Zynga Brings Social Gaming To The Phone — Using SMS

Social gaming tycoon Zynga is testing out a way to bring its games to the mobile phone, but despite what you might think, it’s not by building a bunch of fancy smartphone applications.

One way it’s approaching mobile is by tapping into SMS — something nearly every phone in the U.S. is capable of doing. The company, which raised a jaw-dropping $180 million in its last round, surely has the resources to build an app for every platform. So far, it’s released a dozen or so for the iPhone, but this way it can capture most of their customers in one move. Right now, users of the popular Facebook game Mafia Wars can sign-up for the service, and use it to fight opponents, perform jobs, visit the hospital, and most importantly, top off their accounts while on the go.

The basic qualification is that the users must have a Facebook account in order to sign up. Otherwise it is free and works with any SMS-capable phone (which goes way beyond those smartphones that everyone keeps talking about). Once registered, users send a command to MAFIA (62342). Examples include “A” to “assist a mafia member on a job, or “FF” to fight your last opponent again, or “PE” to “purchase energy refills.”

For now, Zynga is currently testing Mafia Wars SMS with select users and will roll out the feature to more users over time. Users wanting to participate in the trial can sign-up at http://apps.facebook.com/inthemafia/, where there’s more information under the “help” button. If you want to make sure Mafia Wars won’t disturb an important business meeting or distract you while you are driving, Zynga makes it easy to manage the time and frequency of messages.