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The Almighty Buck The Military United States Games

America's Army Games Cost $33 Million Over 10 Years 192

Responding to a Freedom Of Information Act request, the US government has revealed the operating costs of the America's Army game series over the past decade. The total bill comes to $32.8 million, with yearly costs varying from $1.3 million to $5.6 million. "While operating America's Army 3 does involve ongoing expenses, paying the game's original development team isn't one of them. Days after the game launched in June, representatives with the Army confirmed that ties were severed with the Emeryville, California-based team behind the project, and future development efforts were being consolidated at the America's Army program office at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. A decade after its initial foray into the world of gaming, the Army doesn't appear to be withdrawing from the industry anytime soon. In denying other aspects of the FOIA request, the Army stated 'disclosure of this information is likely to cause substantial harm to the Department of the Army's competitive position in the gaming industry.'"
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America's Army Games Cost $33 Million Over 10 Years

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  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @04:34AM (#30385866)

    Three games in total on the budget of a startup... That's pretty good.

    This would have to be one of the army's most cost-effective projects ever then, wouldn't it?


    • That depends less on the cost and more on the effect. If the Army was trying to make a popular online FPS, then yeah I guess. One wonders if this is a valid goal for the Army. The game is supposed to be a recruitment tool, right? Is there data on how effective it has been in that role?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jocabergs ( 1688456 )
        I think it was both recruitment and a PR tool. Personally I really liked the honor system also the free part was very nice. I think that in the context of other FPS it was really much more pro teamwork and mission oriented in contrast to being pro carnage and destruction. When I played quite a few of my fellow players came from the military and really enjoyed the game because it was more like real combat, i.e mission based not carnage based. Also I enjoyed the no respawn feature, I hate respawns, but th
        • by Tellarin ( 444097 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:47AM (#30386664) Homepage Journal

          From a conversation I had at GDC a couple years ago with an army guy involved in the project, the main goal was not recruitment, quite the opposite.

          He claimed that the army looses a lot of money and resources in training new people, who just give up somewhere along the training or right after it. So the game was originally developed to try to show that "real combat" is not what happens in FPSs and thus weed out some of the applicants.

          Of course, the PR impact was welcome.

          • by Cwix ( 1671282 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @08:50AM (#30386982)
            With a lot of new equipment the army is fielding, hand eye co-ordination was a major factor too. [] A lot of the army's vehicles are equipped with these now. Ive used one, it is almost exaclty like a video game screen. They also love the fact that they can start feeding you things like rank structure, acronyms, small unit tactics, and other assorted army tidbits, everybit you come in with on your own, the less they have to teach you.
          • The Onion reports [] that the next Modern Warfare game will be an extremely realistic portrayal of the life of a soldier. Worth a watch!
  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @04:44AM (#30385910)
    and the US army has managed how many releases over ten years for less money incl hosting?

    Methinks the industry is doing something wrong.
    • Yeah except Modern Warfare 2 didnt crash the first time I ran it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blackchiney ( 556583 )
        Try connecting to their online server. because I'm still............waiting.
    • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:19AM (#30387674)

      Someone obviously hasn't looked at the games side by side.

      Most of the manpower cost of a video game is artist time. DoD games and military sim stuff looks like crap comparatively because they don't put millions of dollars into artists. When I played America's Army the visual quality was about the same as most fan mods to commercial games.

      Although what amazes me is that the army spends millions building their own game and engine, then still turns around and spends $10k/seat on meta-VR for all of their sim training. I mean, I get it for large scale sims - as someone who worked in this area, there is a big difference between building a military sim engine that can span hundreds or thousands of miles and a video game engine that will span two - but for a lot of the small-scale infantry work like the fort benning training, I really don't see the point.

      Supposedly they were looking at finally correcting that issue - I was at one point going to be the guy doing some of the work to make the game read mil-sim protocols, actually, before that part of the contract fell through. I wonder if they've made any progress since then.

    • by dlanod ( 979538 )

      I wonder if the phrase 'disclosure of this information is likely to cause substantial harm to the Department of the Army's competitive position in the gaming industry.' indicates any competitive advantages they might have...

      OTOH, I think I just really like that phrase and intend to reuse it whereever possible given it's one I never thought I'd see anyone utter in complete seriousness.

  • Sad but true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @04:44AM (#30385912) Homepage
    An average of $3.3 million a year for ANY government program seems quite reasonably priced!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      For a game of American Army's complexity and quality, $3.3 million is actually pretty cheap. I'm actually impressed by the Army's efficiency here.
    • Shit, their US TV advertising budget is more than 3.3M a year.... This is chump change. And the unquantifiable savings in reduction in recruitment office costs, and weeding out of undesireables who have non-realistic views of army life easily saves more than that...

      This was a good program. I suggest increasing the funding to $6M anually and see what they can do with it...

  • by TheVelvetFlamebait ( 986083 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:02AM (#30385968) Journal

    How much does it cost to recruit new soldiers via other methods? How about weighted by efficiency?

    Just because it costs $33 million, doesn't mean it isn't a good deal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by dushkin ( 965522 )

      Maybe not. But it's pretty damn awesome.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by imunfair ( 877689 )

      I'd wager they're doing more with the game than just recruitment. I'm sure there are a lot of interesting studies you could run on a game like that. This doesn't mean it's tin foil nefarious stuff - a lot of academics would probably like to get their hands on that data set.

      Behavioral factors, navigation patterns, learning and adapting.. I'm not even a scientist and I can think of all kinds of interesting offshoots from the game - I'd be pretty surprised if there were no scientists with government grants p

      • by Splab ( 574204 )

        Also the game was a massive success in the beginning regarding recruiting, don't know these days since I've stopped playing, but when I played there was a lot of people talking about signing up because of the game.

    • Figure ten to twenty million plus per team fielded.

      At least AA doesn't present war as a clean and easy and dismissible.

    • Recruiting teams per shopping mall @$10 per hour, 8 h weekends, ~a few per ~50 states over ten years, front and back.
      The cost of having kids play a 33 million US$ Army branded computer game.
      Having kids turn up at a recruiting office after playing a game:
      • $10 an hour for a recruiter? Most recruiters are in the E6-E8 range, which is a salary roughly around the $50,000 a year mark. That's a lot more than $10 an hour!

      • Actually my brother and I showed up to the recruiting office to pick up the game, they were disappointed when we said we only wanted the game. I was 6ft and in reasonable shape, and my little brother was 6'5" defensive end on the football team.
  • by steve buttgereit ( 644315 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:13AM (#30386290) Homepage

    'In denying other aspects of the FOIA request, the Army stated 'disclosure of this information is likely to cause substantial harm to the Department of the Army's competitive position in the gaming industry.'

    I'll be the first to admit that I'm a fan of America's Army and like the games. But that the Federal Government, much less the Army, should be concerned with its ability to compete against private industry? Isn't that contrary to our beliefs regarding the purposes of Government and of our economic system (at least in the U.S.)? And to top it off, it's denying a FOIA request on the basis, not of national security, an on-going criminal investigation or violation of someone's privacy, but on the basis of what could be called a trade secret? And it's so bogus to boot, they can invest as much as they want into the program to out-compete their private industry competitors without fear as they don't have to recoup their expenses... the Army won't go out of business if they spend foolishly. Private companies on the other hand do go out of business when they fail to have excess revenues to costs... unless you're a car company or a well connected bank of course. I know it's not the first time this has happened (Amtrak, USPS), but still... aren't the existing game companies good enough?

    (Stepping off of soap box and taking big breath to facilitate big sigh)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lobsterGun ( 415085 )

      In order for information to be considered exempt from release under the FOIA it must fit into one of the following categories AND there must be a legitimate Government purpose served by withholding it:

      1. Information which is currently and properly classified.
      2. Information that pertains solely to the internal rules and practices of the agency. (This exemption has two profiles, "high" and "low." The "high" profile permits withholding of a document that, if released, would allow circumvention of an agency rule, pol
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'd like to know why our government will compete against video game companies, but won't compete against internet service providers or health insurance companies. Maybe it's just that a video game is a good way to convince people to join the army. That's a much better reason to do this than improving people's lives.
      • Or maybe it's because telcos and health insurance companies spend huge amounts of money on lobbyists whose entire job is to prevent such competition and the game industry doesn't.
    • It's OK, sometimes the peas and carrots mix a little, but it's still perfectly edible... I see this expenditure as a cost-effective, creative alternative vs. PR coming from a buy of ad-time on tv. It gets the army a little PR and introduces some realism vs most other FPSs. The only people to complain might be other game companies in the niche of providing semi-realistic miltary FPS, but all indications is that there's no real effect there, see Call of Duty and Modern Warfare sales...
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        The issue isn't whether it's cost effective (it probably is) or whether game publishers don't like it (they probably don't care).

        The issue is one of principle, and violating that principle has costs that are significant although hard to measure in dollars: you can't control what you can't observe.

    • I think they should be concerned with the competition. That $33mil was spent to put material in front of eyeballs to aide in recruiting and very basic military concepts (ranks, etc). If you don't keep up, nobody sees it and your investment is over.

    • Not competing for dollars, but for eyeballs. The army wants to be able to get people to play the game and be influenced by it. Making all of thier strategy available to everyone could allow private gaming companies to beat them to it. That would mean less eyeballs and wow factor when they finally do release a product.
  • 32 million seems to much for just 3 video games. Why is it so high?

    • It probably is not high. It is on multiple platforms, networked and multiple versions. Considering all the stuff that went into this, I think that 3 million a year for this is nothing. In fact, it has probably helped the army not only recruit, but also avoid having to do loads of expensive training.
    • 30 people at 75,000 a year for ten years would be around 25 mil with benefits.
      Of course then there are server costs, publicity costs, office costs, hardware blah blah blah.

      Seems reasonable cost to me for the end product.

      I don't really agree with creating the product, because that should have been a private company creating the product at the army's direction if at all. Government really shouldn't be in the business of private industry whether it's the army, or whatever.

    • by snaz555 ( 903274 )
      It's not high at all, $32M is peanuts for three mass market software products of this size and complexity. The more interesting question is why it has taken them so long to get where they are today. The answer to both questions lies in the fact that they work with enlisted personnel - for whom this may be their first job. They're cheap and enthusiastic, but slow.
    • That's not high at all. Many individual games run that kind of budget and I recently read that Gran Turismo 5 has cost $60 million to date. Take a look at the credits for many of these games, these developers have a massive staff. Those salaries alone eat up a fairly significant portion of the budget. Then factor in all the other expenses and it's easy to see why the budgets are so large. That said, it does seem ridiculous that a game costs so much to develop, but that's just the nature of the kinds of game

  • Budget Summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:00AM (#30386490)

    People seem to assume that is development costs; but AA's budget, in true Army style, could include a lot more - from printing copies, facility costs, operational costs such as vehicle gas, travel and TDY expenses, etc.

    That said, 33 mill is pretty impressive, especially if it is all in costs of the organization.

  • America's Air Force (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:18AM (#30386560) Journal
    If I were the Air force, I would grab one of the OSS forms of a sim (flight gear comes to mind), and then enhance the daylight out of it, so that it can do dogfights. Finally, include both regular aircrafts AND the new drones on these.
    • by adamchou ( 993073 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @08:42AM (#30386940)
      The airforce is hardly having difficulty with recruitment. In fact, they're so overwhelmed with requests that you can barely enlist for the airforce anymore. I enlisted in July and I went to MEPS 32 times after enlisting and everytime, the Airforce recruitment office in the LA MEPS (biggest in the nation) was closed. They're going to focus their developers working on top secret software and other related projects and thats exactly what they should be doing.
      • I did not say that the air force was having issues with getting numbers. They never have. BUT, I would like to think that they have the BEST quality fliers at the stick as well as at the button. Basically, a good America's Air force, ideally tied into America's Army would open up doors.

        Now, as somebody who has done work for various 3 letters, and spent part of my childhood in the shadows of the B-47, I can tell you that they need the best that they can get. All of the forces do. Many of their projects are
        • by MaerD ( 954222 )

          BUT, I would like to think that they have the BEST quality fliers at the stick as well as at the button. Basically, a good America's Air force, ideally tied into America's Army would open up doors.

          Besides the fact that most air combat is done "Beyond Visual Range" these days with complicated radar systems (which, if judging by some of the modern combat sims like Falcon 4, are pretty hard to come up with a good control scheme for), PC or Console SIMS will not always give you good pilots. While not as much of an issue for the UAVs, I know a number of flight sim lovers who would never pass medical to fly a fighter jet .
          Also, depending on how good your sim is, you can usually do a number of things in

        • thats an interesting concept. i was under the impression you wanted it as a recruiting tool like what america's army is. however, i think that learning the concepts of dog fighting, or even just intense acrobatic flying, requires an intensive classroom lesson in physics and the dynamics of flight. if they could somehow fit that into the game, i'd be all for it. i'd definitely d/l that game and play it. i've always wanted to learn to fly.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 )
        The Air Force doesn't even really do dogfights. That's more of a navy/army thing. The Air Force flies AWACS, predator drones, and (wierdly) does cyber-security. They're more like the Computer Force these days.
    • I think OpenFalcon or FreeFalcon would be a better starting point. Both are fairly realistic in their modeling of the F-16. I think OF is out of development now; it's been shut down a while. But FreeFalcon just had a major release and it's a *very* nice sim.

      Get FF here: []

      Here's the 5.3 patch: []

  • by BondGamer ( 724662 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @08:34AM (#30386894) Journal
    I have played America's Army a bit and there are a ton of active duty military playing the game. So it has quite an appeal. Plus the army runs training simulations with America's Army. So it has many more benefits than just being "a game". Of course some people are still going to claim it will be a waste of money. If you haven't played, it isn't just another FPS. The game is based on realism. You don't respawn after you die. If an enemy sees you first you die. There isn't kill streaks that give you power ups. Oh, and the current version is super buggy. Probably because they fired the entire development team after the last release.
    • Oh, and the current version is super buggy. Probably because they fired the entire development team after the last release.

      Yep, there's military intelligence for you. I tried the game twice several years ago and it was horribly buggy then. I see some things don't change.

  • Until we pay back foreign lenders....which are probably never. Of course we probably could of just printed the money...oh..did that too.

  • I think there's more to it than that. Hopefully the cost includes America's Army as a Platform. I know military training has been trying to enforce compliance to standards (e.g. SCORM) and Learning Management Systems so they can track who has what training. Something like this can bring it all together, and that cost over 10 years sounds like an excellent investment considering they took the time to proof something out, then extend functionality as opposed to the typical requirements swirl that ends up with
  • Ahh, the good old days. I left my computer on overnight so I could download the game on my "640Kbps" (really only about 480Kbps sustained) DSL line. Remember back when hosts didn't have lines for servers, and everyone was downloading at-once at 5KB/s? That was exatly my experience downloading America's Army.

    Then after all the wait, I installed the game and - hey, why can't I connect to multiplayer servers? It turned out, you had to go through "basic training" before you could play online on the official

Don't get suckered in by the comments -- they can be terribly misleading. Debug only code. -- Dave Storer