Microsoft-backed start-up eyes kid gamer market

November 13, 2008

When I was a kid, my mom would drop me off at the library so I could “study.” I would sneak to the basement of the library and play “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” on the library’s computer. It turns out I was studying, fooled into playing an educational video game.

Kids love video games, so why not make them fun and educational? That’s the idea behind a Seattle-based start-up, partially funded by Microsoft, called Sabi Inc., which is releasing a new game called “ItzaBitza.”

The reading and drawing game is targeted at children four years and older. It features a technology developed by Microsoft’s research division called “Living Ink,” which allows children to draw objects, such as a house or a tree, that come to life and interact with the game’s characters.

As part of the game, children embark on various “quests,” which force the players to read on-screen instructions. If a child gets stuck on a word, they can roll the mouse over the letters to pronounce the words out loud.

Sabi has a healthy level of appreciation for what it’s done:

“The same way Sesame Street was groundbreaking for TV, that’s how I would look at this,” said Co-Founder and Chief Executive Margaret Johnson, a former Microsoft employee. “It’s the time for an update to the get to the type of gaming that kids are doing today.”

The company recieves capital, support and intellectual property from Microsoft in exchange for a “meaningful” minority stake in Sabi. Microsoft and Johnson declined to comment on specifics.

The game is only available for PCs, but Sabi said it is looking to bring the game to other platforms. It’s available for $19.99 at www.itzabitza.com

(Photos: Sabi/ItzaBitza)

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