Magic Leap is taking some cues from one of the latest trends in virtual reality: The maker of the Magic Leap One headset is looking to use location-based entertainment to get consumers familiar with its technology, and ultimately prepare them to buy its headsets once a mass-market version is available to the general public.
"We think that market, those location-based experiences, is huge," said Magic Leap chief content officer Rio Caraeff in an interview with Variety on the sidelines of the company's first L.E.A.P. developer conference in Los Angeles this week.
The company used L.E.A.P. to demonstrate a first example of location-based entertainment powered by its Magic Leap One headset. Santa Fe, N.M.-based arts collective Meow Wolf showed off its Navigator, a giant robot vehicle that attendees could interact with via a combination of touch screen displays and superimposed AR imagery of distant galaxies.
A promotional video for Meow Wolf's Navigator, which the arts collective built in partnership with Magnopus.
The seven-minute demo of the Navigator was just a first taste for Meow Wolf's plans to incorporate AR into future attractions. In the company's upcoming Denver outpost, attendees will be able to freely roam the space wearing Magic Leap's headsets, and interact with multiple art pieces, including the Navigator showed off this week. The arts group, whose funders include "Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin, currently plans to open this AR-powered exhibition by 2020.
But while the Navigator came together in a matter of weeks, Magic Leap has been toying with the idea of location-based AR for much longer. In 2016, the company cooperated with Lucasfilm's ILMxLAB on an internal project known as the Hoth experiment. This involved turning a warehouse next to Magic Leap's corporate office into a replica of the ice planet Hoth, complete with AT-AT walkers breaking through the ceiling and life-sized Snowspeeders whizzing through the air.
"We did it with controlling the light, controlling the wind, controlling the sound, controlling the temperature, and it made it feel more real," said Caraeff. "Because of the sense of scale, it was not something you could ever do in your living room. It was something that was much larger than you, and kind of epic in its volumetric scale."
The Hoff experiment has been part of ILMxLAB's four-year partnership with Magic Leap, which ultimately resulted in the announcement of "Star Wars: Project Porg" this week . While that experience is much smaller in scale, and designed for in-home use, Magic Leap hasn't given up on large-scale experiences either.
"We think that's gonna be how a lot of people try the stuff for the first time," said Caraeff, adding that the company is actively working with partners on other location-based AR experiences. Ultimately, this could lead to consumers familiarizing themselves with Magic Leap, which could eventually result in purchase decisions, he argued.
That idea is not new. Prompted by disappointing headset sales, VR companies have been increasingly focused on location-based entertainment as a gateway to mass-market adoption. This includes Facebook's Oculus subsidiary, which has quietly been working on building a portfolio of location-based VR experiences to popularize its own VR headsets.
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