REDMOND, Wash., March 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Microsoft Corp. today announced the launch of the Imagine Cup Kodu Challenge, a new Microsoft Imagine Cup competition that offers aspiring game developers, ages 9 to 18, the opportunity to learn coding by developing a video game with Kodu, an easy-to-learn, game-creation toolkit and programming language available for free download on Windows-based PCs. Microsoft has drawn on the expertise of Mercy Corps and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop to launch this new challenge as part of Imagine Cup, Microsoft's student technology skills development program and competition. (Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130319/SF79319) (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20000822/MSFTLOGO) "Microsoft developed Kodu to transform programming from a skill perceived as overly difficult to grasp to one that is fun and kid-friendly," said Scott Fintel, producer for Kodu at Microsoft. "By getting students interested in game design at an early age through Imagine Cup, it's our hope they will acquire new skills that will translate into a lifelong passion for computer programming and computer science and will encourage them to explore STEM-related careers in the future." The Kodu Challenge runs from March 19 through May 17, 2013, and invites students in two age brackets (9–12 and 13–18) to design games on the Kodu platform. For this challenge, participants will explore the relationships between water and people through the medium of Kodu video games. Although the only limits for these kids are their imaginations, the partnership with Mercy Corps offers the chance to learn and explore water-related issues, including disaster relief, clean-water engineering projects and much more, through a video series on the Kodu Challenge website. While acquiring valuable skills such as critical thinking, storytelling and programming, students in both age brackets will compete for first-place prizes of US$3,000, second-place prizes of US$2,000 and third-place prizes of US$1,000. "At Mercy Corps, we are acutely aware of the relationship between water and people. While too much water can cause flooding, forcing people from their homes and destroying infrastructure, too little water can result in crop failure, conflict over scarce resources and malnutrition," said Dr. Rebecca Wolfe, senior youth and peace-building advisor at Mercy Corps. "We believe in the power of games to help young people grapple with difficult issues. The Imagine Cup Kodu Challenge offers young students a valuable opportunity to develop new skills while creating games that illustrate the important role water plays in people's lives around the world." With nearly one-half million downloads since its release and more than 16,000 kid-created games currently available for download, Kodu has proven an effective way to teach programming to young students. There will be additional Kodu-focused Imagine Cup challenges by Microsoft launching later this year, reflective of Imagine Cup's evolution into an ongoing opportunity for students of all backgrounds and disciplines to learn coding and develop new skills with a chance to win cash prizes or travel.