It’s probably not a fun thing to do, telling a half million people that they cannot play a game they love, especially when it’s your game. Only it wasn’t Hasbro’s game they were playing, exactly, it was a copy of Hasbro’s game. Hasbro actually purchased the US/Canadian rights to the Scrabble brand many years ago, and for that reason alone is 100%, undoubtably justified in their decision to kill Scrabulous. But, as Mathew Ingram asked, is it right? I say yes (and I’m not alone).
First, they were protecting their brand. While this is a highly-scrutinized activity by the public and media, if you own a brand/trademark you must protect it. This isn’t just about “a cool homage to their game” it’s about the long-term strength of the name Scrabble (TM). Had Scrabulous been allowed to continue, this would have set a precedent whereby other companies could also mimic the name and board design and gameplay rules. Like it or not, Hasbro has paid money for these assets, has worked hard to promote these assets, and deserves to have them.
Further on this point, Scrabulous has directly shown that derivative works can become popular. This makes the threat to the Scrabble brand even more visible. It’s one thing to have the janky “San-Fran-opoly” games sold in Fisherman’s Wharf where the gameplay is not quite the same as Monopoly, and as a result, nowhere nearly as good in quality (if you don’t believe me and actually own one of these knockoffs, go take a look at the dust on it relative to the real Monopoly/variant set you own). So Scrabulous showed hands-down just how dangerous a good knockoff can be!
Don Reisinger wrote a good article on the topic, but I disagree with this point:
Instead of embracing the past and clinging to its faulty hope that Scrabble will somehow beat Scrabulous, Hasbro should have realized that the latter has over 500,000 active users at any given time – far more than those playing the board game – and could quite easily monetize that game and enjoy an even greater Return on Investment than it will by shutting it down.
I think it’s safe to say that while a few of the Scrabulous users won’t come back to play Scrabble, the majority won’t give a damn about who did what to who. The people who were addicted to playing will still be addicted to playing. Further, anyone coming to Facebook who searches “Scrabble” will naturally find it. I’m not a big believer that the bulk of current users are as concerned about “the community” as other bloggers make it sound.
This all may sound a little funny coming from me, as both a “community guy” as well as a discordant voice when it comes to copyright issues. But this isn’t about copyright per se, and I just don’t think the Scrabulous guys (whose product I do appreciate) exactly “deserve” anything here, regardless of their attempts to talk to Hasbro etc. There are plenty of opportunities to go create games, people do it every day (and I hope that those talented programmers take their skills to build something new and exciting).
Just as we must protect individuals and consumers from large corporations throwing muscle around (big media, oil, insurance, healthcare, food production, etc), companies too deserve the right to protect their assets when threatened. There’s obviously a fine and delicate line to watch here, but I believe in this case Hasbro is on the right side of that line.