The saga of Scrabulous

The popular scrabble imitation is no more, the third-party web app being forced off Facebook by legal action. We chart how a simple word game became one of the biggest IT stories of the year…

Neither version is the match of the Scrabulous application itself. Both have attracted poor ratings, with reports of numerous bugs, and a general feeling that they hadn't managed to capture what made Scrabulous work so well.

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Yet it was with the release of the Electronic Arts edition into beta that Hasbro then stepped up its legal battle.

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Arguing that "we waited in pursuing legal action until Electronic Arts had a legitimate alternative available", Hasbro launched a lawsuit at the back end of July, for alleged copyright infringement, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This inevitably started a chain reaction that saw Facebook pull Scrabulous from its North American users.

It took nearly a month for Mattel to follow suit. It started its legal action in August, and Facebook subsequently announced that it was withdrawing Scrabulous from all remaining users aside from those based in India. The Indian exemption was down to an ongoing court case brought by Mattel - that could yet determine what happens next in the Scrabulous saga.

The Agarwalla brothers continue to fight this, as you'd expect. Jayant Agarwalla complained in a statement that "It surprises us that Mattel chose to direct Facebook to take down Scrabulous without waiting for India's court to rule on the matter". He saved further criticism for Facebook itself (effectively the operator of the underlying application platform), saying that "it is even more astonishing that Facebook, which claims to be a fair and neutral party, took this step.''

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Furthermore, the Agarwalla brothers are also offering another game that bears similarity to Scrabulous, entitled Wordscraper. This isn't a new title, but it's not too dissimilar from Scrabulous.

Key differences are differing score multiplier options, circular playing tiles and no blanks. In the light of the disappearance of Scrabulous from Facebook, however, Wordscraper has been enjoying an influx of users, who remain dissatisfied with the way that Hasbro and Mattel have gone about this matter. As things stand, though, Scrabulous is all but gone from Facebook, although at the time of writing it's still possible to play it via its own website.

Hindsight

Clearly, in retrospect, the cleanest way to have resolved what became a messy issue would have been had a deal been able to be done back at the start of the year. But, for whatever reason, that never came to fruition, and the end result is that the Facebook user has lost out on a fine online game.

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What's clear, though, is that there's plenty more to this battle than some may believe, and it's hard not to have a little sympathy for Hasbro and Mattel. The pair of whom were onto a loser pretty much from the start, simply because someone made a virtual replica of their game. Neither has come out of the PR battle particularly well, and yet to an extent, the Agarwallas too haven't covered themselves with proverbial glory either.

There may yet be a further turn in the saga, when Mattel's case in the Indian courts comes to its conclusion. But what's equally clear is that you shouldn't be expecting Scrabulous back on Facebook anytime soon, if at all.

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