Jayant Agarwalla, a 21-year-old Indian college senior, and his brother, 26-year-old Rajat, didn’t realize how popular the free online version of Scrabble they developed would become when they created it in 2005. Now that their game Scrabulous has more than 950,000 registered users, and over 340,000 active users everyday, will the Agarwallas put it behind a pay wall? No way, they say, because they love the game too much.
“Keeping it free was the primary reason we developed this game,” says Jayant Agarwalla, who had just enrolled at St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata when he and his brother developed Scrabulous. The brothers used to play Scrabble on another site until it started charging users in 2004. “So when we developed our version we thought it is such a beautiful game and why should we charge to play it?” he says.
The Agarwallas put Scrabulous on their own site in 2006, but their version really took off after they put the application on Facebook, the social-networking site, in late June. “We didn’t really use Facebook until then, because it wasn’t popular in India,” says Rajat Agarwalla, adding that they had tired of social networking sites in general. “Then a friend told me it would be great if he could play Scrabulous on Facebook.” In May, after Facebook started letting developers build applications to run on its site, the brothers adapted Scrabulous. Now they have developed French and Italian versions of the game and a Spanish version is in the works.
Scrabulous now has the most active users of any game that can be played over Facebook. According to the technology blog GigaOM, that’s because players get immediate and graphic feedback for each move. As games go back and forth, Facebook users have an incentive to check the site constantly for new plays, the blog says.
The Agarwallas earn just enough to cover their hosting costs and have in recent weeks been receiving investment offers from venture capitalists. “We are open to partnering with investors but at the end of the day just money alone isn’t the criteria for a partnership. Any partner must increase value to the game’s users,” says Rajat Agarwalla.
Both brothers are excellent scrabble players as well. In fact, Jayant recently won a Kolkata-wide scrabble tournament in his age group. They are no longer Facebook virgins either. “Now we always have Facebook open and both of us have 20-odd Scrabble games going on with friends and relatives.” —Shailaja Neelakantan