IBM has played a key role in the development of an upcoming VRMMO(virtual reality massively multiplayer online game) called Sword Art Online. Based on the popular anime series, the game attempts to come as close to true virtual reality as possible, utilizing all types of emerging technologies to create an innovative game. The world is built off of a technology IBM calls “SoftLayer”, their cloud computing platform. Players are scanned by some sort of device, which then converts their body image into an actual 3d model in game. This means that creating a character that looks just like you has become incredibly easy. It is unclear if they will require the usage of your actual body when creating a character when the game actually releases, although that’s obviously far away.
The terse ‘about’ section of the website seems to imply that the game will utilize cloud computing and deep AI learning to deliver a unique MMO experience. Judging by the information provided, it seems that they’re not only creating an MMORPG based around virtual reality, but they’re essentially reconstructing the genre from the ground. It won’t just be another themepark MMO that just happens to support VR headsets and carry a Sword Art Online theme, it appears that it will provide unique features and gameplay elements as well.
The game is currently recruiting alpha testers in Japan. 208 lucky participants will be able to test out the project in a venue somewhere in Tokyo between March 18 and March 20 of this year. The exact location is not yet disclosed. Applications are open until the 4th of March. According to the registration information, it seems to be a luck based selection, meaning anyone(that’s eligible) can win. There is a strict criteria for who’s eligible, and it can be viewed here.
You can view the official site(In Japanese) here: http://www.vrmmo-project.jp/
Predictions & Possibilities
Here I will cover my own thoughts and give some insight as to what I feel like could potentially happen with this project.
I can personally see a move back to a “pay to play” model, but not in the traditional subscription sense. Virtual reality is extremely expensive to support, which means reaching out to a large customer base is difficult. The cheapest VR headsets sell for $600 currently, and that’s not counting the expensive cost of building or purchasing a powerful PC to support it
On top of that, if the game wants to innovate further, perhaps by utilizing motion tracking to provide more realistic player input, the cost would be even greater. Sword Art Online, as portrayed in the novels and the anime, was built upon the fictional concept that the players were fully immersed in the game, and that their nerve impulses to control their body is intercepted, and taken as input in the game. Of course, that is currently not possible with our existing technology; however, it’s possible to get the next best thing. For example, we can’t send vision information about the game to the user’s brain, but we can put a headset on them with 1 screen for each eye. that essentially covers their entire vision and seems realistic. In regards to realistic input, the device could restrain the user to prevent them from hurting themself by bumping into a wall, and track motion, much like the Microsoft Kinect does(minus the restraining element).
For this reason, I highly expect to see “Virtual Reality Arcades” begin to show up. Traditional arcades are a dying trend as consumer gaming devices became affordable, however I feel that virtual reality will pick up that niche. Another benefit of virtual reality arcades is that if the game is exclusive to authorized arcades, it solves the hacking/botting issue. When a human has to walk in to play the game, and can’t tamper with the files due to being in public/not having permissions, it essentially eliminates the possibility of cheating, which makes for a pure, fair game. If a virtual reality MMO is exciting enough, I feel people would happily pay a few dollars an hour to play at an arcade.
By keeping the game only playable at arcades, it also solves the liability and health concerns regarding with a Virtual Reality MMO. MMORPG addiction is a serious issue in some countries, and people have died due to playing for days at a time without eating or sleeping. Virtual reality could make this worse, since it’s harder to keep track of the real world when you’re literally fully immersed in another. By having the game played at a public facility, any health issues could be addressed safely.