Having recently departed Oculus after founding the company in 2012, Palmer Luckey has assured the world that he’s still very interested in virtual reality and has hinted at some of the things he’s pursuing for future projects. Taking a cue from Sword Art Online, an anime where players get trapped in a virtual reality game, Luckey says he’s interested in the idea of a virtual game with serious real life consequences.

Speaking recently to Japanese VR publication Mogura VR in a series of interviews (translated for Road to VR into english), Luckey, among other things, spoke of his interest in the anime Sword Art Online (2012) and its dark premise.

Sword Art Online

In the show, characters wear futuristic VR headsets that intercept their brainwaves and translates them into the game. Eventually they learn that they are stuck in the game and removing their headsets would cause them to die in real life. For those curious, the show’s trailer is a good teaser.

Sword Art Online (also known as SAO) is far from the first anime to employ the ‘stuck in virtual reality’ premise, but it’s a recent and well executed addition to the genre. The show was also airing new episodes during the Oculus Rift Kickstarter, which made it a timely point of discussion among VR enthusiasts. Luckey recalls the interplay:

The week we launched the Kickstarter [in 2012] was actually the week when the third episode of SAO aired. The timing overlapped perfectly. I think that SAO made Oculus the focus of attention. At the same time Oculus might have made SAO even more popular by a small amount. Many people said that SAO seemed more realistic to them because of the existence of Oculus. Because Oculus’ existence VR didn’t feel like it was 20 or 30 years away. Many people thought that VR is going to become real in the near future.

During the Kickstarter I got hundreds of emails like: ‘Have you heard about the anime Sword Art Online?’, I still have people asking me that to this day [laughs]. I think over a thousand people have asked me about SAO so far.

When asked what he liked most about the show, Luckey says it was the stakes.

The setting of [Sword Art Online] was ‘If you die in-game you also die in the real world’. This setting became obvious right after the launch of SAO. This is a very extreme result. If a player makes the wrong decision he will have the result of his death. This is different to a normal game where you just shoot stuff, and it does not matter when you die because you can just respawn countless times.

Right after hearing the concept of SAO I was drawn to it. Even now after several years I am thinking about the concept of a game in which you have the same serious results in the real world as in the game world. It is going to cause a ‘real result’ which makes the game ‘real’. It is a game in which no mistake is allowed, you have to seriously think about everything.

“This concept of ‘serious results’ is part of one of the projects I am working on,” he said in the interview.

The game ‘Lose/Lose’ not only deletes itself from your computer when you lose, but also deletes random files on your computer each time you kill an enemy.

There are some examples of hyper-niche games which do have relatively serious consequences, like Lose/Lose which not only deletes itself from your computer when you lose, but also deletes random files on your computer each time you kill an enemy. There’s also some hardcore ‘permadeath’ MMO players who are sworn to delete their characters if they die in the game, which could mean hundreds if not thousands of hours of their lives going to waste if they follow through with the promise.

None of these examples are as high stakes as Luckey is thinking though, as he says that a ‘serious result’ is “something no one has done so far in the real world,” and I have confirmed that he’s well aware of permadeath MMO players. He of course says he doesn’t want to make a game where the outcome for losing would be death, but says that the consequences would have to be “something between current games and SAO,” in order for such a game to become popular.

Sorry, Internet. The 'Sword Art Online' VR MMO Isn't Real

The interviewer asks Luckey if he wants to be like Kayaba Akihiko, the villain in Sword Art Online who traps the characters in the virtual world and manufactures the consequence of death.

“Just a little, just a tiny bit,” Luckey says. “I can understand what he was thinking. Kayaba created a game with a ‘serious result’ and wanted to see what would come of it.”

As to why he’s interested in serious consequences for a virtual reality game, Luckey expounds:

In the real world everyone is making careful judgments. Because you do not want to die in a car crash you drive your car carefully. No one would drive a car in such a way in a game. But what if there were a game in which when you would make a mistake within, it would have a big gameplay impact. This factor would change the way you play the game a lot and would make it feel a lot closer to reality.

I think human beings want to live in a society that is careful. You would not want to live in a world without careful people. It would be a free but crazy world. In the movie The Matrix agent Smith says ‘The machine is trying to build the perfect world for humans.’ This Line is based on the idea that human beings need conflict and cannot obtain happiness without experiencing pain. Thus in the movie the machines create a world that continues to let humans experience pain.

I am not as insane as Smith [laughs], but I do think those words contain a bit of truth. I don’t think I want to live in a world in which humans control everything, without any serious results.

As for when we might see this ‘serious result’ project that he’s working on, Luckey offers no hints, “it’s still is very early, so I can’t tell you any details, but it certainly will be exciting.”

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • an4rchos

    Actually it’s a novel series which first few volumes got animated.

    • benz145

      This article does not claim the contrary.

      • Xilence

        Indeed, and I absolutely adored the show. I just hope that its going mainstream doesn’t let it get westernized with censorship. The reason why anime is great is because its made from the Japanese culture of no-compromise.

  • bladestorm91

    The only way to make a game with serious consequences and moreover legally, is through financial consequences. Like doing something will reward you with real money and by dying you will lose money. To rephrase what I said, you need to pay to play, but if you win you get paid instead.

    The thing with this type of ‘game’ is that the player isn’t the only one who must face them. The developer has to be put under equal circumstances, but from another angle, otherwise it’s not a game with serious consequences.

    Of course Palmer could be having another idea on how to implement this than financially, but I don’t see how you can make something like this good other than the financial way or legally for that matter. If he goes through with this then I hope he knows what he’s getting into, because he could come out broke.

    • NooYawker

      Isn’t that game Eve like that already? People buy real estate, rent space, build war ships etc. all with real money.

      • bladestorm91

        I’ve never played Eve, but I’m pretty sure that game doesn’t penalize you by taking your money when you die. Those things you mentioned are not serious consequences because you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to. Serious consequences mean you pay when you die, not pay if you want to speed things up.

        • NooYawker

          I’m not sure about deaths but two factions once went to war and it cost the a total of $100,000 in real money from the destruction of their war ships. Not sure if you can even die in that game. No game can have serious personal consequences because it’s a game. The only game I ever played that made me feel guilty for making evil decisions is Jade Empire.

          EDIT: Found a link. A galactic battle that ended up costing $300,000 in real money.


          • I beg to differ: there have been instances of people being killed over virtual property disputes, vast amounts of money can be gambled on games of all sorts, and there have been many instances of people gaming themselves to death. When it comes to high stakes, the only limit is what people impose on themselves or what is forcibly imposed on them. While it would certainly be foolish to allow a game to ruin or end your life, it’s already happened many times.

      • Xilence

        That would actually be Entropia Universe to be more accurate. EVE is by proxy something like this, but directly Entropia Universe is the game you are looking for.

    • mangamasiah630

      if you pay to play and then get payed at the end does that mean that your not losing or gaining or does the system work in how good you did your pay is based on that?

      • bladestorm91

        It’s better if it’s determined by the amount of quests AND the amount of creatures and characters you killed, the quality of them should also come into play. Of course killing players should only be allowed in arena type locations. Since you aren’t restricted with game money only anymore you could do a lot more interesting things in a game with gambling and not just casinos.

    • Goten

      well if you buy the game and get paid in real life it wont be easy so you should get like £1000 or more for just winning the game,or 100 or more floors,£10 for each 100 floors if there are more would be good but if theres 100 it’d be like £10 each floor

  • NooYawker

    Blizzard just needs to put WOW in VR and everyone who ever played will be playing again.

    • Get Schwifty!

      Same is true for a dozen titles out there… retrofitting is what people want. Not sure about Wow though that is a very old engine…

      • NooYawker

        Have you ever played WOW? The people are fanatics. I used to be addicted to it myself.

  • GrangerFX

    It is not a bad idea. What if your character’s stats were based on your up or down votes when you post comments in a reddit like virtual space? That way you could merge activism with your online persona.

  • Foreign Devil

    Attach a small explosive to your HMD that goes off if your in game character dies. Cheap thrills!

    • Xilence

      Cheap and the experience of a lifetime.

    • David Herrington

      “Serious” consequences will never work because there will always be glitches and bugs and exploits that players will figure out and utilize. The amount of beta testing to figure out all the problems would bankrupt any developer who tried.

      If the HMD explosive exploded due to a bug, there isn’t a save-state to come back from. A “serious” consequence game puts too much trust in the developer that they will make it work as intended.

  • brian greyson

    One thing I like about games is that the lack of consequences allow me to be crazy and reckless. Consequences are for real life. On a side note- Luckey is pretty wealthy now, I can totally see him becoming a super villain.

    • ra51

      Wasn’t he already kinda wealthy before Oculus?

    • Xilence

      This is why we play video games partially, it’s also to be in another world. When trying to make virtual life in alternate realities (which is what all RPG’s and MMO’s try to emulate), the one issue is that people don’t take features as seriously as they should so the game is always built as a game, and it never goes deeper.

      That’s fine and well with a keyboard and mouse but now that we’re entering the next layer of the virtual world with VR… all of a sudden we can now allow games to be taken a little more seriously. I’m hopeful. I loved SAO. Asuna is bae and all that.

    • Nimblerichman

      Yes, he might someday want to rule the world.

  • chuan_l

    Kind of explains it all then —
    Why Brendan and Palmer’s brains died !

  • Robin Hart-Jones

    To a gamer, the permanent death of their character with all its accumulated wealth and power and reputation is more serious than any other consequence in Real-Life ™ :-) In a game where weapons/reputation/status etc can only be achieved by in-game work and cannot be transferred by in-game friends then you would not even have the satisfaction of coming back with the same name or let people know who you were in a previous life because everyone would be saying ‘Ok look. The Great Zoltar who lorded it over me for so long is now a little newb armed with a dagger. Lets kill him so he does not even have that.’ :-)

    • Get Schwifty!

      The fact that most gamers can’t even accept a decrease in experience or level due to a “death” means you can forget significant penalties for in-game deaths. Most even get all butt-hurt if they even have a temporary debuff for a recent “death”….

    • Lucy Heartfilia

      omg finally someone said what I was thinking! people would lose their freaking minds if the character they put so much hard work into ends up getting killed and can’t get it back.

  • Ketil

    The only “serious result in real life” I can see, is that people like you, Mr. Luckey, can spit out a bunch of garbage and nobody from the government comes questioning you at home asking what in the heck are you thinking to do. I’d like to see people like you grabbing a hoe an go tilling the soil all day for a living: maybe this would be the first “serious consequence” you should have… maybe after some time you could like it too…

    • brandon9271

      What are you babbling about? You think because he’s wealthy now he’s never worked in his life? That’s a ridiculously assumption to make. Sour grape because he was anti Hillary, perhaps?

    • Fear Monkey

      are we triggered much?

    • Nimblerichman

      People have a right to freedom of speech, you till the soil all day but that doesn’t make you a better person

    • Guest

      A lot of people would want to play a game like that especially if it connects to your brain and you can move around in the game like in real life(like SAO) so what you are saying makes no sense.

  • NooYawker

    If you die they send people to you home to kick your ass. The anticipation of wondering when they’ll arrive adds to the experience.

  • Actually I’ve read somewhere else that maybe he’s working in a videosourveillance company… who knows…

  • Nimblerichman

    If in the real world karma rules all and we will all get to feel firsthand the consequences for our actions sooner or later then the opposite must also apply which could only explain why Mr. Luckey got so rich so fast. Either that or it’s all in the name-go figure!

  • Nimblerichman

    Losers should all pay a heavy price for their actions.

  • Rin”Joker”Okumura

    in 20 years we will be in games with a amusphere that…is AWESOME!

  • Corey Rueckheim

    Having a “serious” consequence can certainly be fun at times… but the reward for playing has to be worth the risk. It would have to be a REALLY fun game!

  • CandyCookies07

    If it was just pain. I would play. But not If I die. I would hate if you can’t log out. Am I the only one here who thinks this guy isnt insane if its just pain?

  • CandyCookies07

    And is he gonna try shutting down the nerves irl?

  • djragon

    id like a vr game that you create your own character and play as them in a online game like sao

  • djragon

    oh and delete all there saved data in the game