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Scrabulous Maker Promises Facebook Game Will Press On

July 8, 2008

By Mike Antonucci, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Jul. 8–The creators of Scrabulous, the wildly popular but unauthorized version of Scrabble on Facebook, said they had no plans to drop their project, despite the launch of a licensed version of the game on the site.

“Our aim has and will always be, the satisfaction of our users. We strongly believe that people should have the option of playing what they like, rather than be forced by developers into using something they offer only for monetary gains,” Scrabulous co-founder Jayant Agarwalla wrote in a e-mail early this morning.

In another section, he wrote, “We have been passionately serving the Scrabulous community for over three years and it has now grown into a network of more than 5 million users. This has been possible as we have never treated Scrabulous as a business.”

The online Scrabble wars had heated up Monday with an announcement that Electronic Arts will launch a licensed version of the game this month on Facebook.

The version from Redwood City-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 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.

In his statement, Agarwalla said he could not comment on the legal issues swirling around Scrabulous.

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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