PJ Media

Life for Scrabulous Addicts Is R-O-U-G-H

“Scrabulous is disabled for US and Canadian users until further notice. If you would like to stay informed about developments in this matter, please click here.”

–Announcement on homepage for Scrabulous application, Facebook, August 2008

It starts slowly. The buzz begins inside your head, and then you notice the jittery jerks of your fingers missing what is no longer there, and the slowing of your Facebook email notifications to a trickle. No longer are you reminded by your friends that it’s your move, and that you should visit the game in progress to put down your bingo. And then you remember: Scrabulous is no more.

As reported in the LA Times technology blog (and in myriad other places), the popular Facebook application mimicking the board game of Scrabble has been removed in North America after Scrabble copyright-holders Hasbro sued the application’s developers, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla. Mattel owns the rights to Scrabble elsewhere and has filed suit in India, where the Agarwallas reside. In the meantime, Scrabulous addicts mourn and business-type people argue online about what Hasbro should have done instead of shutting down an immensely popular application.

“How do you spell ‘DUMB’?” commented Simon, from Oklahoma. “Hasbro missed a golden opportunity to work out a deal: simply acquire the Scrabulous code and userbase, and let the guys off the copyright-infringement hook. Now they’ve left a bunch of unhappy folks in a lurch, who may just avoid the ‘official’ Scrabble out of spite.”

That’s the business side. But what about the emotional impact on the millions of Scrabulous users? Scrabble itself was a successfully meld between vocabulary knowledge a numerical points strategy, uniting right and left brain in a perfectly fluid pas de deux. When the Scrabulous application hit Facebook, even more people were playing online.

More than a competition, playing a Scrabulous game was a social overture: a fig leaf to a rediscovered friend; a flirtation one intellectual step beyond the Facebook “poke”; or a bridge across time zones and international waters. Some users were mid-game — or worse, about to win games with their friends — when the application was yanked. Mourning has ensued. “I was winning three games!” said Judith, from New York. Jordan, from California, shared the indignation. “I was about to beat [boyfriend] Matt by 100 points! WHY did I have to go to bed last night?” “I finally started playing again after months of inactivity,” said Andrea, from Toronto, Canada. “My last word was a bingo. At least it was a high note.”

But while some are coming to terms with post-Scrabulous life, others are registering their anger by joining (what else?) a Facebook group called “We Hate Hasbro for Killing Scrabulous.”

What are points-seeking wordsmiths supposed to do with their newly discovered hours of free time? They could spend time investigating the new Facebook interface, or pick up a good book. Or they could check out the Agarwalla brothers’ new application, Wordscraper, which bears some resemblance to Scrabble, but which the developers hope is sufficiently different from Scrabble to render it litigation-proof. (A recent attempt at playing this replacement game found the response to be buggy and slow, which the developers say they’re aware of and are fixing.)

I was one of the lucky Scrabuladdicts: even before I’d caught wind of a potential lawsuit, I’d moved on to WordTwist (where you twist letters into various word combinations) and Scramble (like Boggle, in which you have to identify the words in a block of letters).

Maybe it was intuitive, or a defense mechanism, or the pervasive suspicion that nothing gold — or addictive — can stay. But now, as these games provide succor and companionship in the time period after the fall of Scrabulous, I gather them to me in an appreciative embrace. But still: Scrabulous, I’ll never forget you.