Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bored or Board? 'Words with Friends' now available in both formats…

If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em; (or at least form a partnership)

While home last weekend, Mom demanded I get her a Christmas wish list to share with the family (or suffer the consequence of grandma and Co. guessing at what I might enjoy).

Off to Target I went.

As I took a glance down the sprawling wall of board games, I was startled to find a familiar face.

So a board game based on a virtual game which was based on a board game?

Wait, what?

Doesn’t Scrabble already own this seat?!

I understand that virtual takes on classic board games are all the rage right now. On my phone, Words with Friends gets primo, front page placement. It’s the perfect midday office distraction; a way to pass the time on the train or in bed before shutting off the light.

Virtually-speaking, they are competitors.

Hasbro tapped EA Games to produce a mobile edition of Scrabble while Words with Friends (WWF) was the brain-child of Zynga who, until recently was an online-only gamer.

Still, there it is; a tangible, real-world version sitting on the same cold metal shelf as Scrabble.

At first, I thought it’s got to be childish competition – Zynga is mad Scrabble went virtual, so they’re going to retaliate and go classic.

But both of the physical games are produced by Hasbro!

Now we have a marketing story to tell! (And one of family brand cannibalism!?)

It’s all about brand recognition.

Party games aside, gadget-obsessed Americans are relying less and less on traditional board games to help pass the time. I’m willing to guess the folks at Hasbro are hoping some WWF brand equity will breathe new life into the stale board game industry.

Give up now, Hasbro.

When you change the medium, you lose the point.

Scrabble is something people sit down to tackle deliberately, one on one. It’s sustained exercise for the brain.

WWF is something most people pick up just to pass idle time in between tasks; it’s like texting a friend when you have nothing to say.

One is a game of precision and skill; the other, a half-engaged distraction.

Put simply, the markets for virtual vs. traditional word games are very different (and Scrabble has run unopposed in the latter category for more than 64 years).

While avid users of the mobile WWF app will certainly notice the cardboard equivalent in-store, we question how many will convert.

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