The hotel also hides casinos that go against Habbo rules. "There's nothing being done about [them]," Amy Skates added, "Because no one is reporting the rooms. No one is reporting the owners. The only way I've seen a casino get banned is if someone tweets [about it] on Twitter and Habbo sees it."
Sulake won't say how many employees it has. Users believe the team is small, though, and ill-equipped to moderate the platform. "We used to be able to tell the moderator on duty," Zarek explained, "and say, 'Hey, this is happening,' and they would go and shut it down. But we don't have that anymore. Now, we'll message one of the staff, and when they come online, they may be able to do something, but it might already be over by then."
The company's first line of defence is an automatic filtering system. If any user tries to swear, say something sexually explicit, or give away sensitive information such as their phone number or email address, the infringing words will show as "bobba" instead. The system is generally effective but often punishes users unfairly. "You can say something like, 'I want to lick that strawberry jam off the doughnut,' and it'll give you a warning for that, because it's seen the word 'lick,'" Lawrwarrr said.
Sulake disciplines users with an escalating sanction system. These penalties range from simple warnings to temporary mutes and, eventually, permanent bans. Sharing links, unsurprisingly, is a no-no on the platform. Many users are frustrated, though, that this rule extends to officially recognized Habbo fan sites.
Users chat with the same speed and frequency as a private iMessage conversation.
"I understand why," Lawrawrrr said, "because people will try to share dodgy links. But Habbox is an official fan site. We work with Sulake really, really closely, and if you say, 'Sign up at habbox.com,' you get a sanction. You get a mute for that." She's been asking Sulake "for years" to create a whitelist that would help fan sites attract new users and organize community events on Habbo. "Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to exist," Lawrawrrr added.
Moderation, of course, is a widespread problem on the internet. Almost every social-media company, including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, struggles with harassment, bullying and generally toxic users. "[The problem has] gone everywhere else," Zarek said. "You have your other online games that people have amassed to, and now they have those problems, and they've kind of realized it wasn't just Habbo having the problem. All these places have the problems with moderation."
On Habbo, though, the scale and complexity is unique. Users chat with the same speed and frequency as a private iMessage conversation. That's more than the average person tweets or uploads to YouTube. "There are sometimes 75 people in a room spitting out lines and lines of text," Lawrawrrr said. "It's like a group Facebook conversation, but all the time and in, what, 200 rooms at once? There's a huge amount of text that goes in."
The future of Habbo is unclear. Sulake formally launched another social game, Hotel Hideaway, for Android and iOS devices last year. It seems to be reasonably popular -- the Android app, for instance, has over one million installs and an impressive 4.6 user rating on the Google Play store. While thematically similar, Sulake says Hotel Hideaway isn't designed to replace Habbo. "As a company, we are 100 percent behind both products," Green told Engadget. "It's not a question of should we put some resources here or here. We are 100 percent behind supporting both communities."
Regardless, Habbo's existence and cultural relevance is constantly under threat. Sulake is battling with YouTube, Instagram, Fortnite and the myriad other ways that people can spend their free time. "Social media didn't exist when I first started playing Habbo," Lawrawrrr said. "No one used Facebook. No one used Twitter. It's just changed so much." It's a miracle that Habbo can pull people away from these other time-killers. "It's like an escape,"Lawrawrrr said. "I feel like I can talk about my job and my family and my friends, and I can whinge and say, 'Ugh. I'm dying from food poisoning. Everyone say their goodbyes.' It's just a nice escape from the real world."
Habbo might be old, but it feels comfortable and familiar to many people. Some rooms are filled with trolls and worrying language, but there are just as many, if not more, that are chock-full of friendly folk.
I've seen one of the latter communities first-hand. On my second day as a HIA member, a manager walked over and promoted me to security. That meant another round of training and, more importantly, a new level of respect from my peers. I sat and listened diligently as another Habbo user, guvenS_, explained how the position worked in a private room. It was now my job to patiently and thoroughly scrutinize everyone that was let through by the agents on the front desks. That meant typing every visitor's name into a security system that was hosted on a different website. The database would throw back a color -- green, yellow or red -- which had a corresponding teleportation tile inside Habbo.
"Not a question in my mind that Habbo will still be here in five years' time."
I spent an entire evening working and familiarizing myself with the position. I could have been watching Netflix or devouring the latest batch of PlayStation Plus games. Instead, I felt drawn to a group of strangers that had invited me into their fictional agency and given me a mundane but strangely rewarding job. It was a simple, but refreshing change from most nights.
Many users have a similar attachment to the hotel. Some even feel trapped by the friendships and communities that form a large part of their social life. "Sometimes I feel sorry for them," Amy Skates said. "Because you're just going to end up stuck like everything else. I hear people say every single day, "I need to quit, I need to quit." And they don't because obviously they're stuck with all their friends and they don't really want to leave them. Everyone wants to quit but none of them are going to and that's the fact."
That stickiness and sense of belonging could keep Habbo running for many years to come. "[There's] not a question in my mind that Habbo will still be here in five years' time," Lawrawrrr said. The virtual hotel might be a little quieter these days, but it still has diehard regulars and, it seems, enough pixel art charm to tempt the occasional newcomer through its doors.