If the inventor of Scrabble were alive today, he would be amazed at the way millions of people now play his pun: on small screens, wherever they are, against players who may be out. the other side of the country or the world.
Scrabble first proved that it didn’t need the actual click of tiles against a board when it first became popular on computers about two decades ago. Now the game has migrated to smartphones, both through the branded game and a similar game called Words with friends.
In fact, Zynga-owned Words With Friends stole some of the thunder of Scrabble with its digital-only word-forming game. So far, ten million people have downloaded the iPhone app, Zynga says, and it has been uploaded to Android systems this month.
Solitaire Scrabble is a desktop and phone option, but many players prefer a human opponent. Mobile Scrabble and Words With Friends enable social interaction via turn-based play and chat function. “I feel like I’m talking to my friends through the games I play with them,” said Paul Bettner, who developed Words With Friends in 2009 with his brother David.
On the phone, games can take days or even weeks to play, so people often have multiple games at the same time. (Can you cheat? The answer is yes.)
To add more drama to a break-prone game, the Bettners increased the scores on some letters ?? a C is worth four points instead of three, for example, and a J is worth 10 instead of 8.
They also brought the double and triple counted squares closer together so swear scores were more likely. “What ends up happening is you have these moments that are more explosive,” said Paul Bettner. Incidentally, making the point values and the layout of the board different from those in Scrabble avoids any legal problem with Hasbro, which owns the US and Canadian rights to the game (Mattel owns the rest).
The first time Stefan Fatsis, a competitive Scrabble player, tried Words With Friends, he said, he got a score of 626. His highest score after thousands of games of Scrabble was 603 .
M. Fatsis, author of “Word monster, “Of Scrabble Culture, said that mobile Scrabble play via Facebook was” clunkier “and more commercial than Words With Friends. While Hasbro’s digital strategy is improving, it has largely caught up in the digital arena, he said, taking more time than it should have to introduce new technology and clear bugs in his games.
As a result, smaller, more agile entrepreneurs were able to come up with popular alternatives, he said.
Mark Blecher, senior vice president of digital media and games for Hasbro, denied that the company has been slow to embrace digital technology. “Hasbro innovates, but we innovate when we know there is a real market,” he said. Words With Friends, he added, is not a substitute for Scrabble; it lacks the real rules and the real model of the game.
Hasbro is not disclosing data on mobile Scrabble users, who can access the game in several ways on their cell phones: through Facebook, through an iPhone app (Android to come), and through the Pogo.com site. Its digital games are developed by Electronic Arts.
Megan Lawless, 31, of Chicago, plays Scrabble and Words With Friends on her cell phone and said she loves them both as a way to connect with loved ones. She learned to play Scrabble from her great-grandmother, who belonged to a Scrabble league.
One day in 2009, no one she knew was available to play with her, so she selected the option on Words With Friends which allows you to play with a random opponent.
“It was a very unusual thing for me to do,” she said. But the game went well: she could tell that she and her opponent were tied in terms of skill. His opponent offered a rematch, and the repeated games led to discussing their personal lives. Eventually, she found out that her opponent was a male, Jasper Jasperse, and that he was a firefighter who lived in Holland.
After starting emailing and talking on Skype, Mr. Jasperse asked if he could visit him in Chicago, “and we clicked immediately,” Ms. Lawless said. Now they are planning to get married in July and he will be moving to Chicago.
The random feature didn’t work as well for Alex Alan, 31, of Brooklyn. For a while, “I was playing with these anonymous people, seven or eight at the same time, and it was getting out of hand,” he said. He was playing Words With Friends, he said, when he could have talked to his girlfriend. So now he’s limiting his games to a small group of people he knows in real life.
In an effort to disconnect, Mr. Alan also tries to play Scrabble with his friends on a real set, the kind that would be instantly recognized by Alfred Mosher Butts of New York, who invented Scrabble in the 1930s.
Indeed, the popularity of digital Scrabble has increased sales of the board game, said Hasbro’s Mr Blecher. The company sold four million Scrabble-branded games of the physical variety in 2010, an increase of over 100 percent over a five-year period.
As Mr Fatsis said: “The truth is, there is something really exciting about handling the tiles and putting them on a board and having your opponent sit right in front of you. ”