A Hollywood Insider’s Perspective on Location-Based AR and Physical Injury

Yesterday at Vox: the 4D Summit, Dreamworks’ Director of Global Interactive, Chris Hewish, gave a wide-ranging keynote address on Hollywood’s use of augmented reality. One of the examples he cited was “The Witness,” a choose-your-own-adventure-type “movie” that required users to trek all over Berlin looking for markers that unlocked video content.  He showed the following trailer, which depicts players doing such apparently dangerous things as running up rickety, snow-covered stairs in abandoned parking garages and encountering angry guard dogs:

In this blog, I’ve previously discussed this trailer (which is likely to be a bit more dramatic than the players’ actual experiences) as an illustration for discussing the risk of participants in location-based AR games hurting themselves, and whether the content creators could end up facing liability for such injuries.

During Q&A, I asked Chris for his thoughts on that subject, and whether anyone an Hollywood was yet thinking about such issues.  He gave these thoughtful insights in response:

I think we’re still really early on, and what you’re seeing here are great examples of pioneers, who tend to be outside of the normal boundaries, willing to take risks and not as worried about the consequences.  Which is great, and that’s how you push the medium.

I think in order for big Hollywood companies to get onboard, they’re going to want to do something that has zero liability potential.  And that’s where I think you’ll see these sorts of things become prevalent in established location-based entertainment.  So, if you’re able to go to Disneyland and participate in the equivalent of The Witness in a safe, controlled environment, now you’re talking. Now you’ve avoided a lot of those risks.

There’s also the fact of a low barrier to entry.  People are already used to going to Disneyland, so you don’t have to convince them to go somewhere that’s strange or new.   You’re just bringing them to somewhere they’re familiar with and building on that experience.

That’s an entirely sensible answer.  Even if they’ve never had to worry about their viewers hurting themselves before, major content producers creating their own, self-administered immersive experiences are not likely to send users off to remote locations outside the company’s control–for a host of safety- and business-related reasons.  On the other end of the spectrum, start-up entertainment companies with shoestring budgets may not ever worry about (or even consider) the risk of getting sued if players looking for digital data physically hurt themselves in the process.

But I still have plenty of concern for those content creators who fall somewhere in between–those who have enough assets to create a very attractive location-based AR experience and to create a tempting litigation target for would-be plaintiffs.  Those are the entrepreneurs who should not be afraid to continue innovating, but who should get informed legal advice before encouraging their users to take any sort of risks in the real world.