Hasbro/Mattel to Scrabble Fans: No Love For You!

(full disclosure: I love Scrabble and I’m a Facebook Scrabulous junkie)

A few days ago, I read with horror that Hasbro/Mattel were threatening to shut down Scrabulous, my favorite Facebook application. There was a sense of deja vu as the article was written by Josh Quittner, former editor-in-chief of Business 2.0, the magazine we tried to save last summer with a Facebook group. Quittner, showing an enormous sense of humor, titled his article “Will someone please start a Facebook group to save Scrabulous?”

Yesterday morning, we learned that the two toy companies (who co-own the rights to the Scrabble game) have decided to escalate the legal procedures to Facebook directly and ask the social network site to shut down the very popular application (more than 600,000 active users per day, 26% of the application installed base).


Flickr picture by allyrose18

Following this news, fellow Toronto blogger Matthew Ingram wrote a mordant blog post called “Hasbro and Mattel: Dumb, dumb, dumb“. In it, Ingram writes “From a legal perspective, Hasbro and Mattel are no doubt totally within their rights to have the app removed, or to sue, or do whatever they wish to protect their trademark. But from a marketing perspective I think they are missing the point.”

He’s right. Between the cottage and our home, my family owns four versions of Scrabble (two Deluxe and two travel versions). We want to play the game offline and online but unfortunately Hasbro/Mattel haven’t built one for us within Facebook, where our network of friends currently “resides”. Scrabulous is the only solid alternative. It reminds me of the way the music industry threatens the largest consumers of music, the peer-to-peer network users, by calling them thieves and suing them (a study published late last year showed that P2P downloaders buy more music). Great way to treat your most important customer base…

From a marketing point of view, Hasbro/Mattel could have gone through different routes. Ingram suggested: “So why not just buy the app from the developers for a couple of hundred grand and call it a day?” Attaboy commenting on Ingram’s post proposed: ” they should be demanding that Scrabulous pay a license or share their revenues, not demanding that it be shut down.” I add that shutting down Scrabulous will only serve to anger your biggest Scrabble fans. The big lesson for corporations is: fill consumers’ needs or it will be filled by others, and you might end up looking like bad guys.