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.