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Sulake un-mutes Habbo Hotel in select countries for first time since sex scandal

Habbo Hotel, a social game for teens, is back online in three countries after shutting down earlier this month amidst reports of pornographic chat targeted at underage users, TechCrunch is reporting.

The network’s problems started with a report from the UK’s Channel 4 News, which stated that “alongside the balloons and teddies [were] chats and interactions of an explicit sexual nature.” In the wake of this report, investment firm Balderton Capital dropped its 13 percent investment in Sulake, the developer that makes Habbo Hotel, and the European Commission threatened regulation and a possible shutdown of the site. Major retailers like GAME, Tesco, and WH Smith pulled Habbo cards from their stores.

In response, Sulake disabled all of the game’s chat capabilities while it tried to come up with suitable filters to prevent elicit chats from occurring. Today, Habbo is back online in Spain, Brazil, and Finland (where Sulake is based), as the developers test out the new filters.

“This will provide a representative sample of users on which to verify the improved safety of our systems as we aim to bring other markets back online,” Sulake chief Paul LaFontaine said.

Changes to the site include a “responsible use test” before players may access chat functions. Sulake will also limit users’ initial access until they demonstrate their ability to interact well with others. The company has also implemented new tracking programs to correlate real- and virtual-world identities, placed more moderators in chat rooms, and made it easier to report unsavory behavior with a more prominent report button.

Habbo has had over 265 million total users since its inception in 2000 with 3 million new members every month, LaFontaine said in a statement earlier this month. Sulake’s top investor, 3i, owns 15 percent of the company and has pledged to “remain committed to Sulake” in the wake of the controversy.


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