Amazon launches social gaming studio, kicks Zynga when it’s down

Deciding to strike while a key competitor in the game market is reeling, Amazon (s AMZN) on Monday announced the launch of Amazon Game Studios.

It also unveiled the unit’s first game, the literary-themed Living Classics, which debuted on Facebook Monday. 

“Amazon Game Studios is exactly what it sounds like: a new team at Amazon that’s focused on creating innovative, fun and well-crafted games,” a company announcement states.

The statement adds: “Why is Amazon making social games, you ask? Good question! We know that many Amazon customers enjoy playing games — including free-to-play social games — and thanks to Amazon’s know-how, we believe we can deliver a great, accessible gaming experience that gamers and our customers can play any time.”

Amazon’s creation of the San Francisco-based social-gaming unit comes as the social gaming market’s key incumbent, Zynga (s ZNGA), has experienced investor revolt. Zynga shares finished trading on the Nasdaq Monday at $2.94, falling from a high of $14.69 a share in March. [Editor note: an earlier version of this story briefly listed the share price high as $4.69. We regret the error]

Also read: Zynga on its mobile plans – “We are working on it”

The jury remains out as to whether developing games subject to the whims of a social media giant like Facebook is a viable business model (Zynga’s over-reliance on exposure through Facebook is a big source of its present woes). Then again, Seattle-based Amazon has a more diversified business strategy than Zynga. Producing social games will serve Amazon’s Kindle tablet efforts, for example, in the same way that self-publishing affordable e-books achieves that goal.

As for Living Classics, the game revolves around three foxes who get lost wandering around illustrations tied to children’s book classics like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and King Arthur. Players seek to re-unite the fox family by identifying “moving objects.” And they can, of course, visit with friends and share rewards earned during game play.

Here’s a trailer for the game: