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The Interesting Plight of Scrabulous

July 25, 2008

Hasbro has dropped the bomb on Scrabulous, the Scrabble knock off on Facebook, and demanded the game be removed and its makers cease and desist their long-term affair with the Hasbro IP. This has left some players with a sour taste in their mouths. After all, the Scrabulous Brothers are a modern day success story. Their application is one of the most popular on Facebook with over half a million active daily users – and that’s amazing by any standards. On the other hand, they did this with someone else’s game.

The Guardian write Charles Author sums it up nicely in his piece, Why Hasbro won’t buy Scrabulous: because it’s cheaper to sue it.

Hasbro shareholders could legitimately ask: why? Why pay our money for a company that’s infringing our IP?

Beyond that, though, and as a game developer, it also sets a dangerous precedent, albeit one that is unlikely to be followed. While imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, it can also lift dollars out of the pockets of the other game developers. Think Hasbro is a big giant blob that doesn’t employ actual developers? Think again. There are teams of 3 and 4 people out there who worked their ass off to get into this industry that have earned the right to develop these games through legitimate licensing of the IP.

I do feel for the Scrabulous Brothers. They have given a lot of people – including me – a lot of hours of fun. I hope that they are able to turn their knowledge and audience on to another game in the future, but not one that someone else already has.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Pioli permalink
    July 26, 2008 12:45 pm

    I understand how you feel. I love Scrabble. My mother taught me and we had endless hours of fun with it.

    I think one of the issues is that Hasbro let this sit for so long before finally getting on top of things. It would have been more “responsible” of them (in terms of copyrights and trademarks) to have asked the creators to take the game down when it was still in its infancy. Having EA make an online version then suing Scrabulous developers is within their rights, but it isn’t proper behavior in my opinion.

  2. Michel permalink
    July 29, 2008 11:34 am

    How is having them take down Scrabulous in its infancy proper? As some forgotten person on my RSS feed list said, it was actually incredibly nice of Hasbro/EA to leave Scrabulous alone until the official version was finished. Depriving millions of people of months and months of Scrabble fun for no good reason would have been the asshole move to make.

  3. July 29, 2008 8:24 pm

    I’ve been following this story for a while and have never been able to find a proper answer to what seems to me to be an important question: On what legal basis are Scrabulous being sued?

    I’m not trying to question Hasbro’s right to do this, Scrabulous is inarguably a copy of Scrabble, but what acutal legal protection do Hasbro have? Every article I’ve read has vague cited infringements of ‘IP’ or ‘copyright’ or ‘trademarks’. Can anyone be precise?

    The most important question seems to be: Can you protect the intellectual property that is the ‘game’ of Scrabble (as opposed to the trademark ‘Scrabble’ or a copyright on the board design, or the text of the rules or… )

    This seems like the domain of patents to me, but to my best knowledge you can’t patent a game. And even if you could, surely any Scrabble patents would have expired by now?

    Does anyone know the actual details?

  4. July 29, 2008 8:42 pm

    @ Malcolm – you can copyright a design.

    This was also an interesting read:

  5. July 30, 2008 7:24 am

    If I might pimp my own stuff, I edited a book called “Business & Legal Primer for Game Development” with Greg Boyd, an IP attorney. You can see a lengthy description on my blog at:

    There’s a whole chapter on intellectual property (IP). The legal information contained in the book is easily worth the price of admission, IMNSHO. The business information is a nice bonus in case you want to start your own some day.

  6. July 30, 2008 10:10 am

    I assume that Scrabulous got sued because it got big; because it became immensely popular. One doubts that it would have even raised an eyebrow at Hasbro had it been a shareware product, particularly since there are so many Scrabble-alikes already out there already and we don’t hear about them being sued (but see *).

    And then you have Hasbro going “Oh, duh, we should have an online Scrabble game. Why didn’t we think of that?” Perhaps our minds are too highly trained, Majikthise. (Hasbro should have grokked this and done this years ago.)

    * I’m not a Facebook person so I don’t know, but didn’t Scrabulous change enough of the game so as to stand on its own two feet? I guess not, and that would be their simple mistake. One wonders why they made a mistake like that. They must have known all these things.

  7. Malcolm permalink
    August 3, 2008 10:50 pm

    Kim Pallister investigated and wrote up the details of the case:

    The issues seem to be:

    1. The name ‘Scrabulous’ is a violation of the trademark ‘Scrabble’

    2. The rules and board layout are copyrighted.


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