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PlayPhone is formally launching its smartphone mobile social gaming network today after signing up more than 3 million users worldwide. I guess you could say it’s a little behind in making that announcement, as it has so many users already.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company hopes to challenge rivals such as Gree/OpenFeint and DeNA/Ngmoco in the battle to create a huge social network of gamers on smartphones and tablets. PlayPhone’s entry into the competition is going to make the market a lot more interesting for developers and consumers, as the company hopes to differentiate itself through cross-platform game play, payments, and social functionality.

PlayPhone has created a free-to-play app that runs on the Apple iOS, Android, Flash, Windows Phone 7, and HTML5 platforms. The app lets players socialize with each other and play in the same online multiplayer game across different smartphone and tablet platforms.

“We think that is something that nobody else will be able to do,” said Ron Czerny (pictured), chief executive of PlayPhone, in an interview. “You’re not limited to playing with friends who have the same operating system as you.”

While Gree/OpenFeint and DeNA/Ngmoco have strong bases in Japan, PlayPhone was founded much later and has a smaller number of users. But PlayPhone began building its mobile social network in 2010. That’s why it has more than 3 million smartphone users now.

Czerny believes that gave his company a head start on its rivals in smartphones and tablets. Right now there are 15 games from 10 developers using the PlayPhone social gaming network. By January, PlayPhone and its partners will be adding about a game a day.

“This is extremely complicated and we started early,” Czerny said.

PlayPhone is already live and operating globally, and it has been operating a mobile game network for five years on feature phones, where it has 35 million users. But it is only now launching on smartphones and tablets. The PlayPhone app runs in native mode on all of the major formats.

When a user logs into a game such as PlayPhone Poker, the mobile social network connects automatically. You can see that it does so with a PlayPhone icon in the corner of your mobile phone screen. You can activate it by tapping on the icon. When you get to the game’s first screen, you can see pictures of your friends who might be able to play the game with you.

The software development kit has been downloaded by more than 1,500 parties.

Czerny showed me how a player with an Android phone could play in the same PlayPhone Poker card table as someone with an Apple iPhone. The players could send messages to each other and chat back and forth. You can sign on once via Facebook and quickly access all games. You can buy poker chips via the Apple App Store through in-app purchases. But you can also buy poker chips via PlayPhone’s other payment options.

While you’re sitting at a poker table, you can invite a friend to play. The platform synchronizes the players, even if they are from a different platform. The mobile social network uses HTML5 as its interface. You can chat with friends in real-time and play the game as well.

PlayPhone has its own virtual currency (Playcredits) and you can access various carrier billing and payment options, even on a closed platform such as Apple’s iOS. You don’t have to exit a game to pay for a virtual good. Czerny said the company has relations with more than 100 global carriers. PlayPhone is a preferred direct-billing partner with both AT&T and Verizon in the U.S. The company has a presence in 25 countries.

PlayPhone has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Menlo Ventures, Cardinal Venture Capital, Coral Group, and Scale Venture Partners. PlayPhone has 90 employees, including 35 in San Jose. Czerny said the company is likely to raise money so it can better compete with Gree and DeNA.

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