Though the Army uses commercial games as training tools, this marks the first time that the commercial world is using a military-designed game.
Computer game maker Ubisoft Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Paris, will have a license to develop console versions of America's Army, the popular first-person-shooter developed by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool. Currently, the game is available only for the PC. Ubisoft, which makes several popular shooters such as Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, will also be allowed to develop additional games based on America's Army, and to do it for platforms ranging from consoles to cell phones.
The PC version of America's Army has been and will remain a free download, but Ubisoft will sell the console version on a for-profit basis. Ubisoft will pay less than $2 million as an upfront advance on royalties, plus about 5 percent royalties per game, according to Army Col. E. Casey Wardynski. The game cost the Army $2.5 million to develop, and it is certain to more than recoup the development costs. The PC version has snagged 3.3 million registered users, and Wardynski estimates that there are three to five times as many consoles as PC gamers, so the potential royalties are substantial.
But it was the expense of producing console games, rather than a desire for royalties, that spurred the Army to turn to a commercial manufacturer. The PC version of America's Army is free because it's relatively inexpensive to maintain servers from which players can download the game. Yet a console version would have to be burned to CDs, physically shipped and then the Army would have to pay additional licensing fees to the console manufacturers. Wardynski's estimated the cost of developing a console version at $20 million.
While licensing a game developed with taxpayer dollars is new, the concept is not, said Wardynski. He pointed to similar arrangements with other Army recruiting programs, such as Army Motorsports.
For its part, Ubisoft gets the marketing benefits of highly visible and valuable brand names.
Ubisoft spokeswoman Cassie Vogel said the company would uphold the "ideals and values" of America's Army, such as game play that emphasizes teamwork.
Not that Ubisoft will have much choice. The Army retains the right to review content for such red flags as the excessive violence that characterizes commercial shoot-'em-ups. "It won't be the sort of game where you tear off someone's arm and beat them to death with it," noted Wardynski.