Life Is Crime: If You Try To Shakedown My Virtual TechCrunch Office, I Will Virtually Beat You Down

There’s a simple fundamental reason why Grand Theft Auto exploded into a phenomenon. Everyone has criminal tendencies sometimes. And virtually indulging them is a hell of a lot better then actually indulging them and dealing with the moral consequences — or the physical consequences. Like prison.

But what if you could make the Grand Theft Auto concept even more immersive by tying it to the real world? That’s what Life Is Crime is all about.

The new mobile game by Red Robot Labs — a startup founded by Mike Ouye, Pete Hawley, and John Harris, former executives at Playdom, EA and SCEE — allows you to put a life of crime onto your phone. It’s a location-based game launching today for Android devices that’s likely to be highly addictive.

Think of it as Foursquare meets Grand Theft Auto meet Spymaster (remember Spymaster?) meets Gowalla — well, the old Gowalla, before they recently stated they were killing off the virtual goods element. The point is to go around your city and battle others to control properties. The point isn’t to “check-in”, it’s to attack other players with everything you’ve got in order to take over a city.

“The social utility guys have taught people how to check-in, but it’s not a real deep gaming experience,” Ouye says. “We’re going after location gaming. It’s about discovery of new places while playing a game,” he continues.

Life Is Crime uses real maps that are custom-tailored by the Red Robot Labs team to include virtual representations of key landmarks in a city. Right now, Seattle (where Red Robot Labs is unveiling the game at PAX today) is built out. Soon, San Francisco and other cities across the U.S. will be too. These maps incentivize people to fight over the Golden Gate Bridge, for example.

But any location is fair game. The team added the TechCrunch office, for example.

The fighting nature of the game is pretty straightforward. You find someone you want to fight and it becomes a battle backed by your weapons and stats. If you have a higher reputation score than your opponent, you’re likely to take them down in a fight. But maybe they have a better weapon than you to even that out a bit.

At first, the game will mainly be a single-player experience. But down the line, the Red Robot guys hope people form virtual gangs to battle other gangs for location supremacy. One idea the team has is to have Android vs. iPhone teams when the iPhone version launches later this fall. Maybe Jason and I will play it on OMG/JK.

At one point, the Red Robot team got about 200 Googlers playing it at the Googleplex, we’re told.

Eventually, as gangs form within the game, there will be different levels individual users can rise to within the gang.

Another element of the game is to pick up and drop off virtual goods with other users — both sides are rewarded in the game for this action. There are around 200 items within the game right now, and a lot of customizations for users.

More broadly, Life Is Crime is just step one of the location-based gaming platform that Red Robot Labs hopes to build. Their intention is to have three games on the platform this year — two built by them, and one by a third-party.

“Location games are wide open right now,”  Ouye says. “And we’re going after it, because they’re really sticky,” he continues.

“We’re competing for the 30 seconds or 1 minute when you’re in line waiting. Do you want to commit a virtual crime in than span, or do you want to check-in?”

You hear that Foursquare? Man up. Time to fight.

You can find Life Is Crime in the Android Market here.