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article imageDigital Journal Mavericks: The Scrabulous Saviour

By David Silverberg     May 25, 2008 in Internet
He made an age-old game one of the most popular applications online. It's used by millions, and Scrabulous creator Jayant Agarwalla says he did it for the people not the money. He's famous, he's brilliant and he's being side-swiped by a massive lawsuit.
Digital Journal's Mavericks of 2008 series will profile 10 trailblazers in various industries, allowing readers to learn more about the innovators and risk-takers who are making an impact in 2008. The series will run for 10 consecutive days.
Digital Journal — On Facebook, it’s easy to get bombarded by third-party applications that simply soak up your time needlessly. But one free gaming app has stormed into Facebook like an iPhone at a house party: Scrabulous is the fifth most popular application on the social network, attracting more than 3.5 million registered users. Its interface is cleaner and easier to use than any digital version of Scrabble.
Also, the game can be played standalone without any Facebook involvement. There is also a version to play Scrabulous over email with friends without registering on the official website.
Created by Indian brothers Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla, Scrabulous has generated a cult following rabidly devout to the app. The brothers luckily had that monumental online support when toy companies Hasbro and Mattel, who own licensing rights to Scrabble, slapped them with a lawsuit. The companies claimed the Agarwallas were infringing on the Scrabble trademark by mimicking the board, gameplay and tiles in Scrabulous. The legal quagmire is still being sorted out.
Part of the conflict rests in a generation gap. The Agarwallas are 20-something, Web-friendly and tireless, giving Facebook users a new type of Scrabble game: players are not limited to any time barrier, having the ability to play a game over weeks if they want. The game is online, so when you make a move it emails your partners to ask them to make their move. Word fiends can play against friends or strangers, while also chatting with opponents over a nifty IM box; and Scrabulous intuitively logs win-loss records and the top “bingo” scores, those 7-letter words every Scrabble player cherishes.
According to anecdotal reports, Scrabulous is luring players back to the old-school board game, a fact completely lost on Hasbro. The digital divide is apparent in the launch of Scrabble by Mattel, a version of Scrabble for Facebook made by the company owning the trademark rights. This version of Scrabble pales in comparison to Scrabulous, as DigitalJournal.com discovered, as it's not as simple, the user base is smaller, the game can take too long to load and it's backed by far too much legal and corporate red tape.
Scrabulous is more than just a game: It's a symbol of change. This giant beacon is a sign of a gaping generational gap, as Hasbro and Mattel have been slow to deliver anything to the online world. They've been bogged down by an old-school corporate mindset that would rather spend time arguing over rights and name recognition than tapping into a massive market. While the companies have dragged their feet at an agonizingly slow pace, two relatively unknown Indian guys made an existing idea a smashing success. It's old corporate mentality vs. the 20-something Internet entrepreneur attitude, where the young blood takes over.
The creators of Scrabulous have all the markings of a maverick. They have created a viral success with their business, they have stood in the face of corporate giants looking to chop them down through lawsuits and they still smile and push forward in the name of the people, not the money.
So what makes Scrabulous such an enduring game on Facebook? And its popularity credited to the free-for-all model? To answer these questions, Jayant Agarwalla spoke to DigitalJournal.com to offer his perspective on his pet project turned enormous success.
DigitalJournal.com: What do you think Scrabulous gives Scrabble fans that the board game doesn’t? What are your favourite features of the game?
Jayant Agarwalla: Scrabulous is highly popular because it is a great way of keeping in touch. People don’t want to poke over and over again, or keep throwing sheep. When you play Scrabulous, you stay in touch because the moment you are thinking of a word, you are also thinking of your opponent. And that’s what counts. Thousands of people living in different countries also find Scrabulous to be great fun as they need not stay online at the same time as their opponents to complete a game. It overcomes the barrier of time difference. Lastly, Scrabulous has a simple interface and without the bells and whistles. People love the way we have kept things. We never send out spam or pester our users with notifications.
DigitalJournal.com
: Mattel and a partner company launched their own Facebook version of Scrabble. What are your impressions of that game?
Agarwalla: At the moment I shall not be able to comment on any legal queries. However, each application has a reviews section that has public opinions. Perhaps you can check that out.
DigitalJournal.com: One complaint I hear about Scrabulous is its chat function. Some women have complained about perverted men trying to solicit "dirty talk" from them during a game. How would you respond to that criticism?
Agarwalla: We gave users the option of hosting “adult games.” That move was tremendously successful and complaints were almost nil after that. In case users wish to find a partner for other reasons than playing the game, they can host an adult game and write notes. Other users with similar intentions need to select adult games to see such requests.
DigitalJournal.com: Where would you like to be next year, creatively or financially?
Agarwalla: Our primary goal has always been user satisfaction. The more users we can satisfy with our products, the nearer we are to our goal. We created Scrabulous not for the money but for the people. We never spam our users and always try to give them the best experience for free. Our goal is to provide high quality games that will provide solid entertainment to users without showing tons of advertisements or charging money.
DigitalJournal.com: You and your brother working on any other games, any other projects? Give us a sneak peek if possible.
Agarwalla: We launched Chess Pro, a chess application, three months ago. It’s now the number one chess application on Facebook. At the moment we are working on a few other applications as well but we’d like to surprise our users with them.

Mavericks Series

This is the second profile in a nine-part series on Mavericks of 2008, focusing on trailblazers in various fields, from Internet to photography to music. Every day, read about a new industry maverick. Tomorrow, we look at a 14-year-old prodigy.
Other Mavericks:
- Ron Deibert, creator of Psiphon software: Psiphon is a censorship-fighting tool, allowing those in oppressive regimes to access any website.
- Nikki Yanofsky, a 14-year-old jazz singer: Yanofsky is a teenage jazz prodigy who's already played Carnegie Hall and jazz festivals, giving audiences a taste of the talent brewing in her golden voice.
- Phil Borges, a photographer capturing the forgotten cultures of indigenous tribes: Passionate about foreign ways of life, Seattle-based Phil Borges wants to let the West know about endangered tribes and villages through his impacting photographs.
- Ben Popken, editor of blog The Consumerist: Few blogs fight for consumer rights as well as The Consumerist, which criticizes corporate scams big and small.
- Ausma Khan, editor of Muslim Girl magazine: Targeting an oft-misaligned demographic, Muslim Girl gives Islamic teens role models and advice on modern Muslim-American living.
- Patrice Desilets, creative director of gaming company Ubisoft: Game publisher Ubisoft is experimenting with new technologies and stretching its lineup past its Tom Clancy series.
- Pattie Maes, the woman creating human-tech relationships: As founder of MIT's Ambient Intelligence Group, Maes is bringing wildly inventive gadgets to our digital future.
- Jakob Trollback, a daring digital designer: Founder of Trollback + Company, Jakob has worked on stylish rebranding campaigns for HBO and CBS, while also dipping his feet into movie opening titles and music videos.
- Garrett Camp, founder of recommendation-friendly StumbleUpon: Through a top-secret algorithm, Garret Camp's StumbleUpon finds the websites that interest with you with one button click, acting as a blend of Google, Digg and word-of-mouth.
More about Scrabulous, Agarwallas, Scrabble, Facebook
 
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