Google's Got Game

The inevitable showdown between Facebook and Google looms - and games may well be the battlefield.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

One of the most popular pastimes of any group of games business types gathered together is to speculate and swap rumours about the pending entry of some giant corporation into the industry. A volatile combination of paranoia and anticipation, it's a topic of discussion which assumes that the world's top media and technology firms will eventually notice the explosive growth of gaming and step in to take their slice of the pie, show us all how it's done, or put everyone else out of business - depending on who you listen to.

Of course, there are plenty of giant media and technology corporations already engaged in gaming. We have platform holders like Sony and Microsoft, and latterly Apple - while the wholly games-focused Nintendo is a giant global corporation by anyone's standards. Disney, Viacom and Time Warner are engaged, on various levels, with game development and publishing.

Still, that doesn't take the excitement out of rumour-mongering. For a long time, the beast at the gates was News Corp, Rupert Murdoch's globe-spanning media empire, which includes IGN Entertainment, but from that has a massive game publishing shaped hole in its otherwise fairly comprehensive portfolio. The rumour mill had them poised to buy Eidos on both occasions when the British publisher was sold, and a popular (if unsubstantiated) piece of gossip suggested that EA's controversial acquisition of a large chunk of Ubisoft shares a few years ago was designed as a spoiling tactic to prevent Murdoch from getting his hands on the resurgent French firm.

Today, News Corp is old news - no pun intended. Industry conventional wisdom now suggests that the firm's fingers are still badly burnt by its expensive acquisition of MySpace, which it carried out shortly before Facebook entered the ascendant. With key sectors of the firm's portfolio, most notably the newspapers which were once the bedrock of that portfolio, under serious pressure, it's thought to lack the appetite for a major strategic entry into games.

In News Corp's place, the industry has a new beast at the gates - ironically, or perhaps inevitably, the very firm which Rupert Murdoch has constantly cast as the villain in his struggle to keep his company's core assets relevant. That firm is Google, of course, and in the past month rumours about the firm's intentions towards the games sector have swirled with a greater intensity than ever.

It's easy to see why. In early July, there was a $100 million investment in social games giant Zynga, which Google CEO Eric Schmidt said would produce a "partnership" between the firms. Since then, the firm has reportedly paid $182 million for social networking and app firm Slide, and over $55 million for Jambool, which operates a virtual currency system. Alongside these acquisitions, the search giant has reportedly approached EA-owned Playfish and the now Disney-owned Playdom about making games for... something.

The suggestion, of course, is that Google is about the launch a social games platform. Schmidt has poured cold water on the idea that the firm will create a Google version of Facebook (named Google Me by Internet rumour), saying that there's no point in replicating something that already exists, but there can be little doubt that the company wants to replicate Facebook's success at creating a social platform and leveraging the resulting social graph for games and applications.

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