Girl, you spend too much! Habbo puts users on an allowance
Mention virtual worlds to game executives these days, and dollar signs appear in their eyes.
Not at Habbo. The virtual world puts its members on an allowance. Players aren't allowed to spend more than $35 a month on the site. Habbo's 106 million users, of whom about 10% play at least once a month, can buy and trade virtual items for their avatars and rooms. These include virtual boots, tiki torches, trees, pets, furniture, headgear — you name it.
The policy to limit spending, which has been in place since Habbo launched in 2001, stems from a desire to protect younger players. About two-thirds of its users are between 13 and 16 years old.
"When teenagers get into things, they sometimes spend too much," said Teemu Huuhtanen, president of the North American unit of Sulake, the Helsinki, Finland-based company that runs Habbo. "We didn't want a situation where teens were raiding their parents' credit cards to be able to play."
The vast majority of its users don't spend any money to play on the site, which is free to use. The rest, about 10%, spend between $17 to $18 a month to decorate their virtual cribs and characters.
"That's ideal," he said in an interview today at the Virtual Worlds Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center. "We really don't want teenagers to spend more than the price of two movie tickets a month on Habbo."
If turning down money seems un-American, it is. Sulake's Scandinavian origins meant it grew up in a market that heavily favors consumers' rights. In October, the company will also reward members for being good virtual citizens. Users will be able to accumulate "activity points" for doing good deeds, such as welcoming new players or helping out newbies find their way around.
— Alex Pham