- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009



If kids are playing video games, why not do some good while they’re at it?Elf Island, a virtual world created by Atlanta-based Good Egg Studios, ties online games to charity construction in the real world. The more “virtual” homes that the kids build by completing mini-mazes, the more real homes that are built by Habitat for Humanity.

Liz Kronenberger, who founded the company with her husband, Craig, said they started the site to promote positive social values online.

“We’re really giving kids the proper motivation and the right tools to empower them to make a difference in the real world,” she said.

The couple recently unveiled Elf Island’s first “GoodQuest,” challenging gamers to build 10,000 virtual homes in a month. If they do, the couple will pay for four new homes to be built in a dilapidated community in Honduras.

The quest is harder than it might sound. It took me about 30 minutes - and several heart-pounding attempts - to lead a lumbering giant through a series of timed mazes and around bad guys to build a virtual home.

More quests will follow in the months to come, aiding charities that build playgrounds, preserve endangered species, promote green initiatives and boost music education. Mrs. Kronenberger said much of the site’s direction will depend on what the gamers decide.

“Elf Island’s vision will be run by the kids,” she said.

Elf Island includes chat rooms and scores of games in addition to the GoodQuests. Membership is now free. But the developers hope to raise revenue in 2009 to help pay for the good deeds with a monthly fee that will likely be about $6.

China’s 3G rollout sets off sales scramble

China is starting a long-delayed introduction of third-generation mobile-phone service, setting off a politically charged scramble by foreign and Chinese equipment makers for up to $41 billion in orders.

Chinese sales could be crucial for suppliers such as Motorola Inc., Alcatel-Lucent SA and Nokia Siemens Networks as global demand slumps. State media say the largest Chinese carrier, China Mobile, expects to sign up 100 million 3G subscribers - more than most nations’ entire mobile markets - in the next three years.

But how much business the international equipment makers can get depends in part on whether regulators try to boost China’s high-tech industry by ordering wireless carriers to buy domestic products. Beijing has tried to use such restrictions to nurture other fields, prompting complaints by the United States and other trading partners.

The leading domestic competitors are Huawei Technologies Ltd. and ZTE Ltd., ambitious upstarts with government support that already sell low-cost gear in Africa and Asia and are improving their technology.

Foreigners are likely to get less than half of China’s 3G orders, said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China Ltd., a Beijing consulting firm.

“It’s basically an intensely political process,” Mr. Clark said.

The United States and European Union say they are closely watching how the telecom suppliers are picked. Washington and the European Union are pressing Beijing to abide by World Trade Organization promises to treat foreign and domestic companies equally.

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