Media giant News Corp. is deepening its investment in the fast-growing social gaming market.
The company quietly acquired social game publisher Making Fun Inc., a year-old San Francisco company started by a pair of game industry veterans, in November but never announced it publicly. Instead, the investment drew attention Friday as Making Fun began soliciting deals with independent developers interested in making games for Facebook and other social networks as well as for smart phones and tablet computers.
News Corp. chief digital officer Jon Miller was not available for comment. However, shortly after joining the media conglomerate in 2009, Miller said games were a missing piece in News Corp.'s entertainment equation, foreshadowing future investment.
John Welch, general manager of Making Fun, declined to disclose the purchase price but said in an interview, "News Corp. recognized that gaming is very important as a form of media. The future of gaming, as with many other forms of entertainment, is digital."
News Corp. began dabbling in social gaming last spring when it purchased Irata Labs, a small development studio that is also based in San Francisco.
Big media's interest in social gaming has been stoked by the popularity of the independently owned Zynga, which raked in an estimated $500 million in revenue last year from popular Facebook games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars, according to the Inside Network, which tracks Facebook apps. Walt Disney Co. made a high-stakes move last July with its $563-million acquisition of social game developer Playdom.
Welch and Making Fun's chief technical officer, Lee Crawford, set out to create what Welch described as a "second-wave" play in social gaming. Unlike Zynga, Playdom and other companies that focused on making games and applications for Facebook, Making Fun positioned itself as a publisher, soliciting (and funding) ideas from game developers all around the world.
Three deals are already in place, though Welch declined to identify them, citing competitive reasons. He also declined to provide details on the first titles, which are scheduled for release this summer. He said he was looking forward to meeting with other game developers at next week's Game Developer Conference in San Francisco.