Gamification of Recruiting: The Army Experience

June 12, 2012 by Wally Bock

The US Army was no stranger to games for training. Sand table exercises for training in tactical decision making were in use more than a century ago. Forty years ago, the Army commissioned a training game called “Firefight” from James F. Dunnigan, developer of many strategic board games. Firefight later became a commercial game.

That familiarity with games may have been what inspired the Army to develop games that would help in recruiting. The development of those games can give us an idea of what’s involved in creating a game to support your recruiting and what the benefits might be.

Planning for the Army game began in 1999. Colonel Casey Wardynski defined the objective as:

“using computer game technology to provide the public a virtual Soldier experience that was engaging, informative and entertaining”

The Army took the sensible course of using commercial software that was already being used for a variety of consumer games. In most game development, software is not as important as thinking through what information you want to share and what experience you want players to have.

The first version of a game for the PC, “America’s Army” was released on July 4, 2002. Since then there have been more than 20 releases, many of which are used for training. The Army’s next move was to create a “virtual Army experience” that could be transported to shopping centers, fairs, and other locations. By 2008 they had four units travelling around the country.

In 2010 the Army set up a test bed “Army Experience Center” at the Franklin Mills shopping center in Pennsylvania. The center cost $12 million but it allowed the Army to test different game configurations and evaluate results. The test ended in 2012 and the center was dismantled.

What we have so far is more than a decade and millions of dollars devoted to developing recruiting games for the Army. There are three lessons for you if you want to gamify your recruiting.

Use commercially available platforms. The Army could have spent much more and taken much longer.

Take the time to do the job right. It took three years to develop the first version of America’s Army and six more years to develop the virtual Army experience.

Test as you go. Today’s Army recruiters have tools to do a better job in a variety of settings because they Army saw every step as a learning experience and then used that experience in new games.

Was all the time and effort worth it? The Army’s own assessment is that America’s Army is “an effective recruiting asset.” The Army judges that the America’s Army:

“Affords the opportunity for relationship building
Brings potential recruits to the recruiter
Allows the recruiter to work a crowd someone else has gathered for them
Serves as a centerpiece for an event the recruiter creates”

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Selection

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