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December 6, 2007 12:00 AM

FigurePrints gets Ed Fries back in the game

Posted by Brier Dudley

A lot of people in the local game industry will be watching FigurePrints, a Kirkland startup launching on Tuesday.

FigurePrints will use advanced 3-D plastic printing technologies to produce custom game figurines. It's starting with a service "printing" the characters people have created in "World of Warcraft," a hugely popular online, multiplayer fantasy game with more than 9 million subscribed players.

"Warcraft" must be just the start. Customizable characters and avatars are now standard features of online games, although I wonder how many have fans avid enough to pay $99 for a figurine.

But the reason the startup will get attention around here is because it's being started by Ed Fries, the former head of Microsoft Game Studios. Fries worked his way up from intern to vice president and played a big role in the Xbox business before leaving Microsoft in 2004. Recently he's kept a low profile as a consultant.

Fries isn't talking about the company yet and I feel a little bad jumping ahead of his formal announcement Tuesday, but details came out this week when Dell announced a new "World of Warcraft"-themed laptop. Among the extras included with the system is a gold ticket redeemable for a FigurePrint.

Dell provided an early system to "Warcraft" podcaster Randy Jordan, who released a video Tuesday where the FigurePrint bonus offer is explained. The figurine looks to be about 4 inches high and comes in a glass dome.

According to the podcast, FigurePrint connects to the "Warcraft" servers to obtain an exact, scale model of the characters when people place an order. Then it takes about 90 days for the figure to be completed and shipped.

Details are also available from FigurePrint's Web site, and the company is registered in Fries' name with a Kirkland address.

Maybe bundling with hardware companies is the way to go, or at least get the ball rolling. Could Fries also be working with his pals at Microsoft on, say, "Halo 3" FigurePrints that would come with special edition consoles?

Here's the Jordan video:

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.