The Wall Street Journal’s “people familiar with the matter” say Google is negotiating with a few heavy hitters of social games. Not only has Google reportedly invested in Farmville maker Zynga — between $100 million and $200 million, according to an earlier rumor from TechCrunch — but the company is also in discussions with Playdom and Playfish, owned by Disney and Electronic Arts, respectively.
The rumors don’t tell us what Google’s gaming service, and for that matter a bigger social network reportedly called “Google Me,” will look like. Asked whether the service will resemble Facebook, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said “the world doesn’t need a copy of the same thing.” Seeing as Zynga, Playdom and Playfish are all entrenched in Facebook, Google’s social glue would have to be quite different for Schmidt’s statement to hold up.
Also, I hope the talk of partnerships with major publishers doesn’t mean Google is neglecting the little guy. Sure, social games are a big business now, but Playdom and Playfish were two- and four-person operations at first. It was only after they helped change the gaming landscape that the major publishers came looking for acquisitions. Similarly, Facebook didn’t negotiate to bring in Farmville after it became a sensation. That game was built on Facebook, and its bond with the platform will be hard to shake.
Negotiations with big publishers is a sign that Google is increasingly serious about gaming, but Google also needs to look out for the next big thing, and I don’t see it coming from the three companies mentioned in the Wall Street Journal’s report.