Here, in three short Q&As, are what annoys me about the Scrabulous mess.
Q1. What is the difference between Scrabble and Scrabulous?
A1. The name has been slightly changed. That’s it. The rules are identical, in meaning if not in wording. The tile-distribution is identical. The board-design is identical, right down to the colours used for the special squares. Scrabulous is not a knock-off, a derivative design, an homage or an iterative improvement on an existing model: it is Scrabble.
Q2. Should Hasbro and/or Mattel have the right to close down Scrabulous?
A2. If you listen to the internet, no. People give many reasons, from half-understandings of trademark and copyright law, to the fact that Scrabulous is a better internet implementation of Scrabble than Hasbro and/or Mattel has so far produced. But almost nobody is saying that Hasbro/Mattel is in the right to do what they are doing. This includes a number of games designers for whose opinions I previously had some respect, and who seem to be treating the whole thing as an exercise in speculating whether it’s now safe to produce unauthorised supplements for D&D4e.
Q3. So what you’re saying is that my work as a game designer should have no protection at all? If I design a game, anyone can take it, produce an exact copy of it and make money from that—money reckoned at around $US25,000 a month in the case of Scrabulous—without acknowledging my existence? In other words my work should have none of the protection given to authors, journalists, artists, graphic designers, industrial designers, clothes designers, architects, photographers, film-makers, programmers, cartoonists, bloggers and anyone else involved in any area of design or creativity? I should have less protection and control of my work than Siegel and Schuster had over Superman, or Jack Kirby had over any of the characters that he created and that went on to make billions of dollars for Marvel Comics? I am lower on the creative food-chain than work-made-for-hire? Is that actually what you are saying? Oh how the internet howls when someone dares to steal a Flickr feed or a blog template, or a cartoon on a tee-shirt, or a couple of paragraphs of someone else’s text. But games? Games, it seems, are fair game.
Addendum: My wife, an avid Facebook user, just came into the bedroom where I am lying with what I think is tonsilitis though I’ve had no tonsils since I was five, and asked what I was writing. I gave her a rough outline of the Scrabulous affair. “Oh” she said. “I play Scrabulous. I thought it was by the people who make Scrabble.” Point to our side, I think.
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