Scrabble does a U-turn on Facebook – but no-one is interested

By Mark O’Neill

Real Networks (the same people that gives us the crappy Real Player) is doing their level best to pull the rug from under one of the most popular, if not THE most popular game on Facebook, Scrabulous, despite repeated pledges to save it. But here’s the kicker. No-one seems to be interested in what they’re now offering.

The unauthorized version of Scrabble, Scrabulous, took off like wildfire when it was first introduced, and it now boasts 630,000 active users. It is consistently ranked as one of the most popular Facebook applications ever and I blame it as one of the things that sucks my working day away. My girlfriend Monika and I have between 10-15 games on the go at any one time (and I get beaten every time which is embarrassing considering I’m the native English speaker and she isn’t!).

But right from the beginning, Scrabulous ran into serious legal trouble with the companies that own the legal rights to the board game Scrabble (yeah, changing the name to Scrabulous didn’t work. They saw right through that devious move!). Hasbro and Mattel demanded to the Indian creators of Scrabulous, the Agarwalla brothers, that they immediately cease and desist with their Facebook application – which they refused to do. The fans rallied behind the Agarwalla’s and the stage was set for a showdown.

But people started wondering why Mattel and Hasbro didn’t take the opposite approach. OK, they were entitled to flex their legal muscles to protect their intellectual property but why not take advantage of the sudden popularity of Scrabble? Scrabble sales had been sagging for years and Scrabulous had breathed new life into the whole Scrabble concept. So as a sign of gratitude, why not buy out the Agarwalla’s? Take over Scrabulous and make a quick buck in the process? It seemed to many people that Mattel and Hasbro were cutting off their nose to spite their face. Mattel and Hasbro declared in response that to buy out the Agarwalla’s would be to send out the wrong message. That it would encourage others to steal intellectual property in the hopes of a big pay-day. The result? Stalemate.

But then something that no-one could have foreseen happened. The fans started to tire of all the threats and began to hit back. Petitions got started. Boycotts against Mattel and Hasbro were threatened. Suddenly a PR disaster of monumental proportions was looming. The two companies realised the only way out of this was to placate the Facebook users. So they promised to “save Scrabulous”.

So what have they now done? Instead of saving Scrabulous as they promised the fans they would do, they’ve instead launched their own Scrabble Facebook application. Meanwhile, the fate of Scrabulous is still up in the air.

OK, let’s help them out here. You need the tiles H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E . How many points is that? Oh and you get double points for breaking your word.