Scrabulous’s Triple Word Score to Electronic Arts for “Dexterous”

January 22nd, 2008

Scrabulous is, I am told, the 9th most popular application on Facebook. It was created by two student brothers in Calcutta, launched on FB in June 2007, and as of this writing is used by approximately 600,000 people per day and generates “over $25k” in monthly revenue for its creators.

Metrics courtesy

The rights to the Scrabble board game are co-owned by the world’s #1 toymaker Hasbro (US market), #2 toymaker Mattel (rest of the world) and #1 electronic game maker Electronic Arts. Hasbro sent the Agarwalla brothers and Facebook a notice of copyright infringment and takedown demand shortly before the start of 2008, and Mattel apparently joined the demand shortly after.

So if I understand the story so far: somehow these three giants let slip Scrabulous’s meteoric rise on Facebook for six months, and nearly a month after the takedown notice the application remains live on Facebook with nary a reference to the controversy.

Some opine that the toy makers are losing a great marketing opportunity and accruing negative publicity. I doubt it. I am inclined to agree with Josh Quittner that the toy barons are simply letting Scrabulous take the line and run with it, building a fan community and working out bugs in the online implementation. They’ll reel it in when they’re ready and land the fish for themselves.

EA’s position is ideal here. A friend in the game industry told me that EA has more attorneys on staff than any other type of professional (including developers!). My guess is that they are pushing Hasbro and Mattel behind the scenes and quietly locking up their online rights without risking negative press.

I’m still rooting for the little guys- the Agarwalla brothers- and hopeful they can work out a deal that nets them something for their effort to build the platform. Time is not on their side, though. The bigger Scrabulous gets the tighter the vise is likely to squeeze them.

As Quittner’s article says, they started the game “without thinking through the legal aspects”. Here’s hoping they pull through with enough cash to try again, and give those legal details a few moments’ thought.

Full disclosure: I played Scrabulous once and lost badly.

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