Do you have to localize content for regions quite heavily?
SH: The UI is always local. Especially with teenagers -- it's important that they actually use their native language to play the game, because they're obviously talking in their native language as well. We have local people, globally all over. There's like 19 offices, total, I think. The people in those offices obviously know the teenagers of that part of the market, so when they're hanging out to do the community management with the people in that particular hotel, it's going to be easier for them to work with the teenagers and drive the community. So yeah, we're definitely localizing, but not in the sense of actually coming out with functionality that's specifically aimed at individual markets.
In many ways, it's kind of a visionary
project, in terms of the broad scope of the targeting. How did
you envision that something like that was possible? How is it that you
realized, "Hey, we could actually
do this thing that a lot of people would actually like, that is this
social networking-slash-game-like thing."
SH: The first Habbo started
out about seven years ago, and it was a pretty small project back then.
The company only had like eight people working. It's not like it was
developed for years -- it just kind of picked up.
So did you not have the idea that it was going to take off like that?
SH: Well, there was a vision of letting
users play around and do the content and all the activities, but no,
people didn't know exactly if it was going to live three months or a
year. I do remember this one day at the office when we realized that
we had like 100,000 registered users, and being happy and realizing,
"Oh wow, we're going to be big!" and not really imagining
that there'd be like 80 million people -- this year's total right now.
What percentage of the population of the world is that right now?
SH: I don't know. The market penetration in some of the markets is incredible... I don't know exactly, but almost every single teen in the whole country who is in that age group has actually been there. It's kind of funny -- if you go and look at like eighteen-year-olds, or people who are already past the teenage age, they still have this thing in common, that they actually have been to this service and have played out. It's kind of funny, sometimes, to talk to people who are way beyond it already, but still remember the funky stuff that they did.
eventually move out of the target age group for it?
SH: Yeah, definitely. Obviously, the fact that we have the teenagers in there is a big turnoff for the older people. In the States, I would guess that by the time you get your driver's license, you're getting interested in really meeting people live. It depends on the market. The age groups that have already... depending on which market we're talking about. But yeah, when you get to the age that you really want to meet people in the physical world, it kind of changes.
To return to a previous question, I was wondering how it was that you came up with the idea to let users play around with stuff. It hadn't really been done too much on a scale where it was easily accessible like that.
SH: As I said in the keynote, the people who founded Sulake -- the first core group of people -- they all had multimedia-slash-web backgrounds, and [were] not the games people. So we didn't even have this notion of stuff not being done before. It's kind of like really looking at all the websites that were already back then doing a lot of content -- obviously not to the extent where it is now, but really just looking at the past experiences and knowing that people want to do it.
Do you get a lot of people coming
to you asking for advice about this kind of
space now? Because Habbo has really taken off.
SH: Yeah, I guess. Obviously, we're
here talking at a conference full of people who are really interested.
It kind of puts you into a visionary role. Are you prepared for that?
SH: Yeah. The weirdest thing I saw
in a while was when Nicktropolis launched -- I went to the blog
of the main developer, who confessed that he was an ex-Habbo
fan who started off by copying Habbo, and then came up with technology
and actually got licensed to develop Nicktropolis. I'm not sure
if that developer's going to get in trouble if you put that on Gamasutra...
Well, if it was on his blog...
SH: So basically there's a lot of people who used to play in Habbo who copied it and then came up with worlds. There's plenty of products out there where you can see the solutions being copied. Some of them are good, in that people really got what it was all about, and actually knew what they were doing. And then there's obviously lots of products where you just see the people copy the UI, and not really understand what the game was all about. It could mean that they just screwed up somehow, and prevented people from having fun as a result.