There’s a game that’s become part of my daily regime. It’s one of the first things I do after firing up the laptop over my morning coffee and the last thing I do before shutting down the laptop with an evening gin. It never takes more than a few minutes, and I do it throughout the day, like answering email. In fact, it is answering email, except with little lettered tiles.
Yes, I am completely addicted to Scrabulous (www.scrabulous.com). Email games are certainly nothing new, but good, well-supported, free email games that a wide variety of people can play without any initial purchase are pretty rare.
Everyone, even your mom, knows how to play Scrabble. And Scrabulous is a brilliant, fast, free, easy-to-use, and feature-rich conversion of the game with both live and email play. (Just keep track of who you’re playing against if you juggle multiple games at once. You don’t want to throw down “ZYMURGY” with a hearty IM cry of “BITE ME!” and then suddenly remember your mom, and not your college roommate, is on the other end.)
This is a game by fans, for fans, which is why it’s the most popular game on Facebook. And that’s really pissing off Hasbro and Mattel, the companies that acquired various rights to the game after a tangled history of deals and bankruptcies. (You didn’t think they actually invented it, did you?)
You see, Scrabulous has almost a million registered users and a large number of them access the game through Facebook. When Mattel launched its own Facebook version of Scrabble it attracted about 2,000 players. Such a thing cannot stand. Summon the lawyers!
Thus far, Facebook has refused an order to remove Scrabulous, but just how long are Hasbro and Mattel going to squat on classic game designs and snarl like a dog guarding a pile of juicy bones? I would bet that everyone playing Scrabulous already owns a Scrabble board. Scrabulous just helps users connect their boards electronically, and that in turn will… sell more Scrabble boards. It’s a bold new world, if the game giants can just figure it out.
Update:Since this editorial was written, the Scrabulous app has been removed from Facebook, although the Scrabulous.com website remains available. Hasbro is currently suing Scrabulous' creators.
Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is an editor at large for Games magazine.