A Small (virtual) World for a Large (real) Market

As reported in the New York Times’ Technology Bits blog: “Rick Goodman, who developed the popular real-time strategy game Age of Empires, is now focusing on a virtual world where, instead of re-enacting historical battles, Chinese children can learn English. Alex Wang, the company’s chief executive and co-founder, said the idea grew out of his personal experience landing at the San Francisco airport on his first visit from China, 21 years ago, when he was in his 20s.

The biggest problems, he said: children studying languages do not get to practice the language in their daily lives, they do not get much attention from teachers in large classrooms and they are often afraid to make mistakes when they do try to speak different languages.

Those are the problems that Wiz World Online aims to solve. Kids choose an avatar and pick a scene, like a castle in a fantasy land or a supermarket in the United States. They are confronted with challenges, like dodging flying monsters or buying fruit, all of which ask them to use English. If they hit a ceiling in their language capabilities, they go to the wizards’ library and read so-called magical books that teach them lessons.

The company is initially focusing on kids age 7 to 12 in China but plans to expand globally, eventually teaching many different languages to kids all over the world.

Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are increasingly interested in Web companies that have to do with education, an area they say has not yet been transformed by the Internet. “The fundamental education business models are coming down,” said Alex Finkelstein, a general partner at Spark Capital, which led a $7 million venture capital round for 8D World.

Only a few years ago, he said, people did not think education could be done on the Web, but companies like Rosetta Stone, a language learning Web company that went public this year, has proven them wrong. “Those are educational products that not only teach people but are becoming very very big, profitable companies,” he said.” Story continues…

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