competitive advantage.

Why?? Because people actually do things with your content. And both the quantity and quality of content.. determines how much user can do with your software.. every bit as much as the software itself.

To date, CAD companies have been unwilling to share content cross-platform, or even help ensure that content creators can get paid. So they take what they can get from their users for free. But this laissez-faire attitude may be due for a big change.


Not surprising, the 3D ‘content problem’ may already being solved in another domain. I’m talking of course about 3D Printing where…  3D content is the product!

Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures has recently been awarded a patent that covers digital encryption of “objects” that could bring copy protection to 3-D printing.

Fig 1 –  Patent Drawing from Intellectual Ventures recently awarded patent describing how to control digital rights for 3D printing.

 Legally accepted wisdom is you can’t copyright physical objects – because copyright applies only to creative works – not to ‘useful articles’. Thus the 3D Printing industry has its own version of the “3D Content Problem”.

The Intellectual Vultures Ventures patent could be a true game changer for the nascent 3D printing industry.

It’s true that people feel differently about paying for physical vs. virtual goods. But the 3D Printing industry has the advantage of learning from the CAD software industry, and frankly… 3D Printing is just too disruptive and economically important to screw this up!

Rather than more laissez-faire capitalism – the 3D Printing industry now has the rare opportunity to ensure 3D “content creators” get paid for their work. With encryption and processes for copy-protection, manufacturers can ‘bake in’ DRM before it’s too late.

Should 3D printer manufactures buy-in, the industry will definitely prosper. If they don’t (and they probably won’t) they’ll continue coasting on open-sourced, free, and pirated 3D content… For now.

But then, 3D Printing is in for ‘a lost decade’ where struggles to become more than a cute-factory for nerd-toys, instead of becoming The Material Web 1.0 . This lost decade will be similar to the one the CAD market is currently experiencing, yet it could all be preventable.

In Short:  Nathan Myhrvold may actually be doing the nascent 3D Printing industry a world of good. Without DRM, high quality 3D physibles will not be made and given away in any real quantity. At least until one platform like iTunes emerges to rule them all, and creators can get paid using different trust mechanisms.

Thanks for reading and subscribing to the world’s largest professional 3D model library – FormFonts 3D models.

Read More:

  1. It will be Awesome if they Don’t Screw it Up: 3D Printing  –
  2. Nathan Myhrvold’s cunning plan to prevent 3d printer piracy –
  3. The Material Web 1.0 and Creative Capitalism – formfonts

About Formfonts 3D Models

Established in 2002, FormFonts 3D Models has served over 11,000 subscribers. FormFonts 3D Models offers over 50,000 of well-made and with the right-amount-of-polygons models and textures on a subscription basis. Throughout each month we upload new models for download. If you don’t see what you need, request it to be made. We offer models in the following formats: Google SketchUp ® | Autodesk®3ds Max®, Autocad®, Revit® & FBX
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