News and Events

Game Developer Discusses "America's Army"

October 2004 — "America's Army" was created and developed under the guidance of U.S. Army Col. Casey Wardynski. Initially intended as a recruitment aid, addressed to young Americans who were considering a career in the military, this interactive computer game took an unexpected turn when it "went global". Today, it is one of the most popular games worldwide, consistently ranked among the top four games played internationally by young men. Currently, it is in third place after Battlefield 1942 and Counterstrike, and has 4.2 million registered players. In the Islamic world, the largest number of players can be found in Turkey, followed by Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Pakistan, in descending order. Reflecting the overall low connectivity of that part of the world, the player numbers are considerably less than in other regions, with about 14,000 estimated online players. The age range of players worldwide is 14 - 24.

Colonel Wardynski noted the socialization potential of games, which he sees reflected in the behavior of initially rule-breaking players within America's Army. "Kids like to test limits, to break rules, to see how much trouble they can get into," he said. "The game allows them to do that. But being anti-social has long-term costs, and we have found that aberrant behavior goes down fast because of the reward structure that is built into the game. Negative behavior has consequences."

He continued, "You might go to jail — which is fun once, but not consistently. Or, since the game is team-based, your team will be angry with you, since your conduct has costs for all of them. We always get 'team killers' — some who intentionally kill members of their own team — but they are thrown out of the game quickly by their peers. There are lots of penalties. Being obliged to start over from the bottom is a big disincentive. We found that configuring the reward structure appropriately works much better than requiring or prohibiting something directly."

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Colonel Wardynski is the Director of the U.S. Army's Office of Economic and Manpower Management at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He provides policy analysis and advice to senior Army leaders on issues ranging from soldier compensation structure to recapitalization of the Army tank fleet. Colonel Wardynski studied at West Point, and went on to serve in Germany, Korea and the United States. He has an M.A. in Public Policy from Harvard University, and completed his doctoral work at the Pardee RAND Graduate School with a degree in Policy Analysis. His awards include the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Parachutist Badge.