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In its ambition to be a player in the red hot category of social network games, Hi5 is expected to announce today that it has acquired a social gaming platform company and a new team of executives with years of experience in online games.

The San Francisco social networking company has acquired Big Six, an Austin, Texas-based social game developer that has its own battle-tested virtual currency platform. It has also hired Big Six co-founders Kevin GlinerMonty Kerr and Chad Hansing to help run Hi5. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The move is part of the company’s effort to become a leader in the social game market as it strives to compete with much bigger companies such as MySpace and Facebook. Hi5 has more than 60 million users, mostly overseas, but its growth has stalled in comparison to its larger rivals.

One of the things the company is doing to turn its business around is to focus on social games. That’s why Hi5 CEO Bill Gossman hired game industry veteran Alex St. John late last year as Hi5’s president and chief technology officer. The acquisition will help the company make a clean move into free-to-play games that are monetized through virtual goods and  micro-transactions.

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Gliner was chief executive of Big Six, while Kerr was president and Hansing was chief technology officer. Gliner will be senior vice president of production and run product management, site design, and content production at hi5. He has worked at Knockabout Games, WildTangent, Activision and Maxis. His first company was Cinematronics. There, Gliner was producer of 3D Pinball for Windows, which shipped on a billion PCs.

Kerr was founder and CEO of Red 5 Games, which made multiplayer casual games, and CEO of Glass Eye Entertainment, which created an online gambling system that managed $9 billion in micro-currency transactions from 35 million paying customers. He also headed Compulsive Development, which made a variety of casino games. And he was a co-founder of Knockabout with Gliner.

Hansing will be director of commerce platform engineering at hi5. He also held executive positions along side Kerr at Red 5, Glass Eye, and Knockabout.

“This acquisition brings both great technology and great talent into our company,” said St. John in an interview. “These guys know more than anyone in the online gaming industry about how to build a virtual goods and commerce platform that can scale.”

St. John said the acquisition of Big Six will make Hi5’s commerce technology better and will relieve it of the necessity of reinventing an e-commerce engine for its social gaming business. For instance, Big Six will add to Hi5’s capabilities in payment processing, fraud detection, and conversion of free gamers to paying gamers. Big Six’s employees will move from Austin to San Francisco.

In an interview, Gliner said that he has been drawn to the creation of new game channels and that social networking games are growing fast. They’re growing so fast, in fact, it made sense to partner with a company that already had a huge audience in the social space, he said. Kerr said in an interview that he wanted to work with St. John, a well-known personality in games and because Hi5 was committed to an open platform approach that favored independent developers. They said they had formally raised money for Big Six back in November and were preparing to launch their platform with their own social games. Now they can broaden the platform so it can be used on a variety of Hi5 games.

St. John will be part of the Disruptive Game Platforms panel at GamesBeat@GDC.

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