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FarmVille, Words With Friends publisher Zynga files for $1.15 billion IPO

by Phil Hornshaw

After the intense growth afforded by social games on Facebook, Google’s Android platform and Apple’s iOS devices, and the purchase of 14 other gaming companies in the past 12 months, Zynga has filed for an initial public offering.

It’s a doozy, too. The FarmVille and Words With Friends maker filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today, and is hoping to raise between $850 million and $1.15 billion when its stocks go on sale (which is more than the $1 billion filing from this summer). As AllThingsD reports, Zynga will put around 100 million stocks up for sale with the offering, with prices ranging from $8.50 to $10 per share. The company expects to trade on the Nasdaq stock exchange, using the ticker ZYNG.

Zynga is a huge company, part of which explains the massive IPO. With all the game companies it has snapped up, including Newtoy, the maker of the extremely popular Words With Friends game on Android and iOS, Zynga now has some 2,500 employees. It also recently attempted to acquire Rovio Mobile, the maker of Angry Birds, for a reported $2.25 billion (although it was turned down). If Zynga gets its best possible showing on the IPO, it’ll be valued at a total of around $7 billion, which will bring it close to beating the public valuation of Electronic Arts ($7.8 billion), a heavy hitter in video games that’s rapidly expanding into mobile and social games in order to contest Zynga’s dominance. Given EA’s history, that’d be a pretty big deal. By comparison, EA’s biggest video games competitor, Call of Duty series publisher Activision, has a public valuation of about $14 billion.

Most of Zynga’s games remain on Facebook, the platform on which the company got its start, but it has been steadily expanding into the mobile sphere during the last two years. Mobile versions of big hitters like Mafia Wars and FarmVille are available on Android, and Words With Friends on Google’s system can play against people on lots of different platforms, including those who use Apple’s devices or Facebook. In 2010, Zynga posted revenues of $597 million and profits of $27.9 million. In 2011, it broke even on $828.9 million in revenue, probably because of all the investments in smaller gaming companies.

Even though Zynga seems to be doing well and expanding in every direction, some are still worried its IPO is a little rushed. It seems hard to tell if Zynga will be able to keep up its current crazy growth, which could hurt stock prices. Its user base of 230 million players across all platforms has been declining during the last two quarters, and only a small fraction of those purchase virtual goods through Facebook or Zynga’s mobile games, which is how the company makes the lion’s share of its money.

But Zynga has more plans in the pipeline, including an online network specifically for its games that would likely have a pretty big impact on its mobile offerings and how they interact with one another. In addition, all that game company buying had to do with Zynga trying to lessen its dependence on Facebook and expand its offerings. With its IPO and the money it’ll bring in, expect a lot more games from Zynga to start popping up in the Android Market.