Scrabble vs Scrabulous

It took a long time, but Hasbro, the owner of the rights to Scrabble in the US, has teamed up with Electronic Arts to finally launch an online version of the popular crossword game. The game is available at Pogo.com today, and is scheduled to make its debut on Facebook later this month. So what does this mean for Scrabulous, Scrabble’s ersatz competitior, which took Facebook world by storm when it launched last year?

The prognosis isn’t good.  Scrabulous has been under a cloud since January when Hasbro and Mattel, which owns the international rights to the game, sent letters to Facebook asking it to remove the game, citing copyright infringement.

Meanwhile, an online version of Scrabble created by Mattel and Real Networks has been struggling to gain traction since it launched in April for audiences outside the US and Canada. To date, the game has managed to attract fewer than 6,000 daily users on Facebook – less than two per cent of Scrabulous’s daily audience of 450,000.

Hasbro and EA may do better with the launch of Scrabble in the US and Canada. But even if the North American version attracts five times the interest of its international counterpart, it will barely make a dent in Scrabulous’s audience numbers.

In January, Scrabulous’s creators claimed to be making more than $25,000 a week in advertising revenues. With the launch of a US version of online Scrabble imminent, the door is now open for Scrabble’s owners to go after their fair share of that revenue by pursuing legal action.

Forcing Scrabulous to shut down would no doubt alienate tens of thousands of loyal Scrabulous fans. But with thousands of new users joining Facebook daily, it might make sense for Scrabble’s owners to risk some user backlash now in hopes of a bigger payoff later. Besides, if the game is addictive enough, even the most disgruntled former Scrabulous users may not be able to stay away for too long.