Life is Crime-Maker Red Robot Labs Expands by Buying London’s Supermono

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By Kathleen De Vere Comment

In the four months since its release, Red Robot Labs’ flagship game, Life is Crime has gone from an unproven title in the crowded crime genre to a fixture on the Android top grossing charts that has seen almost a million downloads.

Now the company is crossing the pond by acquiring London studio Supermono. The U.K. studio is already at work building a new location-based game on Red Robot’s R2 platform. Chief executive Mike Ouye adds that he has also been talking to other independent developers about partnerships which extend R2’s reach even further by as early as the first quarter of next year.

“There are many, many companies that announce platforms and announce funds to help others and that’s an interesting strategy, but ours is very different,” says co-founder Pete Hawley. “We’re collaborating to make an awesome platform. By that token it’s close to where Nintendo and Sony have been successful in the past – you can’t sell PlayStations if all the games suck. You’ve gotta make great games if you want people to buy it.”

Red Robot is one of a handful of mobile game developers that is backed by a top-tier venture capital firm.

The company has a notable team behind it with Ouye bringing expertise in social gaming-style monetization from his experiences at Playdom and Crowdstar and Hawley bringing high-quality art and production value from his time at EA. On top of that, the company is backed by Playdom co-founder Rick Thompson and former Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya.

Red Robot took five months to develop its R2 geo gaming platform for location based social gaming, and released Life as Crime to prove out the concept.

The game has since surpassed established games like Storm8’s iMobsters on Android’s grossing charts. It’s notable considering that Life is Crime is a location-based social game, a concept that rival developers like Booyah and CrowdMob initially had trouble with in terms of building lasting, sticky franchises. (Keep in mind though that the $8.5 million in funding from investors including Benchmark Capital can go a long way on marketing.)

Adding location creates a unique hurdle for game developers – a social-location game it has to not only bring in new players, it has to bring players that are in proximity to one another in order to make the game fun.

“That was pretty much the first challenge that we faced creatively, way back in March,” explains Hawley. “If we have a million locations across the U.S. and within the first week we only have 2,000 players, what are we going to do?”

Hawley says the key was to solve location-based problems before they arose by populating the game with plenty of non-player characters and missions for players. They also relied more on Facebook and Twitter, enabling players to spread the word over social media. Players can also fight for domination of landmarks from any distance, which means players will always be able to engage each other at the most popular places in the game.

According to Ouye and Hawley, Life is Crime has done well because of its console quality experience, deep location integration, and the way the company has carefully rolled out the game to several countries. Now available in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, Ouye and Hawley say it takes at least a week to build out a country because the company has to incorporate well-known landmarks into the game and ensure the density is right.

“We have to [launch] smartly and intelligently because we are location based. We want to make sure we give our players a great experience the first time they log in,” says Ouye.

Even with countries that don’t require localization like the U.K. and Canada, there is plenty of work to be done – seemingly small, location-specific details like labeling gas stations as petrol stations in the U.K. and calling police stations RCMP detachments in Canada help players immerse themselves. Australia is the developer’s next target and according to Hawley, Asia and the rest of Europe will follow suit.

Ouye didn’t disclose specific numbers for monthly or daily active users, but he did say the game’s ratio of monthly active to daily active users is “very healthy” and that “the game has been very sticky, is monetizing very well and the audience is very engaged.”

Life is Crime is currently the #8 top grossing app on the Android Marketplace.