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Zynga buys iOS game maker Newtoy to extend reach in App Store

by Phil Hornshaw

It seems like every week, a big casual or mobile gaming company is gobbling up a smaller one.

Yesterday it was Facebook social game maker Zynga -- the brains behind such uber-games as FarmVille, FishVille and Mafia Wars on Facebook, Apple’s (AAPL) iOS devices and now the Yahoo! Apps (YHOO) platforms -- that acquired Newtoy, which is known for its iOS games We Rule and Words with Friends.

The combination will result in the Newtoy’s Texas game studio being rebranded Zynga With Friends, and will continue to work on Newtoy’s properties while creating new ones with Zynga. That’ll likely mean more ports of popular Facebook games to iOS.

Zynga says it has more than 215 million subscribers to its various social games on Facebook. It’s Game With Friends Network (now renamed the Zynga With Friends Network) on iPhone and iPad has 5 million, according to the company. That’s already a lot of players, and even more money will be made when players from the Facebook realm start picking up apps of their favorite games on their mobile devices.

There aren’t any details as to the specifics of the deal, but seeing a powerhouse like Zynga picking up iOS game studios does speak to the potential a lot of companies see in mobile gaming in general, and Apple’s App Store in particular. About six weeks ago, another big game maker, ngmoco, was scooped up by Japanese mobile game maker DeNA. Much like Zynga is looking to expand its properties in the App Store using Zynga With Friends, DeNA is hoping to spread its massive gaming network westward, using ngmoco as a vehicle.

Other companies looking for a piece of the action, too

Big, more traditional gaming companies are getting in on the mobile act as well. Earlier this month, PC game maker id Software released the first of a few iOS games it has planned that are linked to its upcoming big PC title, RAGE, called RAGE: Mutant Bash TV. The game pushes the envelope of what iPhone and iPad games are capable of graphically, and shows a pretty vested interest in tapping into the potential of those platforms.

Similarly, another big studio, Epic, is about to drop Infinity Blade later this month, using a port of its ubiquitous video game engine, Unreal 3, designed specifically for the iPhone. It’s another big title that’s getting a lot of attention, and could easily change the way video games are viewed on the iPhone.

As for Zynga and Zynga With Friends, it’ll be interesting to see if the company pushes the envelope with the types of games it produces now that it has access to another successful iOS studio, or if it will stick with the safe route of porting its “freemium” Facebook games to Apple devices. Hopefully it’s the latter -- FarmVille and Mafia Wars are nice, but with all the money Zynga is drawing in, it has the opportunity to really become a force for innovative gaming in a burgeoning, extremely creative market.