Uninformed old men harm their own business

I have written on here before about the divide in our society between those who understand games and those that don´t. Those that do are mainly the young and gamers from the Spectrum and Amiga generations up to around 40ish years of age. Those that don´t are for the most part the few young people who have missed out and older people. But it is these older people who wield most of the power and influence in our society.

The power of the old manifests itself in the stupid, misinformed things that politicians like Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown say about games. It also manifests itself in some totally crass reporting in the news media. The Daily Mail and Fox News deserving special mention for uninformed coverage. This ignorance from politicians and journalists mainly serves to lose them all credibility with most people under 40.

Then there are businessmen. As games become more and more all pervasive they impact on commercial decisions in more and more businesses. And when the decision makers in those businesses don´t understand what they are doing they can harm their business out of ignorance.

This is what seems to have happened with Scrabble. The game is sold in 121 countries in 29 different language versions. One hundred million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets are found in one out of every three American homes. And an unofficial online version called Scrabulous appeared on Facebook which became immensely popular with people playing against opponents from around the world.

So what we had was a great opportunity for the owners of the board game. They could have worked with Scrabulous to leverage the brand into a whole new generation. The marketing and commercial upsides were potentially massive. But instead Hasbro went to court using copyright law and had the Scrabulous application removed from Facebook. This was shooting themselves in the foot.

The rights for Scrabble are owned by Hasbro in the United States and Canada and by Mattel elsewhere. This split ownership means that both companies have been damaged by the actions of one. It also means that they seem unable to come up with an official Facebook global game, which is patently ridiculous.

Mattel have made a version but it is only available outside North America and has been much criticised on Facebook for its quality. It only has about 2,000 registered users compared with the 600,000 for Scrabulous.

So now the Scrabble brand is damaged, as are Mattel and Hasbro. Millions of internet savvy people will have been offended by these actions and that offence will be reflected in their actions. A great opportunity has been converted into a disaster, all because the people making the decisions just didn´t understand what they were doing.


  1. So you’re saying that these companies are harming themselves because they don’t understand the game industry. Although both companies have, and still do, publish various games for various platforms.

    The other alternative is board games are lucrative enough and it would harm thier sales if they where to give away a free browser based service. Is that wrong? They own the rights for a product and are protecting them so no one else can profit or take sale from them. Even companies in the game industry have done it many times before.

  2. Probably it would be best to call those stupid business men “past-century minded”, not “old”. I known old people who try to keep updated with the way the world is changing, as well as young people who still ignore it. But the point of your article is important nonetheless.

  3. I do find it ludicrous like yourself Bruce. Never been a fan of these casual browser based games, but the potential for this is absolutely amazing. Even a web 2.0 luddite like myself has been over-whemed by its success. Even if they didnt charge, the potential revenue that could have been generated by advertising alone would have made worthwhile for all parties involved. Never mind. Expect M$, Sony etc. to have their own legally “similiar” versions on their own console portals and on their own IRC’s in the near future, and if they don’t, what an opportunity wasted . . . . .

  4. I’m surprised you’ve seemingly sided with the “pirates” in this instance, Bruce.

    While buying up Scrabulous would have probably been the best solution for everyone, I can imagine lots of issues that could have prevented it being a viable option. By way of comparison, imagine if this was a Nintendo property that had been copied. There’s no chance in a million years that Nintendo would settle without litigation, and you could hardly accuse them of being out of touch with the games business.

    As for whether it’s caused Hasbro/Mattel significant harm, I don’t expect it has, on balance. They’ll have sold lots of physical Scrabble sets thanks to the increased interest in the game caused by Scrabulous, and they now at least have the option to market their own version without unlicensed competition (which doesn’t excuse their versions to date not being up to par, of course).

    Trying to estimate the scale of the ‘lost business’ caused by Hasbro taking their ball away should take into account the fact that Scrabulous was a viral phenomenon which caught on based on the familiarity of the Scrabble rules (rather than its suitability as an online game – cheating was rife) and the lack of other good Facebook games at the time. Now that market has matured a bit I think its ability to retain players would have tailed off to some extent.

  5. This is a perfect example of marketing myopia (casadogalo.com/marketingmyopia.pdf). Hasbro has defined their business too narrowly. They’re not in the boardgames industry, they’re in the social gaming industry. A partnership or acquisition of Scrabulous would have been a brilliant move.

  6. Dont think you will ever harm the physical sale of scrabble. Dunno about you lot, but the only time scrabble comes down from the cupboard is when all the family are drunk on bulk-buy booze at xmas lol.

    I think a browser-cum-social-network edition thingy would work seperately and do nothing but good for them.

  7. Scrabulous was the best rendition of a scrabble game made to date, by far. The old games.com version of scrabble, and the clone Literati, both required that you play against someone in real time. Scrabulous allowed you to play asynchronously. Furthermore, you could play more than one game at a time with Scrabulous–these two facts alone drove me to support Scrabulous like mad when it was playable. Now I shun Hasbro/Mattel/whoever.

    I’m sure of the 600,000 registered scrabulous players, some of them bought a board. And some of them were probably scrabble lovers who already owned 1 or more editions of the board game. Suppose these people were still allowed to play. Would more of them go buy the board game? Probably. Would any of the scrabulous players have otherwise bought a board game edition if Scrabulous didn’t exist? Far fewer I’m sure. It was the ease of playing geographically dispersed friends and strangers in Scrabulous that brought Scrabble in to the new generation. Then the corporations brought out their antitrust lawyers to claim ownership of physical AND digital letters on tiles.

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