Electronic Arts, one of the world's largest video games publishers and second only to Japanese giant Nintendo, highlighted a growing trend when it acquired Playfire, a social media games company that found success with games targeted at users of social networking sites Facebook, Myspace and Bebo.

Playfire's two biggest games are PetSociety, with over five million daily Facebook users and a steady 30 percent growth rate over the past two months, and Restaurant City, with a similar number of daily users but growing by close to 50 percent in a similar timespan.

Typically, social media games feature dip-in, dip-out gameplay but with an addictive come-back-for-more hook and an emphasis on users sharing achievements within the game and recruiting other friends to join them.

So, in practice, PetSociety's players create, pamper, and play with virtual pets, using them to sharing gifts and messages with friends. Restaurant City's players club together with their friends to run virtual restaurants, attending to everything from the menu and service right down to the decor in a cutesy, bustling environment.

This sort of low-commitment, high-maintenance gaming model paves the way for developers to hit the big time with revenue coming in via advertising and purchasable in-game content.

The Playfire takeover also came at the same time as EA released their second quarter report and revealed plans to reduce staff numbers by as much as 1,500 as losses rose and revenue fell once more.

EA itself is no stranger to the social side of gaming, having presided over the 10-year reign of The Sims franchise - Sims 3 itself tested the water with a version tailored for mobile phones - and has overseen the publication of games with advanced community functions such as those in the Burnout, FIFA soccer, Rock Band, and Need for Speed series.

EA recently launched a Facebook version of PC and console creature-growing game Spore, entitled Spore Island. Firaxis, which previously masterminded the best-selling Civilization series on PC, recently announced plans for an entire Civilization game especially for the Facebook platform, due 2010.

Zynga, current kingpins of the social games scene are responsible for five of the 10 most popular Facebook games, and have recruited important staff from both EA and Firaxis, a further indicator of the way that new social gaming companies have been attracting interest from established names in the industry.

Useful links:
Playfish's YouTube channel: http://bit.ly/1a5Hlt
Mashable's 5 social gaming predictions after the EA takeover: http://bit.ly/3a6LOk
Electronic Arts' 2nd Quarter report: http://bit.ly/wVs57