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Google recruits social studios?

Schmidt promises Zynga partnership, while Playfish, Playdom deals rumoured for "Google Me" network

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has fanned the flames of reports that the search giant is planning a game-focused rival to Facebook.

Rumours abound that a social networking service known as "Google Me" is in development, with "Google Games" now mooted as a major part of it especially following the company's $100 million investment in FarmVille creators Zynga earlier this month.

The Wall Street Journal has claimed that Schmidt's firm is "in talks with several makers of popular online games as it seeks to develop a broader social networking service that could compete with Facebook."

The paper, which named it sources only as "people familiar with the matter", also alleged that Google has been courting Playdom, which was this week purchased by Disney for $763 million, and recent EA acquisition Playfish to produce games for its mystery project.

Schmidt dodged direct questions on the company's plans, but did admit that "you can expect a partnership with Zynga." However, on the matter of Google creating a direct Facebook rival, he claimed that "the world doesn't need a copy of the same thing."

Google has repeatedly attempted to break into social networking, but the success it achieved in more traditional online fields has so far eluded it. Although available to all Gmail users, Buzz has not become the Twitter alternative the company may have hoped for, and sparked a flurry of privacy concerns.

Virtual world tool Lively, meanwhile, did not live up to its name closing after just five months.

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