Google and Zynga: 5 burning questions

If Google invests in the gaming site, what kinds of goodies might surface?

Popular social games like Farmville, Mafia Wars and Fishville may soon be available to Google users, if recent rumors turn out to be accurate. Google has reportedly invested between US$100 and $200 million in the social gaming company Zynga, and the search giant plans to make Zynga a major part of a Google-branded gaming platform called Google Games.   Piling rumors on top of rumors, Google Games is believed to be a part of Google Me, a rumored Google-based social network that would compete directly with Facebook.

TechCrunch was the first site to report on the Google Games rumors, and VentureBeat says it has also confirmed the existence of Google Games "through a source familiar with the matter."

If the reports are true, and Google Games is on its way, here are five questions that are at the top of my mind.

Will Google Games Stand Alone?

Integrating Google Games into the rumored Google Me social network would make sense; this is the same strategy that Facebook uses to keep virtual farmers, mafiosi, and frontiersman coming back to Facebook several times a day. The addictive nature of Zynga games like Farmville and the recently announced Frontierville--where you raise crops and livestock and improve your virtual life by completing a series of tasks--could bring a lot of traffic to the rumored Google Me. This would be especially true if people are becoming disillusioned with Facebook over privacy issues and looking for something new.

But a standalone Google Games Website could also be popular, especially if you can just come in and play your games without having to build a new social graph on Google Me.

Third Time a Charm?

With Google Games, the search giant appears to be hoping to attract users quickly by building a social network around online activities that people are already doing. Sound familiar? If you've ever used Google Buzz it should, because that's exactly what Google hoped would happen with the Gmail-based sharing service. "Google Buzz is a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting. It's built right into Gmail, so you don't have to peck out an entirely new set of friends from scratch," Google said when announcing Buzz. Ultimately, however, Buzz was plagued with privacy concerns and is now largely ignored, although it does have a corps of dedicated users.

Google Games and Google Me would be the third major attempt by Google to break into social networking. First, there was Orkut, an actual social networking platform that has proved to be popular in places like Brazil and India but never caught on in North America. Then there was Buzz, and now come rumors of Google Games integrated into the equally speculative Google Me. Will these two hypothetical services be Google's key to finally breaking into social networking in North America and Europe?

Google Games and Gmail?

In its report about the Zynga and Google deal, VentureBeat says that Google Games would "bring in users through all of Google's different connections to users, such as Gmail." I certainly hope that's not going to happen. If Google thought people were annoyed when Buzz appeared in their inboxes uninvited, imagine how many unhappy Gmail users there would be if Farmville was foisted upon them.

Will Zynga boost Google Checkout?

Google Games would most likely use Google Checkout as its payment platform for in-game credits, and there are suggestions that Google Checkout could replace PayPal as Zynga's payment platform of choice as part of the new partnership. That would be a big gain for Checkout, since Zynga is supposedly PayPal's biggest customer, according to TechCrunch.

How Fast will Google Games Go Beyond Zynga?

Zynga is reportedly going to be the main attraction for Google Games; however, unless Zynga offers something different on Google Games than it does on Facebook, I'm not so sure Fishville and Mafia Wars will be enough to popularize Google Games. To attract new users, Google Games needs to set itself apart from Facebook games and offer something that's new and original. Offering the same games you can find on Facebook probably won't cut it.

So what do you say? Who's up for some Google Games?

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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