Hasbro Drops Lawsuit Against Facebook App …

by Sachin Balagopalan on December 17, 2008 · 1 comment

Remember the Hasbro vs Scrabulous saga earlier this year? Scrabble, the board game that no one really cared about, until a couple of guys decided to create a Facebook app called Scrabulous back in June 2007. The app was basically an online version of the board game where Facebook members from all over the world could play each other online irrespective of their physical location. Soon after the app was released on Facebook, it created a huge phenomenon where up to a million people world wide were playing scrabble online everyday. The board game which was pretty much confined to senior citizen homes and family gatherings at the grandparents house all of a sudden had a new life and a new demographic - twenty, thirty and forty somethings. In fact it became so popular that the company, Hasbro/Mattel who owns the trademark to Scrabble saw an increase in sales for the actual board game.

So what does the brain trust at Hasbro/Mattel do with this newly found resurgence for the game? In typical big company fashion they decide to unleash their lawyers and go after a couple of young kids for trademark infringement. First they tried to get Facebook to drop the app and when that didn’t work they decided to go directly after the creators of Scrabulous and the rest as they say is history - it was shut down for good in July 2008, a year after it debuted on Facebook. Scrabulous was later repackaged as Wordscraper on Facebook, a slight variation from Scrabble, but did not rack up the numbers as the original. Hasbro’s own Scrabble game on Facebook also never quite caught on with the old Scrabulous fan base.

So when I saw this Reuters announcement that Hasbro is now dropping the lawsuit against Scrabulous I couldn’t help but think what a colossal waste of time and more importantly a missed opportunity for both parties involved.

In an emailed statement, Hasbro said the agreement “provides people in the U.S. and Canada with a choice of different games and also avoids potentially lengthy and costly litigation.”

The toy maker, which is also known for its Transformers and Playskool brands, declined to comment beyond the statement.

Legally perhaps Hasbro/Mattel had a case but IMO they should have gone the other way instead. Let’s face it, on a “coolness” scale of 1-10 board games are probably a minus five. With the proliferation of video games - Wii, XBox, Playstation etc - very few people play board games anymore. The creators of Scrabulous were able to do something unique by putting the game on Facebook and that is create an interest for board games once again and build an online community. Mattel/Hasbro should have seized that opportunity and built on the momentum by engaging Scrabulous rather than fighting them. The creators of Scrabulous were reportedly making around $25,000 per month net from ad revenues. There are also reports that they wanted 10’s of millions of dollars for the app. If that’s true then there may have been attempts to figure something out between the two parties behind the scenes. There was definitely money to be made either way.

At the end of the day it looks like a wasted opportunity IMO because neither Wordscraper nor EA’s version of online Scrabble created huge waves like Scrabulous did …. and the momentum and interest in the game has definitely fizzled out.

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