Scrabulous Shuts Down on Facebook

Posted by: Catherine Holahan on July 29, 2008

The game is officially over for Scrabulous fanatics. The popular Scrabble knockoff, which grabbed millions of fans after launching on social network Facebook late last year, was disabled July 29 for US and Canadian Facebook members “until further notice.”

The removal of the program was in response to a July 24 takedown request by Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to the Scrabble game. Hasbro asked that Facebook shut down the program shortly after filing suit against Scrabulous creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for violating Hasbro’s intellectual property. “We own the rights to that game,” said Mark Blecher, Hasbro’s General Manager of Digital Media.

A Facebook spokeswoman said that the company forwarded Hasbro’s request to Scrabulous’ founders and asked that they take “appropriate” action. Jayant Agarwalla released a statement July 29.

Facebook has informed us that they have received a legal notice from Hasbro in reference to the Scrabulous application. In deference to Facebook’s concerns and without prejudice to our legal rights, we have had to restrict our fans in USA and Canada from accessing the Scrabulous application on Facebook until further notice. This is an unfortunate event and not something that we are very pleased about, especially as Mattel has been pursuing the matter in Indian courts for the past few months. We will sincerely hope to bring to our fans brighter news in the days to come.


The same week that Hasbro filed suit, Electronic Arts began publicly testing a licensed version of the game on Facebook. Titled “Scrabble,” EA’s game was offline early July 29 due to maintenance, according to a notice for Facebook users.

Hasbro’s lawsuit sparked an intense debate over how companies should respond to online versions of their products created by enthusiasts. Some argue that Hasbro should have worked with Scrabulous’ creators to turn its online fans into board game buyers, or to share in Scrabulous’ advertising revenue. “My view is that this is incredibly short sighted on Hasbro’s part,” says Shel Israel, a Scrabulous player and author of “Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.”

Others argue that Hasbro’s had to demand that Facebook remove the program. Hasbro, after all, had struck a deal in August 2007 giving EA the right to create digital versions of all its games for social networks and mobile phones. Had Hasbro allowed Scrabulous to continue to operate, it could have diluted the value of its licenses.

“Like it or not, scrabulous is a blatant rip-off of Scrabble,” wrote one BusinessWeek reader under the handle “Lloyd.” “Rajat and Jayant did an admirable thing in trying to bring a beloved classic into the modern age. But the moment they accepted payment for a game based on Scrabble without Hasbro’s permission… they crossed over into piratesville.”

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Reader Comments

kc

July 29, 2008 05:19 PM

I believe that Hasbro was within its rights to shut down this game. Rajat and Jayant had no right to profit from their work in this case... create your own game boys.

There are plenty of instances of the big guys beating up the little guys, but this isn't one of them. In Hasbro's defense, they also didn't request the game being taken down until EA had a version ready... they didn't take it out on fans of Scrabble... I'd say nicely played.

NYC Scrabble Fan

July 29, 2008 06:57 PM

I am confused though because I thought that Scrabulous was offered free of charge? I understand the IP issue but am not sure they're gonna be able to go far with it. I believe the statute of limitations on challenging copyright infringement is 3 years but am not sure about trademark or patent infringement. It really just sounds like this is a case of a big corporation whose late to the online party getting upset that they don't understand and can't keep up, so they get rid of any possible competitors by any means necessary. Its tasteless.

DL

July 29, 2008 07:17 PM

As an IP scholar, I look forward to seeing how in the world Scrabble can claim an intellectual property right in Scrabulous. Is it copyright? No, because the scrabble board is a useful article. Is it a patent? No, because scrbble was made well over 20 years ago (if it were actually novel to begin with). Is it trademark? No, because Scrabulous is not palming off the scrabble brand.

I hope Hasbro publishes its complaint.

pb

July 30, 2008 10:51 PM

The new "official" online version of REAL Scrabble works GREAT on Pogo.com. I'm happy to not reward pirates.

perfectlyGoodInk

August 12, 2008 02:54 PM

This is one reason I think our intellectual property laws are stupid and inhibit creativity.

Daniel

August 20, 2008 08:20 PM

Gross annual advertising revenue from Scrabulous was $250,000. Net revenue was less.

hasbro didn't provide the game to the masses over Facebook because they wanted to make more money. Here's the paradox:

Scrabble's popularity increases with the number of regular players. This is similar to the concept of a network economy in economics.

Charging for software or boards or otherwise limiting distribution by charging players limits popularity. There was no real money in Scrabulous, but the introduction unquestionably created a resurgence in the game. I personally played more games; in fact, I even started buying travel sets for friends.

This could be compared to the music world. Prince is always in the Forbes entertainment 100, but isn't current, hardly gets radio play and doesn't even sell many CDs. What prince does have is a large and loyal fan base that pays top dollar for concert tickets.

Prince built this fan base by doling out his music online for free and providing other perks- he built a relationship. Why is this relevant? Prince bypassed the malaise of the record industry by changing the business model to one that works in the new information age. Give stuff for free, build a fan base and then sell an experience.

Sadly, it cost far more to litigate and build an inferior EA version than it would have to negotiate with the "pirates". Even more sad, Hasbro lost a tremendous amount of good will that could have been cashed in on. The proof is that the Scrabble application isn't nearly as popular as the Scrabulous one was.

Even EA is remiss here. They would have been better off buying or licensing Scrabulous instead of building their own Scrabble branded crap and reinforcing the ill-will. It's so overdesigned that the EA of Mantra of Simple, Hot and Deep obviously no longer applies (and their loss of focus suggests that maybe it's time to short their stock).

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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