As usual, I've managed to find something bizarre that I just can't pass over. Nowadays, clickbait titles are everywhere, but sometimes it's the innocuous ones that hide the real gems. When I saw “AR Game Restrictions Ruled Unconstitutional by District Judge,” my interest was piqued. I certainly didn't expect to find what I did inside. It would appear a Wisconsin county judge will possibly be deciding the fate of augmented reality in America in the future.
How did this happen? It's an interesting story to say the least. As it turns out, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin had enacted a law that affected augmented reality game developers. The ordinance required said developers to acquire permits if they encouraged play in county parks as part of their app. If you're thinking this sounds like a stupid rule, let me say right off the bat that I agree with you. But let's first get through the rest of this crazy story. There's an app called Texas Rope 'Em, which is an augmented reality game created by a California development studio called Candy Lab. The game basically has you visiting different real life locations to collect cards that you then use as a Texas Hold 'Em hand. Candy Lab decided to sue Milwaukee County after they enacted this silly law during Pokemon Go's height of popularity. Hip, hip, hooray for the little guy!
I don't know about you, but I've never heard of Texas Rope 'Em or Candy Lab before today. It takes some guts as a small developer to go into any kind of legal battle, because they're usually expensive and time-consuming. Larger companies are better suited to fighting these kinds of battles on behalf of the masses. It's impressive really that this small legal suit, which is a blip on most people's video game radar, if it registers at all, could decide the future of an entire technology. The Milwaukee County judge ruled the Wisconsin ordinance is unconstitutional and blocked the county from imposing it until after a trial. This won't take place until some time in April 2018, so there's plenty of time to discuss the subject until then!
Since we've outlined the bones of the story, let's get to the meat. Why in the world would a county be upset about people visiting their parks? Isn't that the entire point? Yes, yes it is. There's one small caveat though. Many county parks pay for the upkeep of said locations, in part through fees they charge people for holding parties or big events there. It seems silly, but it's something that is enforced in a lot of very large parks that have additional amenities. A great example of this also is parking options. There's one county park I have been to twice now because there is a Renaissance festival held on a large back portion of the property. The festival doesn't charge for parking, but the county park does. If you want to be within walking distance of the event, you have to suck it up and pay the $10 parking fee. But this money then goes back into the maintenance of the park.
If hundreds of people are visiting county parks that don't have some sort of way to get money from them, it makes sense that they might be a little perturbed. More people means more maintenance costs. At the least, you're going to have to either hire more landscapers and rangers or pay the ones you have to conduct more frequent rounds. Loads of people tend to generate loads of trash, which then needs to be picked up and/or carted away. Requiring game developers that bring many people into the parks to pay for special permits would give the counties at least some cash flow to maintain their locations.
While I understand where the county might have been coming from, my initial and overriding reaction is still disbelief and anger. Recently, I discovered a county park near my place of living that was practically palatial. It was a combined county park and campground, but even the public areas were massive. There were even exercise systems on the property that allowed you to use your own weight to work out. I'd never seen these before. Despite all the neat amenities this park had, it's in the middle of nowhere and completely empty. There were all of two RVs camping in the campground portion, and there was no one in the public areas. Say legendary Pokemon in Pokemon Go spawned here and suddenly people flooded the park. That be a good thing for the county involved! More people would become aware of what a fantastic place it is, and they could potentially generate income from campers that otherwise wouldn't have even known they existed.
Augmented reality games can benefit county parks not true the forced purchase of permits, but rather free marketing. Let's consider the Texas Rope 'Em game that is confronting the Wisconsin ordinance. Say their app brings people into their parks like crazy. Well, now those people have discovered parks outside their normal circle of living locations, and maybe they'll rent an area there for a birthday party or a wedding. Perhaps they'll even camp, if there's a campground attached to the park. Then those people will tell their friends and family how great this park is that they discovered, thanks to Texas Rope 'Em. More people will visit the park, and potentially more people will play the game. In the age of viral marketing, word of mouth has become incredibly underappreciated, but it still holds power.
Personally, I'm glad to hear that a judge ruled the law unconstitutional and that the county isn't being allowed to enforce it until after a trial. This is a really major thing that I doubt many know about. While it seems like a silly thing, and the outcome seems certain, it could still have a major effect on video game studios. Those that want to work on augmented reality projects really need to pay attention to this as it develops.
All said and done, today I learned that something Wisconsin decided on their own is being challenged by an unknown game developer in California, and its outcome could affect the country as a whole. How do you feel about both sides of the argument? I'd love to hear your thoughts.