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Playdom exec: Social gaming to look 'a lot more like Hollywood'

After raising $43 million in venture funding and acquiring two smaller companies, it's no surprise that Playdom's days of running like a Web start-up are numbered.

If social gaming is Hollywood, the people aren't as pretty. Well, maybe the avatars are.

Yes, yes, we know that social games are taking over the bloody world: earlier this week, gamemaker Playfish announced its $300 million sale to Electronic Arts, and on Thursday, rival Playdom retorted with the announcement of $43 million in venture funding at a $260 million valuation, and the acquisitions of smaller gaming companies Green Patch (manufacturer of Facebook-based games like Lil Green Patch and Farm Life) and Trippert Labs. Green Patch's games will up Playdom's reach on Facebook by 30 percent, the company said.

Expect to see more of these sales, as smaller developers find they're having trouble treading water in an industry where the big guys--Zynga, Playfish, Playdom--have chomped up most of the market share, and where Facebook, the biggest destination for these games, has shown that it can change the rules at whim. And the big companies, too, want to scramble to get bigger.

Plus, as Playdom co-founder and chairman Rick Thompson explained to CNET News: When gaming companies grow large, they have to deal with a lot of stuff that can get in the way of producing new games and staying on top of consumer trends. That's one reason to keep investing in new talent through acqusitions.

"The hitmakers start spending all their time on operations, and on things that don't improve or enhance the games, and so they become essentially owners and operators," he said. And likewise, "people who can create things shouldn't necessarily be operating a gaming company."

He drew the evolution of a social gaming company parallel to an entertainment studio: "a lot more like Hollywood or the traditional gaming industry" than a Web start-up.

But here's the catch when it comes to acquisitions in this space: Gaming, especially social gaming, is a hit-driven business. If a parent company buys up a hot Facebook game, that game could already be running out of shelf life: which is, indeed, sort of like a Hollywood establishment signing a contract with an actor who's had five hit films in a row, as he could easily be over the hill before long. (Hello, Rob Lowe.)

"I think we're getting pretty good at really looking at their data now, and modeling how these games will evolve over time," Thompson said. "But I think there's essentially a life cycle of growth and then decay. What we really look at in acquisitions is not just daily active users, but bringing on additional team members that can really help create new games in the future."