Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Scrabulous: an upate - ZERO HOUR!

"Why are they suing facebook when it's made their tedious game cool again?"

So asked my friend Nick Wealthall (well, facebook friend anyway) - he of the impish grin and stunning Travolta-esque dance floor moves, in a message to me on facebook.

Obviously Nick had a deprived childhood and didn't grow up on Scrabble; otherwise he'd know that whether or not Scrabble is tedious is irrelevant to the long-term Scrabble player.

Childhood Scrabble maketh the man. Childhood Scrabble should be discussed almost immediately in therapy sessions 20 years later. If you grew up in a Scrabble family and were the habitual family winner, you will reach adulthood with a monstrous ego. You will be able to spell (brilliantly); you will have an unrivalled mastery over the English language; you will be - in the family mythology - the "bright one". (Not so the family Monopoly winner; they'll just make money.)

On facebook however, the desperate pleas (in the 50 or so addiction support groups that have sprung up) appear mainly to come from the newly-hooked. These people WERE deprived in childhood - they either didn't have Scrabble or they habitually lost. Now they have a chance to redress the balance - either to win at last (and not just against their poxy siblings) or to win full-stop.

Facebook may not have made Scabulous cool (debatable) but it has created a legion of new users. All hooked. Most, I'm sure, would willingly pay a small sum to keep their addiction going. Half a million daily users. 10p a day. Hasbro and Mattel - do the math!!! I had to use a calculator but anyway, the answer is £50,000 a day. Unless I've got my decimal point in the wrong place. Whatever.

The point is that H+M could make a fortune!!! If facebook Scrabulous addicts are given the chance to pay for their addiction, I'm pretty sure most of them would.

There is a bit more maths in here too. (I've been reading the business pages where the Hasbro/Mattel/Scrabulous story has now been despatched). Facebook is apparently worth $7 billion. Hasbro - as far as I can make out - is only worth $3.6 billion. Hasbro and Mattel only got upset when they heard Scrabulous boast that they were making $25,000 a month in advertising revenue. Toy company stocks are set to fall in value in 2008. Plus Mattel had a really horrible 2007 after they had to recall 18.2 million toys, the most in company history, because of lead paint and design flaws.

Also, Jayant Agarwalla (Scrabulous co-founder) says he "sent an email to Hasbro seeking permission to use their version of Scrabble online, but never got a reply". I assume Jayant forgot to mark his message with the "High importance" flag. Duh.

Anyway, according to Wired, today is D-Day for facebook Scrabulous addicts. Jayant and his brother Rajat (both family Scrabble winners, but useless at Monopoloy, Pictionary and Connect 4) have until RIGHT THIS MINUTE to decide whether to sell up to Hasbro's online games licencee Electronic Arts. Even if they do, or even if they don't, I can't see this ending well for facebook users. We're not crack cocaine addicts! We're not actually going to move neighbourhoods to get our fix!! We're Scrabble players for god's sake. We want our drug delivered safely to where we are, which is on facebook.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Game over

It had to happen. I know it couldn't last. But did it have to end so soon?????

I am distraught. Life doesn't seem worth living any more.... no more reason to get up in the morning and certainly no more reason to log on any more. It's the end of an era. The end of Facebook Scrabulous.

The fact that this has come just when I am experiencing a bit of an up-turn in my game doesn't surprise me one little bit. If I was got dealt Aces online, there'd be a power cut. If I won a million in the lottery, the Inland Revenue would immediately implement a 99% tax on unearned income. And only today one of my fondest dreams - that Conrad Brunner, PokerStars' Head of Communications, EMEA, would actually start a game with me - came true. So hardly surprising that minutes later his brother-in-law messaged me to say that the cops were on it and Scrabulous' facebook future was looking decidedly bleak (11 pts).

I had realised ages ago that Scrabulous was probably infringing copyright. On its own site, Scrabulous never actually says the word "Scrabble" anywhere. Instead it describes itself as "the coolest word game" while retaining all the Scrabble hallmarks. Or as Hasbro + Mattel would have it, trademarks. They're probably right, but where does that leave the half million facebook Scrabulous addicts who are now hopelessly hooked.

There are 317 Scrabulous groups on facebook and at least 50 of these are for addicts. There are groups for Jewish Scrabulous players, French scrabulous players, gay Scrabulous players, lesbian Scrabulous players, longest-word enthusiasts, the Association of Scrabulous Sapiens, Scrabulous widows, word-lobbyists (please make "zen" a Scrabulous word), cheat-naming groups and - my personal favourite - a group called "Every time Scrabulous has trouble loading, a little part of me dies". God, I know how that group feel - the bad months of late Summer still rankle - a desperate time.

And now, of course, there are a dozen more "Save Scrabulous" groups - all of which will, I am sure, have zilch effect if facebook really gets sued.

And those that say Scrabulous is something that sad people do at home because they don't have real lives have totally not got it. In the media room at the last poker tournament I was working at, at least five of us were all playing Scrabulous against each other. Cries of "your go" were at least as frequent as "did anyone see that last hand".

All that's really left for me now is to make sure I win all my current games. I'm confident about most of them and hoping to enjoy my first ever win against Tori Coxon (I'm currently 34 points ahead after tossing "ruga" onto a triple) and may even, if the gods be willing, get my first victory against Snoopy. So here's hoping.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Working in Paradise

It's not often you have the chance to walk to work through an aquarium on the way to work, but that's standard fare at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas. It's surreal but you take it on the chin and after a couple of nano-seconds you are seized by nonchalance. Atlantis is a place where even a trip to Starbucks takes you past Mayan temples, Greek Gods and an Incan bingo game. Clearly the designers of the Atlantis Resort and Casino were a little bit confused about ancient cultures but this is Paradise - and maybe Paradise is really like this.

Working at the PCA - as opposed to lounging around on holiday like I did last year - is a deeply weird experience. You wake up. You look out the window. You gaze admiringly at the beautiful beach, turquoise sea, palm trees blowing in the wind, the Mayan death slide and the Spartican lagoon.

Then you leave your room and that's the last you see of it for another 24 hours. Ocasionally people venture out and return with sunburn or irritating stories about snorkelling with sharks. Or sometimes they venture out and just don't come back. Meanwhile those who are working plunge into the poker room and emerge just in time to see the "Pool Closed" signs go up.

There were people going around (well, mainly me) saying they would rather be in Dortmund. In Dortmund, my view from my bedroom window was a train track and although I actually rather like watching trains, I didn't feel quite the same pang of regret and longing there as I left my room each day to head for the casino.

Nevertheless, the Four Horses of the Apocalypse couldn't have stopped me wanting to be in the PCA poker room. On the last day, I did actually sneak off to the pool but spent every minute wondering how the final table was going. The solution to this will be to ensure that, next year, the EPTLive web cast is shown poolside so you can have your Bahama Mama AND drink it.