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

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


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


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

  1. Just wanna day but you would also have to applie Moore’s law to all of the cost, so it would be around a quarter of all of these prices in 2022.

  2. Just wanna say that you would also have to apply Moore’s law to all of the cost, so it would be around a quarter of all of these prices in 2022.

  3. So essentially with all the calculations matpat did in this video we will never ever get a VR game like SAO because it's too expensive to make

  4. The thing that constantly bugged me about SAO is that over the whole time they were stuck in the game literally no one could figure out how to turn it off safely. There had to be massive groups of people (paid and volunteer) trying to solve the issue. No one outside the game could figure out how to take control of the servers?

  5. So basically, the creator of SAO wanted to kill all those people because when it came right down to it, he would never be able to recover his costs or even make a profit from his game. Makes sense. Kill everyone to cover up a suicide or have someone in the game outright kill you, which Kirito did.

  6. Am I the only one who pissed themselves laughing when the screen kept moving to the girl in her underwear, only to be blocked by MatPat?

    P.s. I'm very drunk while watching this

  7. Or sell the game for 3 grand a pop and make some profit, or depending on the microwave helmet's price, 4k. THE WORLDS FIRST FULLY IMMERSIVE MMO, surely there are 10,000 rich idiots who'd pay through the nose for that kinda 'i was there first' bragging rights. Fyre festival had about that many, right?

  8. Well…frankly, I don't realize how SAO didn't destroy the video game industry following the "Fairy Dance" arc. Once Kirito put out that "Seed" thing that allowed pretty much everyone and anyone with a powerful enough server to create their own fully integratable version of SAO, the market would be completely glutted with knockoffs. That's the same thing that eventually caused the first video game crash. The market was overloaded with consoles that were all running the same games and no one developer could make any money.

    And that's not accounting for the fact that everyone who was in SAO appears to have sustained psychological damage to the point where, at best, the players now believe their lives in those games are the equivalent of their real world lives and just as necessary for mental and emotional well-being and, at worst, there are multiple psychopaths who now view murdering people in real life as the equivalent of killing another player's avatar in a MMORPG with just as little moral standing. (On that note, um, why aren't all those people in a hospital for the criminally insane again? Or simply charged with murder? I mean…they knew they were murdering people in SAO. Does it not "count" because the murderer used a video game as the weapon?) And yet somehow the games are still legal.

    I mean, just consider the fact Kirito kept his original Nervegear. Isn't that like someone who was chained and tortured for two years keeping their shackles?

  9. 6:30 Wait, is that loli-butt? In UNDERWEAR?!
    How is this not demonitized?!
    Matpat, you must share the secret to this, the content creators of Youtube need this information!!!!

  10. I don’t care about the price make it happen. Kayaba if you are out there. Make it happen. Even if you wanna kill us all. Make it happen.

  11. But what if the nerve gear only develops sensations that the user thinks those sensations feel like. Wouldn't that lower the cost, since there is no production in recreating them.

  12. Except that number isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. While what was talked about here was the cost of developing the game SAO a technology like nerve gear has implications that extend outside the world of gaming such as medicine, education, and military, and if you considered that a game like SAO is a perfect method for testing and further developing that technology the value of the game may well be much higher than the revenue it can generate. Also as we learned in season 2 part of that development cost was not exclusively for SAO as things like the AI, cardinal system, and world seed were to be reused for future projects both games and other, although Kirato ends up giving it away online for free I doubt that was the intention of the people who paid the development bill.

    Stop reading here if you are not caught up and don’t want spoilers:

    Also I doubt the cost of SAO even comes close to the project wrath is doing during the underworld arc. That cost can be justified because it’s a large scale national project with military backing. What costs would be considered reasonable when exploring completely new technologies would surprise most people.

    The original oculus rift didn’t make money, in fact it lost money. Hells angels (a 1930 film you should watch it) was widely criticized at the time for being so expensive to produce it would never make it money back, and it almost broke even at the box office it only fell short by $300k, which is a lot but its was a completely revolutionary film at the time and movies wouldn’t be the same today without it. And seeing as it’s still being sold on dvd almost 90years later I would wager a guess it made up that difference.

  13. Me: Watches all 3 seasons and the movie
    Also Me: Watches this video
    Also Also Me: "WHAT THE HECK??? Also… MENTION SWORD ART ONLINE ORDINAL SCLE!!!

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

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