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Friday, June 1, 2001
 
2001 Small Business profiles

Hulabee ready to throw first pitch

By Sharon Pian Chan
Seattle Times technology reporter

Ten months after they stepped down as the heads of Humongous Entertainment, founders Shelley Day and Ron Gilbert are launching a new, children's interactive media company in Kirkland: Hulabee Entertainment.

In the dot-bomb economy, Hulabee is launching a sports-news Web site for children called SportsSquad.com. Undaunted by the failure of subscription models Slate and TheStreet.com attempted, Hulabee is forging ahead with one of its own.

"It would have been a difficult climate a few years ago with so much hype about the Internet and how it was going to change everything," Day said. "It's probably easier for us to come out now. I think we're at the beginning of seeing a normalized market." She will be in New York today to launch the site at a media event in Times Square featuring Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.

Despite the economic obstacles, Day and Gilbert can't be dismissed when it comes to selling interactive content to kids. The two founded Humongous Entertainment in 1992, the children's software company in Bothell, which produced several successful franchises, including Freddi Fish, Pajama Sam and the Backyard Sports series, which hit the bestseller list for PC sports titles. It ranks among the top publishers of children's software, even when pitted against giants such as Disney and Mattel.

Day and Gilbert stepped down from Humongous after its parent company, GT Interactive, was bought by Infogrames in July.

Day said they already had been planning to move Humongous in an online direction, but Infogrames wanted to stay focused on the CD-ROM software. Ten days after they left, Day and Gilbert started Hulabee with self-funding in temporary office space in Bellevue with 10 other former Humongous employees, Day as chief executive officer, Gilbert as creative director. It now has 43 employees and just started its first round of fund raising.

In a few months, Hulabee plans to start selling episodic adventure games and content delivered via dial-up and broadband connections and, eventually, games that can be played online.

"Our Backyard Sports line allowed for Internet play, and we had our Cavedog division, but from a creative standpoint, adding the Internet as an element is more than a delivery platform," said Day. "It's new ways to look at games in terms of designing compelling player experiences and new player interactions."

SportsSquad.com will feature daily news, scores, player and team stats, schedules and interactive content such as games, message boards, polls and sweepstakes for kids between the ages of 7 and 14. Wire services provide some of the news content; kid characters on the site will also "contribute" articles.

After a month of free service in June, the company will charge $3.99 a month for a regular subscription or $5.99 a month for an ad-free one.

"Obviously, nothing is certain in the world of the Internet," said Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children's Software Revue. "(But) I was quite impressed with the depth--that shows that the people who designed it understand that children demand authentic, real content."

The Web site will be The Sporting News' official kids' content provider, and the company begins a nationwide baseball tour today that will end with the All-Star baseball game in Seattle on July 10.

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