So far, 14,000 people have read my little post about my outrage with the end of the Scrabble app — and with Scrabble GO, its replacement. Now I’ll tell you why Scrabble’s EA app is going away for good, what it’s like to play Scrabble GO as a decent player, and how you might enjoy Word Master, which may be better than EA’s Scrabble ever was.
I learned that I’m not alone
There are 217 comments on my Scrabble post. All of you hate Scrabble GO. The staid old EA Scrabble app has a following, and, at least as far your comments reveal, no one in that following likes the new, busy, ugly Scrabble GO app from Scopely.
There is a petition at change.org. It has lots of supporters. It’s up to 1,111 as I write this. Feel free to add your name.
Scrabble GO has 130,000 reviews on the Google Play store. It’s at 4.4 stars average, but there are thousands of negative reviews. The distribution of reviews on the Apple App Store is similar. Most of the recent reviews are critical. Feel free to add your own.
The EA Scrabble App will be gone for good
As a former media analyst, I know how licensing works. I can’t be certain, but it’s pretty. clear what happened — and what it means for you as a Scrabble player.
The owners of Scrabble (Hasbro in the US and Canada, Mattel elsewhere) want to make more money. The previous EA Scrabble app is either free with ads, or a one-time purchase of about $10. They want more.
The deal with Scopely to create the new and abominable Scrabble GO was designed to increase revenue. Scrabble GO is rife with the gamification strategies that generate ongoing revenues, such as bugging you to get your friends on it and to make in-app purchases of gems and the like to get to the next level.
Hasbro and Mattel were looking for a partner that would be willing to invest and build “Scrabble” for today’s market. With the success that we’d seen with “Yahtzee” — super social, deep, rich gameplay that’s a business that’s been growing every year since we launched it — they knew that we were a team that could really bring the “Scrabble” experience to life in mobile and kind of honor the core “Scrabble” gameplay that “Scrabble” players have known for years, as well as bring in a new set of features and experiences that can appease the word game players on mobile today. . . .
People love “Scrabble.” If you’re a word game player, you know “Scrabble.” It was our job to make sure that consumers and the market knew that “Scrabble Go” was here, because we knew that once they got into the game, they would stay and play and invite their friends to play. . . .
We’ve seen about a 10% increase in revenue across the portfolio [in the wake of the coronavirus]. This could be industry-wide, but for sure our casual titles have seen substantially more installs happening.
Let me translate for you in terms that matter to you. I’m certain that Scopely has an exclusive deal on Scrabble. That exclusivity requires EA to shut down its Scrabble app, eliminating the competition. That’s why the EA app is shutting down. Begging EA will do no good. Pleading to Scopely will do no good. Complaining to Hasbro (and, potentially, Mattel) could, conceivably, make a difference, but Hasbro/Mattel made the deal with Scopely and, I’m sure, promised that exclusivity. So they really don’t want to talk about it, and they don’t want to go back on the contract. They just want to see the money roll in.
The people playing Scrabble GO are not the same people that were playing the EA app. Hasbro is throwing the rest of us under the bus in hopes that a younger audience will adopt Scrabble GO and keep paying money to them for jewels and upgrades. They don’t are about you, they only care about the other people who generate more revenue.
What’s wrong with Scrabble GO?
Before I wrote this, I wanted to give Scrabble GO a fair shake. I don’t care about jewels and levels and leaderboards. Could I at least get a good game out of it?
If you want to play the machine, you’re stuck playing with “Zooey,” the avatar for the game. She sucks. Anyone decent can beat her. And there is no higher level of difficulty you can access. So if you like to play the machine, you need another alternative. (That’s WordMaster, which I’ll describe in a minute.)
If you want to play other people, you’ll still have to put up with the ads and constant nagging to turn on notifications and pay for features that used to be free, like the “teacher” telling you the best move that you missed. I was unwilling to connect my Scrabble GO app to Facebook, because it seemed like a bad idea to have it spamming my friends. But you can still play other people it matches you up to.
There are two kinds of people there: real humans and bots.
The bots are not labelled as bots. But you can spot them — they have blue clouds around their avatars, and their “best word” score is zero. They don’t all play quickly, which is annoying — why are we waiting for a bot to get around to playing us? You’re not fooling anyone. I beat the bots every time I played them. They’re better than Zooey, but not much competition for a decent player.
You can also play actual humans. I tried a few. And I scored better than I usually do, because the game shows you when you put the tiles down if something is a legal word or not. If you don’t have to guess if something’s a word, you can keep messing around until you find one.
My average score was over 400. I am not actually that good. The features of this game inflate your score.
I also beat all the humans I played. But a funny thing happens. If you start a game and you jump out to a lead, the other player slows down or stops playing. They don’t want to lose, since that will jeopardize their “streak.” So you end up with a bunch of half-finished games. The one person who was decent competition wouldn’t accept a rematch with me — she opted out.
As a result, there is no competition worthy of the word on Scrabble GO, and I’m not interested in easily besting random people who don’t enjoy it.
My readers, especially women, say that there are men hanging around trying to chat up women on Scrabble GO, and even some scammers. Any social media platform is going to have such trolls. So it seemed boring to me, but in fact, it’s much worse than that.
Want an actual experience worth having? Try WordMaster
Is there an app with the same board layout and tile distribution as Scrabble that you can play yourself? There is. It’s called Word Master. And I like it a lot.
On Word Master, your opponent is the machine. The machine is very good and lightning fast. Here’s what’s different from the original EA app:
- You can install a free version with ads or an ad-free “Pro” version for $3.99.
- There are two English dictionaries. Use the one called ENABLE (US) — it has a smaller word list that still includes Scrabble must-haves like OE and QI. (It lacks the recently added OK.) The alternate English (International) dictionary has all sorts of questionable additional words, like CH and ZO. There are also dictionaries for other languages like Spanish, French, Catalan, and Greek.
- You can try a bunch of different board layouts, including one with no bonus squares at all. I stick with the old traditional one.
- After each turn, you can see a list of the highest-scoring words you could have made (like the EA Scrabble “Teacher”).
- The developer has added several innovations that I found excellent. You can play with the board revealing which words are legal as you put the tiles down (as Scrabble GO does), or without that feature. You can restrict the computer to not play any rare/unknown words, which greatly improves the game. You can even tell it not to give you a rack of all vowels or all consonants.
- Right now, it only plays in a vertical mode. If you turn your iPad or phone, the board does not rotate.
I spoke with the developer, a guy named Luis Galandi in Brazil. He’s fixing the rotation problem and developing a multiplayer version. Luis has already created a wonderful version and he deserves our support.
So download Word Master Pro and give it a try. And let’s hope the revenue-hounds at Hasbro and Scopely don’t get in Luis’ way. At least he’s trying to create an experience that will entertain us word nerds as we ride out the viral apocalypse.