July 7, 2008
Electronic Arts Tries to Legitimize Facebook Scrabble
SAN JOSE, Calif. _ The online Scrabble wars heated up Monday with an announcement that Electronic Arts will launch a licensed version of the game this month on Facebook, where the unauthorized adaptation called Scrabulous is thriving.
The version from Redwood City, Calif.-based EA, free for users and at least initially without advertisements, will be available "mid-to-later this month," said Chip Lange, general manager for EA Hasbro Games.
Scrabulous, which claims more than 450,000 daily active users, has become a cause celebre among fans worried that the game will be shut down because of opposition from rights holders Hasbro and Mattel.
"We consider it to be a clear infringement of our intellectual property," said Mark Blecher, Hasbro's general manager for digital media and gaming.
Blecher was unable to comment on the exact details of any legal action by Hasbro; Facebook did not respond immediately to an e-mail request for comment from the San Jose Mercury News.
Michael Pachter, a games industry analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, said Hasbro's launch of an authorized version of Scrabble might enhance the company's legal position against Scrabulous, which was created by two brothers in India, Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Scrabulous earns about $25,000 a month from online ads.
The brothers did not respond immediately to an e-mail request for comment sent Monday afternoon _ which would have arrived before 5 a.m. their time _ from the San Jose Mercury News.
Lange said Facebook provides an ideal place to build audiences and credibility for a variety of game licenses that EA has from Hasbro. Scrabble, said Lange, is the first major licensed game EA is placing on Facebook and could be a forerunner to online versions of such games as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Boggle. In the case of Scrabble, Hasbro owns the North American rights, while Mattel controls rights beyond the United States and Canada.
Popularity on Facebook may carry over to revenue-generating versions of Scrabble that EA produces for mobile devices and iPods. There's also a version on EA's Pogo.com Web site.
Blecher said Hasbro considered EA's Scrabble application on Facebook _ running now in private beta form _ to represent a new standard in graphics, animation and technical reliability on that platform.
But its chief value, he said, would be to help fulfill Hasbro's core strategy of "having our most popular brands available anytime, anywhere."
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