Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scrabulous VS. Hasbro

Awhile back I blogged about being one of the beta testers for the "new" Scrabble on Facebook.
I did this because I loved the previous version (Scrabulous) so much, I was hoping the new version would be even better.

A bit of background information for those who don't already know:

The original board game of Scrabble was invented in the 1930's, though it wasn't actually called "Scrabble" until 1948. In 1986, the game was purchased by Hasbro.

In 2005, two people developed an online version of this game, which they called "Scrabulous."
In 2007, it became a Facebook application, and was very, VERY popular. People loved it, myself included. According to the latest statistics I could find, over 840,000 people added the application, and over 500,000 used it every day, which made it the most popular game on Facebook.

Hasbro couldn't STAND this.

It asked Facebook to remove Scrabulous from their site
Fans protested, forming Facebook groups such as this one, called "Give Us Scrabulous Or Give Us Death!" (I am a member of this group.)
Fans also signed petitions and sent letters to Hasbro, defending Scrabulous and expressing disapproval of the company's attempts to "bully them off the playground," so to speak.

Fans insisted that Hasbro was only shooting itself in the foot by trying to block Scrabulous from public consumption. Since Scrabulous was so wildly popular, it was likely to bring added business to the company, rather than detract from it. So instead of trying to squash its "competition", Hasbro should instead have tried buying Scrabulous, or reaching a benign agreement with its creators, extending their blessing and approval, allowing the application to continue under mutually-agreed-upon terms. There could have been cooperation and mutual benefit here, if things had been done right. Instead, Hasbro just wanted to exhibit strong-arm tactics and be the bully. This is what the fans objected to so strongly.

Facebook refused to pull the Scrabulous application, saying that decision resided solely with the developers of that application.

Hasbro tried coming up with its own version of "official" Scrabble, in hopes that fans would like that better.
This is what I beta-tested a couple weeks ago.

It was "ok", but it certainly had its problems. After giving it some thought, I say this: If I had to choose between the two versions, I would definitely choose Scrabulous. Both because I think Scrabulous works better, and because I am disgusted with Hasbro for how they've dealt with this issue.

It was clear that most people did not like the "new" Scrabble. I read through the hundreds of comments on the application's site, and people were having all sorts of problems getting it to work right. Plus, it had so many bells and whistles that it ran really slow for anyone whose computer wasn't up to the task. It didn't always run properly on Firefox. It was restricted only to users in Canada and the US. (This is because Hasbro only owns rights to this game in those countries. Mattel owns the rights to Scrabble elsewhere in the world). Even then, the game didn't seem to always recognize IP addresses that were in the appropriate countries. I remember reading a comment from a lady in Iowa who kept getting an error message that told her she wasn't part of the US. (!!!)
People were leaving all kinds of comments, expressing their frustrations with these multitudinous difficulties, insisting that Scrabulous had been MUCH better.

Still, Hasbro remained stubborn.
Instead of reaching a peaceful agreement with Scrabulous which would allow the more popular application to remain online, they decided to SUE.

More about that here and here and here....

Thanks to their strong-arm tactics and bullying, Scrabulous has been taken away from Facebook. I checked the site this morning, ready to play my next word in the games I have, and was greeted with this instead:

"Scrabulous is disabled for US and Canadian users until further notice."

So, it appears that Scrabulous is gone for the foreseeable future. I find this reprehensible. Hasbro has not handled this issue well at all. Instead, it's alienated many thousands of fans, some of which are seriously talking about boycotting all Hasbro games. Because of their stubborn insistence on bullying their competitor, using trademark laws as justification, they've managed to make things much worse for themselves. They really ARE shooting themselves in the foot.

Especially sad is the fact that this isn't the first time they've done this.
In 2005, they used similar tactics to eradicate another online version of Scrabble.

I have hardly any respect for Hasbro, and am unlikely to ever purchase any of their games ever again.
If you, too, are interested in boycotting Hasbro products, you can find a list of some of these products HERE, as well as at Hasbro's official site HERE.

You can read more about this issue at the following pages:
the Los Angeles Times
the BBC
the New York Times blog

Here is the very best post I've read about this topic yet. It describes my thoughts and feelings about the issue exactly, especially the part about how Hasbro is only damaging itself by having such a stubborn attitude.

This is about SO much more than a simple case of trademark/copyright law.
It's a shame Hasbro can't see that.


Chris Miner said...

You can now play wordscraper instead.

Janna said...

Chris: Yes, I know... I've tried it. It's just not the same. :(