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Interview with Habbo Hotel CEO Antti-Jussi Suominen

by on August 18, 2015
 

Habbo Hotel are having their 15th Birthday. For an online game to reach 15 and still have a thriving community is quite something, so we’re joining Sulake in celebrating, by giving away a bunch of t-shirts, keyrings, builders club and credits this week. Check out our giveaway for more information on that.

We also sat down with Sulake’s CEO, Antti-Jussi Suominen to talk about all things Habbo past, present and future. Enjoy that conversation below:

So if we start way back in the beginning, before Habbo there was Mobile Disco, am I right?

AJ: Yes, I wasn’t there then, I’ve been with the company 2 and 1/2 years, but we do have some people who actually were there during that first project and it was an advertising project that started off the whole Habbo Hotel and it was called Mobile Disco as you rightly pointed out.

So then Habbo started in the UK in 2001, when did it really take off? When did it become the massive success that we know it to be today?

AJ: I think that the naughties, say from 2005 to 2009/10 were really the growth years where growth was coming from adding new countries, new sites and really ramping those up and I believe that in 2010/11 it probably reached its largest.

What was that a result of?

AJ: I think it was mostly adding new countries and that way getting the subscriber base up. It was the core thing. Many things affected it I guess, the rise of broadband to homes, so people were actually getting on the internet easily and the Internet was the big things and social media. On the Internet I think that Habbo was the forerunner then and it was a very novel concept.

habbo-hotel-birthday-logoTrue. You mentioned you started opening in different countries with lots of different hotels going on, but I believe in 2010 is also when the big merger happened. Do you think that might have taken some part in making Habbo so big?

AJ: I think the merge, you know, it was an important thing. As I said, I wasn’t there them, but what I’ve been told is that it was important in terms of just managing the growth and pulling stuff together, which is normal for a fast growth company – that you grow fast, you sort of de-centralise and then every once in a while you need to centralise and pull stuff back together, and apparently that’s what the management decided at that points to do and form the basis of what we are right now, which is language based sites for teenagers all around the world, to be able to join and speak in their own language.

I know back in the day it used to be kind of a community site, do you feel it’s grown to be more of a social network these days? How do you look at it, when you describe it to other people?

AJ: I think it is a social network, but there’s also an element of ‘game’ in it. I think that, you know, the new users that join the service nowadays  – predominantly on mobile, since we launched the mobile clients on iOS and Android – they go to the Games category, they go to the Roleplaying category, they find us there, they find us through our ads and they of course think of the service as a game, because it’s in the game section. They go on the ‘game’, they open it up and they realise the social element of it and we kind of take them through the gamified steps to the social element, and then it’s an endless game. Mostly it’s about the users themselves creating different kinds of games, as they’ve always done. You know, roleplaying and other stuff. So yeah, it’s a bit of both.

Yeah, it was kind of ahead of the curve with the user-created-content side of it, wasn’t it?

AJ: Yes.

So talking about the content that is in the game today, I know there’s like a Helper Tool system, you can level up and gradually become a Guardian and I know there’s a lot of talk on the Internet about what’s going to come after that, do you have anything in mind?

Habbo

AJ: We actually did launch something as the highest level of Community Worker – or somebody who would help the community – and we call them the Ambassadors. The Ambassadors are pillars of the community, trusted users, who have it in their mind to help others and improve the game and the community. We’ve had that for about a year now and it’s producing very good results. We’re very happy with that programme. These ambassadors, they help new users, they also are in the public rooms inside the hotel and are making sure people are also behaving so it’s a good way of involving the community.

Back in my day, we used to have Hobbas, which were a similar kind of thing weren’t they, voluntary moderators that used to go around and help out. Do you still have a paid moderation team as well?

AJ: Yes. Absolutely we have. So the users and the community help us in moderating, but of course the main bulk and responsibility for moderating, keeping the game safe and fun for users is on us, and we have moderators at all hours when the hotels are open and we have actually just recently done something that kind of goes against the grain and we’ve in-housed moderation, because we believe it is such an important part of the game experience, that we wanted to make sure we’ll do the best possible job and be able to control the quality of the moderators. They’re kind of part of the gaming experience as well, so we feel that it’s an important part.

GigaHzI feel that’s something that Sulake have always had in mind, the moderation side of things. But obviously there was a bit of bad press with Channel 4, we won’t go into it, but I want to find out what changes you’ve made since then, to make people aware of how much online safety is important to you guys.

AJ: Yeah, sure. I mean, the events of 2012 I think the company – again, I wasn’t there then – but the management of the company took of course all of those allegations very seriously. We actually closed down the chat for a little while to make sure that we’ve got everything in place and since then what we’ve done is we’ve improve the filters that we use to monitor the chats in different rooms. So we’ve got the Bobba filter, which we’ve tightened up even more to make sure the kind of language that teens do is decent and we’re taking most of the bad language out. But on top of that we’ve build automatic filters that are going through the chats and finding certain sentences and thing that sort of points us to anti-social behaviours and then our moderators will get on top of that case and investigate further. So those filters will work in the background and ale rt us if something is happening. And also, as I’ve said we’e engaged the community, we’ve built the community and the users some tools to moderate their own rooms, which allows the users to make sure that it still is a fun game to play, inside their rooms and it works quite nicely. I think that users will not tolerate any kind of trolling in their rooms, so they’ll make sure very quickly that they kick flooders and other people out. It’s working pretty well.

That’s good to hear. So let’s get back to the content. The Habbo camera is back, in a way! That was gone from Habbo for a long time…

AJ: Yes, we brought back the camera earlier this year and have been improving it since, adding filters to it, adding the capability to share on the web. So what you can now do, is you can take a picture and then you can share it and other people can view all of the pictures taken and published on the web. §Then you can also purchase the picture and hang it on your wall, if you want to. We’ve constantly developing it further and adding sharing capabilities and other stuff to it. We’ll kind of extent the magic circle so that other people will also see what’s happening and you can share your best moments in Habbo.

That’s pretty cool. So what other exciting features can you give us a hint of, that are coming up in the future?

AJ: Well I think that we’re working very much on the sharing bit and I think we’ll be adding more to the camera and looking at also how to improve some of our ‘Group’ functions. We’re working very hard on the new webdesign that we’ve launched on ‘.com’ and making sure that people can really express themselves better and share the stuff that they’re doing inside the service and also outside the service. So that’s probably the key points. Of course we’ll be constantly upgrading the user experience on mobile. Mobile is a big thing for us, the Android and iOS clients. We’ll be adding functionality there that is mobile-first.

habbo hotel

That’s interesting. Did you mention earlier that more people are logging in via mobile now, than PC?!

AJ: No, that’s not the case. What I’m saying is that mobile is growing very fast. The enabler for our growth. We’ve been growing this year quite nicely compared to the previous years. For a long time now it’s been growing, and it’s good.

So what rares or badges are coming up in the future, that we can give people a little flash-forward on?

AJ: Well our graphic team is working on a lot of thing and I’m not sure whether I can give you a sneak peak on any of that. We do have Paris line coming up, which the users are well aware of. At least, the more experiences users. I think that Paris line coming out later is going to be an interesting one. Of course we’ll always be working on Habboween. As you know, it’s a big celebration for us, and then of course something exciting for Christmas as well. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see a lot of good stuff!

Fantastic. So what about you personally, what’s your favourite piece of furniture or your favourite room in the Hotel that you like to go and visit?

AJ: Ohh, that’s a great question. I usually go to the Coffee Shop. One of the new public rooms. When I go to public rooms, I usually go there. But there are so many amazing rooms inside the hotel that it’s really difficult to pick one of the user rooms from others and I don’t wanna go there. Our community managers post pictures of their favourite rooms, or cool rooms that they’ve seen almost every day on our Intranet and it blows my mind how people can build stuff. Especially using the blocks that we launched a while ago, where you can actually, from little blocks – kind of like lego blocks – you can build anything and the stuff that some of our users do with those blocks just blows your mind. They’ll build pictures of people and all kinds of stuff.

Nice. I wasn’t aware of these blocks.

AJ: Yeah, the blocks are a really cool addition to the furni line.

You mentioned there Community Managers. Is that the new thing that replaced what used to be Hotel Managers?

AJ: Well I guess you call them Hotel Managers or Community Managers, we do have people in charge of each of our 9 hotels. We’ve got teams as I earlier said, of people taking care of user care, engagement, moderation, for each of the hotels. I think it’s an excellent new addition that we also brought in the moderators.

We’d like to thank Antti-Jussi for taking the time to talk to us. We’re long-time fans of Habbo Hotel, here at God is a Geek. It’s a little known fact that one of our Editors used to be a Hobba, back in the day ;).

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