This morning, Hasbro finally intimidated Facebook and Scrabulous into suspending the popular word game app. I love Scrabulous, and I’m mad as heck – not least because in my current game, I’d scored a whopping three Bingos (words in which you use all 7 letters) and was routing the usually dominant competition (my staffer).

Scrabulous is an online pseudo-Scrabble – a godsend for those of us who can’t meet to play real games in meatspace, but can squeeze in a word here and there over the course of the week. But Hasbro, the company which has the rights to most of your typical-American-childhood board game brands, including Scrabble, got all huffy over the unauthorized Scrabulous and demanded it be taken offline.

You can see Hasbro’s point: the games are almost identical. On the other hand, I didn’t see Hasbro offering an online Scrabble – until now. And I flatly refuse to play the official version, since according to every review I’ve seen, it’s crap. Actually, make that Scrapulous.

How did it come to this? Well, in part, it was globalisation. it seems the international rights to Scrabble (handled by Mattel) are not the same as the North American rights (handled by Hasbro). According to Real Networks CEO Rob Glaser, Scrabulous, which allowed users anywhere in the world to play each other, was doomed by this complicated, outdated intellectual property situation. Glaser, whose company has deals with both Hasbro and Mattel, called this situation “silly” and advocated some constructive cooperation with Scrabulous – just a few hours before Hasbro sued.

Right now, the Facebook Scrabulous app is disabled for North American users – but still open to international users. With the new authorized Scrabble app, you have the option to play either the international app or the US/Canada app – which seems to imply that as a U.S. resident, you can’t play someone in Europe, or vice versa. (One of the complaints I’ve seen has to do with the app crashing while it checks your IP address – perhaps to be sure you aren’t cheating and trying to, heaven forbid, play someone in another country. Because being checked up on like that REALLY inspires love and loyalty among users of online applications.)

I can’t speak for others, but I’m angry that Hasbro didn’t try to accommodate Scrabulous’s loyal fans – something that would have pleased everyone. At the very least, couldn’t they have created a new app as easy and pleasant to use as the app they killed? Instead, they alienated a ready-made user audience. Hasbro may have a legal right to do this, but I can demonstrate my annoyance by refusing to play their Scrapulous Scrabulous doppleganger. I can also retaliate by boycotting Hasbro’s brands.

Unfortunately, since I don’t have kids, my refusal to buy Hasbro games won’t impact their business in the slightest. I have very few Hasbro products, and I refuse to sacrifice my childhood collection of My Little Ponies to this cause (although a flaming pyre of several dozen My Little Ponies would make quite a dramatic statement). But boycotting Hasbro will comfort me every time I log on to Facebook, only to realize I can’t check my current Scrabulous game. Feel free to join me if you like.


  1. #1 Thomas
    July 29, 2008

    What about boycotting Facebook too?

  2. #2 OmegaMom
    July 29, 2008

    You can always go direct to Scrabulous…so far as I know, you can still play it there just fine (or, at least, my husband played it last night, and it’s still there when I click the link).

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    July 29, 2008

    You’d think the Hasbro dumb fucks would have made an offer to buy the fucking thing for like a bajillion dollars and strengthen their brand. It’s amazing how fucking clueless many “old economy” corporations are about how to profit on the Web. Hint: suing the shit out of people who are successfully propagating your brand and content on the Web isn’t the way to go.

    Associated Press fucked this simple concept up bigtime also.

  4. #4 cephyn
    July 29, 2008

    Scrabulous was clearly infringing on the scrabble copyright. however, they did way more good for scrabble’s popularity than bad, and hasbro really screwed the pooch on how they handled this. They should have said “why didn’t we think of that?” and bought scrabulous. hired the scrabulous guys. The $ generated for them would have greatly outweighed the $ spent.

    Dumb move by hasbro.

    @Thomas: Are you just Facebook hatin’? They have nothing to do with this…That’s like boycotting google because it will bring up links to copyrighted material.

  5. #5 Jessica Palmer
    July 29, 2008

    Thomas – valid point, but I actually do keep in touch with people over Facebook. Also, it appears that the decision was made at least in part by Scrabulous’ developers – Facebook says they didn’t force them to take it down, they just passed on Hasbro’s demand. Who knows.

    OmegaMom – yes, you can play at the website, but I’m not confident that it’s going to stay functional. I hope so, but i’m nervous to get started there and have it go the way of the Facebook app.

    PP – I have no idea why they didn’t buy it. . . Glaser thought it was a good idea, but I guess the people at Hasbro didn’t see it that way. I see it as wasting a ready-made loyal audience by pissing them off. But that’s just my perspective!

  6. #6 llewelly
    July 29, 2008

    Here you have met in person the third most important value of aggressive copyright control: It prevents you from taking advantage of a great deal of fun software.
    (The second most important value of aggressive copyright control? It prevents you from taking advantage of a great deal of useful software. The most important value of aggressive copyright control? It prevents talented people from writing fun and useful software.)

  7. #7 HP
    July 29, 2008

    You can always play Wordsplay (formerly Weboggle; the developer changed the name just to be safe, but to my knowledge the Boggle people have never given him grief).

    Three-minute rounds, 5×5 board, players from all over the world. You can play solo or as a team. I play in Team Join Me, where everybody’s welcome.

  8. #8 a lurker
    July 29, 2008

    A clear violation of the copyright was involved so Hasbro is legally and ethically in the right. There is no ifs, thens, or buts about it.

    However if their version is as bad as some have said they should have bought the Scapulous application and possibly modified it to be Scrabble. That they failed to do so is an economic mistake: it does not change the reality that they were legally correct.

  9. #9 Jessica Palmer
    July 29, 2008

    lurker – in fact i say in the post that Hasbro is legally within their rights. Maybe you missed that part?

    Of course, I’m also legally within my rights to be quite annoyed with them, and can do whatever I want with my purchasing power and power of free speech. C’est la vie. 😉

  10. #10 peacay
    July 30, 2008

    Maybe you should boycott Scrabulous because the founders are greedy idiots. It’s awful naive of you to rant about Hasbro’s poor conduct here. They were reacting to an overt transgression of their trademark. They did not instigate this affair and they are duty bound by law (to shareholders) to protect their intellectual property. They tried to negotiate with Scrabulous and were rejected. The fact that they responded in a way that inconveniences you personally is beside the point. Or is it?

  11. #11 John Ohab
    July 30, 2008

    Three questions:

    Why did you choose to say “globalisation”? Is that some kind of Scrabble joke where you spell globalization wrong?

    Are you implying that if you did have kids that you would have them in such large quantities that you would be able to impact Hasbro’s business?

  12. #12 Jessica Palmer
    July 30, 2008

    Peacay – I appreciate the interesting link. It will be enlightening to see if the rumors in that article turn out to be substantiated.

    However, I have to disagree with the rest of your comment. Hasbro’s suit is not just about intellectual property or trademark. It’s a business decision for Hasbro. (And to everyone confused about this – no, copyright is not the issue here. Copyright, trademark, and patents are different beasties – I’m not going to get into it, but here’s a post that does).

    I happen to agree with Glaser that the best (nicest and most profitable) solution for everyone would have been cooperation. It’s unfortunate that that didn’t happen. I’m hardly “awfully naive” in recognizing that a company may have valid reasons for deciding not to pursue legal action even in the case of clear violation of their rights. They are duty bound to their shareholders to make a profit. What direct benefit does Hasbro get from shutting down Scrabulous? Not much, unless everyone who played it goes over to the new Scrabble app as a result.

    Now, as I stated in the post, if Hasbro had offered a fully functional replacement for Scrabulous, one to which users were content to migrate, I’d feel differently. Instead, they provided an inferior product, a buggy app that doesn’t have equal functionality, while preventing consumers from using the superior product. That doesn’t look good, doesn’t make users happy, and doesn’t generate a lot of profit for Hasbro. It’s certainly Hasbro’s right to exclude others from using their trademark, but I think they’ve made a big misstep in handling the transition and their potential user base.

    Further, the case throws an interesting light on the issue of geographically constrained property rights in the internet era. Is that even a feasible way to divvy up the rights to electronic applications? What effect did that have on Hasbro’s decision, and will it continue to impact Facebook, which is supposed to be a seamlessly international community? It’s unclear, and it will be interesting to follow.

    Regardless, the victims in this aren’t Scrabulous’ creators, who knew they were treading in dangerous waters. Nor are Hasbro & co. victims – they apparently didn’t foresee the popularity of Scrabulous, and had no competing app until now, so they haven’t been losing business (unless you think Scrabulous has been preventing people from buying real Scrabble board games, which is laughable). The victims are the Facebook users who enjoy using Scrabulous to keep in touch with distant friends and family. Most of those users have no idea who created the app, no idea what’s going on right now, and no idea why their hobby went kaput. And i’m angry on behalf of all those users, myself included.

    John – answers to your questions. 1. I spelled “globalisation” that way because sometimes I am ornery and use British spellings, especially when I am talking about things that are global (i.e., not strictly American). Aren’t I devious?

    2. If I were to have kids, I have so many My Little Ponies and Lego blocks in storage, I would not have to buy them toys at all. So it’s safe to say I will never under any circumstances actually impact Hasbro’s business, no matter what I do.

    3. Since your third question was conveyed to me telepathically, I will respond in kind.

  13. #13 John Ohab
    July 30, 2008

    The first two questions were grouped together, so you answered all three without even knowing it!

  14. #14 Jessica Palmer
    July 30, 2008

    Ah. I thought that the first two were parts of the same, larger question. 🙂

  15. #15 Leila
    July 30, 2008

    I played Scrabulous this morning and its still there at the moment so dont worry 🙂

  16. #16 TomJoe
    July 31, 2008

New comments have been disabled.