When GovX and its president, Tony Farwell, set out to release a military-only version of the video game "Medal of Honor: Warfighter," they faced a challenge.
How could they close the divide between standard first-person shooter video games and the warfare military players have experienced in real life? To make the game seem authentic, the company went straight to the source and consulted with U.S. Special Operations Command Tier-1 operators, as well as special operations units from Poland, Australia and Germany, among others.
Electronic Arts released "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" on Oct. 23. A limited-edition version of the game has been released exclusively for military players by GovX, the California-based online shopping partner tailored to active-duty, reserved and retired members of the armed forces and related government agencies.
Farwell, the founder of GovX Inc., said EA was careful to make sure equipment and tactics seen in the game were credible, something players who have served in the military would notice instantly.
But to make it different than other first-person shooter games, early promotion for the game focused on the human side of war.
"You are being dropped into the boots of guys on Tier-1 operations, and these are based on actual Tier-1 operations without betraying any military secrets or actual identities of the people who are involved," Farwell said. "The stress and strain of being away from families, spouses, your buddies that are injured or even die -- it's a really gripping story line. I feel that it is a very different kind of experience."
Developers had to walk a fine line in their quest for realism. With story lines and tactics being torn from real-life missions or training exercises, they had to be mindful not to endanger people involved or compromise high-level security.
Farwell said some compromising information or inappropriate details were removed at the request of soldiers who helped with the game.
Military players will be recognized with Project Honor insignia and camouflage patterns for their weapons.
Project Honor is a campaign to raise awareness and generate charitable contributions to organizations supporting fallen soldiers from the special operations community. A portion of proceeds from the game will go to the Project Honor campaign.
"Medal of Honor: Warfighter" will have competition in the first-person shooter marketplace as a slew of titles will be released this fall. "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" will be released weeks before the long-awaited "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," which hits shelves Nov. 13.
"Call of Duty," being released by Activision, and "Battlefield," released by EA, are more popular titles. "Battlefield 3" was released in 2011, but downloadable content, which includes maps and missions, has kept the game fresh. The expansion pack "Armored Kill" was released in September with "Aftermath" set for a December release.
Since "Call of Duty" was first released in 2002, the series has sold more than 100 million copies with 40 million active online gamers monthly. "Battlefield 3" has sold more than 10 million copies alone.
Warfighter is the 14th installment of the game that premiered in 1999. In 2008, it was named the Best Selling FPS franchise by Guinness World Records although recent editions haven't seen nearly the popularity of titles such as "Call of Duty" or "Battlefield."
Getting the word out about the military edition of "Medal of Honor" has been bumpy for GovX. With developers keeping game details -- and even screen shots -- close to the vest and hurdles with outside promotions on post, many of the military gamers interviewed were unaware of the military-tailored edition. A GovX representative said in an email that the company has joined with Military.com to get the word out to more gamers on post.
Still, there will be an eager audience for whatever version of the game they play. GovX surveys and focus groups of military gamers found that they play first-person shooter games 60 percent more than their nonmilitary peers. Of those surveyed, 80 percent expressed a strong desire to play first-person shooter games against others who also are in the military and against those in other branches.
Pfc. Chris Johnson, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native stationed at Fort Bragg, hadn't heard about the military-only edition of "Medal of Honor" but was receptive to the idea.
"Probably more interesting game play," said Johnson on his way into Elite Zone Gaming Lounge in Marketfair Mall on a recent evening.
Johnson, who plays games daily, said if he knows he's playing with all-military gamers, he'll approach first-person shooter games more seriously.
"There's a different approach," Johnson said. "It's more realistic gameplay as far as, like, tactics. Creeping around, setting up traps instead of just running around gunning. Working more of a strategy."
Farwell says GovX and EA have explored the possibility of creating a military-only online network for troops to play each other, but there's no immediate plan for it.
He said the team and competitive aspects of first-person shooter games are what really appeals to military gamers.
"This is working with your team on your mission, and I think that plays into one of the fundamental reasons people join the military -- really talented people who have many other opportunities in life," Farwell said. "They're obviously not doing it for the great pay. There's just other reasons why they do this. Part of it is just the camaraderie, the competitive nature of it."
MORE ON THE GAME
"Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Military Edition," is compatible for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC and retails for $59.89. Go to medalofhonor.com for more on the game.