How Zynga Is Playing to Win With Wonderland

GodfingerZynga has continued its apparently unending quest to buy every small games studio in existence, with the announcement it’s purchasing British-based outfit Wonderland, which is being rebranded as Zynga Mobile UK.

It’s just the latest in a series of deals for Zynga, which is currently averaging around one buy every month. Wonderland had made a couple of popular iPhone (S aapl) games, including the hit Godfinger. That game, however, isn’t part of this agreement. So why do this deal, and why now?

Mostly, Wonderland offers Zynga a wealth of high-end experience in making “proper” games. Given Zynga’s reliance on gaming mechanics that seem to treat users like hamsters running on a wheel, plenty of people are sniffy about its actual gaming credentials. (Here’s a piece from gaming blog Kotaku asking, ludicrously, “Is Zynga a Video Game Company?”).

Buying Wonderland gives it a lot more muscle in that department: Wonderland’s founders, Matthew Wiggins and Mark Rose, are former employees of Lionhead, the studio set up by legendary Brit game designer Peter Molyneux. Lionhead is behind titles such as Fable and Black & White; other Wonderland employees came with backgrounds at other U.K. development hothouses like Codemasters and Bullfrog.

It also gives Zynga some more mobile knowhow. As the company tries to become less reliant on Facebook and branch out into new platforms, it’s important for it to understand how to get mobile right. Buying the team that developed a mobile smash is a quick way to get there.

The acquisition also gives Zynga a foothold in Britain, which is an important market. Of course, there’s the fact that the U.K. is a high-spending, smartphone-rich nation that loves social networking and games. But it’s also a huge talent pool Zynga can now tap into.

The country is one of the biggest hotbeds of gaming talent in the world — probably only surpassed by America’s West Coast, Japan’s dev scene and Vancouver, British Columbia — but it’s been troubled over the past few years. A number of British studios have shut down over the last couple of years — and from what people are telling me, there are also plenty of dissatisfied workers at the ones which remain. While reports of high-class developers begging for food on street corners in London would be greatly exaggerated, it’s true that there is plenty of talent available right now.

All of which means that this could be a hugely important strategic purchase, if Zynga plays it right.