Microsoft's 'Studio Alpha' is bringing together Azure, gaming and AI for wargame simulation | ZDNet
Credit: The Walking Cat

Microsoft has been on a gaming-studio buying spree for the past couple of years. But not all of its gaming work is consumer-focused, as its “Studio Alpha” initiative makes plain.

Studio Alpha is inspired by Microsoft’s gaming-studio model, but is focused on a very different set of customers — mainly the U.S. Department of Defense, and, to a lesser extent, the general commercial/business market. (I learned about the existence of Microsoft’s “Studio Alpha” project thanks to a tweet from The Walking Cat on Twitter.)  Studio Alpha is all about simulating and modeling real-world behaviors virtually.

Studio Alpha is Microsoft’s “serious gaming initiative,” according to several job posts on the Microsoft careers site. It has a Microsoft-esque tagline: “Empowering Organizations to solve complex planet-scale massive data problems using simulation and artificial intelligence run in the Cloud and visualized using Gaming technology.” Another way the Softies describe the mission of the Studio Alpha team is that it’s creating a wargaming and simulation platform for Azure decision making that is data-driven, AI-driven and tech-driven.

Microsoft’s first public customer (or “partner,” if you prefer Microsoft’s current parlance) for Studio Alpha is the US Marines.

Currently, wargaming simulations, military and commercial, look almost like board games. There’s not a whole lot of telemetry, automation or machine-intelligence involved. Microsoft is using its existing cloud, AI and gaming technologies to try to change this. The goal is to enable users to ingest and compute data in the cloud; rapidly analyze the results; make use of AI and machine learning for decision assistance; simulate real-world entities and environments; enable real-time collaboration (of course there’s a Teams angle!); and support classified data environments.

Though it seems to be fairly early days for Studio Alpha, Microsoft is looking to bring some of the consumer gaming tech infrastructure it has in place to the commercial market. Consumer games already have quite a bit of AI/ML built-in, so it’s not as far of a stretch as it might sound like. And remember: Project xCloud — Microsoft’s game streaming platform — was built from the ground-up on Azure. And doesn’t Flight Simulator feel realistic enough to almost qualify as a digital twinning environment for wargaming scenarios?

Microsoft is mulling the extent to which common data models could be shared across certain groups looking to do wargaming-type simulations. There could be a case made for DoD groups to share a common set of entties. Ditto for companies in the supply chain and logistics/planning space. Microsoft is tackling this as a data-centric problem space, so many of its business technologies and services potentially could play a part in Studio Alpha’s build-out.

I asked Microsoft officials for more information about Studio Alpha. No word back so far.

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