If you're at a Starbucks waiting in line, why bother checking in when you can escape into a get-away world and fight gangsters, or be a mob boss, and combat your way toward becoming Kingpin of Starbucks (at least on the corner of Battery and California). For the more than three million folks already playing "Life is Crime" on their Android and iOS devices, this sounds familiar.
So popular is the mobile game that the maker, one-year-old Red Robot Labs, announced Wednesday that it's raised $5 million in a strategic investment from Next Media, a Hong Kong-based media conglomerate, as a way to expand into Asia.
These new funds come on top of an $8.5 million round announced just last September from Benchmark and Shasta Ventures and a seed round of $2 million raised in January 2011 when it launched, from Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of The Social+Capital Partnership and Rick Thompson, co-founder of Playdom.
“For us, we always viewed Asia as a very strong growing game market especially for mobile, and particularly in Japan," said Mike Ouye, co-founder and CEo of Red Robot Labs, in an interview with me. "While we were exploring going out there, we were looking for a strong distribution partner, not only to get our games to more people but also to accelerate the use of our [R2] platform."
The R2 platform, which is currently in development, will allow third-party developers to build location-based games on top of it. One of the reasons behind the Next Media partnership and investment is because Next Media, one of the largest animation studios in Asia with more than 500 creators and artists in Taipei, Tawain, plans on developing "location-based" games on top of the platform.
The R2 platform will be ready for release in the second quarter, according to Ouye. At that time, Red Robot Labs also plans to release at least two more location-based games that are in the works. One game is going to be a fast-paced, arcade-style game (think Bejeweled or Pac-Man).
But even without those games released, Life is Crime, which was only released in August 2011 seems to be crushing it.
At the moment, it ranks No. 16 in the top-grossing app list for Android devices. The game also appears to be very lucrative. While it's free to play and there are no advertisements, players spend money on buying weapons and gear to defend their turf or conquer new locations. Turns out, it's expensive being a mobster and protecting your property. Not surprisingly, the game has a very male following.
But Ouye says that one of their newer games will be more gender neutral. While the games business is a hits-driven business, you can probably expect a lot of solid games from the team at Red Robot Labs, given their background. Ouye ran monetization at Crowdstar and Playdom. His co-founders Pete Hawley (chief product officer) and John Harris (CTO) have extensive backgrounds in the gaming industry.
Opportunity in mobile, location-based games
At this point, you're probably thinking that Red Robot Labs is big on location-based games. And, you're right. "Longer term. Focusing on location will be a great competitive advantage," said Ouye.
Indeed, just looking at the mobile gaming space alone, shows an exploding market as more players appear to be increasingly playing on their mobile devices. A recent study by MocoSpace showed that half of game players are on mobile devices. And if you look at the amount of time spent playing, it's also quite a fair amount. About 21% reported that they spend at least an hour playing every day on their mobile phone.
At the same time, there's a lot of consolidation in the mobile-gaming space as larger players look for growth. Recently, Big Fish Games bought Self Aware Games, a publisher of one of the top-grossing mobile games on the iPhone and iPad.