The British like a lot of things: gardens, a good cup of tea, cricket. What don’t they like? Apparently, their Scrabble game being messed with. Scrabble, of course, is the classic board game in which lettered tiles are put down to form words crossword puzzle-style. Created by American architect and game inventor Alfred Butts in 1938, it’s become a beloved pastime enjoyed by generations of players. In 2008, Mattel, Inc. launched what became a wildly popular on-line version through Facebook; users could play in realtime against friends or random opponents around the world, their statistics collated and ranked.
Until a few weeks ago. That’s when Electronic Arts (EA), the company to whom Mattel turned over the reins of online Scrabble, “upgraded” the game in Europe and Australia. Among other deeply unpopular changes, players must refresh their screens to see if an opponent has played, and score histories have been obliterated. Also removed was the ability to control time limits, making it difficult to play opponents on different schedules or in other time zones. The new version has been met with a torrent of criticism and the launch of boycotts and petitions. Thousands of players are raging against Mattel and EA on Facebook, all demanding that they bring back the original version.
The companies also lose major points for their PR prowess. EA declined to comment, while Mattel’s cringe-worthy response was “We are sorry we weren’t able to please everybody … We produce the board game but we’re not experts in electronics.”
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Mattel and EA, who don’t seem to know the Number One rule of successful products: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: The client is always right. It’s true you can’t make everyone happy all the time, but there is a difference between that and enraging your entire customer base. When contemplating major changes to an iconic product, common sense dictates that decisions should be based on extensive research. Had the corporate powers-that-be asked players what was important to them, they might have seen that a move like this could only spell CATASTROPHE.