Initial public offering possible in 2012 for Zynga

Web game maker in talks with several investors for $250 million round of financing

Zynga, the company behind many of the Web’s most viral games, is in advanced discussions on an investment that would value the company at nearly $10 billion and could pave the way for an initial public offering next year.

The company is in talks with the mutual fund giants T. Rowe Price and Fidelity Investments, among other investors, for a $250 million round of financing, said two people close to the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. Zynga is also contemplating filing for an initial public offering as soon as the first quarter of 2012, these people said.

The investment negotiations and the lofty valuation they imply could further drive investors’ intense interest in social media companies, highlighted by last month’s deal between Facebook and Goldman Sachs.

It would also add to the debate over whether the enthusiasm for these fast-growing Internet companies points to an overheated market. As part of its deal with Goldman, Facebook raised $1.5 billion in January, giving it a $50 billion valuation.

In the same month, the social buying site Groupon closed a $950 million financing round with investors like T. Rowe Price and Fidelity Investments. Groupon is now considering a public offering that could value the company at $15 billion or more, according to people close to the matter. LinkedIn, a professional social network, has also filed for an initial public offering.

Although the Zynga financing has not yet closed and may still fall apart, there has been significant investor interest, these people said.

A spokeswoman for Zynga declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal reported the talks with potential investors on Monday.

Zynga has emerged as one of the fastest-growing companies on the Internet, propelled by the popularity of games like CityVille and FarmVille.

In CityVille, which began in December, users create and manage virtual cities, constructing buildings and collecting taxes.

The game, like most in Zynga’s stable, has flourished on Facebook, where it reigns as the site’s top-ranked game with 96 million active users a month, according to AppData. FarmVille is second, with 51 million players.

All together, Zynga’s games attract more than 275 million users every month on Facebook, making it the most popular gaming service on the platform and a major contributor to the social network’s revenue.

The bulk of Zynga’s revenue, estimated to be more than $500 million, is tied to the virtual goods it sells on Facebook, analysts say. But Zynga has taken several steps in the past two years to become more independent. The company has signed partnerships with other social networks, like Yahoo, and it has expanded its reach on mobile devices, with applications for the iPhone and iPad.

In what could be its boldest move to date, Zynga is also preparing to start a stand-alone gaming destination that will allow users to play its games outside of Facebook, according to three people briefed on the matter. The project, known as Zynga Live, will also serve as a gaming social network and is expected to make its debut in the middle of this year.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve the user experience, but we don’t ever comment on what we may or may not be working on. We’re focused on building a new form of entertainment that’s connecting the world through games,” Zynga said in a statement.

Miguel A. Helft contributed reporting.