The United States Army failed to meet recruiting goals for the second year running in 1999. Army officials worried that a problematic public image was to blame; many young people received their only information about the Army from aging veterans who remembered poor conditions and low pay, issues that were no longer reflected by Army policy. Even when this barrier was surmounted and recruits enlisted, many quickly left the Army because the reality of service did not match with their expectations.
The Army needed to alter its recruiting strategies. Col. Casey Wardynski stepped in with a proposal that would change the paradigm for recruiting, advertising, and even training. He suggested that a computer game, carefully targeted to the young male audience that provided most army recruits, could impart an accurate image of Army life.
A collaboration between Army research units, top computer game developers, and several Army supervisory groups eventually yielded America's Army, a free, downloadable action computer game.
The game provides extensive information about life as a Soldier. Users participate in training and combat simulations. The game is designed to reflect Army values, requiring players to work collaboratively and abide by strict codes of ethics to succeed. Gameplay is broken up by cameos from " Real Heroes," actual Soldiers who have exhibited courage under fire in the War on Terror and received citations for valor (Broneze Star for Valor or higher) for their actions . These heroes impart some training or tell stories about their real-life deeds.
Players wishing for further information about the Army can interact in live chats with players who are also Soldiers.
The extensive virtual experience provided by America's Army allows potential recruits to have a more thorough look at the Army than short advertisements can provide. Since its release in 2002, America's Army has consistently been one of the most-played online action games. More than six million users had registered by summer of 2005, with an average of more than one hundred thousand joining each month thereafter.
The game's popularity has had the desired impact; 29 percent of young adults now cite the game as the number one source of their awareness of the U.S. Army. Further, 20 percent of new recruits report that they played the game prior to enlisting, and 20 percent of those say that the game itself inspired them to enlist.
Due to its ability to render exceptionally realistic and flexible environments, player interactions, and scenarios, America’s Army is also an ideal platform for developing training simulations and applications. The U.S. Government owns everything built in America’s Army so assets are able to be reused for many purposes in either government applications or within the game. As a result costs are kept down, while development can take place rapidly to customize a solution for any government agency.
The platform has been ideal for producing effective and engaging virtual learning for Force Protection, Adaptive Thinking and Leadership, Convoy Survivability, as well as applications ranging from mission rehearsal to modeling advanced weapons systems and fire control systems. By creating training simulations linked to tactical hardware, Soldiers are able to learn to use sophisticated, and often scarce, equipment such as PackBot robots, Common Remotely Operated Weapons Stations (CROWS), and Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicles (NBC-RV) in a safe, vivid, simulation.