This week I had the pleasure of testing out Habbo Hotel, a social MMO that takes its art design cues from the world of 8bit and tries to attract a younger audience with bright, accessible gameplay. Really the only thing separating Habbo Hotel from a serious "adult" MMO is how it looks. The systems in-game are no different than those in other social MMOs I have found, and in fact, much of the no-frills gameplay reminds me just how bloated many standard MMOs are.
You might have heard of Habbo Hotelbecause of a recent controversy that resulted in major backers pulling out of the game and forced the developers to literally shut down public chat, but it seems that the worst of the controversy is behind us. I found a few examples of players trying to navigate around chat filters or rules, but that's standard behavior for younger players. Just ask Wizard101's KingsIsle about the difficulty of maintaining clean chat in a "kid's" MMO.
So what did I like about this social MMO? Well, many things. I disliked some things as well, but we'll get to that in a bit. The best thing about Habbo Hotel is easily its graphics. The game is built in Flash, so it will run on almost anything. I tested it on my Atom-based netbook, and it performed mostly fine, save for some text issues. Flash is not always the best choice for an MMO, and I did suffer the occasional crash, but overall performance even in large crowds of players was fine. I love how every bit of content in Habbo Hotel looks as if it belongs in the same universe. That sounds like an obvious point when we are talking about MMOs, but I can come up with so many examples of MMOs that feature items or bits of landscape that look completely out of place. Habbo Hotel blends everything together perfectly. Granted, it's not trying to blow us away with realistic bells and whistles, but it succeeds with a more constant look and feel. In fact I liked the graphics so much I named them some of my favorites recently.
I was instantly charmed by how the game looked. My character felt plastic and solid, and everything fit. I particularly enjoyed the all-in-one introduction page that opens up when a player first signs in to the website and launches the game. There are some introductory quests that push players along a timeline of achievements, but soon enough I was given a free seven-day trial of the "VIP" program, essentially a subscription service that gives out goodies and access to VIP-only material. I later joined up for 30 days, as I try to do any time I play a game that has an optional subscription. With the VIP pass, I was able to wear more clothing items, build and host a ton of rooms, and gain access to VIP-only areas. It's an age-old tactic, especially in social MMOs, but it still works, and I'm sure Habbo Hotel makes a good chunk of its profit from VIP access.
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Building and experimenting with different rooms was a lot of fun if a bit hard to figure out occasionally. Some of the help files and quests really cleared things up, but there were other items that were confusing. Usually I found that the problem stemmed from a small bit of text or a button that was too small to notice, so I had several frustrating moments. If I had an issue, I would move on to something else and come back to the problem later. After a while, I had a few rooms and was starting to organize and design them. The ease of use reminded me of Glitch, although there are a few more steps involved with designing in Habbo Hotel.
Buying goods from the cash shop was fun; there were many items to choose from, but the prices were a bit steep. Sure, I earned some furniture (called "furni" in game) and was able to purchase some with my stipend of cash, but after that ran out, I investigated buying some more. I was surprised at how pricey it would be to fill a house with even basic goods. I witnessed some pretty amazing builds by groups of people but was awestruck at how much they must have spent on items. I have no problem with the game's charging for optional items, but I'd like to see more basic items offered at a greater price range. Players can sell cash-shop items, however, and it's possible to earn cash-shop funds while playing. As in many MMOs, the most dedicated players will obviously be able to get the most stuff. Fair enough.
I also had an issue with the font choices and chat system in game. First, the fonts are so tiny sometimes that it makes playing the game almost unbearable. The point of the world is socializing, but talking to other players was often a chore. The chat system works with speech bubbles instead of a chat box that hovers on the screen, so while a player can say something across the room and a chat bubble will pop up over his head, it's immediately pushed up and out of the screen by another chat bubble, no matter where it came from. It's a very frustrating system. I did eventually figure out that dragging a bubble down opens a sort of chat box. It's not perfect, but it helps.
There will always be an issue in any social MMO with players who want to break rules or use the game for illicit purposes. I didn't come across many situations that seemed to be out of line or out of the ordinary. But the fact is that when players are faced with a chat filter and a room full of players, you will almost always find someone vying for attention.
I saw a few trolls, attempts at sexual talk, and other reportable offenses, but within minutes of my reporting a handful of offenders, they disappeared from the game. What happened to them I'll never know, but I'd like to think they had their tiny, virtual legs broken in the back room of the hotel. I said virtual legs!
The developers should patrol names and bio information as well, but it's possible to report almost anything. I sense more trouble for the developer unless its staff becomes even more diligent.
Habbo Hotel is an easy game to play that looks fantastic, runs easily on any device, and offers a ton of customization options both for avatars and living spaces. The cash shop is filled with fantastic stuff, but the prices lean just a bit on the heavy side. These costs can be offset by a frequent or active player, and group options make building a social and fun activity. The chat is mostly clean, but some stuff does get through. This is common for any game, especially games for young adults, so I was happy to see that customer service was very quick in responding to any reports I filed.
Is Habbo Hotel a good choice for adult players? I think it's great if an older player wants to explore the hotel a bit, build some, and hang out with a few friends. Generally, though, an adult will probably prefer the building depth of a Second Life or the mature playerbase of a game like There. I certainly enjoyed my time there. Now, if the developers of Habbo Hotel would just give me some font and chat options, I would probably go back!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!