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November 12, 2008 9:00 PM

Former Microsoft exec starts game venture, with help from the company

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft is licensing technology from its advanced research group to a new children's video-game company called Sabi in Kirkland.

The five-person company was started by Margaret Johnson, a longtime Microsoft manager who worked on Windows NT, Xbox 360 and advanced technologies with research and strategy boss Craig Mundie.

Johnson left to start the company this year after spending three years developing and testing drawing recognition technology called "Living Ink."

The technology is used in Sabi's first game, called "ItzaBitza," to animate drawings that children make on their computer using a mouse. The $19.99 game is designed to help children ages 4 and older learn to read, and it draws on research Microsoft did with educators and child development specialists.

Microsoft's licensing the technology and taking a stake in Sabi through its IP Ventures program, which licenses intellectual property from the Microsoft Research Group. The same program led to the creation of Seattle mobile marketing company Zumobi.

Johnson, who is funding Sabi herself, was inspired to develop children's games after seeing the sort of games available to her daughters on the Xbox 360 and the amount of time children spend just watching TV after school.

The game was pitched internally at Microsoft but it ended up making more sense to spin it off as a separate company.

"We didn't see how it would fit in with the game studios given their target auience and their strategy for their current roadmap, so it made win-win sense for us to .... take the material that we worked on and bring this out as a company,'' she said.

Sabi also plans to develop additional games and extend its titles beyond the PC to different platforms, including Nintendo's Wii and DS.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.