Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Facebook, Scrabble, Scrabulous: Hasbro Unwittingly Makes A Political Point

Dad was always ruining Family Games Night with unwelcome commentaries on economic theory...

The ongoing cyberspace PR disaster over Scrabble on Facebook continues, and brings with it (unintentionally) an important point about political theory.

Consider for a moment some of the traditional arguments used by conservatives/neocons/libertarians that any given government function can usually be operated better and more efficiently by the private sector and competition.

-Large, complex structures produce large, complex inefficiencies. And governments are the largest, most complex structures of all.

-Competition reduces waste, because the private sector is inherently geared to make a profit, rather than to supporting a large infrastructure.

-Having many choices will tend to improve service, because if you don't like the job A does, you can take your business to B, or C.

In theory it looks pretty simple, and admittedly (even if conservative politics rub you the wrong way) it still has a certain ring of truth to it. But many may have made the mistake of assuming that "government" is the large structure prone to stupidity, and that "the private sector" are inherently the Good Guys. Consider the case of Hasbro vs. The Two Guys From India.

Hasbro has recently enforced its North American copyright on Scrabble and forced the Scrabulous application, a clone of their game made by two guys from India, off of Facebook... at least for users in the U.S. and Canada. Scrabulous was one of Facebook's most popular applications, with hundreds of thousands of games being played each day.

Scrabulous generally worked well and efficiently. Hasbro's official application, on the other hand -- which Hasbro has had months to work on, and huge financial resources to put into, has produced "Scrabble Beta"... that's right, it's still only a beta version... despite Hasbro's statement that the legal action " deference to the fans, [Hasbro] waited in pursuing legal action until Electronic Arts had a legitimate alternative available."

That "legitimate alternative" suffers from the following problems:

-At least half the time, the application doesn't proceed past "checking IP address" -- making sure that you are in fact in the United States or Canada.

-The IP address block makes it impossible for someone in the U.S. or Canada to play a game with anyone in the rest of the world, and vice versa... an important consideration given the nature of Facebook.

-Attempts to join games are usually greeted with the message "Error joining matches, try again later." This, despite the fact that at any given time there are hundreds, if not thousands, of willing players waiting.

-If one does manage to join a game, unnecessary animations slows the down significantly.

-The entire colour scheme of the "official" version is less authentic than it is with the "clone" version.

-The tiles are smaller and more difficult to read than with Scrabulous.

-Players must give a name to each individual game, rather than simply being assigned a number

-Apparently the game does not have the capacity to trade in your tiles if they all suck (like with the real game or Scrabulous)

-Scrabble Beta does not have a chat feature, so you can't exchange messages with the other player(s) as one could with Scrabulous. Note to Hasbro: Facebook is a social networking site. You might have considered that social interaction was an important part of the game.

And now, the final bit of "the private sector is becoming the enemy" unintentional comedy: ...Hasbro is blaming the terrorists, in a sense, for their problems with Scrabble Beta.

Maybe the neocons got it right, but forgot that there are many kinds of jihadists in the world. Maybe the conservative/neocon/libertarian point is right about how to best deliver a service. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where The Big Evil Lunkhead isn't necessarily and automatically "the government" any more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would just like to tell you I find nothing wrong with scrabble beta other than it sometimes just doesent work. I will say I have never used scraboulus but I think that if you all look at the facts you will find that it is not going to happen.