Unless you’ve been living under a rock you would have undoubtedly come across or read about the phenomenon that’s taking place all over the world right now called Scrabulous - the online version of the Scrabble board game on Facebook. You’re also probably aware of the fact that Mattel and Hasbro, the companies that own the rights to the game have been crying foul ever since Scrabulous took off and made the otherwise “geeky” board game the most popular online game at the moment.
Back in January at the height of the legal wrangling between Mattel/Hasbro and the Agarwalla brothers (Jayant and Rajat who created Scrabulous) I blogged about this issue - hoping that the toy company would offer these guys some kind of lucrative deal. I mean lets face it, people were actually going out and buying the real board game as a result of being hooked on Scrabulous online. It can’t be too bad for business can it? Instead in typical “big company” fashion they decided to bully a couple of young guys by threatening them with legal action and actually trying to influence Facebook to shut down the game.
Whether or not the big toy company has a case against the Agarwalla’s is not that important anymore. The New York Times has a piece about this phenomenon in their weekend technology section today. As stated in the article it seems that Mattel and Hasbro are the only ones on the planet that don’t like Scrabulous. Everyone is hooked on it and there are numerous groups on Facebook and elsewhere that are supporting Scrabulous and are lobbying against shutting down the game. If you read between the lines it looks like this is a PR nightmare for Mattel and Hasbro. At the very least it looks like (again in “big company” fashion) they missed a golden opportunity. Up until the Agarwalla’s created Scrabulous board games were waning in popularity especially amongst the younger demographic - with the popularity of Xbox, Nintendo and others. Now it looks like that could change and there is a huge business opportunity to bring the traditional board games online and target a whole new generation of players.
It seems like Mattel/Hasbro might have realized that they missed the boat and are probably kicking themselves for not engaging the Agarwalla’s instead of trying to intimidate them - judging from the NYT piece anyway. I also spoke to Jayant Agarwalla this evening about the Mattel/Hasbro situation and he said “we are working hard to make sure that the situation is resolved and players don’t have to be deprived of such a fantastic game.”
Let’s hope this situation is indeed resolved because it stinks at every level. After all it’s just a board game and the Agarwalla’s by all accounts had no intention of making any money out of this. All they wanted to do was play Scrabble online!
UPDATE: Om Malik thinks that RealNetworks might be making a play for Scrabulous. Interesting ….
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