Zynga building social network, announces CastleVille

Zynga is one of the biggest gaming companies in the world. Yet, its entire business rests upon the whims of one company: Facebook. In a move that will likely give Zynga a bit more flexibility, the company has announced Zynga Direct, aka "Project Z," its own gaming-oriented social network.

It's "a platform for a direct relationship with consumers," according to Zynga CEO Mark Pincus.

Zynga Direct appears to be stepping away from Facebook, but Pincus noted that the company's partnership with the social network was not being abandoned. While announcing the service, he called it "the deepest integration with Facebook Connect than any service on the web or mobile." (via Gamasutra)

It appears the company has already rolled out one part of the Direct experience: the zTag. Players can register a user name right now, which will then be used "to instantly connect with other Zynga players." Essentially, a zTag is the Zynga equivalent of an Xbox Live Gamertag. The full service is expected to rollout by the end of the year.

So what games can we eventually expect from Zynga Direct? Well, the company announced a string of new games today: CastleVille, Dream Zoo, Hidden Chronicles, Zynga Casino, and Zynga Bingo. Of note is CastleVille, which Zynga is proclaiming as its "most beautiful game to date." To emphasize the production values being poured into CastleVille, the company noted was "recorded by a 75-piece orchestra and full choir."

Who said social games can't be epic too?