Google turns to social gaming to challenge Facebook

Jemima Kiss at The Guardian has a succinct wrap of Google’s efforts to rival Facebook, which passed the milestone of 500 million users last week.

Google has been talking to games firms about integrating their games as just one part of a new social networking service, reports the Wall Street Journal. Disney’s newly acquired Playdom, Electronic Art’s reasonably newly acquired Playfish and Zynga have all been approached; and if the latter looks ripe for acquisition, you won’t be surprised that Google recently invested a significant chunk in the firm.

Chief executive Eric Schmidt would not comment on the service this week but said “the world doesn’t need a copy” of Facebook. The world might not need that, but what Google needs is a copy of the most advertiser-friendly parts of that and, as the Zynga investment shows, Google is keen to move in on one of the web’s hottest – and most profitable – growing markets of casual gaming. As WSJ says, a Google offering would also be good news for developers worrying over over-dependence on Facebook.

Games are an important traffic generator which substantially increase the amount of time users spend on sites – ultimately good for the host site because of associated advertising and the developer, who. with the right game can attract a large audience. But as Facebook’s audience and its advertising network continues to grow, it presents an increasingly serious threat to Google.

With Friendster (see here), Hi5 (see here) and now Google just some of the companies competing to get into social gaming, there is going to be a massive amount of competition to even get a shot at taking on Facebook at the service it has perfected – social gaming has been key in developing its presence across Asia and the world to date.

While I predicted the two social networks will struggle to rival Facebook, Google has a better chance. Its web presence and brand give it a massive advantage while – depending on its plans – does not suffer from competing like-for-like with Google like social networks do. Given the moderate success (being generous) of recent incarnations like Buzz and Wave Google may not have got the formula just yet (with Orkut coming close) but it is certainly not going to throw the towel in any time soon.