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Facebook's word-game standoff

C-O-M-P-E-T-E.

Developers of a popular but unauthorized version of Scrabble for the online hangout Facebook vowed Tuesday to do just that, now that a video game maker has weighed in with an official version of the word game.

Jayant Agarwalla, co-creator of the unauthorized Scrabulous, suggested Electronic Arts would have a tough time attracting “the attention and patronage of a large and dedicated user base,” as Scrabulous has with nearly a half-million daily users.

“We strongly believe that people should have the option of playing what they like, rather than be forced by developers into using something they offer only for monetary gains,” Agarwalla said in a statement.

As Facebook has blossomed, its users have passed countless hours playing Scrabulous, which Scrabble's owners have tried to shut down. Electronic Arts said Monday that it would try to legitimize the activity with the release this month of a Scrabble application, a Web program that Facebook members can plug into their profile pages.

EA spokeswoman Trudy Muller said EA's offering will be “an authorized, licensed Scrabble game experience that people familiar with Scrabble can instantly recognize as Scrabble.”

It's unclear whether legality will be enough to lure Facebook members already familiar with the unauthorized version.

One key limitation is that EA's Facebook game will be available only to U.S. and Canadian users, as determined by the numeric Internet address of their computers.

EA is producing Scrabble under a year-old licensing deal with Hasbro, which owns the game's North American rights. RealNetworks already has made a version available elsewhere under a deal with Mattel, holder of the rights outside the U.S. and Canada. That version has fewer than 6,000 daily users, compared with Scrabulous' 450,000.

The split in rights means Facebook users in, say, San Francisco cant play the authorized version with friends in London, so they might still turn to the unauthorized Scrabulous.

Hasbro officials played down the restrictions, however, saying players tend to reside in the same country, given the world's linguistic differences.

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