Game Giant Mattel’s “Complete Disregard” for Their Legion of Online Scrabble Fans


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Toy manufacturing giant Mattel are under fire from thousands of fans addicted to their online version of “Scrabble“, the popular word game played on a board with letter tiles, which has sold approximately 150 million sets worldwide. The row has erupted since the virtual web-based game, played regularly by a legion of Scrabble addicts on the Facebook platform, underwent “improvements” recently – changes which actually amounted to a complete revamp and not, according to angry users, in a good way.

The first inkling of change came in an online message seen by users as they started or rejoined ongoing games. A better experience was promised, and an exciting new look. What wasn’t flagged up was the overnight loss which would ensue, of game records, results, scores and contacts built up in some cases over years of enjoyable competition. Overnight, hordes of dedicated users found that their treasured online profile of games and opponents had been lost. Many thousands of people who had found friends in this virtual Scrabble world were angered to find that their fellow players were not in touch with them anymore, no warning having been given, no consultation having been entered into, and no option to retain the friendly competition that had lasted for so long and given such enjoyment.

What these frustrated online Scrabblers are left with is the unwelcome sight of a new version of the Facebook-hosted game which some have described as “brash” and “vulgar”. The rankings they have built up over long periods of participation, some players having many games on the go at any one time, have been lost, utterly and without warning. As many as 3.5 million online users were left with an unwelcome surprise as their opponents vanished along with the Scrabble-based friendships which had grown up between so many of them. Is this right or fair? More importantly perhaps for Mattel, is it even good business? There is, after all, that powerfully iconic word “goodwill” which many business people (and even some international conglomerates) keep close to hand at all times, as a reminder not to go stomping all over their customers, for fear that they may take their custom elsewhere. But Mattel seem curiously insensitive to the implications of goodwill in this case, and appear instead to be determined that there should be no going back, despite the growth and proliferation of some vociferous movements of protest and resistance.

The fury of the people affected, who have been so abruptly denied their daily “fix” of Scrabble and companionship alike, is readily understandable. A typical player is 72 year-old Kath Ward from Dunstable in Bedfordshire. She told the Mail Online:

‘My daughter knows that I like Scrabble, so when she found the game on Facebook she encouraged me to join and I signed up just to play. I have loyally played it every day since unless I am on holiday or terribly busy. I play for about three quarters of an hour to an hour depending on how many games I have on the go. I have made friends with people all over the world. People were very nice, you start off saying something like “that was a good word” and go from there. You get to know people. One of the people I regularly played with is in Spain and when we were there she invited us to visit. It saved all your games, so you had a record of all the people you had played and your statistics. This game means a lot to people – mostly silver surfers – they had dozens of friends on it. But it’s all been wiped overnight.’

Mrs Ward’s is one voice among many thousands being raised angrily at the sudden and arbitrary way in which their pastime has been wrenched from them. Users are talking about friends they’ve been in touch with for years, forming an online community of online Scrabble addicts, often chatting about general matters in between games, sometimes arranging to visit on holiday – but in many cases the previous version of online Scrabble was their only contact, and for some – shatteringly – the friendships have been lost with the abrupt deletion of all existing data.

On a purely competitive level, the point is also made that this was Scrabble – not some passing fad as many online games are – and that Scrabble people are obsessed with their records and rankings. Who should know this better than Mattel, the creators of the game? And yet they have acted in what seems an extremely rash manner to eradicate all these records, rankings and scores. The Mail Online reported a spokesman for Mattel as stating:

‘The Scrabble Facebook game is now managed by a new partner EA Mobile. The benefits of the new game include gameplay across devices, the addition of the Collins Official Scrabble Wordlist, the ability to play in six languages, the option to customise boards and tiles and the option to play ad-free. As part of the transition, we were unable to carry over ongoing games and statistics, the timer mode and the manual match-making function. The new version will have the same robust statistics moving forward.’

On that last point, many long-time Scrabble users are highly dubious, claiming that the ongoing stats include many people who have actually abandoned the game in disgust at the changes which were imposed. Mattel appear determined to remain obdurately on course with the new game; outraged former users seem equally set on maintaining their loud objections and making as much of a protest as possible for as long as it takes. The strength of the movement against the changes appears to be growing: one Facebook group maintains that the Scrabble changes are reversible, and continues to demand that Mattel see sense, look to their customer goodwill and set matters straight.

Watch this space!

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39 responses to “Game Giant Mattel’s “Complete Disregard” for Their Legion of Online Scrabble Fans

  1. The new scrabble game is unplayable, having to refresh the board after every turn, you place your word on the Barbie type board and then wait for hours for your opponent to take their turn, that’s not Scrabble, the flow of the game has been stolen from us all for the mighty dollar. We have now to pay for easy game play!!!! We cant choose opponents, timed games or level of game, gone are the days of a quick challenging game or a slow relaxing game and a chat with like minded people from around the world. My major concerns however are for the kids who play, with the new interface its even more attractive, but they are now joined with a random player and not chosen by themselves, this could be anyone!! and the report button has been removed, it has been referred to as paedophiles paradise. Have EA?Mattel no safeguarding measures in place?

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    • Wendy Quinn

      I played the new scrabble for about ten minutes and realised it was not the game for me…too flashy and too slow with having to put every letter in, also the random player option I found very unfriendly.
      With the old scrabble I have lost friends that I have been playing for over four years from all over the world, which meant that no matter what time of day or night I was able to play there was always a friendly gamer there….we have shared our love of the game and our lives…..As above I do worry about the younger players as there does not seem to be any safeguarding options and this from a company that promotes play on it’s websites for children.

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      • Spot on Wendy, and the point about having to place each letter, laboriously, one at a time is well made – how exactly is this progress? We’ve been dumped on and from a great height.

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    • True, Karen – I’ve seen a few worrying about the apparently increased potential for this new version to be exploited by pervs and the like – it’s a real worry of course, if previous safeguards have been done away with. As I said elsewhere, how is this progress? A really thorough and MAJOR rethink is needed, pronto.

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    • sharon baird

      Good for you Karen my Son who has Autisim no longer can play the new version as he cant relate to change. The old Scrabble was something he was familiar with as he has seen me play over time this helped him with the few considerate people he had built up a safe friendship with.

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      • That’s exactly the kind of situation that should be making Mattel hold up their hands and say “Whoa, guys! Sorry, we really screwed up. Wait 5 and we’ll sort it.” – IF they had any humility or compassion about them!

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  2. Good article Rob, the changes are all about viral marketing – a feature in Toy News from April 2013 states : “Scrabble will also go social with a major new global promotion ‘7 Letters, 7 Prizes’. Driven through Facebook, the campaign will capitalise on the huge Scrabble internet fanbase and drive awareness, appealing to the casual gamer.” and “We’ve undertaken extensive consumer research and this strategic marketing programme will appeal to existing Scrabble fans, as well as new ones.”

    I think they underestimated the groundswell of opinion against these changes from the existing Scrabble internet fanbase many of whom were not consulted on these changes.

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  3. Thanks Chris, interesting and informed viewpoint there. Let’s hope you’re right about them having underestimated the opposition – IF that leads them to having second and better thoughts!

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  4. Great article Rob, thanks for writing it. Hopefully they begin to take notice of how removing our game has upset thousands upon thousands of people worldwide soon.

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    • I hope so too. The more this and other articles can be shared and more widely read, the better the chance of some effect being felt in the right quarters.

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      • Wendy Quinn

        Yes hopefully they will ….I really miss the scrabblers that took me from the dark side when I lost my Dad…that dark hole took me over yes I could go on but not ready to bear my soul….found the old scrabble stayed up for hours just playing and playing and playing…..so that is how I found my players all over the world also the the players that will willing to share their skill of the game and pass it on to me..they were real old board game scrabblers.xxx

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  5. That was a wonderfully worded article and I really enjoyed reading it. But i feel you should further enhance your argument by stating the plain fact that technically this new version is far inferior too, imagine if you played FIFA 13 online and they suddenly gave you FIFA 96 instead (there are 10 gameplay features missing, ranging form letter placement options to dictionary definitions and of course timed games), the new version itself is technically vastly inferior as well as being visually grotesque.It’s interesting that the first ‘improvement’ mentioned by Mattel was that is was ‘available cross platform’, well done, whoopy do, the programming ain’t that tough to make computerised scrabble(sic) really is it? Hell I remember playing against a computer generated player on my 48kb Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the mid eighties.What they have really done is dumbed down the game for the tablet/smartphone market and completely ignored the PC players who have helped to make this game, and games of its genre the success they are. In short utterly inferior and visually hideous. AND as you eloquently put, utterly destroyed the social aspect of scrabble as was.

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    • This is the problem – I could easily have gone on for 2500 words, making ALL the points that need to be made. But there’s a limit where the initial article is concerned, and then you look to comments to develop the theme in the desired directions. Your comment has helped do that, quite brilliantly, and I thank you for that!

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  6. please bring back the old scrabble as I so enjoyed it, will not be playing the new one as its crap, and I want to find my friends I made on the old one

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  7. John Wilkins

    I am the manager of two of the four ‘Scrabble Changes Are Reversible’ groups and got involved in the protest because of the way in which the re-formatted game, developed by EA Games, dis-empowers its players relative to the Gamehouse format. Thus, players can no longer choose their opponents, control the time taken for turns, maintain their friendships with others etc.

    I am amazed and disappointed by the lack of any meaningful response from Mattel, the copyright and trademark holders of the game, to the protest and wonder why they commissioned game developers with a track record of poor customer service?

    In closing, I wish to thank you for your contribution to the discussion and for publicising the protest.

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    • Amos Fabian

      Another example of Mattel managers being clueless: They are proud that the game can now be played in six languages. So what? I speak only two languages and play only in one; most players play in one, maybe two. Adding language options is a wonderful advertising tool and a perfectly legitimate addition, which should have been added to the old version where few of us would notice, fewer would care.

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  8. Amos Fabian

    I was quite vocal on the website, voicing my absolute disapproval. I started a countdown, stating I have 20 more games to complete before I quit this site, then 19, 18. 17, etc. I reached 14, and, “for some reason,” was completely blocked from posting on this site. Mattel doesn’t like dissenters, apparently. I don’t play there anymore, of course, and hope that customer pressure will restore the old system.

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  9. I loved playing the previous version of scrabble on Facebook – but the changes EA have made to the game are awful :-

    1) Annoying adverts (I am told that I can pay to play without the adverts!)
    2) Dictionary definitions no longer given (this was always useful & interesting)
    3) There is absolutely no need to notify your opponent that it is their turn to play – this is annoying each time you take your turn and equally annoying to the recipient.
    4) No longer do we have the option to select a 2 minute game (or any other specified length of time to take your turn) A 2 minute game guaranteed a “quick game” and was really enjoyable
    5) With new version you have to drag each tile up into position when previously you could click on the starting point for the word and either type or select from the letters on your rack. This is now cumbersome and takes ages.
    6) There is no longer a “notes” facility to record any good words to remind you the next time you take your turn. Useful if you have several games on the go.
    7) “Chat” is hidden so you have to click on it
    8) Dictionary is hidden so you have to click on it
    9) 2-letter word list is hidden so you have to click on it.
    10) No longer have the option of selecting an opponent to play against – to look at statistics etc – now you just get what you’re given
    11) Statistics & game histories were wiped out overnight
    12) You can no longer see which tiles remain unplayed
    13) There used to be a “report abuse” button – no longer there
    14) There used to be a “force forfeit” button to end the game if someone failed to take their turn within a reasonable time. Obviously not there now as we no longer have the option to play “timed games” (see point 4 above!)
    15) The whole layout looks cheap and tacky.

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  10. I stooped playing the day after the change, and won’t be back until Mattel give us back our game. I miss playing with friends I made through the game inAustralia, New Zealand and the UK. I miss our chats. And I miss playing for myself, always trying to improve my stats.

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  11. Great article Rob, thank you! Scrabble Worldwide was so much more than a game and until Mattel and EA understand that, their version will never be enjoyable. I did play a few games of the new app but it was so frustratingly slow, less sociable and annoyingly infantile, I deleted the app. I too, like many other disillusioned Scrabblers have posted comments on Mattel and Scrabble pages only to find myself blocked without explanation. Thanks again, for exposing Mattel and EA’s disregard for customer feedback and the plight of online Scrabblers!

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  12. Good article and comments. I have played Scrabble for years and love the game. I still do but miss the old version as the new version is inferior in every sense. The problem is that Mattel will consider that this version is more appealing to younger people with all the new technology and that they will soon gain new players making up for the lost ones, they are not concerned about their dedicated core of players.
    I also play Wordscraper, not as good as scrabble but at least we have recently had the option of staying with the old version instead of the new one.

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  13. please bring bk the old scrabble i really miss it im not a very good sleeper and i knew wen i woke there would allwats be someone there to play scrabble with xx

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  14. Hugh Cookson

    Do what I did every day until my existing games finished (approx 30 days – I was playing a lot of games !) and report the site as abusive or spam. Also, write directly to the CEO of Mattel – I did many times, but as I didn’t get even an acknowledgement, I have added ignorance to the list of words against Mattel.
    I have also started a campaign to boycott Mattel products – not just online, but anywhere they market / sell – also don’t forget to write to them telling them what you are doing, and that you are urging all friends, family and anyone who will listen to do the same !! Hopefully that’ll make the buggers sit up and listen !!

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  15. You only have to wait hours for an opponent to take their turn if they’re taking hours to take their turn. That isn’t Mattel’s fault.. I don’t like the new game either but if we are arguing the toss to them, we need to get our facts straight about it. The lost friends etc – If they were that much friends, why weren’t they added as friends in the first place? And if you know their names if they’re friends, why can’t you find them on Facebook? Also – you can get the legacy board and tiles like we used to have. It would be worth checking to see what you’re complaining about before they come back to you and discount the argument by proving these points wrong. I’m all for the old game back because I also think the new one simply isn’t as good for my purposes, but there has to be a concrete argument and not one where they will pull reasons apart as I have mentioned. It will undermine the point we are trying to make. Basically – the new game looks cr@p compared to the old one and it takes away from the feel of the cult game we love with gimmicks. That’s something they can’t really argue with because it’s true. Whether they think it’s better or not. Please give us back the old game or make the new one just like it.

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    • John, fair points about the arguments that could be levelled back at anyone unhappy with the new version, here’s my take on those.

      The timing of moves: If the option of 2 min/5 min/1 day/1 week games existed and you started a 1 week game then that’s fair enough, you knew where you stood. To have an open-ended situation where you don’t know when/if the next move is coming just leads to frustration especially if you want a quick game that’s over in an hour or less.

      The friending of opponents: The old game allowed you to re-match someone you’d been playing without having to friend them. Unless you went a period without playing and all your old games were archived, they would still be there for you to re-match. Players were only ever identified by first names, attempting to find someone called ‘John’ who had changed his profile picture would be nigh on impossible.

      Legacy board and tiles: I think this comes down to personal taste.Yes the legacy board and tiles are avaliable and you can hide the bonus square legends, but the design of the other elements on the screen is distracting especially the colours used (even on the legacy board), the bonus squares and the rest of the screen outside the board.

      I agree with you that this version dosn’t seem fit for purpose at the moment but I don’t see anything substantial being resolved anytime soon, so re-instate the old one, fix the new one and give people a choice!

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      • John Jones

        The last sentence is key here.. Give people the choice! Gimmicky board for kids and novices wanting a bit of fun… Classic traditional layour as before for the die hard long standing fans of the game. Simples

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  16. Four weeks I didn’t expect to be involved in organising with others a 24 hour Worldwide Protest and Celebration that starts in Christchurch NZ and finishes in Tahiti with events organised in places like Darwin, Dehli, and Hebden Bridge on a budget of nothing. I am involved and it is going to happen on 13th July 2013.

    The Tahiti gig hasn’t been sorted yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it does.

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  17. For the international Scrabble Community, the changes to Scrabble was a devastating move by EA/ Mattel.
    Scrabble was previously run on Facebook by Gamehouse in the vein of traditional and familiar play, where the participants could play short timed games, or at a more leisurely pace of up to two or more weeks; they could shuffle, sort their tiles alphabetically, choose their opponents, and report & block unsavoury advances, which had been experienced by some.
    Scrabble players from all over the world (except USA & Canada) had their classic game changed overnight. The new game was returned violated, and beyond all recognition from the original Gamehouse Scrabble. It was blended & diluted into the brightly coloured arcade-type game that was already played by USA & Canada.The online game should have been developed rather than diluted.
    There are many many reasons for feeling the devastation.. Contact has been lost between so many people who relied upon the game for a major part of their personal and social interaction. For many (including myself) it was a lifeline. For many it was an education..
    It was also devastating for those who had formed friendly & supportive mutual bonds with likeminded people from all over the world, and for whom politics & difference was no issue.
    The big corporation focussing solely on big business, has ridden roughshod over REAL people who loved the game, who had trusted that it would remain a major part of their lives.,

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  18. I used to enjoy nothing more than a cuppa and a quick game of scrabble after a tiring day. I was so disappointed that the 2 minute game was taken away and a clumsy, inferior format has been put in its place! I have complained on the scrabble ‘fan’ page, not that i am one anymore!

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  19. Im appalled at the attitude of Mattel who have totally ignored all complaints and questions about this travesty of a game. They have capitalised on all the ‘likes’ of people who loved and played the old game, by keeping these stats and advertising them as current. They are also blocking all negative reviews. Is this a good way of conducting business, in the face of almost total opposition ? Even the new players have given bad reviews, no one likes it !! Give us back the original Scrabble and we can all start again !

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  20. Have moved to Lexulous for good. Mattel is history for me.

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  21. Lineth Straker

    Lineth Straker
    Thank you so much for writting this….playing the old scrabble helped me to slowly rejoin the real world, after the death of my husband in 2008. I played every day nipping on several times duing the day…in the early days following my husbands death it got me out of bed. Can’t begin to say how much I miss the game. I’m just hoping that somenone can bring the old game back.

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    • Thank you Lineth for your comment which highlights the effect on Scrabble online users of Mattel’s thoughtless action. I only hope your story, and thousands like it, will reach the ears of someone with the power to put this right. When you realise that so many people benefited from the old Scrabble, managing to haul themselves back into the swing of life after depression or bereavement, it puts into sharp focus the fact that whoever made this decision has dropped an almighty clanger. Thanks again for illustrating this point by sharing your own experience.

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  22. I would gladly pay to play the old scrabble format ,as most of these changes are made to encourage us to pay for our game ,why not revert back to the old scrabble but charge us a small subscription fee? The hours of “free” entertainment I have had from this online version has been amazing and the friends I have made there countless.

    Well worth paying paying for .

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  23. gilly womack

    thanks for the article rob agree with everthing you say ….but would just like to add THIS IS A HEARTLESS MONEY GRABBING COMPANY with NO COMPASSION …………….dollors dollors dollors that’s all SHAME ON THEM

    Like

  24. Pingback: Scrabble via Facebook! | suletta

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