Butt me no Butts: A sideways look at the Because Effect

No, I haven’t forgotten how to spell. This is not a post about cigarettes or even about archery. Or any of those butts.

It’s about Scrabble, the game invented by Alf Butts around 70 years ago. The game at the heart of the dispute between Hasbro, Mattel (or more correctly, its subsidiary JW Spear) and a couple of youngsters in Calcutta.

I love Scrabble. There were times, in the early 1980s, I used to play 20 games a night, all with a close friend, Viraf Mehta. Somehow he found the time to become UK national champion at the game, something he richly deserved.

What the Scrabulous guys have done is to give the game a much-needed fillip, a real boost. If I was at Hasbro or Mattel, I’d take a close look at sales of the game in the last six months or so, and compare it with sales in prior periods, prior years, prior decades. I’d take an even closer look at the sales figures in locations where Facebook take-up is high.

And I would wonder. I’d wonder whether there was a connection. And I’d be very careful about what I did. Just in case I was making an omelette out of geese and golden eggs.

You see, I think the Scrabulous guys have done a bit more than given the game a boost. They’ve given sales of the game a boost. For free.

The guys at Hasbro and at Mattel should be trying to figure out where the scarcity lies, in the physical board game or in the digital version. They should be trying to figure out whether they can make money because of Scrabulous, not with Scrabulous. It really doesn’t matter what sort of deal they’ve done with EA, they’re not going to wean off the current Scrabulous players that easily. But they can alienate them. And they’re close to doing so right now.

One thought on “Butt me no Butts: A sideways look at the Because Effect”

  1. Corporate greed-heads go short sighted trying to quash something that will help them sell more?!? Who knew?

    It’s the same as the record companies and Napster. They could have (should have) found a way to use the P2P network to build buzz, aggregate evangelical super-fans and, duh, sell a bunch of records. Who won that battle? Apple, Inc. And with their typical generosity, the labels are sniping at Apple, trying to squeeze another couple of points out of the iTunes deal that’s done so much to keep them afloat.

    Or look at the TV networks and their reaction to YouTube. What’s that stupid site they created, Joost, right? Is that even still in business?

    There’s a complete lack of getting it on the corporate side (present company excluded, natch). In the little Web 2 class I give, I have the word “counter-intuitive” on the screen about 10 times. It’s hard for old-school managers to understand that things like fan-fiction and other home-grown “IP theft” are good things.

    If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then IP sharing is the quickest route to a self-organizing market.

    So it’s no surprise that the Hassenfeld Brothers et al, located right here in lil’ ol’ Pawtucket, RI, lack the foresight to capitalize on the opportunity. They can only see a threat.

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