game over

chickens play scrabble

Hasbro plays hardball:

The saga of Scrabulous is nearing an end. The Facebook version of Scrabble raised the ire of Hasbro and Mattel, which jointly own the rights to the game abroad and in the U.S., respectively. They have already asked Facebook to pull Scrabulous, one of the most popular apps on the social networking site.

So why is Scrabulous still up on Facebook? A flurry of behind the scenes deal-making has been going on between Hasbro, Scrabulous, and Electronic Arts, which has the license in the U.S. to the online version of the game. Hasbro is trying to get Scrabulous to sell itself for a song to Electronic Arts, or else shut down completely by the end of the day today. Scrabulous has been trying to shop itself to other buyers as well, but its legal liability is scaring away any potential white knights. Unless it gets some sort of reprieve or agrees to sell to Electronic Arts, Scrabulous will be no more, despite the more than 46,000 Facebook members who have joined the “Save Scrabulous” group. What choice does it have, really, but to sell?

I find myself somewhat sympathetic to Hasbro here, since the Scrabulous game is obviously and blatantly an infringement on their copyright, and all the tales of scrab players buying real copies of Scrabble after “rediscovering” the game are certainly heartwarming but also irrelevant. I agree its a fantastic game but it would have been nice if they’d made some token effort at obscuring the game’s lineage to Scrabble, the way that the generic version of Battleship is done at (“battle boats”). Don’t get me wrong, Scrabulous is probably the single reason I even visit Facebook on a semiregular basis – it’s brilliant. But given that the facebook app nets its creators $25000 a month in advertising revenue, it’s not like selling to Hasbro makes them victims. Even if they are forced to sell for a “song”.

I loved Scrabulous, but I just want to play the game. If it’s bought out by Hasbro, renamed Scrabble, and becomes legit, so much the better. Why exactly wouldn’t the Scrab folks sell out, except as some kind of middle finger to those of us who gave them their success – the players? Ante up.