Norad Tracks Santa

Licensing Your 3D Models for Games & Real Time Playback

Meshbox Design licenses 3d models and content for 3d art and 3d animation, but also for games and real time playback. How does that work? We’ll share our experiences.

Content licensing has changed a lot since the earliest members of the Meshbox Design team created its first 3d models. One of our first and continuing successes is Toon Santa, the original 3D Santa Claus for Poser 3D and DAZ Studio.¬† Toon Santa first appeared in 2002 as a very primitively rigged, single¬† body character. Building content for Poser back then (Poser was sold through Curious Labs, and a year later would introduce the Pro Pack), you didn’t think about other types of licensing than rendering to 2D images or animation. Starting in 2006, we released a much more advanced version of Toon Santa, plus licensed him under a special license to the NORAD Tracks Santa program.

Our first 3d content other than Toon Santa targeted three markets, based on native file format: 3D Studio MAX, e-on software’s Vue, and Poser. The 3DSMAX market, unlike Poser or Vue, was almost entirely about 3D games, and the difference there is in deployment of content.

Fully rendered games like the now ancient Myst weren’t a problem, unless you wanted to stipulate how customers actually used the renders they make. There are times when you will want to limit some forms of rendered deployment (we’ll save that topic to a later post), but for the most part, it is respectful to the business practices of your customers to not interfere with the original works they create.

Licensing Differences Matter

Here, Ill differentiate between two types of licensing – art licensing and game licensing.

The real issue is that real time playback environments need to load geometry and material information at run time. Yes, it means some form of your original 3d content is bundled up with your customer’s intellectual property and out of your and their control. For that reason, we introduced our PRO or real time playback license, which includes deployment rights under additional requirements:

  • Export geometry and textures is forbidden and limited by some sort of technology (encryption, transformation to a secure system, etc) and license
  • There is no grant to sub-license the new content rights (meaning, a game company cannot license the content and then license it to hundreds of other companies)

In a nutshell, you need to give your customers what they need, while at the same time, guard yourself against potential loss of revenue as a result of granting those rights.

Costing the Model

Real time playback licensing is different from art licensing. It includes more rights, which along with that, means your customers expectations of you are greater. Just as they assume you own all the original rights for art licensing, they have the same expectation for game licensing – except the risks are higher for them. If something goes wrong that invalidates the license, a game license means they could, in a worst case scenario, have to recall products they’ve sold to end users. Your customers are risking their businesses on your licensing model.

With greater risk and expectation of support (and model use rights), you are entirely within industry expectations to charge more for a game license. We use a simple metric:

  • Art license of a single model: Base Price
  • Art license for a -ART collection (one model, several formats): Base Price x 3
  • Pro license (games, real time playback) Base Price x 5

Real time playback covers VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) implementations nicely as they function almost exactly the same as a game engine.

You may be in the position, as a creator, where you have to accept a license provided by a brokerage. You have to decide for yourself if those licenses are providing you with adequate protection and if the brokerage is providing you adequate value and protection from abuse.

I will come back to this topic again, some of the caveats and also, what our next license will look like.

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