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ROME – Twelve months after its launch, the world’s first humanitarian video game about hunger is being celebrated as an unprecedented success story. “Food Force” is about clean fun for kids, in an environment where popular video games are often filled with sex and violence.

Food Force was released as a free internet download on by the United Nations World Food Programme in April 2005, to teach young people about the problem of global hunger and what humanitarian organisations do to fight it.

Exceeding all expectations, the game now has nearly 4 million players world-wide, and is considered cool among the 8-14 year old gaming sector in nearly 200 countries.

The game’s widespread success has drawn attention and support from industry leaders, many of whom are gathering in Los Angeles this week for the world’s biggest interactive entertainment and educational software conference, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

“The game continues to be the benchmark in the burgeoning “serious games” niche of the video game industry,” explains Justin Roche, WFP’s Food Force project manager. “No other game of its kind has had this much success in terms of number of players and widespread awareness. A number of university students are even writing theses about Food Force as a case study of innovation in the humanitarian sector.”

“Pleased as we are with the success of Food Force, we are not resting on our laurels,” says Neil Gallagher, WFP’s Director of Communications. “In the lightening fast environment of the gaming industry, Food Force will soon age, so we are already working on a new video game for adults. The combination of advanced game technology and the real-life adventures and challenges that are part of WFP’s work, promise an action-packed, sophisticated and intelligent new offering,” said Gallagher.

“Just as we have sought corporate partners for the multilingual versions of Food Force, we are actively looking for experienced game partners for the new video game,” continued Gallagher.

The Food Force game was recently translated into its fourth language, on the track to being as international as WFP itself. After English, Japanese and Italian, Food Force was released in Polish in April. Hungarian, Chinese, French, Greek, Hindi and Arabic are all due to follow soon.

All localisations were made possible thanks to financial and in-kind donations from gaming industry leaders (Konami for Japanese, Shanda for Chinese and Ubisoft for French), government bodies (the European Commission’s humanitarian aid body ECHO financed Polish and Hungarian, the Italian Cooperation for Development together with RAINET for the Italian version) and even private individuals. The success of the English version would not have been possible with out the technical support of Yahoo! Games in California.

WFP now plans to launch a blog on the Food Force website, styled as a diary by one of the game’s characters and featuring entries from real-life WFP workers in the field. This is a novel element which will satisfy gamers’ hunger for contact with and information from real humanitarian staff delivering food to poor people all over the world.