Women-led mobile gaming startup Robin Games has raised funding with the idea of carving out a new niche in the “lifestyle gaming” market. The idea, the company explained during its 2020 public debut, was to create a more sophisticated and stylish fantasy gaming experience — more in line with the content you’d typically find in a lifestyle magazine or an Instagram influencer’s profile. . Today the startup is releasing its first title to tackle this concept with the launch of Playhouse, a mobile game that combines both gameplay and shopping into a single experience.
Available on iOS and Android, PLAYHOUSE is a DIY design game that lets players drag and drop furniture and decor into spaces to create original looks for rooms using items like wall art, sofas, chairs, tables, plants and more. That alone doesn’t make the app unique — the interior design genre is a popular subgenre in the simulation games section of today’s app stores, where contenders like Playtica’s Redecor, SaGames’ Decor Life — Home Design Game, and Crowdstar’s Design Home: Dream Makeover can be found on the top charts.
Instead, PLAYHOUSE differs from others in both its technology and partnerships.
The company allows users to drag and drop pieces into space, but also allows them to move, rotate, resize, and layer elements while styling the space in a much more freeform fashion than some other games allow. Additionally, the company is working with real-life furniture brands to make its in-game items purchasable in real life.
At launch, PLAYHOUSE features shoppable experiences that connect players to brands such as Arhaus, Article, 1stDibs, Chairish, One Kings Lane, ABC Carpet & Home, Jenni Kayne, Society6, Bloomscape, Room & Board and Lulu & Georgia. In other words, the goal of the game is not only to provide a creative outlet for art and interior design fans, but also to discover new furniture and decor.
Robin Games says the app has over 6,000 pieces of real furniture and decor from more than 100 home-design brands. Players can choose to purchase the actual items they use to create their designs by visiting the retailer’s website.
The concept is somewhat similar to Pinterest’s new collage-making app Shuffles, which lets its players create custom art experiences using their own photos and Pinterest pins. While the Shuffles app is primarily used as a creative tool before publishing on TikTok or Instagram, items featured in collages link to their Pin page on Pinterest — where they’re also connected to the retailer’s website and can be purchased. Playhouse.
“One of the main reasons we wanted to make Playhouse, and ‘lifestyle games’ in general, was because we saw a hole in the market for really expressive, creative games,” Robin Games co-founder and CEO Jill Wilson told Technology Flow. “It’s unusual to think of an interior design-focused game as a fantasy game, but we do — it’s a different kind of fantasy than what’s usually explored in games. Designing spaces with beautiful pieces that make you an interior designer is a real-world fantasy for many, and our company is dedicated to providing players with that experience,” she added.
In addition, PLAYHOUSE users can submit their design projects to be rated by other players, which allows them to earn tickets, coins and gems as well as other decor pieces that help them level up. The company partners with content creators, including design enthusiasts, artists, Airbnb hosts and others, to create limited-time “hosted projects” aimed at inspiring players’ own designs.
And it’s working with editorial publishing partners House Beautiful and Hunker, who will be active hosts of design challenges and other inspirational content, the company said. House Beautiful, for example, hosts a series of design challenges based on articles it publishes on its website.
During its soft launch period, the team improved the game mechanics, play controls, onboarding experience and in-game economy, which is free to play with in-app purchases. You can advance without playing, players can choose to pay to unlock additional pieces with the gems they purchase instead of waiting to earn them in-game through achievements. Limited-time bundles around a specific theme are also sometimes available for purchase – such as a bundle of special plants and plant-themed items that are only available in a bundle.
So far, 1 million design challenges have been submitted and committed long-term with the most dedicated players in each project released daily, Wilson said.
Following its $7 million seed round, Robin Games closed a $14 million Series A in 2020 and continued to develop Playhouse in the following months. While being a female-led startup gives them an advantage in a game marketed primarily to women, Wilson believes the team’s diversity will help them move forward.
“I want to make games that I want to play myself, and I think that surrounding myself with a diverse group of talented people who also want to play the game we’re making will give us the best chance for success,” Wilson explained. “At Robin Games, 50% of our board, management team and team are women – and all of our team members are passionate about design. Putting creative decision-making in the hands of potential players is key to our authenticity and why we believe true design lovers will love what we’ve made. Although we anticipate that our audience will be predominantly women, we have tried to make it as inclusive as possible and hope that everyone who loves design will enjoy it,” she said.
PLAYHOUSE goes live today on both iOS and Android as a free download.
Updated, 8/30/22, 8:20 pm ET: While the startup’s press materials originally listed Condé Nast and Design Milk as publishing partners, the company informed us that these brands are not on the final publishing partner list.