Zynga bets $527 million it can build on NaturalMotion’s success

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Zynga plunked down a cool $527 million to acquire U.K.-based NaturalMotion, as VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi reported this morning. A 12-year-old company that was spun out from Oxford University, NaturalMotion develops animation technology for the gaming and film industries, and it has recently gained momentum in mobile with Clumsy Ninja, an iOS offering it describes as an “interactive toy.”

Zynga’s struggles to expand beyond PC gaming into mobile are well-documented, of course, and the company announced another round of layoffs this week. Its inability to master mobile was demonstrated last August when it shut down OMGPop, the developer of Draw Something that it bought for $200 million in March 2012 after a sequel to the hit title foundered.

I’ve toyed around with Clumsy Ninja a bit, and I’m impressed by the artificial intelligence and realistic movement NaturalMotion has clearly worked hard to develop. But while those features may be enough to get casual users to take a mobile game for a spin, they won’t be enough to keep them coming back to multiple titles. If Zynga can integrate ClumsyMotion’s technology to come up with unique, compelling games, it could become the dominant mobile game maker in the market. But I’m not making any bets that will happen.