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Did Hasbro make a mistake?

Posted by: Helen Walters on July 30, 2008

Wow. Such a furore over Hasbro’s shutting down of Scrabulous, the massively popular Facebook game. No one seems to be disputing that the creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla copied the popular board game of old. But many are furious that Hasbro shut down Scrabulous within Canada and the United States and attempted to capitalize on its popularity by replacing it with its own version of the game, created in conjunction with EA.

Seems to me that this shows at least an attempt not to infuriate the fanbase by taking away the fun altogether, but it seems to have backfired among some fans who feel manipulated. We’ve seen companies mishandle their community before (just think of Dell). So how should Hasbro have handled this better? How could it have galvanized the community without alienating them? And what can Mattel (currently pursuing the Argawallas through the Indian court system) learn from Hasbro’s experiences?

Reader Comments

Pete Mortensen

July 30, 2008 10:06 PM

Hasbro absolutely made a mistake here. The biggest? Their version of Scrabble isn't actually as good as the Argawallas'. From the second Scrabulous got big, Hasbro should have sent a cease and desist letter, then offer to acquire the Argawallas. In spite of their copyright and (arguably) trademark infringement, the Argawallas built an absolutely brilliant Facebook game that has yet to be bested. Hasbro could have preserved good will among the user community, picked up a new revenue stream and also acquired tremendous talent to head up a new social network-based games division had they done that.

Instead, they've thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Their version for Facebook is inferior by most accounts, which isn't shocking, given that a company specializing in board games and action figures is unlikely to be good at social network application development. This is one time where copying P&G's approach would have been brilliant. Don't think "trademark infringement." Think "Connect & Develop."

If Mattel is wise, they will do the same.


July 31, 2008 4:40 PM

The real mistake was partnering with EA.

Aaron Poehler

July 31, 2008 4:41 PM

Hasbro made no mistake whatsoever. The chance this will affect their target audience or bottom line is zero, and everyone playing Scrabulous knew it was a thinly-veiled ripoff of a long-established property. Hasbro's need to 'preserve goodwill' among the 'Facebook community' is nil, and there was no potential revenue stream to co-opt.

hasn't bro

July 31, 2008 4:45 PM

they'll be fine. relax. they'll come up with their own widget and be bigger than ever. c'mon.

joanne montague

July 31, 2008 4:51 PM

A lawsuit? Yawn, an old tired solution that benefits no-one. Hasbro was asleep at the switch not to shut down the plagiarizers immediately on behalf of their shareholders. The fact was the company was not astute enough to recognize the power of the Internet (and Facebook) to revive the old game and make it available to millions for their enjoyment and daily interaction with friends and relatives.


July 31, 2008 4:51 PM

There are several problems to Hasbro's RIAA approach to this.

1) Their replacement product was slow and ponderous, and simply not as good.

2) Hasbro cut off North America from the rest of the World. I played Scrabulous with Europeans. If I wanted to play with my neighbor, I'd grab a beer and bring the board game. Hasbro just ignored the "WorldWide" part of WWW.

3) Some are sick of the destructive lawyerly approach of big business in a world where Globalism benefits the rich and leaves the rest of us out in the cold.

It's a shame Hasbro didn't care enough to handle this better. Booo!


July 31, 2008 4:59 PM

The shit has hit the fan.


July 31, 2008 5:00 PM

I agree with the above comment, but even moreso, they've made a huge mistake in prodding the developers of Scrabulous to take the next logical step in development (see Wordscraper), hopefully putting themselves out of the reach of Hasbro and Mattel for good. The game should be public domain anyway. The inventor long since passed away, and the endless perpetuation of copyright makes a mockery of the public domain.

Hax Or

July 31, 2008 5:00 PM

Aaron Poehler's response and Hasbro's response underline one critical issue: Software writers are writing software, and they are treated like slaves by these companies.

Hasbro initially wanted to TAKE the code that the brothers wrote! They felt it was their code.

The code that runs in the background can be programmed in infinite ways. Hasbro is clearly just another stupid company who treats developers like trash.

They deserve all of the backlash they get. To all of those who argue "revenue stream", get a clue.

Alfred Mosher Butts

July 31, 2008 5:01 PM

Scrabble was never meant to be played on these infernal computing machines! The tiles should be made of wood!

Adam Keck

July 31, 2008 5:03 PM

I don't know how Scrabulous has been valued, but I can't help but think that a "Buy, Embrace, Extend" strategy would have been much cheaper than the cost of contracting an entirely new app and suing and, subsequently, damaging the Hasbro brand. But, then, I'm not an expert in these things...



July 31, 2008 5:04 PM

This more a play from EA, since they pay for the license to make all games for hasbro. EA has a real big push in casual market, so probably went all up in arms on this one.


July 31, 2008 5:08 PM

No potential revenue stream? I read yesterday that the Scrabulous brothers were making $25,000/month in advertising revenue. How much is it going to cost Hasbro to put this through court? Should they care? Maybe not. But don't companies prefer to stay in the black whenever possible? $25k/month might be small beans to Hasbro--I have no idea--but it's more than zero, and certainly more than any negative number I'm aware of.

scraper player

July 31, 2008 5:08 PM

Hasbro missed the mark. Instead of capitalizing on the popularity of Scrabulous, they just ruin their reputation. No one will ever play their version of Scabble.


July 31, 2008 5:09 PM

Absolutely. The lead counsel at Hasbro and Mattel, for that matter, need to be fired for poor legal advice. Especially if they recommended that the course of action should be pursuit of infringement without an offer to buy out world recognized gaming talent.
They should have offered to buy the brothers out. Plain and simple. Yes, legally they had the right and were correct in some aspects of their case. However, it is painfully obvious that these old companies do not have a clue as to how large/faithful online user communities are to a product or its developers. The reputation of both Hasbro and Mattel are damaged to me as a consumer.


July 31, 2008 5:20 PM

Information for fellow readers who may be unaware.
Copied from

"The idea for a game is not protected by copyright. The same is true of the name or title given to the game and of the method or methods for playing it."


July 31, 2008 5:31 PM

By attempting the sue the original devlopers, Hasbro is stiffling inovation. Someone else saw a niche a filled it.

I agree with the poster above, Scrabble should have moved to the public domain by now. Created in 1938, its become a part of worldwide culture. The original inventor and distributors have recovered their investment and been rewarded for thier inovation. At this point, Scrabble is simply a cash cow for Hasbro to ride without having to invest anything.

By their actions Hasbro is proving that they are out of touch with modern society and unable to adapt to new technologies. When innovation is the desired product, EA is never the supplier of choice.


July 31, 2008 5:33 PM

"They should have offered to buy the brothers out. Plain and simple."

I'd like to see the logic in this one. People steal an idea and should be awarded with a buyout because of it; yeah great idea. Let's all just plagarize ideas and then expect the original creators to pay us for our stolen idea.


July 31, 2008 5:41 PM

No, but it's their Trademark they're defending, their brand. They have every right to do so... but see above post which describes this as an "RIAA approach"... LOL, very true. The record companies are eating their own dog food now only because the only thing they could say to downloadable music was "no way". Now, almost every song ever recorded is out there on the internet for FREE. Nice work Hasbro - dog food, anyone? ^^


July 31, 2008 6:00 PM

"The game should be public domain anyway."

Well it isn't in the public domain. People who want to play it should expect to pay for it. If they don't want to pay, they can find something else to play.


July 31, 2008 6:03 PM

"By attempting the sue the original devlopers, Hasbro is stiffling inovation."

Huh? Scrabulous was a copy of Scrabble. How is that innovation?

Pete Motensen

July 31, 2008 6:06 PM

Cryos: Hasbro would have been buying loyal customers and excellent code, not their own IP. The brothers had something Hasbro didn't Hasbro has nothing that the brothers don't. This is a huge mistake.


July 31, 2008 6:22 PM

Hasbro shouldn't have nothing out of the deal. They should be able to recover a portion of the advertising revenue made by the brothers from stealing their idea. They obviously made the game called what it was to capitalize off of Scrabble.


July 31, 2008 6:24 PM

I agree that Hasbro shuld have gone the "connect and develop" route. That would benefit everyone.

Alfred Mosher Butts: In keeping with the spirit of your email, you should have submitted your comment via mail using the US Postal Service. Don't you think?


July 31, 2008 6:30 PM

Hasbro did try to buy the brothers out, or at least get them on board. They apparently have been in negotiations with them since the beginning of the year. Word around town is that the brothers were holding out for a very large sum (rumor, I say, RUMOR is in the tens of millions).

Honestly, it takes a huge set of brass ones to rip off someone else's IP, then try to ransom it for big $$$.


July 31, 2008 6:31 PM

Scrabulous made a home in one of Hasbro's many vacation houses. It's within the right of the house owner to boot them out, even if they have furnished and repainted the house in a color all the Facebookers like. And yeah, why should Hasbro buy out Scrabulous who usurbed their product, except if they want to use the particular interface designed by Scrabulous. Also, ppl who are playing Scrabulous for free shouldn't be aggravated at Hasbro for taking back their rightful product.

Dog Food! Tasty!

July 31, 2008 6:33 PM

Scrabble? Dog Food? Tasty!!!


July 31, 2008 6:35 PM

Corporate greed runs the world as we know it. Toy companies are no exception.


July 31, 2008 6:36 PM

How is Scrabulous an innovation? How easy is it to play the traditional board game of Scrabble in real-time against opponents on another continent?

The idea might not have been innovative, but the implementation certainly was, and the fact that Hasbro's own Facebook version of the game is woefully inferior seems to support the assertion that the Scrabulous authors added real value.

John Wilks

July 31, 2008 6:38 PM

To Pete motensen:
Hasbro had scrabble and the brothers didn't. Since that is the game they made I'd assume that counts as "something".

Tom Mariner

July 31, 2008 6:39 PM

There were two solutions, one legal and one technical.

I am in the Intellectual Property game and so I do agree that the name and game play belongs to the owner who deserve compensation for the use. Hasbro took the hard, lawyer line.

I am also a techie and used to be an electronic toy developer and understand there were some wonderful business, technical, and human solutions that would have benefited everyone. Hasbro should have listened to their techies.

But the same thing is happening in other areas like healthcare, where I hang out. The best way to help our system and patients is to have all our doctors use electronic records rather than pencilled notes. The legal minds got hold of the issue and it morphed in the opposite direction where billions of dollars are being spent on penalizing anyone who might not guard data to the legal limit. The Scrabble game issue might upset you -- the legal hijacking of healthcare will kill you!


July 31, 2008 8:38 PM

What’s so difficult to understand that these guys from India have ripped the trademarked Scrabble game (using only a slightly different name) and that it’s against the law? People seem to have a sense of entitlement, whether it’s breaking trademark laws or not.

Pete Motensen

July 31, 2008 8:50 PM

John: "Having Scrabble" doesn't amount to anything if Wordscraper ends up with more users than Scrabble for Facebook...


July 31, 2008 9:00 PM

This is literally the worst thing that has ever happened in the world. It's the end of times.


July 31, 2008 9:51 PM

Old fashioned company refuses to take advantage of a new market. Someone else takes it to the new market. Obsolete company sues, then produces an inferior version which has a short run before flopping and becoming a write off. Happens time and again. Is Hasbro acting outside their legal rights? No. Is Hasbro demonstrating a collosal lack of judgement? Absolutely.


August 1, 2008 12:40 AM

I'm wondering if Scrabulous really affected Mattel or Hasbro's Scrabble revenues. I own two Scrabble board games that I bought roughly 10 years ago. I don't plan to buy new ones soon. I (used to) play Scrabulous with a mate of mine living 20000km away. He owns a Scrabble board game also and will not be replacing it in the near future with a new one. I would think that many Scrabulous players already own the real thing produced by Mattel or Hasbro and will not be spending money on the real thing in the near future, Scrabulous or no Scrabulous. It would be interesting if these companies can produce sales figures for their Scrabble board games since the advent of Scrabulous..

Pete Motensen

August 1, 2008 7:04 PM

I would assume it had no impact or a slightly positive impact on Scrabble revenues. The bigger issue is revenues from new markets, which Hasbro and Mattel have now screwed up.

GiGi Guilmette

August 3, 2008 12:09 PM

Hasbro is a "Has-been"! he,he,he


August 5, 2008 4:19 AM

The fundamental question is somewhere else I believe. Hasbro owns the intellectual property around the game, and they may have paid a lot of money to acquire this. In the good liberal system in which we are, they try to recoup their investment. So, for them the fundamental question is whether Scrabulous makes people buy more or less games. It seems they concluded for the latter, reason for which they took the decision they did. We can argue whether their assessment is right or not, but I believe the developers of Scrabulous should have contacted Hasbro in the first place and requested access to the IP.


August 6, 2008 2:38 PM

I hope companies like Hasbro fail ultimately. It's time for a change, time for some new blood. These old dinosaurs cling on to whatever they can as the ship slowly but surely sinks. I would go further than to say Hasbro has made a mistake etc, my guess is that it's business model and operations are so entrenched that it would be impossible for them to turn on a dime and bring themselves up to date. This is why they license out to the highest bidder EA, Real Networks with no real idea of what will be produced at the end. I think there are a string of huge companies caught up in the pre-digital age or just not in touch with consumers. It is natural that a number of these will fail and then the slack will be taken up by new companies and probably non-US companies due to the legal risk of doing business in the US. China's looking good as is India.

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