Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hasbro Flexes it's Muscle with Scrabulous

We knew it was coming. Hasbro has ordered the creators of the popular Facebook application Scrabulous to cease and desist.

Like in so many similar instances, the events unfold as follows:

1. Big Company doesn't give the people what they want; namely, a Facebook application version of their game.

Knowing a company like Hasbro, this is probably because the idea has been under discussion for a year while they look into the millions of dollars the idea would require, the vast majority of which would be spent on security, DRM, locks, logins, pay schemes and other features to make the idea as difficult as possible to the people who actually want to use it.

2. Enterprising Young Dudes whip one up without too much trouble in a day or so.

3. It explodes into popularity.

4. Big Company sues Young Dudes. Allegedly for doing so without their permission and for providing a service which BC is unwilling or unable to provide. Or in the name of protecting the company. But really, BC is doing this in order to buy out YDs, or because it's finally ready to launch its own application and doesn't want the competition.

We've seen this story before.

PhotoshopTalent is running a contest which claims to be a "board game design" contest, but which is obviously simply a "funny board game like picture" contest.

The Ithaca Journal gets nostalgic over evening card games from times of yore.

The Leaf Chronicle (TN) finds local places that gamers go.

Another violent outburst and robbery at a card game (Racine). But, hey, if you're going to get all primal at a card game, don't do it a week from the date of your parole. (Sheboygan)



Tim - A GameBuff said...

Hasbro has been in the news an awful lot recently... with the layoffs, plan to aquire Cranium, and now this. Not sure if Hasbro is starting 2008 off on a good consumer feeling. Yes, they have to make business plans for the future and investors and have to protect their IPs, but all this happening at once is frustrating some people.

Lets hope they get this stuff behind them and the news about them can focus on the actual games :)

That Buffalo GameBuffs blog person

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. You could see that one coming a mile away. I was quite surprised when I discovered they weren't involved in it in any wa.

While it seems like big company beating up a couple hard-working guys, I can see it from the developer/publisher perspective. Just because the publishers didn't move fast or understand the potential of facebook as a development platform doesn't mean that they shouldn't have full control over their IP. I've seen my games completely lifted, translated and repacked all without so much as a nod let alone a royalty.

What's more surprising to me is that the developers did this at all, and so overtly. The game enjoys a huge player base. As a developer myself, I know how I have felt and would feel if someone lifted one of my games, big company or not.

Anonymous said...


I am sure you can do better than just criticize. As a game author yourself, what would be your approach if you found out that I had implemented an electronic form of your game and popularized it without involving you at all?

Are your creations "unlicensed" and open to reimplementation by others without royalties? Is your answer dependent on whether the reimplementor is profiting?

I don't understand why the "Young Dudes" are heroes simply for beating Hasbro to market with a Facebook port of the game.

I am a relatively new reader of your blog so perhaps you've covered this before, but are you against the protection of intellectual property?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Brenda, Moshe,

As a game designer myself, I am well aware that copyright doesn't protect my game from being used by someone else so long as they change the names and artwork.

Go ahead and make an online version of it and charge money for it, if I'm too slow or uninterested in pursuing it myself. Just use a different name, theme, and artwork. I didn't patent the game.

I'm not going to come after you after you've done all the hard work and become rich on an idea.

Patents protect the process of the game, but patents typically last for ten years. Scrabble is still under patent only because Hasbro keeps finding loopholes to extend the patents on the game.

The point of a patent, as written in the constitution, is only so long as it serves to encourage invention; after that, the idea of free speech takes precedence. It is not to give you full control over all aspects of IP.

You do not have full control over your IP. You have only what's actually written in the law books. Unfortunately, in this day and age, if you have more money and more lawyers you can stifle free speech whether or not you are lawfully or morally allowed to do so.

Scrabble was already invented and paid for, many times over. There is no longer any reason that others shouldn't be able to create similar games using the same process, except for abuse of the patent system.


Yehuda Berlinger said...

And by the way,

The YD's aren't heroes. Despite the fact that Hasbro is not in the moral right, they do have the patents, and therefore creating a Scrabble knock0off is clearly illegal. It shouldn't be, but it is. So I'm not siding with the YDs.

I'm just annoyed that Hasbro waited for someone else to do the work and then goes to sue them, rather than offering to partner with them or do the work to begin with.


Anonymous said...

"Just use a different name, theme, and artwork."


That's the point that got me. Tile laying and point counting are hardly innovative mechanics. That they lifted _all the other stuff_ right down to a portion of the name is not so hip.

Also, even if a game has paid out - as clearly games like Madden, MTG, D&D, Unreal, WoW and others clearly have - it's still not a reason to lift the theme etc.

If that were the case, all of Steinbeck's books should be open source.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Brenda: All of Steinbeck's books should be in the public domain.

Copyright originally lasted 28 years (see the 1909 Act). It's only in the last half century with Disney and other major corporations leaning on government that copyrights have been extended to their current ludicrous lengths.

The point of a copyright is to bring works into the public domain. That's its entire point. Not to protect authors. Authors can save their works and never publish them. In order to encourage them to do so, the rights of the public are artificially limited to provide incentives to publish.

When you're limiting the rights of the public (to free speech, press, etc), you better make sure that you're limiting them just enough to gain the desired benefit for the public, and no more.

What we have now is not, in any way, beneficial to the public. Billions of documents, films, art, recordings, and so on are supposed to be passing into the hands of the public and aren't. And they're no encouraging people to release more works into the public, either.


Dani In NC said...

I don't think the Young Dudes are in the right, but it is unfortunate that Hasbro basically seems to be saying, "I'm gonna take my ball and go home." Hasbro once had a pretty good online site for playing Scrabble, Milles Borne, Rook, and other games against other players. They also had a server where you could play games like Upwords via email. Then one day they decided it was too expensive to maintain and got rid of it. I understand Hasbro not wanting to pay for it, but why can't someone else?