Dinosaur companies adapt to the Facebook era in the worst way possible

Ever since Facebook Applications exploded onto the scene, there has been a problem. Well, I say it’s a problem, but in reality it is actually an amazing thing. It is only perceived to be a problem by old fashioned companies that just Don’t Get It.

For several months now the old Scrabulous saga has been playing out. Some smart guys thought it would be a great idea to be able to play Scrabble with your friends on Facebook. They were right. It became Facebook’s most popular application, and could even count Mark Zuckerberg among its users.

Unfortunately, the creators of Scrabulous didn’t own the intellectual property to the game. The people who do own the IP, Hasbro and Mattel, have gone on the assault. They are suing Scrabulous’s creators Rajat Agarwall and Jayant Agarwall. This is despite the fact that the brothers have undoubtedly done more than anyone else in recent years to raise the profile of Scrabble.

Do you think if Hasbro and / or Mattel had created a Facebook Application for Scrabble it would have been as successful as Scrabulous? I, for one, highly doubt it. Their reaction alone has demonstrated that they simply don’t “get” the internet. Just like the recorded music industry before them, board game companies, it seems, have woken up to find that the internet has eaten away at their old fashioned business model. They don’t know how to capitalise on the internet. It needn’t necessarily be a threat. But their head-in-the-sand behaviour ensures that it will be.

My personal pet theory is that old companies got far too cosy in the 20th century ways. With the intellectual property rights wrapped up, they have seen no need to innovate. They have rested on their laurels. As such, their products have stagnated. Remember, the optimal length of copyright is around 15 years. A similar length will apply to intellectual property. Scrabble can trace its history back to four times that length.

As was pointed out on the Freakonomics blog earlier this year, Mattel’s and Hasbro’s plans for the future of Scrabble are pretty lame to say the least.

The plans include adding anniversary labels to Scrabble packaging and introducing a folding edition of the deluxe Scrabble board.

In the meantime, the best thing to happen to Scrabble in generations is being targeted by Hasbro and Mattel simply because they were not smart enough to come up with the idea in the first place. They should have applauded and endorsed Scrabulous. That way, they would have ended up with a hell of a lot more respect and almost certainly more sales than under the current strategy of the companies.

In the latest stage of their assault, Mattel have finally launched their own ‘official’ Scrabble Facebook Application. But The Guardian reports that all is not well. And yet again, the problem can be laid at the door of intellectual property rights.

Seemingly, the new ‘official’ application is only endorsed by Mattel — not Hasbro. This means that you can not play Scrabble in the USA or Canada, where Hasbro own the rights. For this reason alone, the trust of Facebook’s users has been lost. If you can’t even play against your friends just because they happen to live in North America, why would you bother defecting from Scrabulous which currently has approximately 700,000 “daily active users”?

Today another Facebook Application has been hit by a similar corporate strangling. This time it is from a company that you would think would be able to cope with new technologies better.

Tetris Tournament was an early Facebook hit, and one of my favourite Facebook apps. It didn’t take long for its name to change to BlockStar, but it was still clearly derived from Tetris. The game itself was a bit clunky, but it did the job and was good fun.

Today it has become “Tetris Friends (formerly Block Star)“. Yes, it is now an official Tetris app. So, is this simply BlockStar with a shiny Tetris logo over the top? Far from it. The new game is utter, utter shit. Amazing when you consider that it is actually the official Tetris game. The original is a classic. This is a big pile of flaming hairy balls.

For one thing, the game now only lasts a maximum of two minutes. That’s right. No new levels. No game over as you reach the top. Just a high score after two minutes. It is ready to finish just when you get into the groove. Meanwhile, the graphics are cluttered and confusing. This game is intensely unsatisfying.

The reviews agree. The application’s wall has become a stream of obscenities while the reviews section has turned into a mere succession of one-star ratings.

In this respect, the users of Scrabulous have got off very lightly indeed. The best Tetris app on Facebook has been mauled out of all recognition.


  1. The wise move would have been buying the app, adding their logo and signing a contract with the developers. Next, trying to monetize the thing with sponsorships or ads. As simple as that I think…

  2. I can see what you are saying, but at the same time I can also understand why Mattel/Hasbro won’t want other people creating things under the Scrabble name – if they allowed this to continue who knows what would be left. It would create a precedent that they would struggle to control in the future I think.

    Approaching the Scrabulous creators and simply coming to an arrangement over licensing would have been the best option but perhaps this wasn’t viable for one reason or another.

    It’s not good publicity for the company one way or the other though.