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US Army tried to buy 360 units, told no

Plans to train soldiers with consoles stall.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

A US Army training expert is claiming the military tried to purchase Xbox 360 units to train soldiers with - but was turned down by Microsoft.

Chief technology officer Roger Smith told Wired he discussed a potential deal with the platform holder in 2006. He claims Microsoft execs refused to sell consoles or license the use of XNA tools to the Army because of concerns about damage to the company's reputation: "Do we want the Xbox 360 to be seen as having the flavor of a weapon? Do we want Mom and Dad knowing that their kid is buying the same game console as the military trains the SEALs and Rangers on?"

Smith said Microsoft was also concerned that a big Army purchase would create a hardware shortage, and that profits from software would be limited as the military would only buy one game per console.

A representative from Microsoft's PR agency said he had no knowledge of such a conversation, but pointed out that military simulations have been developed for consoles before - such as Ubisoft's America's Army and Full Spectrum Warrior from THQ.

"Or, if the Army prefers to build a simulation without engaging game development professionals, Microsoft has also enabled independent developers to create games for the Xbox 360 using the XNA Game Studio development tools, and deploy and play them on retail Xbox 360 consoles using an XNA Premium Creator’s Club membership," said the representative.

The author of the Wired article wrote a similar piece for the Training and Simulation Journal, in which he asked: "Could interactive consoles become military training assets?"

Apparently the Army's keen - consoles are seen as a cheaper and more stable option than PCs. Wiis are already used by military and civilian hospitals in physical therapy programmes. The Army's Future Combat Systems project is investigating the use of game controllers to direct unmanned ground vehicles, and controllers have been used to operate UAVs.

However, there are issues with licensing, certification, costs, video capture and so on, and the platform holders haven't been able to clear them up. According to the article, after a month of enquiries from the Army, "Neither Microsoft, Nintendo nor Sony could deliver a coherent answer. The responses were not unfriendly or unhelpful so much as uncomprehending." Just imagine that.

Sounds like the Army's changed its mind anyway. "Our initial enthusiasm when Xbox and XNA were new products has cooled," said Smith. "At this time we have no active or anticipated projects or R&D that are looking at using either of those products for military simulations. I would be happy to reopen these discussions if Microsoft is interested in selling these products to our community."

Another Army expert, chief engineer Mike Enloe, reckons the march of progress is inevitable. He predicted the Army will be using consoles as training tools within five years. "It wil be your choice. Do you want to use a console or a PC?" said Enloe. Well?

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