Earlier this summer, we wrote about the legal skirmish involving Hasbro and an unauthorized Scrabble-based game on Facebook. Since then, the unauthorized version has disappeared not only in North America, but worldwide. Moreover, months after Facebook introduced a new Hasbro-designed Scrabble, this “official” Scrabble still only has about ten percent of the users that the yanked infringing version had. It seems as if everyone lost in this scenario–Facebook, the unauthorized version’s designers, the thousands of users who enjoyed playing that version, and Hasbro, whose own offering has made such a poor showing.

a screencap of the official Bejeweled inside World of Warcraft

a screencap of the official Bejeweled inside World of Warcraft

Maybe PopCap Games was taking notes, or maybe someone there just made a smart business decision, but their solution to a similar situation recently shows what Hasbro probably should have done. Much like Facebook and its applications, the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game World of Warcraft allows outside-developed “add-ons” that players can download and attach to the game. Usually these are tools to help with gameplay by displaying map coordinates, calculating raid statistics, or aggregating auction house data. However, recently a clever college student took note of how much downtime there often is in the game–waiting for friends to log on, camping for a respawn of a certain monster, flying across the continent, or after you’ve died in a raid and have to wait for someone to run back and resurrect you–and got the idea to combine two of the most addictive games that exist.

He developed an add-on that lets you play Bejeweled, the massively popular puzzle game from PopCap, inside World of Warcraft. He called it Besharded. As with Scrabulous and Hasbro, the game clone did not go unnoticed by PopCap. However, instead of bombarding him and Blizzard (World of Warcraft‘s publisher) with takedown notices, they reached out to the developer and hired him to make an official version of the game, using the components of his own but making it better. This official version hasn’t been released yet but is already getting rave reviews.

If Hasbro had hired the Scrabulous developers, I wonder if their “official” version would have had as much success? The moral of this story is: especially in the world of user-generated content where content is often developed for fun rather than profit, a successful competitor/infringer may be more of an opportunity than an impediment.

– Casey Fiesler

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