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August 1, 2008

Hasbro's Triple Turd Score

Imagine you're a major board game manufacturer, specifically marketing an old tried-and-true word game. Competing with video games and all sorts of other attention-hogging entertainment products can't be good for business. It looks like you're looking at a future of grandmas, word nerds, and collecting dust in the basement. But then, by some chance miracle, two software engineers in India decide to adapt your game to a popular social networking site, and it takes off like wildfire. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world are playing your game multiple times a day—some are even playing 20, 30 games at a time like Russian chess prodigies. People remember why they loved your game, or fall in love with it for the first time. Your sales pick up as never before, books and websites are devoted to your product, and congratulations, with over half a million daily users your product is the foundation of the world's most popular social network application. The only question is, where do you go from here?


Image via Colby Stuart's Flickr

Well if you're Hasbro and your product is Scrabble™, you shut down the incredibly popular Facebook application and replace it with your own barely functioning version of the same game. Hasbro might have had the option of teaming up with the Agarwalla brothers behind Scrabulous, licensing the product, and raking in (very small) revenue and (very large) positive brand engagement. They also had hundred of thousands of users already invested in the product. Now, the new Facebook Scrabble, which is built by software games giant Electronic Arts, has to attract a new slew of users to its cluttered and slower version of the same product. Even if the makers of Scrabulous weren't interested in striking a deal, the tremendous ill will created by shutting it down can't possibly be a good thing.

What might be most surprising about this blunder is that Hasbro seems to have been completely blindsided by it. Since Gelf had reviewed Scrabulous in the past, Hasbro contacted us to write an advance review of their new product. The only problem was that in the two weeks leading up to the official launch, the numerous technical glitches kept us from playing a full game. Part of this was due to the inherent issue of testing a multiplayer board game when the people you would play with don't have access to it. But we found out that the technical issues went beyond that. EA's Scrabble was down most of the day of its launch, either because they couldn't handle the traffic, or because they were hacked by a group of rogue Scrabulous loyalists.

Suddenly, Hasbro's bubbly emails shifted in tone.

July 24, 2008:


Just a quick note to see if you've played EA SCRABBLE on Facebook yet and had the chance to write your review! If you haven't, I hope you get a chance to try out the game's cool features and intuitive controls. EA and Hasbro are constantly making improvements to make sure SCRABBLE fans have fun playing their favorite game on Facebook and they're committed to providing both loyal fans and newbies exciting SCRABBLE action.

Now that the authentic SCRABBLE app from EA and Hasbro is the only version available on Facebook (for U.S. and Canadian users), feedback and support from experienced SCRABBLE players like you is incredibly helpful toward delivering a great gaming experience.

But enough talk about SCRABBLE. It's time to line up your tiles!

July 31, 2008:

Thanks for your email. I don't have any official information to share with you right now, but I'll let you know if I get any inside scoops on Scrabble or Scrabulous. I hope that the technical issues with Scrabble are worked out soon so you can play a game for yourself!

So did Hasbro make a grave mistake? Scrabble expert, noted Word Freak, and Gelf's Scrabulous partner Stefan Fatsis isn't sure. "This all is a reasonable action by this company," he tells NPR. "Hasbro has to defend itself in the marketplace against copycats." However, that doesn’t mean they made the right move. "Judging from the initial reaction, it could be a short term disaster for the company," Fatsis continues. "Whether Scrabulous is legal or not, it is a terrific application. It brought tens of thousands of people to the game who wouldn’t otherwise be playing it—including young people."

For their part, the Agarwalla brothers aren't taking Hasbro's actions lying down. The day after Scrabulous was shut down, they released WordScraper, a similar, though not identical, word game that may (or may not) avoid the copyright issues. So will people flock to the Scrabble-like game from the makers of Scrabulous or the Scrabulous-like game from the makers of Scrabble? Or maybe the return of the word game and all of the benefits that came with it are a thing of the past, done in by a corporation who couldn't bear to see its product in someone else's hands.

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