Scrabulous Is Gone, and Life's a Blank

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The great Scrabble Famine is upon us! And the good citizens of Facebook are revolting! (Insert corny joke here.)

Those killjoys at Hasbro have created a p.r. disaster: after filing a lawsuit last week against the makers of the immensely popular Scrabble ripoff Scrabulous, the toymaker succeeded in making Facebook finally take the app down today. Now fans of the classic word game must play the official version, which was built by video-game maker Electronic Arts and has been in public beta for the past week or so.

How is it? In a word: DOA.

That's an abbreviation for DEAD ON ARRIVAL, and not a word you'll find in the official Scrabble dictionary. That is, it's not a word you would find if the official Scrabble app were actually up and smoothly running at Facebook. Which it isn't.

Yes, even after weeks of preparing for the inevitable takedown, even knowing that half a million people played Scrabulous every day, Hasbro still couldn't handle the traffic at the switchover. The site crashed like a carload of clowns at the circus early Tuesday. Soon, a notice was posted on Facebook: "We're working on some tech problems and Scrabble will be ready to play as soon as possible!" the developers wrote, adding that "we're making changes to Scrabble for its official launch in mid-August."

And now? Riots, mayhem, looting and lots of UPPERCASE SHOUTING. Well, really, just the latter, since there's no way to poke Hasbro itself on Facebook. (I think.) But dozens of Facebook groups have materialized, hoping to shame Hasbro into restoring the rebel application, which was launched last year on Facebook by two brothers who live in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

The main group, "Save Scrabulous," already has more than 46,000 members. (Since it's possible to create groups within Facebook that have identical names, there are others with that one, adding thousands more to the total of supporters.) More-extreme splinter groups have also sprung up, ranging from the militant to the simply depressed. "Give us Scrabulous or Give us Death!" has over 7,500 members and has issued a call to arms: "INVITE EVERY SCRABULOUS PLAYER YOU KNOW so we can get our voice heard! We know those Hasbro suits don't have hearts, but perhaps they have ears." At the other end of the spectrum is the more moderate, perhaps evangelical group, "Please, God, I Have So Little: Don't Take Scrabulous, Too," which has over 600 members and only three discussions ongoing, including the plaintive "let's scrabble while we can."

This cannot be a good thing for Hasbro — especially since it has not yet succeeded in shutting down the original Scrabulous website, which is in full swing. Nor can it be a good thing for Facebook, especially as many people simply decamp for the Scrabulous site.

The Agarwalla brothers, who launched Scrabulous, are still considering their options, I'm told. They have attorneys in both the U.S. and India, where they are fighting a similar action against Mattel, which owns the licensing rights to Scrabble outside North America. "Facebook has informed us that they have received a legal notice from Hasbro in reference to the Scrabulous application. In deference to Facebook's concerns and without prejudice to our legal rights, we have had to restrict our fans in USA and Canada from accessing the Scrabulous application on Facebook until further notice," their statement reads.

"This is an unfortunate event and not something that we are very pleased about, especially as Mattel has been pursuing the matter in Indian courts for the past few months."

"We will sincerely hope to bring to our fans brighter news in the days to come."