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Rob Glaser, Scrabulous, which allowed users anywhere in the world to play each other, was doomed by this complicated, outdated intellectual property situation.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.