It all added up for Joe Booth.
Having spent 25 years in the video game industry at places like Microsoft, Electronics Arts and Ubisoft, the England-born veteran had learned the ins and outs of the gaming world.
He is also dyslexic. For his entire life, reading and writing haven’t come easy. And as a father of two, Booth understood the anxiety felt by parents about their children becoming proficient readers, especially with all the technological distractions around today.
His solution: Take everything great about video games and apply that to an electronic book.
“It’s a totally fresh way of thinking about e-books,” Booth said.
And thus story behind Booth’s new venture, Vidya Gamer. He left Microsoft last summer to start the company, which makes interactive books that are delivered via an iPhone or iPad app. Readers become part of the story, swiping the screen, touching words and manipulating the device to take control of the storyline.
It’s like the modern version of R.L. Stein’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from the 90s — just with technology that improves the overall experience and tries to make reading just as fun as playing video games.
“If the book was invented today, it wouldn’t be linear, it wouldn’t be static — it would be dynamic,” Booth says in the video above. “It would react to what we did. It would put us at the heart of every story and every story would be unique.”
To get Vidya’s first book off the ground, Booth launched a Kickstarter project earlier this week. In just four days, the response has been extremely impressive with 168 backers. The original funding goal of $10,000 was already eclipsed by Tuesday morning.
“I’m gob-smacked, humbled and a little overwhelmed by the support that we’ve received and particularly that so much has been driven by our local community here in Queen Anne and Seattle,” Booth said.
Booth, who arrived in Seattle from the United Kingdom in 2010, learned a lot from his time spent at Microsoft, where he oversaw KODU, a program used by 1.2 million students around the world that gets kids passionate about coding.
Around the same time, he was also consulting with an ed-tech company called Achieve3000, and it was then when he fell in love with the idea of using what he learned making games to help kids in school.
So he left Microsoft and founded Vidya with the help of two advisors: Max Brallier on the creative side and Dr. Alex Games with the learning science aspect of the project.
Booth, who worked on titles like FIFA, Need for Speed, and Ghost Recon, then taught himself Objective C, Xcode and iOS to built the core of the platform. The first Vidya book is “an epic adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones, Uncharted, and Tomb Raider,” that should entertain both young and old readers.
And that’s where Kickstarter comes in. Booth and his team finished the first chapter of the book, but want readers to be involved in the final production process. The hero’s name, the identities of the key characters, certain plot points, and even the title will all be shaped by the backers.
There’s also something neat called the “Free Vidya Books Program.” On pledges of $25 or more, Vidya adds five books to the program. Schools, libraries and education researchers will be able to apply for free Vidya Books.
Booth said he’s “definitely” going to continue the 30-day campaign as planned.
“Reaching our goal enables us to be a bit more strategic,” he said of the $10,000 mark. “We specifically want to build a relationship with book lovers and the book-loving community.”
Vidya set a first stretch goal for $15,000, and each goal reached thereafter ($30K, $55K, $70K) will fund a new book. All backers will receive the additional books for no extra cost to them.
If the Kickstarter continues to succeed, there are all kind of ideas Booth has for new books. For example: A Robinson Crusoe-themed story in the style of Minecraft, or an RPG-game/book with an “epic” narrative, customizations and quests.
“We are also involving our backers in helping decide which book we will work on next,” added Booth.
Booth doesn’t think that Vidya should replace traditional novels — “there is room in this world for both,” he says. But he does see an amazing opportunity to get children interested in reading, especially now.
“I think anything that can help ignite a love and a passion of reading deserves a shot,” he said. “Reading is such an amazing media. What I realized is that now that we read on tablets, we have this chance to totally rethink our relationship with the words. I feel we are at less than 10 percent of the potential of what is possible.”
Previously on GeekWire: High-tech readers: Seattle libraries lead nation in e-book checkouts