Scrabulous, a Facebook Scrabble application, was shut down earlier in the week after its creators, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, were sued by Hasbro. Hasbro owns the North American rights to Scrabble. I, along with half-a-million other users, lost my daily Scrabble fix. Scrabble doesn't often get into the news, but this story was reported in places like The Globe and Mail and Slashdot.
I am normally a defender of intellectual property rights, so I cannot reasonably complain about Hasbro's actions. Nevertheless, I was sad to see Scrabulous go and couldn't help thinking that Hasbro handled the whole situation less than brilliantly. At the same time the lawsuit was launched, Hasbro put up its own legitimate Facebook application. I tried to give it a go, but it was down when I made the attempt, and the reviews I'd read about it were not at all encouraging.
Well, a few days after Scrabulous was pulled, the Agarwalla brothers brought it back as the brand new Facebook application, Wordscraper. Wordscraper is being promoted as a generic word game with rules similar to those of Scrabble. The board looks slightly different, with circles instead of squares, and here's the really brilliant part: the board can be customized with user-chosen locations for multiple-letter or multiple-word scoring. If the user wants to set up the board to look identical to the original Scrabble board, then that's up to him or her.
Is this fair to Hasbro? Well, maybe not, but one can't help applauding the cleverness of Scrabulous's creators and admiring this terrific application, which was already excellent in its earlier form. Many argue that Hasbro has only benefited from the renewed interest in the game, and if they'd embraced changing technologies earlier, they might have avoided this mess altogether.