Microsoft Kicks Off Kodu Kids' Programming Game, Design Contest

Microsoft ships its Kodu Game Lab, which helps kids learn to program in a video game setting. The company also launched the Kodu Cup competition.

Microsoft has announced the availability of the first full non-beta version of its game-development tool, Microsoft Kodu Game Lab for the PC.

The Kodu Game is available as a free download at Kodu is Microsoft's game-development tool-which first debuted in 2009, when the beta was shown at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)-for children to create and play their own games on the PC and Xbox.

Not a programming language, Kodu resembles a video game interface with which children can drag and drop icons to create their own unique games, worlds, and landscapes, as well as their own rules and scenarios. Kids as young as five years old have used it, though the game is actually aimed at children aged nine and up. The concept of Kodu came from a dad, Matt Maclaurin, who was looking for a way to help his own daughter learn the basics of programming.

Microsoft Research developed it specifically as an educational tool to help develop children's creativity and logic skills while furthering their interest in programming and possibly future careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As stated in President Obama's State of the Union address in late January 2011, STEM skills are increasingly critical to remaining competitive in the work force and the world.

In a March 16 blog post, Lili Cheng, general manager of the Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs at Microsoft, which sponsors Kodu, said:

""According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. will have more than 2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2014, yet fewer than 15 percent of U.S. college undergraduates now pursue degrees in science or engineering. Of course, it's not just about jobs. We need more STEM graduates to create the next innovations so important to the U.S.' future economic competitiveness.""

Key Kodu features include:

  • A visual user menu that requires no experience to create 2-D or full 3-D interactive video games.
  • An interactive system that guides users through each step of making a game-creating terrain, adding characters and programming them.
  • A community feature that enables sharing games with other PC-based Kodu Game Lab users.
  • Visual language that eliminates syntax errors with no cryptic error messages while programming.

Meanwhile, Microsoft also announced the Kodu Cup, a U.S. game competition for kids from 9 to 17 years old. Contestants are to design their own video game for the PC using Kodu. Winners will have the chance to win $5,000 for themselves as well as $5,000 for their school, some great technology, and a trip to the Worldwide finals of Microsoft's Imagine Cup competition. Games are a great way to engage students and there is a lot of momentum with educational video games in the classroom and beyond, Microsoft officials said.

"We're also releasing a classroom kit for teachers to easily implement Kodu into their curricula," Cheng said. "Hopefully, Kodu can play a role in helping children learn and encouraging more children to become future video game designers, engineers or scientists."

Starting March 16, kids can enter the competition. Interested parties can read the official rules and learn more at

"Today's kids have a natural passion for video games and video game design," said Michael H. Levine, Ph.D., executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, in a statement. "Microsoft's Kodu Cup is a great way to harness that passion and apply it in a way that helps improve academic achievement, skills and interest in the careers of the future, which are going to fuel our country."

"Our research has shown that Kodu Game Lab appeals equally to girls and boys and helps promote creativity, self-confidence, critical thinking and technology skills," Microsoft's Cheng said in a statement. "Kids don't feel like they're programming so much as playing, even though they're creating sophisticated worlds, characters and storylines."