The Future of Social Games is Mobile

Japanese social platform maker DeNA is snapping up mobile game maker Ngmoco, in a deal worth up to $403 million. The acquisition reflects the growing interest in social gaming companies and underscores how mobile is the future of social gaming, much like it’s the future for all web services.

Ngmoco, an iFund company funded by Kleiner Perkins, has had a string of hits such as We Rule, Rolando and Topple on the iPhone (s aapl) and is now poised to begin selling apps on Android (s goog) after a reported investment from Google.

DeNA, which runs a popular social platform called Mobage Town, has bought a number of social gaming companies, including Gameview and AstroApe and also invested in Aurora Feint. The company is looking to compete with Facebook game maker Zynga, which is branching out into mobile, and companies like Disney (s dis), which recently bought Tap Tap Revenge maker Tapulous and social game maker Playdom in July. Google has also gotten into the act, buying SocialDeck in August.

The bet is that social gaming is moving to mobile phones, which, while small compared to Facebook, potentially has a larger audience as more people buy smartphones. PopCap Games recently shared that 25 percent of its revenues now come from mobile titles. Other non-gaming companies built on the web are finding success branching out their models to mobile, like OpenTable, which is increasingly booking reservations via its mobile app.

It makes sense as social games on Facebook have continued to struggle, with 16 of the top 25 games losing users in September. The latest figures continue a slide that began earlier this spring, coinciding with the rule changes by Facebook removing third-party notifications.

Shifting to mobile not only frees game developers from their dependency on the dominant social network, but allows them to build games that are more personal, reaching players wherever they are. With the rise of app stores like Apple’s App Store  and Android Market, game makers also have a reliable way to distribute their games and monetize them. As games follow the rest of the web to mobile devices, the opportunities to make them more context- and location-aware will also make them more interesting and perhaps, more profitable.

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