Fittingly enough, on the one-year anniversary of our piece predicting continued consolidation of the social and casual gaming space, Electronic Arts announced the industry’s largest acquisition. The Redwood City, California-based videogame giant acquired Playfish on November 9 for $275m, although an earnout could mean that EA will pay as much as $400m over the next two years for the company. We estimate that Playfish, which will be slotted into the EA Interactive division, generated about $50m in trailing sales. Overall M&A continues to be strong in the still-niche gaming sector, with deal volume up about 25% from last year with about 35 transactions inked so far in 2009.
With the gaming industry seemingly in recovery mode after not-so-horrible earnings announcements from industry bellwethers EA and Activision Blizzard, we’re confident that more videogame and media companies will look to add social networking games. (After all, the big gaming players have used M&A as a way to buy a piece of a fast-growing, emerging market. For instance, EA spent $680m in cash four years ago for Jamdat Mobile to get into wireless gaming.) With Playfish off the board, which other social gaming startups might find themselves targeted by one of the big gaming vendors?
While there are literally hundreds of promising startups, most are too small to be important enough for a big buyer. Nevertheless, there are a few firms that have grown – both organically and inorganically – enough to make them attractive acquisition targets. For instance, Playdom, which develops games primarily for MySpace and Facebook, recently reached for a pair of smaller gaming startups. The company also recently raised $43m. Similarly, Zynga recently raised a funding round ($15m) and has also picked up two small startups this year. Two other names to watch in the emerging social gaming market are Digital Chocolate and Social Gaming Network Inc.