June 12, 2012 at 3:24 PM ET
Habbo Hotel -- which bills itself as "the world's largest social game and online community for teenagers" -- has come under fire for being a virtual haven for virtual sex.
The British broadcast network Channel 4 is about to air an expose accusing the online game/virtual world of being a place where "sexual, perverse, violent, pornographic" chat is common place.
Meanwhile venture capital firm Balderton has told TechCrunch that it is dropping its stake in Sulake -- the Finnish company behind Habbo . It is Sulake's second-largest investor.
UPDATE: According to the official Habbo Twitter account, Sulake has now put the entire Habbo Hotel population on mute.
Habbos, due to the challenging behavior of a few users we have decided to mute the site and will update you when we have more information.
Habbo Hotel launched in 2000 and boasts more than 268 million registered users and some 9 million unique visitors every month.
If you don't happen to be of the millions of teens who've visited Habbo, know this: It is a virtual hotel where kids (who are supposed to be 13 years and older) come to create an avatar for themselves, hang out, chat and play games with each other. Here's a trailer for the game to bring you up to speed:
According to a preview of the Channel 4 report (scheduled to go live this evening), producer Rachel Seifert played the game 50 times over the course of two months and found the following:
The chat was very sexual, perverse, violent, pornographic, overtly sexual acts, people saying they were going to do things to others, and it was very graphic.
Within two minutes I was being asked individually 'do you have a webcam?', 'can we chat on (instant messenger service) MSN, on Skype?' I was also within a couple of minutes asked to strip, fully naked, and asked what would I do on a webcam.
She goes on to describe her experiences here, saying "The busiest rooms were named "sexy stripclub," "naughty nightclub" and so forth. Rooms which were full of rows of beds with cartoon children laying down ready for people to come and have sex with them."
On Tuesday, Paul LaFontaine, CEO of Sulake, issued a lengthy statement on the company's blog insisting that Habbo is "one of the safest online communities" and that they are working hard to police and protect their young visitors. He said they have more than 225 moderators tracking some 70 million lines of conversation around the clock.
He also posted comments to an article about the situation in The Kernel saying he has "asked my team to tighten security across the site and to strengthen the user rules."
I was incredibly concerned to see this report and to hear about the findings of the Channel Four News investigation. As a parent, I understand the critical importance of making sure teenagers and young people have a safe online experience. I was sorry to hear of Balderton’s decision to withdraw its involvement, but my priority right now is to address the issues raised by the investigation.
Interestingly, some Habbo residents say this is old news to them.
"Lets be honest we all knew Habbo Hotel was pedo central," tweeted @FranDakin after hearing the news.
Tweeted @drawkcabilahsti: "Habbo Hotel has always been full of paedophiles, avoiding them was part of the game."
- Via TechCrunch
Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+. And for more video game news and reviews be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page right here.