Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Indian Brothers Lash Out at Facebook

Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla, the Calcutta-based developers of the Facebook application Scrabulous, have lashed out at Facebook for worldwide removal of their popular creation. With over half a million users, Scrabulous is likely the most popular online version of Scrabble (Hasbro's own Facebook version of Scrabble, which was released in July, has a little over 9,000 users). The Agarwalla brothers have a point: Why did Facebook yield to bullying by Mattel in the absence of a court order?

The Indian brothers are not alone in their criticism. Prof. Peter Fader, co-director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, told the Knowledge@Wharton online business journal that Hasbro’s move was an “incredibly bad business decision.” Scrabulous “has been such a fabulously good thing for the Scrabble franchise [that] Hasbro should have been celebrating. ” The Wharton online article notes that Scrabulous in 2007 had about 1.3 million monthly users and had 600,000 players each day. Not only is Hasbro making a big PR blunder by alienating and angering Scrabulous’s fans, but it’s also missing a great opportunity to harness the online game’s popularity, Prof. Fader added.

The Wharton article goes on to note that many companies are too quick to pursue infringers – especially in today’s Web 2.0 world where viral expansion can greatly help, not hurt, a brand. Hasbro clearly didn’t like another outfit capitalizing on the household name it spent years building. But nowadays having such enormous popularity associated with your brand – even if it’s not technically authorized — might not be such a bad thing after all.

Facebook decision to take down Scrabulous does have consequences for its own future. If Mark Zuckerburg does not learn to fight off challenges like the Hasbro/Mattel challenge, Facebook will have to pay a price in terms of stunted growth of what Forbes describes as the Facebook economy.

The Scrabulous fight is just another manifestation of the traditional media and entertainment companies' inability to understand and exploit the new opportunities presented by rapidly growing online consumers of content including music, videos, games, etc. In this particular instance, for example, Hasbro instead could have formed a partnership with the Agarwalla brothers or bought the game from them.

As the battle of Scarbulous rages on, the India-based brothers are not standing still. They have developed another online spelling game that’s gaining traction.

1 comment:


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