With Bossa Studios’ upcoming Thursday release of its new Facebook game Monstermind, the company will try to carve out a place in an ever-growing market filled with old and new competitors alike vying for dominance. While upstarts like the yet-to-go public Zynga continue to grow in value thanks to properties like Farmville, old game industry heads like Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) continue to invest more in the social network arena, adapting to the changing market.
However, Bossa isn’t just some resourceless independent taking on the big boys. The studio recently was acquired by British media company Shine Group, who itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) — making the Rupert Murdoch-piloted dread ship the unlikely new face in social gaming.
That’s the plan, anyway. Since 2010, News Corp. has been slowly building a new presence in video games — a market it all but abandoned in 2003. Starting in April of last year, News Corp. began acquiring smaller game companies looking to stake its claim in the lucrative social gaming arena. It began with the purchase of Irata Labs, itself a social game developer, that would be overseen by News Corp.-owned media group IGN. (IGN, owner of PC game distributor Direct2Drive, was spun off from News Corp. in May.) The company then got more aggressive in February 2011, opening a “full-service” social game publishing house out of its 2010 acquisition Making Fun, a San Francisco-based developer.
Separate from the Shine Group, Making Fun already has started releasing Facebook games and is preparing to enter the mobile space with games for Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. The most recent News Corp. release is the Biblically themed Farmville clone Noah’s Ark, which was made in conjunction with the News Corp.-owned Christian publisher Zondervan.
All told, News Corp.’s bid to take on the gaming market is subtler than the company’s usual methods, making small projects with small acquisitions rather than spending a large sum to take over an established player. The guarded approach could work for News Corp. over the long term, though, allowing the company to test just how much revenue it can generate from little spending. And if successful, News Corp.’s social gaming push could lead to bigger conquests.
News Corp.’s previous presence in the field was Fox Interactive, a game publisher and developer that made original content in addition to games based on Fox movie licenses like the Die Hard and X-Men franchises. Fox Interactive was sold to Vivendi Universal in 2003, then ultimately to Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) in 2009. Activision Blizzard continues to publish Fox-licensed titles. It’s possible that, on a long enough timeline, News Corp. could bring games based on licenses from both Fox television shows and 20th Century Fox films back in house, whether through subsidiaries like Making Fun or others.
Whether these projects turn out to be experiments or the beginning of something more for News Corp. depends on, as always, what kind of money they earn. But if Facebook users pour as much time and funds into Noah‘s Ark and Monstermind as they have Farmville, expect News Corp. to do a whole lot more in the video game space.