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'Scrabble' on Facebook: Too little, too late

There's finally an official Scrabble game for U.S. users of Facebook. But everyone's still playing imitator Scrabulous, and legal threats against it appear to have died down.

Electronic Arts, the video game giant that owns the rights to digital versions of the board game Scrabble, has announced that later this month, it will launch a Facebook application version of the game in conjunction with Hasbro.

Unlike the last time we saw an announcement like this, it actually extends to the United States. (Remember, rights to Scrabble are owned by different companies in the U.S. and abroad--here, it's Hasbro, there, it's Mattel.)

"Scrabble is one of the best social-game brands in existence, and we've worked diligently with the Hasbro team to ensure that regardless of the platform you're playing, you'll be able to enjoy a world-class version of Scrabble with friends or family," Chip Lange, general manager of EA Hasbro Games, said in a release Monday. "We're delighted to be bringing communities everywhere access to one of their favorite games."

Unfortunately for EA and Hasbro, the story is much more complicated than that.

A game of Scrabulous on Facebook. Scrabulous

There was, famously, all that fallout early this year over Scrabulous, a Facebook application that bears a suspicious resemblance to Scrabble. It's ad-supported, which means that the India-based brothers who created it are making money off the game. And perhaps because there was no "real" Scrabble on the social network, Scrabulous became wildly popular.

Scrabble's manufacturers weren't thrilled, and they served a handful of takedown notices. But months later, Scrabulous is still alive and kicking, and the millions of Facebook users who have been playing it are unlikely to make the switch--who says they'll even notice the presence of the new game?

The "official" Scrabble application, licensed by Mattel for Facebook users outside the States, has fewer than 4,000 daily users on a social network of more than 80 million, and Scrabulous is about 100 times more popular.

But EA's official version might gain traction elsewhere. The company will also be launching a version of the game on Pogo, an EA-owned casual-game site. If that's the start of a distribution effort across other game hubs, the "real" Scrabble could get some attention.

On Facebook, though, unless Hasbro reignites its dormant legal efforts to remove Scrabulous from the system, the game probably doesn't stand much of a chance.