By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 3:33 pm
I know I sounded cold and uncaring about Scrabulous fans who are being forced to go cold turkey when I blogged this morning. But I’m still sorry that a happier endgame didn’t happen, and still hold out a tiny sliver of hope for an unexpected fairytale ending.
And it dawned on me that there’s little-known precedent for the notion of Hasbro deciding to legitimize and leverage Scabulous, in the well-rounded, chomp-chomping-chomping form of Ms. Pac-Man.
Nobody other than hardcore arcade-game nuts remembers this, but–as Wikipedia explains–the distaff member of the happy Pac-Man couple had her origins in a bootlegged hack of Pac-Man called Crazy Otto, from a Boston-area company called General Computer Corporation. Midway, Pac-Man’s American distributor, liked the game so much that it gave Otto a sex-change operation and made the game an official sequel to Pac-Man. Namco, the Japanese company that originated Pac-Man, eventually ended up owning his spouse as well.
According to Wikipedia, there’s at least a little bad blood between Ms.P. and Namco to this day–she’s not mentioned in Namco’s official archives. But twenty-seven years after her birth, she’s if anything more omnipresent than ever, and all those quarters have added up to untold millions in profit for Midway. (I played a lot of Ms. Pac-Man back in the early 1980s, but if you’d told me back then that in 2008 I’d own a phone made by that Apple II company, and could play a perfect recreation of Ms. Pac-Man on it, I’d never have believed you.)
The story isn’t an exact parallel for the Scrabulous saga–Midway adopted La Pac before anyone had heard of her, not after she became a phenomenon. And it’s important to remember that we don’t really know Hasbro’s thinking on the notion of acquiring Scrabulous–whether it never seriously considered doing so, flirted with the idea, or tried to and was rebuffed. But the birth of Ms. Pac-Man was sure an example of a large company showing some creative thinking when it was faced with a small company’s unauthorized use of its intellectual property. And the Scrabulous takedown certainly was not.
Now you’ll have to excuse me–I have a sudden, inexplicable desire to play a game or two of Ms. Pac-Man…