Big Money Plays for PapayaMobile, a Global Social Gaming Platform

The social mobile gaming space is hot right now, with deals popping left and right. Less than a week after GREE bought social gaming platform OpenFeint for $104 million, and six months after DeNA picked up Ngmoco for $403 million, budding social game platform rival PapayaMobile announced Wednesday it has raised $18 million in a second round.

The new funding, provided by Chinese venture firm Keytone Ventures and DCM, will be used to help build up PapayaMobile’s team as it looks to expand in the U.S., Europe and Asia and attract more developers to its platform. PapayaMobile, which previously raised $4 million last year from DCM, offers tools for mobile developers to build games and add a social layer into their apps. So far, PapayaMobile has more than 350 apps using its platform, with 15 million players registered worldwide, a 375-percent increase since the company opened up its platform to developers in June of last year.

The money also gives PapayaMobile a better shot at staying independent, something the company wants to maintain. It’s a legitimate concern with all the deals going on. Both the recently-acquired OpenFeint and Ngmoco competed with PapayaMobile, especially on the Android (s goog) platform. Zynga is also ratcheting up its mobile plans, with pick-ups of Words with Friends game developer Newtoy and Floodgate Entertainment. Before that, Disney (s dis) bought rhythm mobile game maker Tapulous, maker of the Tap Tap Revenge franchise. Apple (s aapl) also launched its own gaming network called Game Center last year, while Google is reportedly building a social gaming platform that may extend to mobile.

So why all the excitement in mobile social gaming? As I covered last year, it’s poised for serious growth as smartphones proliferate. Mobile social gaming is taking a lot of the momentum from gaming on platforms like Facebook, and it’s doing so in a more personal way with devices that are with people constantly. One of the challenges so far is linking people on a common social platform, which is partly why we’re seeing recent acquisitions as companies look to build gaming networks that span the globe. DeNA, for example, has been super-active in buying and investing in social game developers like Ngmoco in a bid to build to expand internationally.

This is where PapayaMobile comes in. It was founded in Beijing by Si Shen and Qian Wenjie, who met in the Computer Science Department at Tsinghua University. The company at first put out its own games but has moved into a new role as a platform for game makers to add social features to their titles. Unlike OpenFeint and Ngmoco, which first focused on the iPhone, PapayaMobile has aimed at Android: a move now starting to pay off as the platform matures. With Android poised to break out in emerging markets, PapayaMobile seems well-positioned to take advantage.

“The pure volume of Android devices being sold around the world is going to be staggering, especially in emerging markets,” said Paul Chen, PapayaMobile’s head of business development. “One of our target markets is China, where Android adoption will explode. You have a lot of people moving up from feature phones to smartphones, and the only phone they can use that’s at the right price point is Android, because it’s free and open.”

If PapayaMobile executes on its Android plans, don’t be surprised if it becomes the next big acquisition in this space. It’s a hot market, and there are plenty of people who would like a chance to get in on the action as mobile gaming turns social.