We’ve seen growing evidence of Google’s plans to take gaming seriously, but the latest rumor from TechCrunch is a whopper: Google has reportedly invested between $100 million and $200 million in Zynga, maker of popular Facebook games Farmville and Mafia Wars.
Later this year, Google will launch Google Games, anchored by Zynga’s addictive brand of social gaming, TechCrunch’s multiple unnamed sources said. The investment by Google — not Google Ventures — is reportedly part of a larger strategic partnership between the two companies.
This wouldn’t be an exclusive arrangement. Zynga already has a deal with Yahoo that will see Farmville and other games scattered across Yahoo’s network later this year, and Farmville landed on MSN Games in February.
The benefit for Zynga — aside from truckloads of cash — would be another potential escape from Facebook. The two companies quarreled in May over Facebook Credits, a virtual currency system of which Facebook takes a 30 percent cut, but made amends by agreeing to work together for five years. I still think Zynga’s survival depends on whether it can tap into Facebook’s existing social network, but other heavy hitters like Google and Yahoo will a least provide new opportunities.
For Google, a strong gaming platform featuring Zynga would fit nicely into several other Google developments involving Flash, on which Zynga’s games are built. First, there’s Flash for Android 2.2, which is already available for the Nexus One and coming to other phones later this year. Google TV will also feature Flash as a way to watch video and play games. Finally there’s the recent integration of Flash into Chrome, which keeps the platform secure and up to date. It’s certainly possible for a Google gaming service to exist across PCs, mobile phones and televisions.
I’m no Farmville addict, but I think good games are essential to all those platforms. I hope Google’s gaming plans are as ambitious as this rumor suggests.