- 25 Aug 08, 11:24 GMT
My inbox is filling up with the grief-stricken, the angry, the lost and the desperate. Who are they? Sad obsessives who played Scrabulous on Facebook. They had been through a spasm of anxiety a few weeks back when the word game - which some may think resembles a popular offline board game - disappeared from the American site after legal action by Hasbro, but somehow assumed that it would never happen to them.
Now though Mattel - which owns Scrabble outside the US and Canada - has deprived British (and I assume other) users of their drug and they are not happy. One even suggested that the BBC should rouse itself from its Bank Holiday torpor and give ample coverage of this event of earth-shattering importance. Well I've tried to convince the news editors that the disappearance of a much-loved word game from a popular social network is more significant than some Democratic convention(happens every four years, doesn't it?) or the return of our victorious Olympic athletes (similar argument) but they remain to be convinced.
So it's dirty work but I'm going to have to do it . However, you're going to have to do a little work yourselves. Assume you have a rack of seven tiles and a board with which to spell out the key words of the great Scrabulous disaster.
This word sums up the attitude of all those who somehow thought that a game which looks and feels exactly like Scrabble would be permitted by Hasbro and Mattel to go on serving millions of Facebook users around the world, while reaping a steady flow of advertising dollars for its young Indian creators. You might as well expect Rolex to endorse those people selling "Rolex" watches on street markets worldwide, or Viacom to say, "Hey, YouTube, great to see our content on a whole new platform."
A fabulous word(and could be high-scoring) which describes what has been directed at Hasbro and Mattel on a number of Facebook groups. "What the HELL ..... where is my scrabulous, I feel sick to my stomach". "I am seething MAD....I had abt 10 games going on and now they have just taken it away????? This isnt fair...". "CURSE YOU HASBRO / MATTEL!!!!!!!! I'm going home to cut up my deluxe scrabble set and feed it to the cat."
It seems capital letters and mass exclamation marks are the natural online response to any traumatic event these days - even for the highly literate Scrabulous crowd. But it does show how powerful a brand an online application can build within a very short space of time. Is there any other Facebook application whose disappearance would cause such grief and anger?
This word is how some (not the BBC, of course) might characterise the stance of Hasbro and Mattel. Could they really not come to some kind of accommodation with the makers of Scrabulous? Have they enhanced the Scrabble brand - and their own reputations - by their actions? And, if they were going to remove Scrabulous, could they have not replaced it with one official game instead of two - one for American and Canadian users, another for the rest? It's a serious setback for transatlantic relations - two nations not just divided by a common language, but by the lack of a common word game.
One of these has now appeared for any other platform that might seek to attract the smart, and presumably prosperous and time-rich crowd that plays Scrabulous. It could be the perfect pastime for a mobile phone with a decent screen - and so far none of the games that have appeared on the new iPhone have broken away from the pack to establish a big lead. Or maybe the first Android phone will feature a compelling way of wasting time trying to work out how to score maximum points with a dodgy word like Qi?
And that is how Facebook executives may be feeling. In May last year they were acclaimed for throwing open the social network's doors to outside developers and thus making it a far more "sticky" place for its users, at no cost. "Scrabulous" was a particularly "sticky" application, and some of its fans may now feel they have little reason to spend much time with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg's little firm claimed it was just a playground where users and developers could enjoy themselves as they liked, at their own risk, with no comeback for the network's owner. But, like Google's YouTube, Facebook has now grown into a big media business, and other firms see no reason why it should profit from their intellectual property.
This, believe it or not, is the name of my mongrel, and it sums up the dog's dinner Mattel has made of its official Facebook Scrabble application. Every time you open it you get "a message from our sponsors", and the first message I got told me that I had won a free iPhone. Is this kind of spam really going to convince Scrabulous users to transfer their allegiance? It does not seem to be working so far - the worldwide version had only attracted 75,000 users when I last looked, as compared with the millions who used Scrabulous. What's more, those users have given it very poor reviews, with an average rating of 1.6 stars out of 5.
All of these words will fit together onto a conventional Scrabble board, and should not prove a challenge for any moderately skilled player. But it might give some of those tortured Scrabulous souls a little respite from their grief. But can you come up with a really high score?Answers later this week.
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