Maker of Farmville, Mafia Wars poised to become biggest publicly-traded vidgame company

The biggest company in social network gaming is poised to become the biggest publicly-traded company in the video game industry.

Zynga, the maker of massively popular Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, has filed the paperwork for an Initial Public Offering, where it says it hopes to raise $1 billion. That’s lower than some investors were expecting, but is likely to increase as bankers determine the offering price and how many shares should be sold.

Several media outlets have reported that the company ultimately plans to offer as much as 10 percent of its shares to the public — which would give the company a valuation of $20 billion. If those prove true, it would make Zynga, which specializes in games for social network Websites, bigger than any publisher in the industry, by far. A final, more permanent, IPO figure is likely to emerge in the next 3-4 months.

In its S-1 filing with the SEC, Zynga reports 2010 profits of $90.6 million, with revenue hitting $597.5 million. In the first three months of 2011, it has earned $11.8 million and had sales of $235.4 million.

At the end of the first quarter, Zynga games averaged 62 million daily active users. Collectively, those players spend 2 billion minutes per day interacting with the games. And the number of people playing them has increased steadily since last September.

While most FarmVille (and other game) players only take advantage of the free portions of Zynga’s games, the company said it relies on a “small percentage of our players for nearly all of our revenue.” (Those players pay small amounts of money for virtual items in Zynga games.) It did not break out exactly what percent of players pay.

The company also makes money from in-game advertising.

Zynga’s rise has given many in the video game industry concern, especially given how much time players spend with the games. Wall St. analysts, though, say those worries are likely overstated.

“We do not see Zynga’s business as cannibalizing the packaged goods business, at least for hard core games,” says Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. “We think that Zynga has captured some of the Guitar Hero and Wii Fit crowd–primarily women–and expect the company to continue to grow the games category beyond the traditional 13 – 30 year-old male demographic. However, we do not think that Zynga’s success spells doom or failure for the traditional publishers, as we are confident that the hard core gamer is here to stay.”

Mark Pincus, who serves as the company’s CEO, founded Zynga in 2007. It employs roughly 2,300 people, mostly in San Francisco. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are leading the offering’s underwriters.

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