How Hasbro And Mattel Killed Interest In Online Scrabble

from the nice-work,-guys dept

We've been chronicling just how badly both Hasbro and Mattel screwed up in responding to the massive success of Scrabulous on Facebook. The ridiculously popular application was attracting over 500,000 users every day and (amazingly) making Scrabble cool again, pumping up sales of the physical board game. But, of course, the intellectual property lawyers freaked out and said "this must stop." The resulting legal threats and lawsuits created quite a lot of backlash and anger (and a boycott of Hasbro games). Venturebeat is now looking at the aftermath, and shows that the fight effectively killed all momentum for Scrabble on Facebook. Part of the problem may be that the game is now fragmented, with a Hasbro version serving some countries, a Mattel version serving others and the Scrabulous makers' "modified" Wordscraper on the market as well. The end result is that each has significantly fewer users than Scrabulous had. In fact, the monthly number of users pales in comparison to the daily number of users that Scrabulous had. Great way to kill a wonderful (free) promotion that was attracting thousands of new fans to the game.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Phillip, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 12:32pm

    Amen to that.

    I used to play Scrabulous with friends on Facebook until it got shut down. Not anymore.

    Heck, I would have boycotted Hasbro, but I wasn't willing to quit playing Magic:The Gathering or D&D (both Wizards of the Coast products and they are owned by Hasbro). Alas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Adam Singer, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    Saw this coming...

    Small minded thinking from some bean counters ruined a good thing. I bet their PR people (if they were worth their salt) were screaming not to do this. What a bone headed move, they are the laughing stock of the tech blogosphere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Twinrova, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 12:40pm

    I'm glad it happened!

    Of course, I do feel for those who lost a great game, but maybe, just maybe, this will be a positive message to the rest of the idiots out there who believe IP is a selfish thing to keep.

    ISN'T THAT RIGHT, MONSTER, you stupid idiots!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 12:50pm

    they dont care

    Seriously, these companies do not care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Your Gawd and Master, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:02pm


    Loser. Magic is *still* fucking gay(ever seen the Southpark commercial for the game? Kenny "says", "this game is really fucking gay") and the only good D&D was 1st Edition with a very few 2nd Edition additions, neither owned by Hasbro.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:10pm

    Bravo, Hasbro/Mattel. Bravo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Re:

    Roger that on the D&D. That bastardized version of 2nd edition was awesome. Hard to find the books for it though, my cousin had the player's manual. It was closer to 1st edition than what 2nd edition became when it started using the black book covers for the whole series.

    My favorite character was a level 8 Theif-Acrobat / level 9 Magic-User I had. Best. Vagabond. Ever. And totally not possible in 2nd edition or 3rd without bending the rules.

    Which granted, are made to be bent but still. Boo.

    And MTG...its like phases. There will be 3 months of awesome its fun followed by 9 months of not even looking at a MTG card.

    All downhill since Wizards got bought by Hasbro.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Witty Nickname, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:20pm

    D&D and Magic fans, in ten years you will want to travel back in time to beat yourself up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    You never know, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:30pm

    But you are over looking one important thing, Lawyers have no forsight! All they want is money "NOW" and to hell with the company down the road...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Cryix, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:33pm

    isnt this actually exactly the kind of situation we have copyright for?

    You have an online game with a name that sounds pretty much like an existing IP that is esentially giving away the product for free online without permission from the people who own the IP being aped.

    You said it's improving sales of the actual board game but where's the evidence of that? Page after page of people on the internet "supposing" that it did, but no one seems to have any citations for it.

    Sure, shutting it down is clearly pissing people off. Who doesnt like to get something for free?

    But it seems pretty clear to me that its infringing on hasbro's IP. if it wasnt, they couldnt claim that it was somehow promoting scrabble.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Phillip, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Re:

    Not really asking for your opinion on my hobbies, but thanks :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    MeMeMe, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 2:09pm

    I've always been told...

    This is called cutting off your nose to spite your face........!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Noah Callaway, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 2:11pm


    "But it seems pretty clear to me that its infringing on hasbro's IP. if it wasnt, they couldnt claim that it was somehow promoting scrabble."

    Legally, yes, I'm guessing they were infringing on the IP. That's why Scrabulous got shut down.

    Hasbro absolutely could have chosen to let Scrabulous continue as it existed. They had to make a choice. I think it's pretty clear that they made the wrong business decision. While I agree that it may be hard to provide evidence that the online popularity was translating into physical sales, I think it's harder to argue the Scrabble sales were *hurt* by Scrabulous.

    So, if the online game isn't doing damage to your product (and is being played by people who *like* your product), it seems like a terrible business decision to shut it down. I think the boycott would indicate they did themselves more harm in taking it down, that letting the game run online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Phillip, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Re:

    @Your Gawd and Master @Witty Nickname
    wow you guys sure seem to have some issues with what other people do with their time.

    I'll freely admit to playing both when I was in high school and do not regret it at all. Sure I don't play anymore but there is nothing wrong with it or the people who play it.

    Granted its only been 9 years not 10 but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to change my mind in the next year.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Danny (profile), Jan 7th, 2009 @ 4:19pm

    completely agree

    I completely agree with your thesis. This should become a textbook example of the stupidity that sometimes occurs when IP is blindly enforced against a company's own marketing self interest.

    I was a regular Scrabulous player. I tried their new game once and didn't feel comfortable with it. So I have been using the Scrabble "beta" since. Have now completed nine Scrabble games (much slower pace than I'd previously been playing Scrabulous (that means less page views with ads for those of you keeping score at home.)

    And the Scrabble lawyers and still messing up within themselves. I spent most of December in Europe, which meant my Scrabble games were on hold as my Hasbro application was able to tell I was at a French IP address and blocked me from playing. How stupid is that? I am not going to drop my games mid-game to load a Mattel application (if one exists) - and I wouldn't be able to play with my regular American partners anyway!

    Wouldn't it make much more sense for Hasbro and Mattel to work out a cross promotion agreement that their application users can use the game anywhere? After all, such a solution will only result in more page view (rather than frustrated users.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Danny, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 4:21pm

    Re: Re:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    PaulT (profile), Jan 7th, 2009 @ 4:26pm


    You're missing the point really. Yes, it was technically infringing Hasbro's IP, but that's not really the issue.

    The point is that copyright and IP protection are supposedly in existence to protect and encourage innovation. The idea is that the IP/copyright owners are given a limited monopoly to allow them to make money without interference from others taking their ideas.

    In this case, the absolute opposite happened. Hasbro completely ignored, or were unaware of, a totally new market that existed for Scrabble. The makers of Scrabulous noticed that gap in the market and made a program that perfectly exploited it - to the point where Hasbro themselves were benefiting directly.

    Now, they could have chosen to work with the makers of Scrabulous. With no effort on their own part, Hasbro could have taken the game (with its huge community of members) and taken advantage of the new market that had been discovered. They could have bought the game out and rebranded it (threat of legal action could have made this rather cheap), taken the programming team in-house or any number of other things. Instead, they chose to shut the game down and try to force everyone to go on to their own version.

    But, this has failed. They've fragmented the community, generated a great deal of ill will towards their company and released versions of the game that are essentially competing with themselves. They've totally shot themselves in the foot, and destroyed what could have been a very lucrative market. Yes, strictly speaking they were within their rights to do this. That doesn't make it any less dumb or short-sighted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Ben, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 4:47pm

    This is true, but...

    In my own case, I was getting bored of Scrabulous anyway and my usage had sharply fallen before this whole issue. I wonder how common that situation was...many apps have a natural lifetime. Maybe Scrabulous was just a (long-running) fad. I'm sure the lawsuit made it far worse, but there could be other factors at work as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 6:49pm

    You know what they say

    You live and you learn
    ..... or maybe not

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    John M., Jan 7th, 2009 @ 8:48pm

    again and again...

    This is just another case of decision makers being behind the curve and putting too much stock in what their legal team tells them - it's not about Scrabble or making mixtapes on websites. There is also a tangible amount of goodwill engendered by content creators and providers that are more loose with things - the tightasses get ripped off or lose out.

    I can give a brief, related example to support this. Months back, a friend sent me a link to a Hot Chip video on YouTube. I liked it and wanted to post it on my weblog. When I got to the video, it was on the band's label's site and embedding was disabled. No problem... look it up on Google Video and find another. Funny enough, I found it on Hot Chip's YouTube page and embedding was enabled. As we speak, same video (One Pure Thought):

    Astralwerks: 8,895 views

    Hot Chip: 304,117 views

    It's more or less the same with all of this business - from Muxtape to Scrabulous - they're just stabbing themselves in the guts over and over again and bleeding lost opportunity.

    I have a lot more to say about it, but I'll leave it at that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Ed, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 10:10pm

    During a speaking tour in March, I invited audience members at each stop to join Facebook if for no other reason than to place Scrabulous with me.

    Now, I wouldn't dare invite even a close friend to play the Hasbro version of the game (I played two games total on the new version before giving up). It's painfully slow when it works. It probably looks nice on a boardroom screen but is unusable on a high powered laptop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Alan Gerow, Jan 8th, 2009 @ 12:11pm


    The biggest problem with copyright law is that if you don't defend it, you lose your copyright. Essentially, IF Hasbro had let the matter slide with the on-line version, then they could have lost their copyright entirely so that Alan Gerow Games now presents Alan Gerow Scrabble, available everywhere in every form.

    The on-line game MAY have helped sell the physical game, but then Hasbro wouldn't have the sole right to sell the physical game.

    They could have given rights to the on-line game, but that was a fine line they probably didn't want to walk. And Scrabulous gave them the bright idea to do their own app, written by themselves, with nobody else to answer to.

    I like how Lucas Arts handled PhoneSaber on the iPhone. They asked them nicely to take the app off the App Store, and then hired the PhoneSaber makers and rebranded their app with Star Wars: Unleashed. They could have made the advertising less obnoxious or made it more Star Wars generalized ... but in the end, Lucas Arts defended their copyright, the guys who made the app were able to rerelease the app, and people still got a free Light Saber app on the iPhone. (I have the original on my iPhone because the branding is a bit obnoxious & I don't know who most of the characters are in the new app as I stopped paying attention to Star Wars after I regrettably saw Episode 1 in the movie theatre.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    BTR1701, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 10:13am

    Re: Problem

    > The biggest problem with copyright law is that
    > if you don't defend it, you lose your copyright.

    No, that's not true at all. There is no requirement to defend or lose copyrights.

    It *is* true of trademarks, but not copyright. The two are completely different things with completely different sets of laws governing them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    joe, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 12:09pm

    scrabulous is back

    it seems scrabulous is now back in the form of lexulous. So far it looks identical to the old app so not sure how they managed that. Even had my old games stored on it so I can pick up where it left off. At least something seems to have turned out alright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    ian wells, Jun 20th, 2009 @ 8:04am

    how to play facebook scrabble if one person in US, one person not

    Why is there an online version for US only and one for the rest of the world? I can't use it with my US friends. Ian

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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