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The List: 5 Things MMOs Could Learn from Sword Art Online

Columns By David Jagneaux on January 12, 2015

5 Things MMOs Could Learn from Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online II recently wrapped up. I haven’t actually watched the second leg of the Sword Art Online story as I’m late to the party on this topic, but I’ve seen all of Sword Art Online I and was enamored with the concept. If you’re unaware, Sword Art Online, or SAO for short, is an anime about a group of people that get trapped inside of an MMORPG. The catch is that if they die in the game, they die in real life as well.

While it would be ridiculous to imply that this same level of severity is a good idea – let alone legal in any fashion in the real world – there are a lot of lessons in the show that could be applied to real MMO game design. The points in this article wouldn’t apply to everyone and maybe they wouldn’t all fit in the same game, but they would go a long way towards ushering in a new Golden Age of MMOs.

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5) Full-Immersion Virtual Reality is Awesome

I know, I know. We are very likely several decades away from having full-immersion virtual reality technology a la SAO or any other various sci-fi universes, but it doesn’t mean we can’t move in that direction. VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, and others are pushing us towards a more virtual future and MMO developers could definitely take advantage of that cutting-edge new technology.

Having your HUD actually operate as a true HUD on your screen would be incredible. Item lists popping in your field of view, character information appearing when you look at someone, and dozens of other possibilities. Of course, this idea works best for first-person MMOs, but there are enough of them for this to be a big feature. Besides, imagine how cool it will be once gesture commands are added! Ever since watching the show, I’ve wanted to swipe at the air to pull up menus instead of pressing a hotkey on a keyboard.

4) Major In-Game Consequences

As I said before, I don’t expect MMO developers to start murdering people that die in the game. That’s going a bit too far. But how about instituting some truly punishing death penalties? The original EverQuest had infamous corpse runs and games like Darkfall: Unholy Wars still have full loot systems in place. But what if developers took things a bit farther?

How about if you die, then that character is actually dead? You know – actual permadeath. Or there is a window that they can regain their stuff in, otherwise they’re completely gone – sort of a hybrid approach. I don’t just mean lose your equipment, but actually dead. As in, character data is erased and that character no longer exists. This opens up some truly awesome and immersive roleplaying opportunities, or an ancestry system not unlike Rogue Legacy. It’s extreme, but it could be incredible.

3) Practical In-Game Specializations

When I say specializations, I don’t just mean your character class and role in a party. Obviously knowing the difference between DPS, tank, and healer is important for most MMOs out there, but I’m talking about something even more specific. What if developers brought back the concept of having players actually live in their world, doing more than just fighting and adventuring. You’d still have players that wanted to do that as their primary job, which is important, but who’s managing the NPCs at the Inn? Who crafted all those swords for sale?

There is a great scene in SAO where Kirito goes to the best blacksmith in the game and asks her to create him the strongest and most powerful sword in the game. The blacksmith, another actual player character, agrees to help him out, but she needs a very special ingredient that’s nearly impossible to retrieve – so they embark on a journey together. This episode serves as a wonderful springboard for not only character development and action, but as a peek into the type of world that was created in SAO. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in modern MMOs. Instead, you pull up the trading post, click buy on a sword, and you’re done. Or maybe you just accept a quest reward, and then you’re done.

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