If you're not a teenager, Habbo may be the biggest Web site you've never heard of. Within its virtual world (think Second Life or The Sims), users socialize and interact using personalized avatars. Habbo's social network attracts millions of teenagers a week from all over the world.
Habbo was formerly called Habbo Hotel and is, in fact, based on the concept of a hotel. The Habbo online community is inhabited by pixelated, cartoon-character alter egos, and it invites users to meet up in public rooms -- nightclubs, restaurants, shops and the like -- as well as create private rooms for themselves and selected friends. Habbo employees heavily moderate the site, catering to its solid teen user base.
Ninety percent of Habbo's users are between 13 and 18 years old. Other notable stats include:
- 31 local communities, worldwide
- 132,000,000 registered users
- 11,800,000 unique visitors per month
- 990,000,000 hits per month
- An average visit of 43 minutes per user session
Although the main URL (www.habbo.com) brings users to the U.S. version of the site, you can find Habbo social networks all over the world, in places like the United Kingdom, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Finland and more.
After signing up for an account on Habbo, users start socializing with other users around the Habbo Hotel. Or, if they're not feeling sociable just yet, they can begin decorating their rooms. It's free to sign up and interact on Habbo, but it does cost money for extras -- for example, purchasing virtual furniture, playing premium games or adopting virtual pets. The site urges users to check with their parents before making any monetary purchases, however. Users are also encouraged to create their own homepages within Habbo to network with other users and express themselves creatively.
How would a teenager use this site? Find out on the next page.
The Habbo social network revolves around the Habbo Hotel. Full of clubs, restaurants, a pool and millions of rooms, teens meet up with each other every day to socialize and play games. Encouraged to create rooms geared toward their own interests, the Habbo user base has created over 60 million rooms in the hotel [source: Habbo].
Before you can join a room and begin socializing, though, you must create your own Habbo character. Using avatars in a virtual world is nothing new. However, Habbo credits some of its success to the site's visual appeal. Habbo's retro look and simple, pixelated characters and surroundings may not be as visually impressive as some other online communities, but its being vintage keeps it from aging [source: Sinclair].
Creating a character on Habbo is easy. Users choose from a set of characteristics like gender, skin tone, hairstyle and clothes to build an avatar, and there are countless combinations to make. When users log on to Habbo, they find themselves on a personalized homepage that contains news, alerts and advertisements. Any messages from other Habbo users will show up on this page as well. From the homepage, users can also begin building their custom character homepage -- called, descriptively enough, "My Page." On My Page, users can display game scores, highlight their rooms and install widgets like guest books or friend lists.
All the action on Habbo happens in the hotel, in Habbo- and user-generated rooms. Habbo rooms are themed, and those themes run the gamut. Social networks like Habbo help people with similar interests find each other. Hence, users might visit a room dedicated to their high school or a favorite club. There's a user-built hospital where characters can receive x-rays and talk about their medical conditions with characters playing hospital employees (who get paid in Habbo coins). Some users set up rooms in a maze format and turn the entire room into a game. Users can pamper themselves at a Seventeen Magazine-sponsored beauty salon or go dancing at one of dozens of public and private clubs. There's even a wedding chapel for those interested in the institution of marriage.
Benefits of Habbo
Habbos bubblegum benefits aren't exactly the type to impress educators or even parents. Nevertheless, teens find the site to be an enjoyable distraction. Gamers take advantage of the many multiplayer games, where users can form groups and compete against each other. One-on-one games are also popular, and Habbo's user guide stresses that the site forbids any games involving guns or swords [source: Habbo]. Many games come free of charge, but some do require credits or tickets to play.
Discussion groups also abound on Habbo's social network. Chances are, if you can think of it, someone on Habbo is talking about it. Again, of course, rooms and boards on Habbo are heavily moderated, and Habbo reassures parents that they need not worry about inappropriate or unsafe discussions.
Just like in the real world, if you want nice things on Habbo, you have to buy them. Registering and playing on Habbo is free. But the site does charge real money for "premium" elements like virtual furniture, game tickets and its Habbo Club subscription.
Habbo calls its currency habbo coins, and these can be purchased through various payment systems, including credits cards or money orders. Many retail stores also offer gift cards that come preloaded with credits users can redeem for coins. Another way to get coin credits is through the phone -- either landline or cell phone. By dialing a certain number, a user's phone is billed, and the Habbo account is credited. Habbo asks users to make sure they have their parents' permission before dialing, of course.
Twenty-five habbo coins equals $5.00. The price is lower if you buy more coins at once -- for example, 100 habbo coins are $18.00 and 300 habbo coins are $50.00.
Another way to procure things on Habbo is through pixels. Pixels are points that users receive simply by partaking in various Habbo activities. For example, users get some pixels simply for logging in. The more time they spend in Habbo's online community, the more pixels they receive. Any achievement also nets pixels -- for example, furnishing a room or setting up a new room. Pixels don't replace coins but give users access to discounts or things called effects. Effects are temporary special effects for display on an avatar or in a room, usually lasting about an hour.
Habbo Club, which costs 30 coins (or about $8) per month, gives its subscribers access to premium Habbo stuff like hairstyles and clothes, access to Club-only rooms, exclusive furniture and other VIP perks.
Because some items on Habbo are limited edition, users can find many "collectibles" for sale or trade. Users can even set up "trade rooms" where they'll trade or sell furniture and other accessories to each other.
So what do parents think about their teens being on this site? Are there any safety measures set up to protect the youth?
It's not always a comfort when kids are online, so parents may have concerns about their teens using Habbo. What does the site do to protect teens?
Habbo is definitely targeted at teens, but you don't have to be a teen to join Habbo's social network. Habbo's creator, Sulka Haro, noted recently that even though the majority of users are between the ages of 13 and 16, the Japanese version of the game tends to attract a lot of older housewives [source: Sinclair].
Typically, though, Habbo users are teenagers. Kids of this age are building their own identities, and the Habbo universe allows them to experiment and socialize outside of their typical surroundings. And once these users get drivers' licenses and the freedom that comes with growing older, they usually abandon Habbo's online community to join the real world [source: Sinclair].
Because the user base skews teen, Habbo doesn't encourage users to meet each other offline -- this social network remains strictly in the virtual world. The site educates users on "stranger danger" and other online perils like giving out account information to anyone other than Habbo staff. The Habbo Hotel's moderators are on duty 24 hours a day. These moderators are trained as Customers Assistants and Safety Monitors, vetted by police. Habbo offers users a clearly labeled button, which is accessible at all times, that they can use to receive immediate help from a moderator if they need it.
The site also employs an "emergency assistance" feature. The site's FAQ makes clear what constitutes an emergency, and users abusing that feature can find themselves banned from the site. Emergencies include:
- Someone saying something that scares you
- Someone using extremely graphic or bad language
- Someone using hate speech about you or another Habbo (racism is not tolerated in the hotel)
- Someone threatening to hurt you offline or in real life
- Someone threatening to steal your account
- Someone acting out rape or extreme violence in the hotel
- Someone asking you very personal information such as email, pics, webcam, AIM, etc.
- Witnessing dangerous behavior in the hotel (personal information sharing, arranging meetings offline, or the like)
Moderators also drop in unannounced to random chat rooms, reporting any questionable behavior to the appropriate authorities. Another interesting feature is Habbo's language filter. If someone uses or posts swearing, racist or sexist language, the word "bobba" automatically replaces it.
For more information on social networks, please visit the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- BBC. "'Virtual theft' leads to arrest." BBC News. Nov. 14, 2007. (June 2, 2009) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7094764.stm
- Habbo. "Parents Guide." Habbo.com. 2009. (June 2, 2009) http://www.habbo.com.au/groups/parents_guide
- Habbo. "FAQ - Parents Guide." Habbo.com. 2009. (June 2, 2009) http://www.habbo.com/help/67
- Habbo. "FAQ - The Habbo Way." Habbo.com. 2009. (June 2, 2009) http://www.habbo.co.uk/help/22
- Huuhtanen, Teemu. "American Idol stirring up Habbo." Sulake.com. April 7, 2009. (June 2, 2009) http://www.sulake.com/blog/entries/2009-04-07-American_Idol_stirring_Habbo.html
- Sinclair, Brendan. "AGDC '07: Habbo Hotel manager checks in." GameSpot.com. Sept. 6, 2007. (June 2, 2009) http://www.gamespot.com/news/6178306.html
- Sulake. "300th Celebrity Guest to visit Habbo early 2008." Sulake.com. Jan. 2, 2008. (June 2, 2009) http://www.sulake.com/blog/entries/2008-01-02-300th_Celebrity_Guest_to_visit_Habbo_early_2008.html
- Sulake. "Habbo -- Where else?" Sulake.com. 2009 (June 2, 2009) http://www.sulake.com/habbo/?navi=2
- Sulake. "NBC.com brings 'Heroes' to Habbo's Virtual World." Sulake.com. Jan. 27, 2009. (June 2, 2009) http://www.sulake.com/press/releases/2009-01-27-Heroes_in_Habbo.html
- Virtual Worlds Review. "Habbo Hotel." VirtualWorldsReview.com. 2009. (June 2, 2009) http://www.virtualworldsreview.com/habbohotel/