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Scrabble vs. Scrabulous March 3, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in news.
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The NYT carries an interesting article today on the phenomenal success of the online game Scrabulous, which it compares, in its impact on the real-world Scrabble game’s sales, to online file-sharing’s impact on the sales of music CD’s. (Registration may be required to read the full article.)

In the book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman makes the argument that once the “flat-world” service providers in countries like India and China become creatively energized and begin supplying commercial ideas and content to the rest of the world, rather than just services, the worldwide economic balance will begin to shift. In light of this analysis, I find it very interesting (and somewhat confirming of Thomas Friedman’s ideas, with which I don’t often agree) that the developers of Scrabulous, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, started out as software developers in India (presumably working on contract for a company in the U.S. or Europe), and only started the game when they decided they wanted to improve the online-Scrabble offerings out there.

What they didn’t do, and this is where the comparison to online music-sharing becomes apt, is contact any of the rights-holders to the game (which are held by Hasbro in the U.S., and Mattel everywhere else) to ask them if they could, pretty please, develop a little game based on the idea of Scrabble. They just made it and put it online, and hundreds of thousands of players later, the rights-holders are taking notice. According to the article, players of the online game are threatening to boycott Hasbro and Mattel if the game is taken offline due to pressure from the game companies, which puts those companies in a legal-vs.-marketing pickle, to say the least.

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