Is Disney buying Playdom for $600 million?

Both Techcrunch and VentureBeat are reporting rumors that Disney is close to buying Playdom for $600 million. Both have cited un-named sources and I personally heard this rumor repeatedly at the Casual Connect show. If I heard it in the halls of Casual Connect, it must be true!

Playdom itself has been on a bit of a buying spree lately, as we have reported here at Gamezebo, acquiring up to 10 game studios in the past twelve months.

Through these purchases, Playdom has emerged as the number two largest social gaming company on Facebook, with hit games such as Social City.

However, when you look at the MAU and DAU numbers, they are a distant second behind Zynga in terms of usage and I highly suspect are further behind than Zynga in terms of generating revenues. If Playdom was making $350 million in revenue in the first half of the year as Zynga is reputed to be doing, there is no way they would be thinking of selling out to Disney for $600 million.

Back when Playfish sold to Electronic Arts (CEO John Pleasants’ ex-company, ironically) for around $300 million, John Pleasants was quoted as saying that he thought they sold out too early and that the goal was a multi-billion dollar pay-out in an initial public offering.

However, since that time, Facebook has changed their notification and payment (Facebook Credits) strategy and most social game companies including Playdom have seen dramatic drops in game traffic and virality.

Disney would make sense as an acquisition partner in that they have already invested in Playdom through their investment arm and their powerful brands fit nicely into Playdom’s new strategy of building social games around big brands. For example, Playdom is building social sports games around the ESPN brands, which is owned by…Disney!

It all seems to fit. But, it’s just a rumor for now. Disney needs to get into the social games space but their last acquisition of Club Penguin was reportedly a flop (they paid $600 million for Club Penguin, of which $300 million was an earn out, and Club Penguin never earned that amount since the game suddenly got unpopular). Disney has been once bitten by the casual and social game with Club Penguin. Will they be twice shy? Are they willing to invest in social games when it may be too late (in typical big media company fashion)?

As for Playdom, the whole goal of the past year and a half of acquisitions was to follow Zynga and go public for a billion dollar plus pay-out. Disney would be a good strategic partner and a nice exit for their investors, but only if they are losing a little faith in the Facebook games market.

There is a good chance this will happen, but there is an equally good chance Playdom will have the nerve to say no and go for the big win. They are so close…yet so far.

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