raptrSocial networks for gamers have been the rage lately. But Raptr seems to be separating itself from the pack by building a network that is bigger and more useful for the broadest audience of gamers.

Today, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company is announcing it has reached more than a million gamers with its Raptr gamers social networking software on the PC. That’s significant because the recommendations of friends on social networks are becoming a big factor in sales of new software applications such as games.

On top of that, Raptr is announcing that it has fundamentally redesigned its user interface by adding an instant-messenger client for gamers that works across multiple platforms. The company has built the IM client into its user interface so it’s easier for gamers to keep in touch with their friends and see what they’re playing.

In addition, Activision Blizzard and THQ have also signed partnerships with Raptr. Those companies will now distribute Raptr’s client software with their games, joining other game companies such as Sony Online Entertainment and Ijji.com.

When gamers install Raptr’s software, they can keep a client running in the background that resembles a Facebook for gamers app. You can import all of your friends from Xbox Live, Facebook, Xfire, and other friend networks. With a glance at your buddy list, you can see what your friends are playing in real time. You can click on the friend to review all of his or her achievements in various games. You can see the gamer’s tastes, read a review of a game, and buy the game outright via Amazon.com. You can also click once to join your friend in an ongoing multiplayer match. And you can “poke” them with game-related messages such as “Zerg rush,” a reference to the Starcraft game.

Raptr is taking a lot of the data from the various friends list and aggregating it into interesting stats. You can see what the most popular game is at any given time and then click on it to see how much people have been playing it every day since it launched. It’s easy to use Raptr to get the pulse of the gamer community. It also handles game maintenance, such as installing updates for games on your PC. And it lets you play various casual games within the client.

On average, gamers have the Raptr client open for more than 80 hours a month. And Raptr is collecting data on more than 32,000 games now. Ranah Edelin, vice president of marketing and business development for Raptr (pictured left), says it’s fairly rare for people to be playing games with friends today, even though the enjoyment of a game goes way up when friends play each other. People often resort to Facebook or Twitter to tell friends when they’re playing. Raptr will automatically tell friends via those networks whenever you start up a game, as long as you choose to share such information publicly.

Raptr tries to aggregate information across as many networks as it can: instant messenger clients such as AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN, Xfire, Microsoft’s Xbox Live, casual games on the web, Facebook and others. But neither Sony nor Nintendo share their gamer data yet. Raptr is still working on an app for the iPhone. If you log in to Raptr, you can send an instant message to a friend on Xbox Live or to another on Xfire. That’s the only gamer social network where you can do that. Raptr gamers can also participate in contests, such as being the first to unlock a function in a game

There’s a bit of a rush going on to create niche social networks. Startup rivals including GamerDNA, WoWPals (for just World of Warcraft players), Scoreloop (iPhone only), MyGameMug and others. In addition, big game companies such as Electronic Arts, Microsoft, MTV’s Xfire (a company that Raptr chief executive Dennis Fong — pictured above, right — founded and sold to MTV for $102 million) and Sony also have their own social networks for game players. EA is a particular threat, since it bought Rupture, a rival gamer social network headed by Napster founder Shawn Fanning, last year for $15 million.

But Raptr has a pretty focused effort. It has 30 employees and raised $12 million from Accel Partners and Founders Fund in September. Raptr’s partners have agreed to bundle the Raptr client with their games, integrate the Raptr client into the functionality of the game, and do co-marketing. In these deals, no money changes hands, said Fong. Right now, Raptr is making money through lead generation, where it gets a cut of the game sales it generates via Amazon.com. And it also runs ads on its site.