How can you describe Habbo, in a nutshell?
Habbo is a virtual world and social networking environment for teenagers. It’s an online hangout where teens can meet up, play games and develop their self-expression.
The core of the Habbo experience is the virtual world or virtual “hotel”, Habbo Hotel. Millions of teenagers meet each other every day in Habbo’s cafés, clubs, at the pool area or in the millions of private rooms created by the Habbos themselves. Currently there are over 60 million user-generated rooms in the different Habbo communities.
What are the key factors behind its success?
Habbo is all about self-expression, it provides teens with a safe environment in which to express themselves creatively. The key to Habbo is social interactivity: meeting other Habbos and having fun together.
What makes it different to other, similar, online environments?
The level of self-expression in Habbo is what sets it apart form other virtual worlds. The Habbo community is always packed with fun events whether it is seasonal events (Christmas, Summer etc.), competitions, celebrity visits etc. In addition to the actual virtual world, all community members have their own Habbo home pages where they can present their virtual life in Habbo. The personal pages are naturally highly customizable and can be used for sharing content, forming different kinds of groups etc. Habbo pages are tightly linked to the virtual world: you can, for example, access users’ own rooms with a click of a button as well as include friend lists and game scores from the community. Habbos can also join different kinds of groups and make group pages for themselves and their friends.
What is your specific role?
As Country Manager I’m responsible for the managing the UK team, the P&L, and day to day operations in the UK. I’m also responsible for strategic marketing partnerships and helping to bring exclusive content in-world such as music and movie celebrities for meet and greets.
What lessons can musicians/music industry learn from a project like Habbo?
Entering a virtual world is all about engagement, it gives acts a chance to speak to their fans in real time and promote their music to a captive teenage audience. Whereas traditional advertising was merely talking at teens, Habbo allows acts to have a deep conversation with their fans and to gauge their feedback on their latest tracks.
What will you be talking about at YAIC?
I will be talking about the Habbo approach to our community, how we listen to and engage with millions of teens, and how we facilitate their activity and creativity. I will also speak about the business models behind Habbo which delivered over €50m in turnover last year.
You work as a musician yourself, is that right?
Indeed, I’ve worked in the music business for over 20 years. I still have a keen interest in writing and producing music and also DJing from time to time. Having a creative sideline is a good compliment to working in technology, and keeps you energized about both music and technology!
You toured with U2? You must have some great anecdotes!
I was in a band called Marxman on the Talkin’ Loud label and we had a LOT of fun doing U2 support gigs like Roundhay Park in Leeds UK (audience of 190,000) and also my hometown of Dublin. Bono is perhaps the king of anecdotes, none of which I can repeat 😉 Around the same time we did Europe with Depeche Mode on the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour, that was an entirely different kettle of fish, full of all night parties and even more unrepeatable anecdotes.
Can you describe your work as Lifeblood?
Lifeblood Productions “Music For All Media” is my own production company for projects such as film and TV music and also remixes, more info can be found at www.lifebloodproductions.co.uk.
Will you be talking about Lifeblood also at YAIC?
I think the aspects of music production I could talk about will be more than familiar to the YAIC attendees, so will keep the presentation on Habbo, new technology opportunities and best practice. Having said that, if anyone wants to know more I would be happy to speak after the presentation.
What are the five main challenges facing the music industry in 2009?
* Teenagers have more interest in engaging with music than ever, and more means of doing so, but in the large part, very little interest in actually buying music in the traditional manner
* The quantity of music content / sites can be overwhelming – so peer recommendation and community is vital – music blogs are a fascinating example of technology facilitating the sheer love of music, but frustratingly these are not monetized
* Industry heavy-handedness with file sharing creates a negative relationship with music lovers – a lose-lose situation. Spotify is a glimpse of the win-win alternative.
* As the industry struggles to maintain existing business models and increasingly niche distribution infrastructure, adoption of new business models can be slow, and can happen too late to make a difference, sadly.
* As Tim O’Reilly wrote in 2002 “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy” – in 2009 this could equally apply to the labels themselves.