Scrabulous, the extremely popular but unauthorized Scrabble Facebook app, has been under fire thanks to Hasbro and Mattel, the two companies who own the rights to Scrabble - Hasbro in North America, and Mattel in the rest of the world. The companies threatened to take Scrabulous offline, a move which prompted major public outcry from fans who proceeded to sign online petitions, join groups in support of the game, and even threaten boycotts of the companies' products.
The fans' outrage was so loud that RealNetorks announced last month they would work with Scrabulous' creators to save the game. (RealNetworks had signed deals with both Mattel and Hasbro for electronic rights to the game, but they share those rights with Electronic Arts on the Hasbro side of the deal.)
Recently though, RealNetworks launched their own version of online Scrabble, "Scrabble by Mattel," a completely legal and authorized version of the game. The "Scrabble by Mattel" app, released through RealNetworks' Gamehouse division, was made in agreement with Mattel, so, technically, it's only legal outside the U.S. and Canada.
But why recreate the wheel? Scrabulous is already doing quite well and is one of Facebook's most popular, not to mention one of their stickiest apps, drawing people to their site just for the purpose of playing the game.
And early reviews of "Scrabble" are mixed, at best, according to a recent NY Times article. Users are saying that "Scrabble by Mattel" "takes a long time to load, does not always update quickly to show recent moves, and the words the game will accept do not reflect the Tournament World List Scrabble dictionary."
With Scrabulous's appeal, one wonders why Mattel opted for their own version of the game - could it have something to do with this rumor about the creators, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, and the tens of millions of dollars they wanted for their app? Perhaps Mattel just found that figure ridiculous.
So is Scrabulous doomed? Not necessarily. This move by Mattel doesn't have to mean that Scrabulous will be no more. There's still Hasbro to think of, and they recently worked out a deal with Bogglific, the online version of Boggle.
After submitting a takedown notice to Facebook over both Scrabulous and Bogglific, the Bogglific app rebranded and changed their scoring system and now continues, apparently legally, as Prolific. Scrabulous might be able to do the same. Facebook certainly doesn't want to remove the app just yet - they didn't even comply with the takedown.
However, RealNetworks' PR manager, Ryan Luckin, stated for the NY Times article, that "it is important to remember that even if we reach an arrangement with the Scrabulous owners, both Hasbro and Mattel must approve any Scrabble-related game."
And since Mattel clearly doesn't approve, fans should still be a little worried.