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Scrabble seeks big score in Web battle

The Associated Press

C-O-M-P-E-T-E.

Developers of a highly popular but unauthorized version of Scrabble for the online hangout Facebook vowed Tuesday to do just that, now that a video game maker has weighed in with an official version of the word game.

Jayant Agarwalla, co-creator of the unauthorized Scrabulous, suggested that Electronic Arts Inc. would have a tough time attracting “the attention and patronage of a large and dedicated user base” as Scrabulous has with nearly half a million daily users.

“We strongly believe that people should have the option of playing what they like, rather than be forced by developers into using something they offer only for monetary gains,” Agarwalla said in a statement.

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As Facebook has blossomed into a hot Internet hangout, its users have passed countless hours playing Scrabulous, which Scrabble’s owners have tried to shut down.

Electronic Arts said Monday that it would try to legitimize the activity with the release this month of a Scrabble application, a Web program that Facebook members could plug in to their profile pages.

EA hopes to capitalize on the success of Scrabulous. Company spokeswoman Trudy Muller said EA’s offering would be “an authorized, licensed Scrabble game experience that people familiar with Scrabble can instantly recognize as Scrabble.”

It’s unclear whether legality will be enough to lure Facebook members already familiar with the unauthorized version. Muller said she could not comment on any differences in features.

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One key limitation is that EA’s game on Facebook will be available only to U.S. and Canadian users, as determined by the numeric Internet address of their computers.

EA is producing Scrabble under a year-old licensing deal with Hasbro Inc., which owns the game’s North American rights. RealNetworks Inc. has made a version available elsewhere under a deal with Mattel Inc., holder of the rights outside the United States and Canada. That version has fewer than 6,000 daily users, compared with Scrabulous’ 450,000.

The split in rights means that Facebook users in, say, San Francisco, won’t be able to play the authorized version with friends in London, so they might still turn to the unauthorized Scrabulous.

Hasbro executives played down the restrictions, however, saying players tend to reside in the same country, given the world’s linguistic differences.

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More than six months in development, the EA game will be free and won’t carry any ads for now.

EA is trying to spur interest for Scrabble on other computing platforms. EA recently made it available on its ad-supported Pogo.com site, and it sells versions for Apple Inc.'s iPods for about $5 and for various mobile devices starting at $4. EA also has rights to offer it on digital devices such as Nintendo Co.'s Wii game console.


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