Zynga Wants to be Big in Japan, Gets Cash from Softbank

Social-game maker Zynga has signed a joint venture deal with Softbank Corp. to set up a Japanese subsidiary of the company. Softbank has also invested $150 million in Zynga, whose Farmville and Mafia Wars games are among the most popular on Facebook. The partnership was reported last month by the Nikkei news service and by Bloomberg, but was not officially confirmed until Wednesday. The deal is expected to involve distributing Zynga games to Softbank’s mobile phone customers, one of the largest groups in the Japanese mobile market.

Zynga is also reportedly involved in a partnership with Google (s GOOG) that included $100 million in financing from the search company. Although there has been no official confirmation of the investment, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the New York Times in an interview that a partnership with Zynga was in the works. The web giant is said to be working on a gaming-centered social networking project — code-named Google Me — that is seen as a competitive response to the growth of Facebook.

Zynga has been the social-gaming industry leader for some time, with several of the leading games on Facebook, and has attracted more than $500 million in investment from venture funds (if the reported Google investment is included). Although the company has been closely aligned with Facebook, it has also signed a number of external development and distribution deals, including a recent one with Yahoo that will see Zynga games appear on Yahoo (s YHOO) properties. Based on the trading of Zynga stock on secondary private markets, some have estimated the company could be worth as much as $5 billion.

Zynga competitor Playdom was acquired this week by Walt Disney Co. (s DIS) for as much as $763 million, depending on future performance, and game-maker Electronic Arts (s ERTS) bought Playfish for as much as $400 million last year.

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