Scrabble is finally on Facebook. Officially. While the Scrabulous game has been online for a while and is wildly popular, it's had a sword hanging over its head since launch. Hasbro, owner of the Scrabble franchise, has threatened and tried to kill Scrabulous--while at the same time prepping to launch its own, official, Scrabble app on Facebook.
In conjunction with Electronic Arts, that official Hasbro Scrabble app is now up, in beta. How does it compare to Scrabulous? Pretty well. Too well, actually. While Scrabulous fans will see no reason to switch to the official Scrabble app, newcomers to the game on Facebook (like me), will find Scrabble easier to get into, easier to use, and just as competitive and fun.
The two apps have a lot in common. Both let you quickly and easily invite people from your list of friends. Both let you manage multiple games. Both keep track of games scores and multiple-game ratings. Both have useful features that let you shuffle the tiles in your rack, chat with your competitors, look up valid two-letter words and access a Scrabble-official word look-up feature.
Scrabble's game interface is more intuitive than Scrabulous, and it looks nicer, too. The screen automatically redraws when an opponent makes a move or leaves a message; Scrabulous requires a manual refresh. This is not a big deal if you're playing a drawn-out asynchronous game with a correspondent, but if you want to play in real-time with someone it's a drag to use Scrabulous.
Scrabulous, for its part, has a faster interface for playing a turn. You can select a location on the board to place letters and just start typing. In Scrabble you have to drag your letters to the board one by one. And if you're playing multiple games at once, it's much faster, since there's a "next active game" link that puts you in the action on another board with just a click. Scrabble takes three clicks and makes you sit through tedious board-swap animations and load times.
Scrabulous' biggest advantage is that any stats or ranking you've collecting while in the game don't transfer out. If you don't want to have to earn your rank all over again, avoid Scrabble. Also, avoid Scrabble if your gaming partners are overseas: Scrabble is available for U.S. and Canadian users only.
Scrabulous has many more online users than Scrabble does, at least so far. But this game has just begun, and there's no reason that Scrabble's official online app--the developers of which don't have to worry about getting sued out of existence--can't surpass Scrabulous on the Web in general. Although Scrabulous could maintain its lead in the Facebook universe for a time, the world of social gaming goes beyond just that one platform, and Hasbro/EA could (and should) push its new, fully legal online game out to social networks all over the Internet.
A dissenting review from the AP: Facebook Scrabble flashy, but not better