Scrabulous Scrapped on Facebook

After months of speculation, Scrabble copycat gets the virtual heave-ho.

July 29, 2008 — -- Devoted Scrabulous fans were f-u-r-i-o-u-s to find out today that their favorite online game has been scrapped from Facebook.

Fans of the game who tried to log on to the Scrabble copycat this morning on Facebook were greeted with this message: "Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice. If you would like to stay informed about developments in this matter, please click here. "

When users click, they are taken to a note posted by the game's developers, Indian brothers Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla.

"Dear Friend, Please enter your e-mail address below to receive further updates. Your e-mail will remain with us and shall not be disclosed to third parties. Thank you! Rajat & Jayant."

The decision to remove the application came from the developers, not Facebook, the social network told

"In response to a legal request from Hasbro, the copyright and trademark holder for Scrabble in the U.S. and Canada, the developers of Scrabulous have suspended their application in the U.S. and Canada until further notice," the company said in an emailed statement.

Outrage on the Facebook group "Save Scrabulous," the largest group of its kind -- more than 45,000 members strong -- was instantaneous. Fans of the game posted messages littered with words such as "madness" and "travesty," as well as several expletives, and encouraged fans to voice their displeasure to Hasbro, either by calling the customer service line -- or the company's CEO.

"I think this is a very dumb decision by Hasbro. For me and a number of our friends, we haven't thought about playing Scrabble for a long time ... I'll say Scrabulous got my interest in Scrabble again," Dominic Hung, a 28-year-old in Vancouver, British Columbia, wrote to in an e-mail.

Derek Webster, a 35-year-old graphic designer from Toronto and 8-month player of Scrabulous, said he was disappointed that Scrabulous was pulled. According to Webster, the official online version of Scrabble has too many "bells and whistles."

Webster said he will be protesting via e-mail.

"I did send an e-mail off to the American and Canadian e-mail addresses just to say thanks, but no thanks" to the official Scrabble application released earlier this month on Facebook, he said.

Jason Madhosingh, the 30-year-old New Yorker that founded the Save Scrabulous group, says that Hasbro botched a chance to connect with a new generation of would-be Scrabble players.

"I think that the big loss here is that Hasbro has realy missed an opportunity to connec with a passionate fan base," he said. "The lack of engagement ... has an impact on brand preference and how strongly consumers feel about the brand and the company that delivers that brand."

As for the new Scrabble application, Madhosingh says he won't be installing it.

"I think it's something that I think was done in a way that alienated a large group of passionate fans and I'm unwilling to support that," he said.

Some fans complained that they had problems accessing the official version of Scrabble -- released by Hasbro and video game developer Electronic Arts -- on Facebook today.

"We're working on some tech problems and Scrabble will be ready to play as soon as possible," EA spokeswoman Trudy Miller said in an e-mailed statement. "EA is monitoring feedback from fans, and we are already in the process of making changes that will result in a variety of improvements, including faster game play, leading up to the official launch scheduled for the first half of August."

Hasbro said it was "pleased" with the developments.

"We appreciate Facebook's assistance in expediting this matter. Hasbro has consistently stated that Scrabulous is a blatant infringement of Hasbro's Scrabble intellectual property rights in the United States and Canada," Hasbro said in a statement. "Mattel, holders of the SCRABBLE IP rights outside of the United States and Canada, several months ago also filed a suit which is awaiting a decision by the Indian court."

Scrabulous co-creator Jayant Agarwalla told in an e-mail that the application was pulled in response to Facebook's concerns.

"We will sincerely hope to bring to our fans brighter news in the days to come," he wrote.

The Scrabulous fracas heated up last week when Hasbro, the owner of Scrabble in the United States and Canada, sued the Agarwalla brothers over intellectual property rights to the board game and asked Facebook to remove the popular application from its site.

In a statement issued late last Thursday, Facebook said it hoped the suit wouldn't discourage other developers from creating applications for the social network.

"Over the past year, Facebook has tried to use its status as neutral platform provider to help the parties come to an amicable agreement," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We're disappointed that Hasbro has sought to draw us into their dispute; nevertheless, we have forwarded their concerns to Scrabulous and requested their appropriate response."

Scrabulous is played much the same way as Scrabble and is among the top 10 most downloaded applications on Facebook, which has more than 90 million active users. It can also be played online at the brothers' Web site, Despite the application's removal from Facebook, the site remained active.

Last year, Hasbro struck a deal with video game maker Electronic Arts to develop digital versions of classic board games.

That deal came to fruition in the past few weeks, as Hasbro launched an online version of the official Scrabble, also downloadable on Facebook.

Hasbro had been mum on what legal action, if any, it would take -- until last week.

"In deference to the fans, we waited in pursuing legal action until EA had a legitimate and better alternative available," Hasbro said in a statement.

Hasbro isn't the first company to bring a licensed Scrabble application to Facebook. In April, RealNetworks, an Internet software provider, launched Scrabble by Mattel on the social networking site. The application allows Facebook members outside the U.S. and Canada — or those who say they live outside the two countries — to play the real Scrabble.

Last year, RealNetworks struck a deal with Mattel, which owns the copyright to Scrabble internationally, to develop online casual games based on several Mattel board games, including Scrabble.

"We've been working with Mattel for a couple of months," RealNetworks spokesman Ryan Luckin said in April. "We do have a similar deal with Hasbro with online rights for Scrabble, so we'll continue to work with them as one of our partners."

Luckin said that RealNetworks is still in talks with the Agarwalla brothers; he declined to reveal details of those discussions.

"At the end of the day no matter what game is out there with a Scrabble trademark on it, it has to be approved by Mattel and Hasbro," he said. "So no matter what happens we want to work with them ... and also make this work for the Scrabulous guys as well."

Future Trouble for Facebook?

The situation calls into question a host of potential legal landmines for Facebook, which allows programmers to develop and upload all sorts of applications to the social networking site.

"The big issue here is what this implies for Facebook," said Tom Hemnes, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in copyright and trademark law. "If I were betting on this, if the case came to litigation or settlement, [I would bet] that Facebook would lose. They are indirectly associated with the name Scrabble to attract viewers to their site, and that would be trademark infringement."

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