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Red Robot Labs, a maker of location-based smartphone games, has raised $5 million from Taiwanese media firm Next Media.

The deal is a big endorsement for location-based games, which have struggled to find an audience over the years. But Red Robot Labs’ Life Is Crime game has added a creative animated layer on top of a traditional location map, making the games more engaging and fun to play with others.

Fun is what’s been missing from location gaming. Instead of checking in, like in Foursquare, you commit a virtual crime, like robbing a bank.

Under the deal, Next Media’s game division will publish Red Robot’s Life Is Crime location game in the Asian markets. On top of that, Next Media will use Red Robot’s R2 mobile gaming platform, which makes it easier to publish location-based games.


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Palo Alto, Calif.-based Red Robot hopes to use the money to accelerate the launch of location-based games in Asia.

“We’ve been looking for a creative partner in Asia,” said Mike Ouye (pictured right) co-founder and chief executive of Red Robot Labs, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’ve gotten good traction on the platform, and now we’ve signed up our first third-party developer.”

Pete Hawley (pictured left), chief product officer, added, “The idea here is that we wanted the benefit of a big media company to help us in Asia with distribution.”

Red Robot has been moving fast. It was founded in January 2011 by Ouye, chief product officer Pete Hawley, and chief technology officer John Harris (pictured top right). The team launched its first game on Android in September and raised $8.5 million shortly thereafter. In December, it expanded to Europe with the acquisition of game developer Supermono. It debuted Life is Crime on iOS in January.

Ouye said the game play of Life Is Crime — where users take over physical places and form their own mob rackets — should be suited well for Asia, particularly in dense cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei.

Jimmy Lai, chairman of Next Media, said his company has been looking to expand into location-based gaming but was waiting for the right technology. In this case, R2 makes it easy to layer animated visuals on top of a real map. Next Media has more than 500 creators and artists working on animations, but it has more recently started making games.

Life Is Crime hit No. 2 on the iTunes Free Apps chart on the week of its release. The game has been one of the top 10 highest-grossing Android apps for five months, with over a million downloads on that platform. The game will debut in Hong Kong today and later in Taiwan and Japan.

Red Robot Labs’ other investors include Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of the Social+Capital Partnership, Rick Thompson, co-founder of Playdom, Benchmark Capital, and Shasta Ventures. To date, the company has raised $15.5 million. Red Robot Labs has 35 employees. Rivals included DeNA and Gree.

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