Intel Bets on Mobile Social Gaming with Aurora Feint Investment

As if we needed another sign that mobile, social gaming was hot, Intel Capital (s intc) announced it was joining in a Series B round of funding for Aurora Feint, the Burlingame, Calif.-based social platform provider behind 3,500 mobile games.

Intel is joining Chinese developer and game operator The9 in this $8 million round, which is the first investment by Intel’s global investment arm in a mobile, social gaming company. Aurora Feint said it will use the money to expand its primarily iOS OpenFeint service to other platforms on smartphones and tablets. The company recently started to release games on Android, including Fruit Ninja, a top ten title in Apple’s App Store.

Intel’s investment gives it a connection to iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) it hasn’t had prior, and also may pave the way for some OpenFeint games on upcoming devices running MeeGo, the operating system Intel is working on with Nokia (s nok) for smartphones and other devices.

This is the latest big development in the mobile gaming space, following the $400 million acquisition of game developer and publisher Ngmoco by Japanese social platform DeNA and EA’s (s erts) purchase Wednesday of mobile British game publisher Chillingo, which distributes Angry Birds on Apple’s iOS. DeNA also bought social gaming companies Gameview and Astro Ape last month.

For Intel, the move is the first major investment in mobile gaming since it invested in mobile developer Jamdat, which was later purchased by EA. Venu Pemmaraju, investment director for Intel Capital said the investment underscores Intel’s belief in the growth of mobile social gaming in general, and Aurora Feint’s prowess in particular, especially as it branches out on to other platforms.

Aurora Feint operates the most popular mobile, social gaming platform OpenFeint, which allows developers to build social features like profiles, leaderboards and achievements in their games. The company said it has added 45 million users and 13,000 developers in just over a year and has almost doubled its user base since Apple announced a similar service called Game Center in April.

Aurora Feint CEO Jason Citron said the company still isn’t profitable, but plans on making money through revenue sharing of virtual goods in-game. He said the freemium model in which players play for free and occasionally buy virtual items is increasingly proving to be popular with gamers, just as it is on Facebook. Citron hopes to build a longterm business, and said he’d like to remain independent, unless, of course, the right offer came along. “I’m not opposed to selling under the right conditions but I see lots of growth ahead of us,” he said.

As we mentioned before, mobile, social gaming is hot right now. While social gaming on Facebook has hit a wall, mobile companies like Ngmoco, recent Disney (s dis) acquisition Tapulous, and others have been growing rapidly. Citron hinted that Aurora Feint’s worth is closer to Ngmoco’s $400 million price tag than Chillingo’s $20 million price. It’s hard to know if that’s real, but DeNA’s buyout was motivated by Ngmoco’s social platform as much as it was its roster of games, which makes OpenFeint’s network pretty valuable. OpenFeint also supports longtime iOS favorites like Fieldrunners, Pocket God and geoDefense.

For Intel, it’s another sign the company is getting serious about mobile. The chipmaker, which has largely been a no-show in phones and tablets, is trying to catch up with it’s powere-efficient Atom processors and recent acquisitions of Infineon and McAfee. Intel still has a ways to go to catch up but it shows with this investment that it’s getting in the mobile game.

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