If you’ve been following the Hasbro vs. Scrabulous saga then what happened this week wasn’t all that surprising, but it still came as a kick in the teeth to the 4 million or so Facebook users who enjoyed playing the immensely popular multiplayer take-off on Scrabble.
On Tuesday, fans found that Facebook had shut Scrabulous down in response to a lawsuit that Hasbro, owner of the North America rights to Scrabble, was filing against the makers of the game.
Instead of being able to play Scrabulous, users saw the message: "Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice."
In a statement made to ABC News, Hasbro said "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 first requested that Facebook take down Scrabulous back in January. Developed by Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, two brothers from Calcutta, India, Scrabulous was basically a Scrabble clone that ingeniously played on the strengths of the Facebook platform to allow users from around the world to play games together by taking turns making moves. A game of Scrabulous could drag on for months, but the beauty of it was that people could play "together" but at their own pace without being in the same room or even the same country.
Scrabulous quickly became the most popular game on Facebook, and Jayant Agarwalla told the New York Times that it was making about $25,000 per month in advertising revenue, which didn’t sit well with Hasbro who owned the rights to the official version of Scrabble and was working on its own digital version of the board game. Hasbro sued the Agarwalla brothers over intellectual property rights while Electronic Arts launched an "official" version of Scrabble on Facebook and Pogo.com with the blessing of Hasbro and the National Scrabble Association.
But here’s where it gets complicated: EA’s Scrabble can only be played by Facebook users in the U.S. or Canada, where Hasbro owns the patent. If you live outside either of those countries then you’ll have to play the RealNetworks version of Scrabble, which it launched last April in partnership with Mattel who owns the copyright to Scrabble outside of North America. The catch? If you live in Canada but want to play Scrabble with your Facebook Friends in the U.K., or Germany, or France, then you’re out of luck!
ABC News reported that Mattel has also filed a suit against the Agarwalla brothers, which is currently pending a decision by the Indian court.
Industry culture and politics website GamePolitics.com obtained a copy of the court documents between Hasbro and the Agarwallas’ company, RJ Softwares, and offered its own take on the situation: "However one feels about Scrabulous, a reading of Hasbro, Inc. vs. RJ Softwares does spell out a pretty clear-cut case of copyright infringement."
In the meantime, Facebook users aren’t happy about Scrabulous’s demise. A Facebook group called "Save Scrabulous" has 50,000 members and counting, and reactions to the "official" versions of Scrabble meant to take Scrabulous’s place on Facebook have been mixed to say the least.
But we’ll let you be the judge: if you’re on Facebook, you can check out the EA version of Scrabble (which is still in beta) if you live in North America, or the RealNetworks version of Scrabble if you live outside of North America.
As for Scrabulous, it’s no longer on Facebook but it’s not completely gone. For the time being, you can still play it from the developer’s own website. The Agarwalla brothers also have another game on Facebook called Wordscraper. Like Scrabulous it’s a turn-based word game, but the twist is that you get to design the layout of the board yourself.