Facebook is still a new phenomenon when compared to other online social communities.
Habbo Hotel launched in August 2000 and to this day is still the bread and butter of developer and owner Sulake. Habbo has changed a lot over the past decade, but its appeal to its target market – teenagers – hasn’t wavered for a minute. Now, on the cusp of Sulake’s most successful six months, CEO Timo Soininen spoke to Develop about how it’s keeping Habbo’s users happy and reflected on the company’s other ventures.
Sulake recently recorded its best-ever half year performance in the company’s history. Can you briefly breakdown how you achieved this?
The performance is thanks to systematic work in developing the company’s operating model and cost efficiency and most importantly, continuous focus on developing the Habbo Hotel product and community. Habbo Hotel has been around now for over 10 years and the continuous success is based on keeping the service fresh all the time. We do that by updating the service constantly with compelling and entertaining new features, tools, functionalities and content in a fast cycle. The core attraction of Habbo has always been user-created content, which really keeps Habbo fresh and interesting year after year. The features and enhancements we bring are based on our user dialogue and research as well as a strong focus on the metrics of the service.
Habbo now serves over 15 million unique visitors from more than 150 countries. What challenges do you face going forward with the social game?
It is really all about keeping the use of Habbo and new user flow very easy and being relevant to our users. To stay relevant we need to be very aware of what teens (our users) find interesting in the Habbo context. We perform continuous research within our target groups to support product development, user acquisition and other fields of the business. Deeper integration with social networks and social graph utilization is a big upside for us as currently the majority of our users come directly to Habbo. Additionally, mobile usage and tablets are a big opportunity.
How do you feel about Facebook’s majority control of the social media landscape? Does it make releasing games on the web more secure or more risky?
For Habbo Hotel, Facebook is more an opportunity than a threat. Facebook is now providing us a whole new platform to play Habbo Hotel and also to acquire new users. Through Habbo’s FB applications, we have got a lot of new users, also from demographics we have not reached before (older users). The majority of our traffic is not based on Facebook but direct traffic to our site – which we believe is a great situation to be in to balance risks. Many companies are now trying to build their own destination sites for their Facebook games with limited success.
Overall, we believe that social graph utilization of Facebook is a great leverage opportunity for games, but it does not guarantee anything anymore, as there are thousands of games out there already. We believe that long-term success in Facebook comes only by creating clearly differentiated social game propositions and keeping it fresh with a very fast maintenance cycle.
Does Sulake have any plans to expand into the mobile space with Habbo and other properties?
Our primary focus is in developing the current Habbo Hotel online experience, as our results in increased monetization and user activity have been so good. Mobile is obviously an important area for Habbo as is the fast growing usage of touch-screen tablets. Habbo touch-screen prototypes are very encouraging! The key thing to remember is to understand use cases of smaller and bigger screens and to design products with that in mind.
We have experimented on the mobile space with our pilot project called Bobba Bar for the iPhone. With the learnings and capabilities acquired from that cool project we are focusing our efforts for the time being solely on Habbo.
How pleased have you been with Bobba Bar’s reception?
As mentioned earlier, Bobba Bar has been our R&D project in the mobile space, It has not become a real business, but learning about touch screen interface design, use cases and community behaviour of half a million registrations has been extremely valuable for us for our Habbo plans. Currently we focus our efforts on Habbo Hotel development.
Can you give us an update on IRC-Galleria?
As with any other local social networking sites out there, the key thing is to have a clear and differentiated proposition for users vs Facebook, and to be able to co-exist and complement Facebook for its users. As a result, IRC-Galleria is currently introducing lots of new features to support its unique community functionalities and meeting place aspect. One of the latest additions is a functionality called ‘Flow’, which lets users easily monitor certain types of people, interest areas, or discussions going on in chosen geographical areas.
Can you share any plans on future smartphone development?
Working on it!