Army game garners 2.4 million users

The official computer game of the U.S. Army has enjoyed 2.4 million users since its debut in July 2002, according to Major Bret Wilson, the support operations officer for America's Army, The Official U.S. Army Game.

'Nobody expects the Army to be a game developer,' Wilson said. The young men and women who the Army is trying to reach, however, are used to interacting with computer games. So a computer game is a cost-effective means to give potential recruits a way to see what Army life is like, Wilson said.

'The majority of these folks are already using this type of media,' Wilson said of computer games.

Wilson spoke at the 'Serious Games' conference yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

The Army's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis developed and now maintains the first-person shooter, which offers a virtual tour of duty through basic training and combat. The game, two years in development, is offered both online and as a download. To get to the combat zones, users must pass a basic rifle test, obstacle courses and other training exercises.

Unlike most commercial shooter games, America's Army rewards points for teamwork, rather than for simply finding and using the weapons that can kill the largest number of hostile targets, Wilson said.

To build America's Army the office used the rendering engine from the Unreal game, licensed from Epic Games Inc. of Raleigh, N.C. As a result, it has the look and feel of many commercial computer games.

The office has contracted with Super Computer Inc. of Atlanta to house the game on 250 servers. It has also ported the source code to Linux, and made it freely available in hopes that others will host the game on their own servers as well. The office maintains an authentication gateway so players on external hosts can accrue honor points, a metric players can use to compete with one another.

America's Army had an operational budget of about $1 million in 2002, and about $650,000 this year, Wilson said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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