In the Scrabbleverse, there is a disturbance in the Force. The digital licence of the world’s favourite and most exacting word game in 29 languages changed hands in March, and committed players are up in arms. Electronic Arts, which had worked the licence until now, had kept the faith with a clean 15×15 grid, tiles in the traditional rack and no bells and whistles. The new version of the franchise by video game manufacturer Scopely had been greedily downloaded by 10 million people by the end of April, but as the June 5 deadline approaches for EA to take its classical board off the ether, there are murmurs of protest in the player base.
There is already a petition for Scrabble conservatism on Change.org, an online campaign platform that’s in deadly earnest and is favoured by people concerned about climate change, Islamophobia and women’s rights, and when the version that the world is accustomed to playing goes off the air, there could be an insurrection. Many variations of Scrabble have been played in the decades since Alfred Mosher Butts published the game in 1938. Being social, the game took to online platforms as easily as a fish to water, with Facebook running the third-party Scrabulous. But the version being propagated by Scopely is being rejected as too noisy.
The new version is apparently like Scrabble meets Candy Crush Saga, with bells, whistles, bonuses and other bling. And by nature, Scrabble players are implacable about form and boundaries. They go by the book, which is a dictionary agreed upon for their jurisdiction. Yes, Scrabble has jurisdictions, like nation states. And players expect the game to be as free of distractions as a grandmaster’s chessboard. Scopely has strayed into dangerous territory, and should beat a retreat.