How gaming became the future of social media

July 29, 2010: 10:13 AM ET

Gaming is already wildly popular. A recent spate of deals with Google, Disney, and Gamestop, suggest that social games have the promise to be wildly profitable, too.

by Patricia Sellers and JP Mangalindan

FarmVille. Mafia Wars. Pet Society. With their collective userbases numbering in the hundreds of millions, social gaming is as ubiquitous and mainstream as primetime TV programming.

But for years that wasn't the case -- skeptics disregarded social games, with their Super Nintendo-like graphics and simplified gameplay. Despite early successes like Diner Dash, which game maker PlayFirst announced raked in $35 million revenue almost two years before FarmVille came along, social gaming was branded a fad. Only when Zynga's farming simulator skyrocketed to success and eventually enlisted a whopping 80 million active monthly users paying for virtual goods like tractors, fuel, and animals, would potential investors say otherwise.

Now, not only are those same investors taking social gaming seriously, they're negotiating for a piece of the action. Google reportedly (GOOG) invested anywhere between $100 and $200 million dollars in Zynga, the maker of games like FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Zynga Poker. The company has reportedly raised around $500 million in the past year, including $150 million from Softbank Capital and $180 million from Digital Sky Technologies and Tiger Global. More

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