What Makes Scrabulous Tick? Developer Conversation with Jayant Agarwalla

With over 670,000 Daily Active Users, Scrabulous has become a case study for Facebook application and social game developers around the world. Despite increasing constraints on communication channels inside Facebook, Scrabulous’ user base has slowly risen around the world for the past 9 months. And, surprisingly, without much methodical analytics – the game’s improvements have almost all been driven by user feedback.

The creators of Scrabulous, brothers Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla of Kolkata, India, have faced some legal questions from Hasbro and Mattel – but that’s the subject of another article. Jayant was nice enough to take time away from his finals this week to speak with Inside Facebook about how they’ve been able to built Facebook’s most popular game.

Inside Facebook: Scrabulous has become the most popular game on Facebook. What are the elements of Scrabulous that you think have made it successful?

Jayant Agarwalla: One of the reasons for Scrabulous being quite popular is that it is such a cool way to stay in touch with your friends / family members. You play a word, and you stay in touch, because when you are placing the tiles you are thinking of your opponent subconsciously. It’s way more exciting than repeatedly poking someone or throwing sheep. That’s cool for new users but I think it gets boring after some time.

The other reasons for the popularity are the simple interface and quick loading time. Users love the clean look and we have always listened to their requests. Most of the application has been in a way built by the Scrabulous community rather than us.

Inside Facebook: So which of your metrics do you give the most weight when deciding how to improve Scrabulous?

Jayant Agarwalla: We improve Scrabulous based on user requests alone. For instance, we shall be launching the tournaments shortly and are also working on a Scrabulous robot.

Inside Facebook: Scrabulous does not publish very many feed items, while most other developers do. Why?

Jayant Agarwalla: We did post a lot of feed items but discovered that the other apps were probably doing the same thing. Keeping in mind that our users hate spam, we decided to keep away from sending too many news feeds. Our users are truly happy with our conservative nature when it comes to promoting Scrabulous. The community grows by word of mouth and our solid reputation. We hate when we get too many useless notifications, so we don’t do it to others!

Inside Facebook: Many users email or IM their friends to take their turn. Why?

Jayant Agarwalla: It’s because we don’t send a message or notification when a turn is played. It would make the application very ‘spammy’. We do have an auto-refresh feature which refreshes the board every two minutes. Thousands of users use that and are very satisfied.

Inside Facebook: Do more users play with friends or strangers?

Jayant Agarwalla: Hmm, it’s hard to comment on this but I would guess it’s more with friends. There was a show on ABC Nightline in which most of the players interviewed were playing with their friends.

Inside Facebook: It appears that many public games of Scrabulous end up including adult themes. How do you handle this?

Jayant Agarwalla: We got many complaints regarding this and immediately took measures to curb it. Now, you can host an ‘adult’ game and users are shown adult requests only if they choose to see them. Over 20 complaints per day were reduced to 0 as soon as we did this.

Inside Facebook: Finally Jayant, why do you think Chess Pro hasn’t grown as much as Scrabulous has?

Jayant Agarwalla: Chess Pro will be the number one chess application on Facebook within the next week. 3 days ago, in terms of daily active users, it was just 1000 shy of Chess which is number one right now. Total registered users are around 100,000.

While Chess is based on the technology of Scrabulous, it is not intended for a mass audience and not every asynchronous game can attain the same levels as Scrabulous. Also, Chess is a game which requires a lot more thinking than Scrabulous, so it takes more time to get through your moves.