Nobody is completely sure if Google purported $100 million investment in Zynga (the lovely folks who bring us Farmville, Fishville, Frontierville, and Zynga-time-drain-ville) is anything more than, well, purported. It sounds real enough, though, to raise some eyebrows. In fact, it's raising a lot of eyebrows. $100 million is not exactly small potatoes and the fact that it came from the great and powerful GOOG (assuming that it actually did) means that Google is taking aim at one of the major bits of Facebook stickiness that advertisers love.
Let's assume that this new partnership isn't just the latest bit of sensationalism dreamed up by Michael Arrington and that, as PC Magazine reports, "Zynga's integration with the proposed Google Games service give users to chance to game throughout Google's various Web properties [like Gmail]." Clearly this would be a win for Zynga which would have its hooks into the two biggest properties on the Web. However, would it really be a win for Google? Sure, people spend inordinate amounts of time on Farmville and Mafia Wars, but this is a Facebook thing. Does Google want to hang its hat on an important part of the Facebook brand?
In all likelihood, it isn't a bad place to start if Google wants to enter the social arena with more success than it's found in Buzz and Wave. In fact, the data it can gain from an already established gaming platform may be worth far more than a mere $100 million dollars. Again, as PC Magazine points out,
"...the integration will allow Google to begin to map our relationships amongst its user base, creating a kind of social graph—or a mapping of individuals' friendships and interactions—akin to Facebook's, currently the world's largest."
And now, of course, the purported investment all starts to make sense. Not only could Google stand to make advertising money in the short term by leveraging the sticky social gaming that Zynga offers, but the company satisfies investors worried about Google's competitiveness in a social space dominated by Facebook. Why should Facebook get all of the online time and captive audiences afforded by Petville? And why should Facebook have more data (at least of specific types) on users than Google? Google is supposed to know everything about us and its lack of social data is a key hole in its world domination strategy. OK, that last bit is a stretch, but the social web is a widely acknowledged weakness for Google.
The fact that Google has made a large investment rather than purchasing Zynga outright (which would be a pretty impressive coup in its competition with Facebook) suggests one of two things: either regulatory concerns would deem such an approach anticompetitive or Google is testing the waters as it ramps up its own social efforts. While both most likely play into the alleged partnership, it's worth watching Google's next moves in the gaming space if Google Me really comes to fruition.