Film Theory: Is SAO the MOST EXPENSIVE GAME EVER? (Sword Art Online)
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Film Theory: Is SAO the MOST EXPENSIVE GAME EVER? (Sword Art Online)

October 10, 2019


It’s finally happening. Today, I get to enter a true virtual world for the very first time! Headset on! Link start! Greetings from virtual realit-t-t-t-t-t-t *cuts off* Well, that was unexpected. *Game Theory Intro* Hello, Internet! Welcome to Game Theory! Haha, sorry, ah uh… Film Theory! You’ll have to forgive me I got my wires crossed today because today’s theory is about a video game. Just not a real video game. Today we’re gonna be full diving into the world of “Sword Art Online”. One of the most popular and most controversial anime ever made. If you’re not familiar with SAO already the premise is pretty simple: In the year 2022, technology has advanced to the point that full sensory virtual reality is possible. Unlike the Oculus Rift or HTC VIVE, Sword Art Online’s NerveGear headset essentially projects its virtual world into user’s dreams. Allowing for full immersion without the need for a big play space. MatPat: “Oh, ah, ffff Thanks, everyone *Steph lolz in the background* Thank you for warning me about that one.” Steph: “Who knew you were gonna jump?” MatPat: “Thanks, everyone outside of here for taking care of the guy, who’s in virtual reality!” 10,000 players immediately sign up and strap into the NerveGear to become a part of the world’s first virtual MMORPG Sword Art Online. Unfortunately, there’s a teeny-tiny downside to this incredible technology. You see, it uses microwaves to interact directly with the human mind, and yeah I do mean microwaves. Exactly like the ones that you used last night to reheat that leftover salisbury steak. The companies selling these things say they aren’t powerful enough to actually do any damage, but as we all know, game developers have a habit of telling little white lies about their games to sell more copies In this case the little white lie is that NerveGear’s creator, Kayaba Akihiko has programmed the microwaves to fry the brain of any player who dies in the game. Kayaba: “The NerveGear will simultaneously destroy your brain…” as well as any player whose family tries to remove their helmet in the real world. So yeah, definitely understand why they wanted to leave that gameplay feature off the box art. Anyway, throwing some tentacles and incest and you’ve got yourself one of the most famous and infamous animes of all time. Now, we’ve just entered 2018, meaning that the launch of SAO in 2022 is only four years away. In other words, if I have any hopes of becoming an in-game sword master with a fidget spinner on my outfit, as if I need to give people more reason to hate this show, development needs to start now! And companies need to know how much would all of this cost to make. Creating fully immersive VRWorlds is already happening so by looking at current technology and trends in game development we can reach a fairly close approximation of what it would take to throw a game like SAO together And let me tell ya’, building the world’s first ever virtual reality massively multiplayer online game ain’t gonna be cheap. So with that I’ve got one thing to say to you: Diavel: Let’s win! We can actually knock one of the hardest numbers out of the way immediately the research and development cost of the NerveGear. In volume 10 chapter 2 of the light novels the anime is based on it’s shown that Kayaba Akihiko, the genius creator of Sao and the nervegear, was paid a hundred million yen in 2013, which translates to a little over 1 million U.S. dollars at the time. Canonically, the development of both the game and the headset took 10 years so with some simple math, we can see that the base cost of the game is at least 10 million dollars. For this one guy alone! And sure, that might seem like an egregious amount of money to pay one guy But remember, Akihiko’s job, aside from overseeing development, was to create the cutting edge nerve gear hardware to run the game and the complex AI programs that drive it. Some of which, like lovable sacrificial cinnamon-roll Yui, are close to being fully sentient. So, while his salary is indeed expensive as all get-out he definitely earns it based off of his innovative technology. Now obviously you can’t make a game this complex with just one person, it takes a whole team of developers Unfortunately, neither the books nor the anime provide any hard numbers on the size of SAO development staff So even knowing the average salary of a game developer we can’t really determine anything conclusive based on that. Instead, we’re gonna need to work backwards by looking at the world of SAO itself and figuring out what it would cost to build something of its scale based on the production costs of other games. Now as an MMORPG Sorry, this is Film Theory, I can take for granted that you know what that means. MMORPG is short for massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Basically that amounts to a living breathing online world with tens of thousands of players each taking on a different character. And as an online game, it’s gonna have a lot of unavoidable upfront costs before any content can even be made for it Writing network code, running servers, programming the games engine and AI behaviors all cost money. Now most game studios are pretty tight-lipped about their budget breakdowns, but fortunately for us those costs don’t tend to fluctuate very much between titles and are thus fairly easy to predict by comparing the reported budgets of other MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, Destiny and Star Wars The Old Republic to single-player sandbox games of similar scale that were released at the same time we can ballpark those MMO specific costs to somewhere between 10 and 30 million dollars. Now it may seem like a 20 million dollar margin of error is huge but trust me when I say it’s just a drop in the bucket next to the game’s biggest boss – art assets. The 3D models and textures for every object and character all need to be designed, animated and given sound effects. Plus, they need to be placed in the world by level designers and these are the costs that increase the most dramatically the larger and more varied the game worlds are. Which means that before we can calculate out how much that all cost we need to know exactly how big the world of SAO is. Luckily, we’re given some hard numbers to work with: Kayaba: “Right now you’re gathered on floor 1, the lowest level of Aincrad. If you can get through the dungeon and defeat the boss You may advance to the next floor. Defeat the boss on floor 100 and you will clear the game.” The prologue of the first book reads: “An impossibly huge castle of rock and i-” Hey! Hey! Hey! What are you looking at? The important information is over here! We’re doing the math now and nothing, not even that loli on the other page is sexier than math, okay? Eyes on the prize guys. Math… “An impossibly huge castle of rock and iron, floating in an endless expanse of sky. That is the entirety of this world. A tireless month-long survey by a team of fanatical experts found that the base floor of this fortress was about ten kilometers in diameter… …and considering the 100 floors stacked one on top of the other the sheer vastness of the structure beggared the imagination. It was impossible to estimate the total amount of data it all represented.” Impossible you say? Sounds like a challenge! So as it just said the bottom floor of Aincrad is ten kilometers across and since each floor of the castle is a perfect circle that means its area is Pi*r squared or 78.54 square kilometers which is a few shy of the size of Grand Theft Auto V’s map. But that’s only one floor Aincrad is a hundred floors tall, so does that mean you can cram 100 GTA Vs into SAO? Not quite. Early on in the anime we’re shown a side-on view of the castle and as you can see the floors gradually taper off to a point at the top. For the first 40 or so floors that diameter stays pretty consistent. Tapering off to 8.5 km at this part that’s jutting out. It’s not a smooth curve, so it’s a little hard to measure precisely but for simplicity’s sake let’s just say that these first 40 floors averaged out to be about 9 km. across or 63 sq. km. each about the same size as the world of the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild meaning that the total area of these floors combined is a whopping 2520 sq km which is more than twice the size of Los Angeles After this first chunk the castle fins out substantially so the next 28th floor is only average about 6.5 km in diameter meaning that each floor is only 33 sq km in area. A little smaller than the size of Skyrim. Adding all those together, this block’s total size is 924 sq km. The 27 floors after that get even smaller. Tapering off to just 3 km across the top with an average diameter of just over 4 km an area of just under 13 sq km or one and a half times the size of Fallout 4’s world And a total area of 344 square kilometers Finally, the last five floors of the tower are much more elevated to define so we can get an exact measurement for all of those areas which adds up to 9.2 square kilometers in total. Which means that all together the total land mass present in the game of SAO is an absolutely ridiculous 3797 square kilometers. That is bigger than some countries 28 countries to be exact. It would be the 11th largest city in the world but surprisingly that wouldn’t make it the largest video game world ever created It would actually make it the fourth largest video game world ever created, right behind Fuel, Daggerfall and No Man’s Sky. All three of which are procedurally generated, which for all you non Game Theory viewers means that instead of building the game worlds by hand the developers wrote code to create them automatically based on preset conditions Which is a great time-saving tool, but can result in game worlds that feel very repetitive or otherwise don’t make whole lot of sense. And this is what’s so impressive about SAO the game it isn’t procedurally generated. The SAO Cardinal system AI does indeed generate some content But it’s only responsible for creating quests and adjusting the game’s balance It doesn’t create environment. Each of those hundred floors are entirely man-made. Everything in the dungeons and the town’s is placed by hand and according to the SAO wiki every one of the hundred floors is unique Which means that the developers couldn’t even reuse most of the assets They created between floors. Each new level of Aincrad has unique NPC models, unique Geography that ranges from snowy mountains to barren canyons to fields of flowers not to mention forests of the coniferous deciduous and even spooky haunted varieties even Architecture isn’t the same across these hundred levels every town we see in the anime seems to be based on an entirely different culture Meaning that not even buildings could be reused between the floors in other words unlike many other games which save time and money by copy pasting assets each floor of Sao essentially requires a full games worth of its own 3d Assets so the cost of building Sao Directly scales with the size of its world and knowing all of this what we need to do to figure out its cost is find A similar game to compare it to from the light novels we see that the game’s engine is heavy on simulation using server-side calculations to dynamically generate realistic physics when players interact with things like cloth and water So we’re looking for a game with a large open world high fidelity graphics and realistic Animations as well as physics models for things like water and weather effects as well as cloth and hair on characters and for the closest Comparison possible we want a fantasy game with a lot of wilderness and a few densely populated towns where you can enter Every single building lastly we want a game That’s fairly recent since most of se owes 10-year development cycle would be working with current technology considering all those different factors I think the best possible candidate here is Witcher 3 the wild hunt not only does it fit all of our criteria It’s also conveniently a rare example of a game where the developers have made their budget publicly available So we know that the game’s world is 136 square kilometers and that it costs 46 million dollars to make obviously a big chunk of that budget went towards things other than environmental assets and character models So let’s make a conservative estimate and assume that one-third of the witcher’s budget pool 15 million dollars was dedicated to rendering its world and its characters. The world of Sao is 28 times the size of Witcher 3 and we’ll add in one more Witcher to account for the massive hundred metre tall dungeons that connect every single floor of Sao. So in total, let’s say that’s 29 witcher’s times 15 million dollars, which gives us a stupefying amount of 435 million dollars on art alone plus the 20 to 40 million dollars to develop the game that we talked about earlier that brings us to an astounding 475 million dollars easily making Sao the most expensive game ever made at over double the reported two hundred million dollar budget of Star Wars The Old Republic. And remember this is a very conservative estimate. The Witcher was developed in Warsaw, Poland Which has a much lower cost of living than say urban Tokyo where sword art was developed and thus lower average Wages so in all likelihood the games world lost several times that much to create if we base our calculations off of Grand Theft Auto 5 whose development centers are in much more urban locations the budget of SAO skyrockets to one billion, seven hundred million dollars to create. $1.7 billion dollars! That’s enough to cover the development and the marketing costs for the next 10 most expensive games ever made combined! And we are STILL not done! Because SAO isn’t just a VR MMO It also gives its players sensory experiences for everything that they do in the game. That means the development team also needs to assign appropriate smells tastes and touch sensations related to everything in the game world In theory the nervegear Hardware could be used to record this data by reading signals from the brain as a person experiences those sensations But you still need people to actually record those brain reactions in the first place spending hours Just touching and smelling fur, wet grass, metal and literally anything else that might be in the game eating all kinds of food even having sex, which as we learned in the infamously graphic bonus chapter 16.5, is yet another one of SAO’s gameplay features. I guess since he was gonna kill them all anyways. he wasn’t worried about the ESRB rating. I’d estimate we need a team of at least 10 people to record and implement all these sensations. So if we base the salaries of these sense recorders off the industry standard rates for Foley artists, who are the sound engineers who record and edit sound effects for film and video games (kinda close at the same thing), that adds between another five and ten million dollars to our budget which brings the price of creating a game like SAO to a grand total of $485 million if we’re using our Witcher 3 estimates. Which means that SAO would need to sell 7,250,000 copies at $60 a pop just to break even on the development costs, and using our higher GTA 5 based estimate, it would need to move 28 million five hundred thousand units which is just a little bit more than the ten thousand copies of the games sold at launch. And we are still not even counting marketing or distribution costs. The only way they could possibly make their money back at this point would be to insert micro transactions. So maybe Kayaba Akihiko was actually doing everyone a favor. Sure he might have killed thousands of people playing the game, but at least he didn’t try to sell him loot boxes. But hey! That’s just a theory. A Film Theory. And… Hey, if you want to see my friend Geoff from the channel mother’s basement fix what is widely considered to be the worst part of sword art online the whole fairy story line well Then click the box to the left It’s a video that will have you Wishing there was a way to go back and redo that story arc because he’s changing into a narrative with real stakes That sounds incredible for these characters, or if you want more anime content well
Then click the box to the right which were taken to my film theory taking apart the mistakes that Edward and Alphonse made and their full metal alchemist calculations

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  1. i played a sao game on my phone i played for about 2 months with school breaks and other breaks and i was lvl 35 but only on the 5th floor oh yeah its that big

  2. If this would exist irl and i knew i would die i would still play it lol i like the anime a lot and it has bright sides it like a new world.

  3. What was that main bad guy plan again? Why trap people in a video game and kill them if they died?

    At least the abrighed parody version had an explanation that made sense, when the nerve gear accidently killed a few gamers and the guy making the game hold everyone hostage just to find a way to avoid a few lawsuits.

  4. "Throw in some tentacles and incest and you got yourself one of the most famous animes of all time" LOOOL you are just great matpat, you are great

  5. 4000+ people died on day one.
    YES IT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE SHIT EVER MADE.
    Good thing this takes place in a universe where public backslash means nothing.

  6. there is away to make true vr, but the codeing would take a long time. and people would have to have no hair obstructing the head pretty much

    a helmet like sao but sensers that read micro movements and thoughts that translate to real move ment inside the vr world. the helm would have a screen monitor in it to see the vr world , but what dose this mean, well,,,
    is see it like this

    1 the helm can read your thoughts through micro movements around your head,

    or 2

    the would be a sensor leg braceletthat gose around your thighs 2 individual pices.
    then you would have a simular thing for your bicipt mucsles area on your arms,
    and finally a gloves for hands.
    would would it work would be a consentration of movement in the lage, flaxing like your walking forwordor back words
    you braclet would feel the back muccle or front mucle flex thus thus eaquls walking and stuff, hands would be the simplistic thos, it just needs gloves,
    but you get my and physcially moveing the head in a slight direction would make vr body spin around.

    it is possible.

  7. THIS IS THE LAST STRAW HE MESSED WITH MY ANIME I AM NOT GOING TO HAVE THIS VILLAINY CORRUPTING MY SAO MUSIC, WHEN THERE'S NOTHING TO BE GAINED, RISING TO THE CHALLENGE AT THOSE TIMES… IS SURELY THE MARK… OF A TRUE HERO!!

  8. Let’s say all the big video games company join as one to create SAO…

    Tbh that game it’s gonna sell a lot!
    They will easily recover all the money they use to create the game.

  9. Man watching this towards the end of 2019 and I can safely tell you nerve gear wouldn't even get past the testing stages since its too dangerous. Also, if by 2020, they actually can build this nerve gear, medical science would have a massive breakthrough since scientists are still researching how the brain works.

  10. If 28`500`000 people buy SAO it would be the 13 most sold game ever. But that would be easy for a game with such gameplay and REALISTIC XD

  11. Doesn’t it mean that, story wise, the company that created the sao game lost quite a bit of money? What kind of financial experts do they have to tell them that that’s a good idea?

  12. Huge calulation problem…
    You looked at cost of living between the two countries instead of average salaries (hint – Japanese companies don't pay game devs well). According to glass door:
    Warsaw Software dev salary: $65,000/year
    Tokyo Software dev salary: $62,000/year

    Cost of living is high, but salaries aren't great. Typically (type of company SAO would have been based on), the salary is related to your age, not to much your skill. The younger you are, the lower your salary. So they'd churn through young devs right out of college, allowing them to pay closer to $25,000 – $40,000 /year instead of that high of about $65,000.

    So you're talking, for the most expensive bit, the same price or even possibly half the price of SW.

    (I live in Japan, been programming here, and have friends who have been in the industry, and won't go back due to the lack of compensation there)

  13. You are forgetting that SAO is set in a world with universal AI, where programs like Yui could do coding, game design, even art and models. Making a game could be as easy as walking to the "Matrix architect" and asking him to "make an RPG". An he would make a fully realized, original concept to your specifications.

    We know that it's at least partially the case, because when Kayaba gives Kirito the "world seed", the other games like Gun Gale Online or Alfheim Online come to existence almost immediately. So these are not some grand projects.

    In fact, Kayaba may have been the only person in development, not replaceable with a program.

  14. Hello I’m from the future(kind of) I’m from 2019 and have the new iPhone and it feels weird that it is just 2018 when this video was released and for me soon 2020 so 2 more years (yay 🙄)

  15. Yes, however as shown in the books the funding would not only be paid for by game companies. The research and medical uses of that technology would be so ground breaking they would get investors from all over the world. This as a game is cool, but it’s also the first step toward virtual immortality and I’m sure plenty of very rich investors would gladly invest in their own ability to be immortal.

  16. did you guys all know is that they already started trying to create the full dive vr helmet in 2010? its all expected to come out in 2030. or sooner

  17. People selling nerve gear: beware if you play this game you might die
    me: hand over the nerve gear weirdo
    me:goes home and trys to get trapped in S.A.O

  18. Lol the most expensive but still can't afford english voice actors what a joke can't believe this is even a considerable question

  19. Lol the most expensive but still can't afford english voice actors what a joke can't believe this is even a considerable question

  20. I know that Roblox is kind of a meme now, but if you want to experience SAO without the fear of death, Swordburst 2 on roblox is a surprisingly fun fan creation of the Anime.

  21. … It's much cheaper than I would have expected… 2020 likely won't happen. If we improve AI enough, we might actually be able to get something like SAO in the next 50 or so years… Tech advances stupidly fast after all.

  22. Well watching this i was sitting at my table when my cat climbed up the chair and attacked me now i have 5 pairs of holes in my back

  23. i think SAO is not man made.
    did you ever consider that Kayabas near sentient AI could generate assets at an inhuman rate with superior quality.
    narrow AI in this field are already in use, but an artafical general intelligence of any variety would allow procedural generation to an above human standard given the AIs interface with the world.
    Kayaba would only have to generate 1 world with this AI and supervise the AI for any anomalies and to give created advice to achieve his vision, but the AI would do most of the heavy lifting.
    do it right now, i want you to think of a round church with a dome for a roof and a Christian like symbol on its spire.
    how about a snowy mountain gorge with an ice covered path sneaking up one side and enough snow to threaten an avalanche on both sides.
    next, lets go into a bit more detail, a ruined city with moss growing on everything, ivy climbs up the walls of the city blocks, windows are smashed and pools of fresh rainwater sit in holes in the road that were never fixed. look inside one of the houses. what do you see? a smashed TV perhaps, or a decaying sofa, or a small coffee table with ancient mugs still sitting there along with decades of dust.
    can you see it?
    if you can, youll know how the AI feels, except the AI's vision would exist as tangible, decodable data in the system which can be saved.
    by this method, unlike humans who can only think of one or two things at a time before they are compressed in a way that does not allow for perfect reconstruction and the thoughts are lost forever, the AI could gradually build a world.
    humans never actually remember anything. the brain is a neural net that can identify patterns. when you recall an immage, you dont search your hard drive for the immage that you stored away. you actually recall the patterns that made up that immage and reconstruct it in real time in your head. due to this nature of data in the mind, its very common for small details to change in your mental immage. which is why sometimes you're sure you can remember seeing something that you never did or remember a slightly different version of events that what actually happened.
    an AI with general intelligence, would never have this problem as it could refer to its previous memories with 100% accuracy while still possessing a human standard creative ability. its like a sculptor that uses telekinetic to make stuff, the sculptor thinks and the clay just does it.

  24. Matpat: testing boundaries while in vr
    Literally everyone: don't do it
    Matpat: jumps hurting his hand
    Everyone else: who knew 😅

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