News Column

Mattel's Online Scrabble Changes Draw Worldwide Protest

July 13, 2013

Some players of Mattel's Facebook-based Scrabble have their vowels all in a knot over changes the company instituted to the popular word game.

Mattel, which owns the rights to Scrabble outside of the United States and Canada, is facing an international protest on Saturday dubbed a Worldwide Scrabbleathon by organizers. (Toymaker Hasbro owns the U.S. and Canadian rights to Scrabble.)

A Facebook page called Bring Back The Scrabble We Love, with 3,238 members as of Thursday evening, describes itself as a group of Scrabble players "from all over the world to unite against Mattel and their destruction of our game and our online community."

The protest is simple: Players around the world will play Scrabble to raise awareness and try to get El Segundo-based Mattel's attention.

The organizing Facebook site has made other calls to action including to "inundate Mattel with emails and telephone calls of complaint" and join an online petition on Change.org , which had 5,497 supporters by Thursday evening.

Another Facebook page, called "Boycott Mattel for destroying our game of Scrabble," has 109 likes.

A Mattel spokesman on Wednesday referred a reporter's inquiries to Electronic Arts, which started licensing Scrabble from the El Segundo-based company this year.

According to an Electronic Arts statement: " We know change can be frustrating and we're aware that some of our fans are not pleased with the changes we've made, but we truly believe that we've designed the best SCRABBLE experience yet."

The statement cited such new features as the ability for users to play cross-platform games with opponents across iOS, Android and Facebook; localized support for six different languages and high-definition graphics.

Online anger against Mattel has been building up since the company launched the new version of Scrabble on May 27.

Among the complaints is that the Scrabble rankings that had been built up over time were suddenly lost, as were the connections between players who had played against each other for years. Some players have used the protest Facebook pages to search for their lost playing partners.

"We are now presented with a random playing partner and therefore cannot choose against someone who regards themselves as a novice or against someone who considers themselves to be a serious player. This is frustrating," the Change.org petition states.

Other complaints include a loss of the choice to play a two-minute game or a much longer game.

Longtime players also have taken offense at the "annoying" ads that appear at the completion of each turn, as well as changes to the dictionary, presentation of statistics and layout.

"These changes are having a negative impact on a significant number of vulnerable people," the online petition says. "Comments are being posted by housebound, elderly, partially sighted, depressed individuals for whom playing Scrabble was an intrinsic part of their lives. They gained a great deal from the social contact that Scrabble offered."

The Change.org petition, addressed to Mattel CEO Bryan Stockton, calls for "a mutually acceptable solution that meets both the requirements of the millions who regularly play Scrabble and the commercial interests of Mattel."

The Scrabble protest is markedly low key compared to a 2011 campaign organized by Greenpeace to bring attention to Mattel's use of paper products that allegedly were leading to deforestation in Indonesia.

In that campaign, Greenpeace activists hung a giant banner on Mattel's 15-story headquarters building decrying the company's environmental practices.

"Barbie, it's over. I don't date girls that are into deforestation," read the banner, which featured the image of an angry Ken. Adding to the spectacle, a Greenpeace activist looking like a Spandex-clad Barbie drove a pink skiploader toward the headquarters before police stopped her.

The environmental protest was a multimedia affair, including a YouTube video and Facebook page.

muhammed.el-hasan@dailybreeze.com

@dailybreezebiz on Twitter

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