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Habbo Hotel (currently known as Habbo) is an online community founded in 2000 by the Finnish social networking company Sulake. Similar to Second Life or Club Penguin, users are able to create pixel art avatars and interact with each other. These virtual communities, known as hotels, became localized for different countries over the years with 19 unique services in operation as of April 2012.
The site began as a personal project Finnish game designer Samo Karjalainen was completing for fun. The first Habbo Hotel went live in January 2001, expanding to four localized versions that year. In May 2006, the company rebranded and dropped “Hotel” from its name. Habbo announced a merger of all English speaking sites in April 2010, which was completed within two months. Retro versions of closed sites are currently mirrored on TheHabbos.org.
The social networking aspect of Habbo take place in the “Hotel,” which can be accessed by logging into the website. Upon signing in, the user is brought to a screen known as Hotel View, where he or she can contact another user with Habbo Chat or navigate around the premise into a chatroom.
The Hotel consists of individual chatrooms that are laid out in flash-based pixel art. Public rooms are designed by the staff and accessible by all members, often serving as public hangout places like restaurants, cinemas and dance clubs. Guest rooms are highly customizable spaces created and moderated by users that can serve a variety of functions like trading, partying and roleplaying among others.
Habbo has two types of currency: 1) credits, which are used to buy furniture in the catalogue and 2) pixels, which is automatically earned throughout gameplay at no additional charge and can be used to buy special effects for avatar and rent basic furniture known as “Hello Furni.” Users can also join Habbo Club, which is a premium subscription purchased using credits.
Habbo’s website is home to user and group pages, which provide profile information on users’ credit balance, groups, rooms and friends. After the site update in 2006, many extra activities and features became available on Habbo’s website, such as community news, discussion forums and leaderboards for popular group and user pages.
Habbo Hotel was listed as one of the Telegraph UK’s top ten chat sites in November 2001. Several single topic blogs about the site and its culture reside on Tumblr including Habbo Weekly, Habbo Troll and Habbo Hotel Rooms. There is also an unofficial wiki with over 630 pages. As of April 2012, the official Facebook fan page for the US version has 531,000 likes with the localized Spain application page closely behind at 526,000 likes. Habbo administrators maintain an official blog titled Behind the Pixels and their official Twitter account has over 45,000 followers. In March 2012, the site was used to host the Noise-Off Festival XS in Spain, with the five best performers in the virtual space being given a chance to perform on stage in Madrid in June 2012.
On June 12th, 2012, British station Channel 4 News released an investigative report detailing an alarming presence of pedophiles on the social networking site. The report was a result of a two-month long investigation by the producer Rachel Seifert, who played the game for two months under the guise of an 11-year old girl and logged each of her 50 encounters with other users.
According to the article, Seifert received requests from other Habbo Hotel users asking for cybersex and overtly sexual acts involving webcam within minutes of logging into the site. Furthermore, Seifert noted that she was shocked by the casual nature of such perverse exchanges taking place in the presene of minors and the lack of moderation by Habbo Hotel administrators.
The busiest rooms were named “sexy stripclub”, “naughty nightclub”, and so forth. Rooms which were full of rows of beds with cartoon children laying down ready for people to come and have sex with them, rooms which had “kissing booths” which shook while they were being used for cyber sex.
In addition, the report confirmed two recent convictions of pedophiles on charges of abusing more than 80 minors whom they met on Habbo Hotel and allured them go on webcam for lewd acts. Following the publication and broadcast of the report, major game retailers Tesco, WH Smith and GAME announced that they will discontinue the sale of Habbo Hotel gift cards, which are used to buy furniture for the online “rooms.” Later that day, Paul LaFontaine, the chief executive of Habbo Hotel’s parent company Sulake, released an official statement insisting the company is committed to ensuring children’s safety with “more than 225 moderators, tracking some 70 million lines of conversation globally everyday on a 24/7 basis.”
<a href="https://twitter.com/Channel4News">Channel4News</a> @<a href="https://twitter.com/paraicobrien">paraicobrien</a> Very concerned abt incidents reported by C4. I comment here <a href="http://t.co/Tcia0K2l" title="http://www.sulake.com/blog/entries/policing-and-protecting-the-habbo-community-a-message-from-the-ceo/">sulake.com/blog/entries/p…</a> User safety my top priority.</p>— Paul LaFontaine (PaulLaFo) June 12, 2012
On the evening of June 12th, Habbo Hotel announced to its 250 million users that the company has decided to disable the chat function in response to the allegations. On the following day, the Guardian reported that the decision came shortly after one of the company’s investor firms Balderton offloaded its 13% stake in Sulake after learning of the incident. Meanwhile, the news was instantly met by backlashes from the Habbo Hotel community, many of whom attacked the Channel 4 News programme edtior Oliver King via Twitter with abusive messages.
Habbos, due to the challenging behavior of a few users we have decided to mute the site and will update you when we have more information.— Habbo (@Habbo) June 12, 2012
Sometime in 2001, members of the Something Awful forums began raiding the site in large groups who called themselves “Geno.” Members would change their display names to Geno or similar phonetic versions of the word including jino, geeno, or gino sometimes followed by numeric characters. Additionally, members of the group distinguished itself from other Habbo Hotel users by dressing their avatars in all gray clothing. They would block off exits or doors in the game or fill up rooms to disrupt normal users. During the raids, Geno members would line up and repeat several phrases including “the path is the way” and “the way is the light.”
Several parody sites were created, claiming that the Geno were a religious cult preaching about conformity and peaceful unity. Discussion of the Geno and what their motives were appeared on Habbo-related message boards in 2003 and later in 2005 and 2006. Geno was first defined on Urban Dictionary on October 3rd, 2003. One of these raids from April 29th, 2003 was archived in the Something Awful Comedy Goldmine and a screenshot dump of events without dates was uploaded to a personal website on April 22nd, 2004.
In 2005, members of 4chan‘s /b/ (random) board began to spread rumors that some of the moderators on Habbo were abusing their powers to ban users who were using black avatars. Using the Geno technique of lining up avatars in order to block the entrance of one of the hotel’s virtual pool areas. Users would dress their characters in suits with a black afro and proceed to spam phrases including Pool’s Closed. The largest raid occurred on July 12th, 2006, when hundreds of users with this avatar flooded the site. This resulted in any avatar wearing this outfit to automatically be banned from Habbo.
Self-described as “the world’s largest social game and online community for teenagers,” Habbo Hotel receives an average of 1.73 billion page impressions from more than 268 million registered users and 10 million unique monthly visitors, who spend 41 minutes on average per session, as of June 2012. The service is available in 11 languages for users based in over 150 countries. The site is mostly composed of teenagers between ages 13 and 18 who spend on average 41 minutes logged in per session. There are over 120 million user-generated rooms in the different Habbo communities.