Hasbro and EA announced today that the two companies will soon launch an official version of Scrabble on Facebook. Interestingly, their press release makes no mention of Scrabulous, although it does mention “the current interest in Scrabble for social networking”.
So will the creators of Scrabulous (the Agarwalla brothers) be quaking in their boots that everyone will migrate away to the official game? Probably not. For one, there is already an official version of Scrabble on Facebook for users outside North America (licensed by Mattel, the owners of Scrabble outside of the US and Canada, and produced by RealNetworks). It currently has less than 6,000 daily active users, compared to Scrabulous with just over 450,000. This version has been out since late March and has shown little growth since then.
Now there will be two official versions of Scrabble on Facebook, with Hasbro owning the rights in North America, and Mattel in the rest of the world. Try to play a game of the new EA Scrabble in the US with someone in the UK (e.g. me) and you won’t be able. Somehow, I just can’t see how making the game “official” is going to take traffic away from the well-established Scrabulous.
This is one of the clearest examples of how older, bigger companies are struggling to meet the needs of social media. Scrabble’s geographical licensing issues currently seem to be hurting the companies involved more than the consumers. The length of time it has taken EA to develop the official Scrabble shows that older companies are not set up to operate as quickly as independent Facebook application and game developers. And as Jeremiah Owyang has previously written, brands are often risk-averse and too slow-moving to capitalize on the current social media opportunity.
We’ll see if the launch of the official versions of Scrabble cause Scrabulous’s earlier legal issues to re-emerge. If EA’s version flounders as RealNetworks’ has, it would not be too surprising if one day we were to log on to Scrabulous and be redirected to one of the official, geographically hobbled versions of one of our favourite board games.