We at Hill Dickinson are not just interested in today's problems or complexities, we are also pushing to understand the next wave of development and how that may interact with users and stakeholders. Hill Dickinson partner Mark Weston has a wealth of experience in digital productions and gaming and lists RTL Media, the BBC and Elstree Film Studios among his clients.

In this article, Mark covers an interesting topic of a clash of realities: real, virtual and augmented - and how the circle can complete through transmedia gaming.

Transmedia: gaming the system

Many people think law is boring. Very few people think the latest computer games are boring. But the two do interface! Probably one of the most progressive areas at the forefront of gaming technology at the moment is transmedia-integrated televisual, real-world, augmented and virtual reality gaming - all with a unified concept through multiple media platforms. This is known as transmedia gaming - and it's already BIG business which is going to get bigger.

Experiencing the levels

For those not familiar with the concept, transmedia gaming is made up of several levels. In this example I will suggest a spy series as a typical example. Here's how it works:

  1. At the most basic level there is the filming of a television series (such as a spy series) with the various episodes having different possible endings - only one of which is actually screened.
  2. That first level then interfaces with a further level 'up' - an online massive multiplayer game with a mass of online subscriber players - where what happens in the game influences what happens in the television episodes and the various endings and plotlines.
  3. That second level then interfaces with the next level 'up' where players can be part of one or more 'teams' carrying out gaming activities (such as spy missions against each other) in the online world.
  4. That third level then interfaces with a further level 'up', which is 'missions' out in the real world where augmented-reality software allows the photo-realistic depiction of game elements onto real-world locations (such as picking up a spy gadget from a briefcase under a particular bench in Hyde Park; the gadget and the briefcase are not really there but your tablet or phone shows them to you when you hold up the camera app over the relevant place and your GPS beacon and the software registers when you 'get' the gadget).
  5. What you do in the real world then changes what happens to your team online, which then changes what happens in the online game, which then changes what happens on the television series.

When you put the different levels together, that is what is known as transmedia gaming. Tech lawyers love it, from the gaming perspective - and from the legal perspective.

How is it developed?

To achieve this structure, there are a huge number of inter-connecting agreements required; from software development agreements to filming agreements to talent agreements to agreements related to filming and media to subscription agreements to terms and conditions of play. And there's more. For those companies savvy enough to monetise the concept properly, there are sponsorship agreements and deals (where a particular restaurant may want augmented reality to paint it (ie be viewed through the augmented reality software as a 1950s spy hang-out or the restaurant at the top of the Shard could literally be seen and depicted in the real-world as an inn at the top of a castle). There are possible gambling and gaming applications to be made and regulatory advice given. There are data issues - because the development companies learn a lot about their players and viewers. There are myriad monetisation streams and with all these streams comes big investment and big developments.

What are the potential areas of worry in the game?

As in any business, making money carries risk - and there are potential liability issues.

For example, a significant area of concern when you link reality and virtual - and augmented - reality is what if a player takes their 'real world spy mission' to assassinate the head of the United Nations too literally? How can liability be managed and how can risk be quantified?

Other areas of concern may be the trespass by gamers on real-world locations, trying to explore the game further. What happens if gamers want to rush the castle at the Shard, but it is not open for business or they refuse to permit entry on that day?

Happily, we have plenty of experience of all of these matters. The depth of the legal issues that arise seem only to be limited by the imaginations of the very clever creative talents who develop and create these games and television series. Gaming lawyers like to say that it's way more exciting than international capital markets!

In a world where people are increasingly locked down and living virtually, the technology and gaming worlds have never been more attractive as an escape mechanism. Since money underpins it all and making money is underpinned by the law, it turns out that law can be interesting after all. Who knew?

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.