Habbo Hotel version 11 will be launched sometime this week, according to Sulake, the Finnish company that runs the game. New features will include new wallpapers and furniture to adorn your room, new clothes to dress your avatar in, and the ability to lurk and watch what's happening in busy rooms of the hotel even when the rooms are too full to take new players.
In an interesting twist, this month the company is also rolling out a whole new set of social networking features, according to Sulake's communications manager Juhani Lassila. This means that Habbo users will get their own homepage, which is fully customisable with its own backgrounds, colours, friends list and the ability to send and recieve messages. In other words, Habbo's going all MySpace. You can see an example of a Finnish user's site here.
This strategy is similiar to the tight Web integration of another virtual chat service, IMVU, which also ties together a virtual identity in its chatting world with 2D space online based around custom home pages.
If you're not familiar with it, Habbo Hotel is one of the more accessible virtual worlds that have quietly become immensely popular while you weren't looking -- 7 million people around the world visited a branch of Habbo Hotel last month, and there are branches in over fifteen countries.
To enter Habbo Hotel you download a little Flash-based player from the Habbo Hotel Web site, create a digital representation of yourself, or avatar, and find yourself noodling around a cute little isometric two-dimensional world. There you can customise your own avatar, furnish a room, and meet and interact with other Habbos in a variety of different rooms.
Habbo inhabitants are primarily teenagers interested in gossip and chat, but there are many different mini-games played inside the world, such as a version of musical chairs in which furniture is dropped into a room and your avatar has to try and sit down and gets knocked out if he or she can't find a chair.
Habbo Hotel is free to enter, but you'll very quickly find yourself wanting to buy clothes, furniture and other toys for your avatar, and you need to pay real money to buy credits for these microtransactions.
Crave has spent about five minutes in Habbo Hotel and the first conversation we overheard in a public room was someone asking, "When is version 11 coming out?" so clearly anticipation is high. The new social networking features have been tested in Finland and the Netherlands, and are set to go live in the UK on 15 November, although Habbo fans be warned, that date may slip. Hang on, Habbos, hang on. It's coming... -MP