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Scrabble site goes down as gamers lose Scrabulous

July 30, 2008|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

Hasbro Inc. to Scrabulous: N-I-X-E-D, for a minimum of 13 points.

The toy company scored big Tuesday in its legal match against the popular but unauthorized version of Scrabble that's played online by millions of Facebook members.

The India-based creators of Scrabulous shut down the game to players in the U.S. and Canada, where Hasbro owns the rights to Scrabble, a week after Hasbro sued them, alleging copyright infringement.

But before Hasbro could spell out "game over," a computer attack crippled the official Scrabble application on Facebook on Tuesday morning. Hasbro and partner Electronic Arts Inc. had recently launched an early version of the online game for Facebook, two years after Scrabulous hit the social networking site.

"We're working with our partners to resolve this issue and have Scrabble back online and ready to play as soon as possible," Electronic Arts, one of the world's biggest game publishers, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Other than the timing, there was no indication that the attack was launched by disgruntled Scrabulous fans. Still, the blackout was a blow to Hasbro. The Pawtucket, R.I., company received a deluge of complaints from frustrated players who were unable to log on to Scrabble.

Hasbro sued brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla and their company, RJ Softwares, in federal court in New York, saying they had never received permission to make an online game based on Scrabble. Mattel Inc., which owns the international rights to Scrabble, had filed a similar lawsuit in India.

The brothers said in a statement Tuesday that they had decided to bar access "in deference to Facebook's concerns and without prejudice to our legal rights."

"This is an unfortunate event and not something that we are very pleased about," they said.

Scrabulous had half a million active players daily on Facebook, making it one of the most popular applications on the site. Released in July 2006, the application at its peak counted 5 million unique players a month, some of whom spent many hours juggling simultaneous matches.

Hasbro rattled its legal sabers seven months ago, issuing takedown requests to both Facebook and the Agarwallas. Because Hasbro didn't sue until last week, the application remained up.

"In deference to the fans, we waited in pursuing legal action until Electronic Arts had a legitimate alternative available," the company said.

Initially scheduled for release to all users at the end of July, the game's launch has been pushed back to early August, presumably to iron out problems such as an inability to log on at times and delays in loading the game.

That didn't go over well with Amber Loranger, a 24-year-old Scrabulous player in Portland, Ore., who typically had eight matches going at once. But she woke up Tuesday to find that her games had been disabled.

"I definitely think Hasbro lost some goodwill with people," she said. "I'm trying to be an adult about it, but it's still sad. I wish they hadn't done that."

Loranger echoed the suggestions of many on Facebook when she suggested Hasbro "work with Scrabulous."

Electronic Arts did have "conversations" with the Agarwallas, said Mark Blecher, Hasbro's general manager of digital media and gaming. But he said the company believed that it could build a better game that could also be played on portable devices such as the iPhone and iPod.

As tough as it looks now, analysts say, Hasbro still could win the endgame.

"There are a lot of people who are just disappointed and angry at losing Scrabulous," said Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Forrester Research. "But people are going to get over it. Many of them will adopt Scrabble. For now, this is a good kick-start for Hasbro to actually get into this game to develop their digital assets on social networks."

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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