After Losing Over Half Its 9M Users In A Pedophile Scandal, Habbo Hotel Hopes For New Life As A Gaming Platform

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Habbo Hotel, the under-21 social networking site that had to close down and then “mute” users over the summer after it was discovered that people were using it to send minors illicit content, is opening a new line of business: as a youth-focused online gaming platform.

From today, site owner Sulake is launching a set of APIs for people to publish games that can be distributed on its network. It hopes that the effort will help it pick up significant ground that it has lost in recent months: Habbo says it currently counts 4 million monthly users across 150 countries and 12 languages; before the scandal hit, Habbo Hotel had 9 million monthly visitors.

The target audience, it says, are 13-18 year-olds. Habbo says that it will be marketing to them with a newly positioned games center in its main menu. Games can be promoted for free (for now) and appear to be free, getting monetized through in-app credits and advertising. We’re asking Habbo whether games will follow the conventional 30/70 revenue share split or something else.

To avoid some of the problems of relaxed governance that got Habbo into hot water in the first place, the company is specifically laying out what is not allowed into these games, with the list including “raw violence”, nudity, drugs, racism, bad language, and political and religious content. In contrast with Zynga, which is interested in doing more with gambling to improve the margins on its social games business, Habbo specifically forbids it.

That relaxed governance not only lost Habbo over half its users, but it also meant that one of its key investors, Balderton, also backed out of its relationship with the company.

Habbo already has a track record as a gaming platform, but for games it develops itself. This move opens the platform to significantly more activity from others, and puts Habbo in line with other online gaming contenders like Gree, Zynga and of course the biggest social-network-as-gaming-platform of all, Facebook. Developers that have already signed on include Chat Republic and Seepia, the company says, and that trial usage so far has been encouraging, if perhaps a little empty in its early days.

“We have been thrilled to work with such a great bunch of talented game studios,” Antti Viitanen, Sulake EVP New Revenue, said in a statement. “Habbo offers developers globally a great opportunity to create games for the huge Habbo user base, especially now, when the platform isn’t yet crowded with games.”

If opening to third parties does not take off — or even if it does — Habbo may also find it has a lease of life through anonymized data it collects on the key youth demographic.

Habbo’s API documentation gives some interesting insight into what platforms are the most popular with Habbo’s young users at the moment. The vast majority, over 90%, of users play on Windows machines, with only 6% on Macs, and mobile platforms like iPhone or Android each accounting for 1% or less of usage. About half of all users are accessing Habbo via Google’s Chrome browser. And given that the network is mainly used for conversations and interactions, device usage is just the tip of the data iceberg for the company.