Deals Heat Up in Facebook Gaming Space

Things seem to be humming along in the Facebook game market: Zynga, the leading Facebook game company, with popular apps such as Mafia Wars and Farmville (whose users recently sent half a billion valentines to each other in 48 hours), has agreed to acquire fellow game maker Serious Business, whose apps include Friends For Sale. And Bloomberg reports that Microsoft is in talks to acquire Crowdstar, another leading maker of Facebook games, whose apps include Happy Aquarium. The report notes, however, that a deal is not final, and that informed sources said Crowdstar may “choose to stay independent with investment from a private equity firm.”

The value of the Zynga deal hasn’t been disclosed, but Serious Business has about 6 million total registered users of its Facebook games — including Friends For Sale, Happy Hour and Rock Legends — according to analytics provider AppData. That puts it at No. 36 on the Facebook developer leaderboard. The company was founded by several former employees of search engine technology company Powerset, and got $4 million in financing from Lightspeed Venture Partners in 2008.

Zynga, which got an investment of $180 million from Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies in December, has a total of about 232 million registered users for its games and apps, including Texas Hold ‘Em, Farmville and Mafia Wars. According to the Bloomberg report, a deal between Crowdstar and Microsoft could be worth as much as $200 million. If the software maker does wind up buying Crowdstar, it will be interesting to see how (or if) that changes Microsoft’s relationship with Facebook, since it owns a stake in the social network (Digital Sky also owns a stake).

AppData says that Crowdstar has about 50 million registered users for its 11 Facebook apps and games, which include Happy Aquarium, Happy Pets and Know-It-All Trivia — although Happy Aquarium is by far the largest with more than half of the total. AppData has Crowdstar at No. 4 on the Facebook developer leaderboard, just below Facebook itself. Second place is held by RockYou, which has 90 million registered users of games and apps such as its Horoscopes service. RockYou raised a $50 million funding round in November from SoftBank.

The Facebook and “social gaming” market got a huge boost last fall, when Electronic Arts — whose PC and console game business has reportedly been suffering from lower sales that have hit the game maker hard — bought Facebook game company Playfish in November for $400 million. Playfish has about 60 million registered users for its games, including Pet Society.

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