Leadership: October 8, 2004


: What is needed is a wargame the commander can sit down and operate himself ---Jim Dunnigan (Leesburg DoD Wargames Conference, 1977)

Worldwide, military forces in are adopting commercial wargames as cost effective supplements to their high-end wargames in increasing numbers. To name only a few, there games include TacOps, Harpoon, Armored Task Force, Decisive Action, Point of Attack, and Steel Beasts. So, which is better: Commercial or Department of Defense (DoD)  wargames?

In many ways, commercial games may be superior. Why is this?

First, they are cheaper and faster to develop, being independent of the regulations, laws, and formal processes governing how defense contractors do business. Commercial wargames are a niche product and have generally been withdrawn from the retail chain. Produced by small independent companies relying on the Internet for sales and distribution, their low overhead enables them to produce simulations at a fraction of the large defense contractors.

Second, commercial wargames are developed first and used second and can therefore be adopted with less risk by the military as they can try one copy before buying thousands.

Third, commercial wargames have a shorter learning curve. Since they were originally designed primarily for civilian gamers, their interface and screen display are easier to use and more pleasing to the eye.

Fourth, commercial games have an informal, rigorous, intense verification and validation procedure thanks to the hundreds of dedicated enthusiasts who provide a constant critical, check of designer assumptions, implementation, data, and results. Professional simulations have relatively few testers, and shorter, less intense VV&A by people who do not share the amateurs dedication.

Fifth, commercial scenario and database development tools are faster. A scenario can literally be developed in a matter of hours as opposed to the weeks or months of their DoD cousins. Initiatives are underway to rectify this problem.

Sixth, commercial games allow for solitaire play. This allows individual study by the player and does not require a large army of contractors to administer.

Finally, commercial games run on PCs and utilize the Internet. Military games are migrating to PCs, but still frequently use high-end computers with multiple processors.

On the other hand, professional wargames have a more open rule set and these are usually taught to the players so they may better understand how to use doctrine in combination with the simulation rules.

DoD wargames support large networks with hundreds of users and can link different wargames depending on who is to be trained. Commercial wargames are beginning to support larger number of players. For example, the US Army version of TacOps has been used at Fort Knox with 40 to 50 networked PC workstations plus several hundred more participants who were not on computers at all.

DoD games frequently link to Command and Control devices and allow the training audience to interact with the simulation in much the same way they interact with units in the real world. This imposes additional development and security costs.

Finally, DoD wargames have extensive after action review utilities, while many commercial games only offer rudimentary tools, although some games offer tools to analyze results. 

So, what is the verdict? Commercial games are steadily closing the gap with their DoD cousins. They fill a niche allowing for proficiency training and low overhead events, are cost-effective, and are readily available for purchase, even if not officially sanctioned. --Kenneth Michaels




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