The game is officially over for Scrabulous fanatics. The popular Scrabble rival, which attracted millions of fans after it launched on the Facebook social network late last year, was banned from access on July 29 to American and Canadian Facebook members, and this ‘until further notice’.
The withdrawal of the program is a reaction to the request made by Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to the game Scrabble, to destroy this program. Hasbro asked Facebook to shut it down shortly after it sued Scrabulous creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for violating Hasbro’s intellectual property. “We own the rights to this game,” said Mark Blecher, the CEO of Digital Media, a subsidiary of Hasbro.
A Facebook spokeswoman said the company forwarded Hasbro’s request to the Scrabulous founders and asked them to take “appropriate” action. Jayant Agarwalla released his statement to the press on July 29.
The creators of Facebook informed us that they received a legal announcement from Hasbro regarding the Scrabulous program. In deference to the concerns of Facebook’s creators and without wishing to prejudice our legal rights, we have had to restrict the access of our fans, in the United States and Canada, to the Scrabulous program until further notice. This is an unfortunate event, a prospect that does not really please us, especially when we know that, in recent months, Mattel has already launched this debate in the Indian courts. We sincerely hope to be able to bring more exciting news to our fans in the days to come.
During the week that Hasbro filed a lawsuit, Electronic Arts began testing an authorized version of the game on Facebook. Titled ‘Scrabble’, EA’s game was pulled from the web on July 29 for maintenance, according to an announcement to Facebook users.
The Hasbro lawsuit has sparked an intense debate about how companies should respond to the creation of online versions of their products by enthusiasts. Some argue that Hasbro should have worked with the creators of Facebook to turn web-connected fans into buyers of the board game, or else take a share of Scrabulous’ advertising revenue. “In my opinion, this is incredibly thoughtless on the part of Hasbro,” said Shel Israel, Scrabulous player and author of ‘Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the way companies talk to customers’.
Others argue that Hasbro was forced to require Facebook to remove the program. After all, Hasbro reached a compromise in August 2007, allowing EA to create digital versions of all its games for social networks or mobile phones. If Hasbro had allowed Scrabulous to continue to be online, it might have limited the value of its license.
‘Like it or not, Scrabulous is a blatant extortion of Scrabble,’ wrote a Business Week reader under the pseudonym ‘Lloyd’. ‘Rajat and Jayant have done an admirable thing in trying to bring a beloved classic up to date. But the moment they accepted a mandate to create a Scrabble-inspired game without permission from Hasbro…they overstepped the bounds and entered Pirate Town.