Habbo Hotel: Origins is a delightfully strange and chaotic time capsule from the internet of the early 2000s—and a fresh start for a game marred by controversy

An image of the Habbo Hotel in all of its glory.
(Image credit: Sulake)

Habbo Hotel occupies a strange place in the mind—the same dusty corner of my brain where Runescape and Miniclip reside. I played it at a time where I was still quite small and, like many memories from my childhood, it's fuzzy beyond belief.

For those unfamiliar Habbo Hotel is, by technical definition, an MMO without the RPG—a MMOG, if you will. It was first released in Finland at the dawn of the millennium, before making its way to English-speaking territories circa 2004-2005.

Architecturally, Habbo Hotel is a chat room—but it became a lot more than that to its players. Spawning from an age of innovation where most kids had to beg their parents to get them a WoW subscription or Runescape membership, Habbo players quickly began using the game as a platform for mazes, minigames, and roleplay. It was a sandbox that was technically an inch deep, but players still built castles in it.

And now it's back, baby. As outlined in a press announcement, "after discovering an old decrepit server with some long-lost files … long-time Habbo developer and player Macklebee has lovingly restored an old version of Habbo Hotel first released in 2005". It's still a project with official backing, just to make things clear—it runs out of the official Habbo launcher, where you can access the games' modern counterpart.

I have such misty memories of bumbling around those hallowed halls and having bizarre interactions with strangers. So when its developer announced earlier this week that it had restored the game to those halcyon days, I had to check it out.

I waited for the servers to open at 3PM BST yesterday—and the moment they did, I tried to sign up. This didn't quite go to plan. See, the game was so very popular that Saluke's email servers tanked, and it took about an hour for mine to come through. I tried to proceed without my email code, but the client told me my email was "not acceptable," and then asked me to find my parents to see if they'd let me play. I'm old enough to drink with over a decade to spare, so I didn't text my mum.

Instead, I waited for the information highway to catch up. I created my Habbo avatar, stepped in, and immediately took a right hook of nostalgia to the dome—in a small window, mind. The game has two display modes at the time of writing, a tiny window for ants, or a larger and unusable aspect ratio I found no way to adjust.

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn

Several Habbos crowding in a myriad of colourful outfits.

(Image credit: Sulake)

Aside from being incredibly full at launch, Habbo Hotel: Origins feels like some ancient insect preserved in amber.

Two public rooms, the Habbo Library and the Picnic Garden, advertise long-passed digital soirees. The library has (had) an event where you can "meet My Spy Family & watch the show." My Spy Family was a comedy series that debuted in 2007 on Boomerang and ended 14 years ago.

Similarly, the Picnic Garden proudly says that the Underage Festival Live will be taking place all day on August 8—the Underage Festival was an outdoor music festival in London, open to the ages of 13-17, that had its last outing in 2011.

(Image credit: Sulake)

(Image credit: Sulake)

Heading into the welcome lounge, I see a flood of excited, similarly nostalgia-wracked Habbo-heads busting a move. A person named "CANNABIS" asks everyone how they are. Pretty good, CANNABIS, thank you for asking.

(Image credit: Sulake)

I try to get into one of two public pools—the first one's full up, while the other has suited individuals saying "pool's closed" and blocking the ladder. While very funny on the face of it, this is an ancient meme of yore with some unfortunate connotations and nonsensical phrases that, truthfully, haven't aged well at all.

(Image credit: Sulake)

I could get into the unsavoury details, but to keep things short—back in 2006, a 4chan raid based on uncertain rumours that Habbo was unfairly banning hotel guests with dark skin proceeded to, naturally, spiral out of control until some very normal stuff happened. For example, a group of individuals in "cosplay" forming a swastika outside the developer's headquarters. Coincidentally, about 10 minutes after logging in, I also see an uncensored slur in this room.

That's not to say that the entire game has the air of a 4chan board—far from it, actually. Moments later, I plonked my Habbo avatar into a featureless, empty room called "GAY AND PROUD". I start busting a move in the freshly-born, threadbare apartment and wish everyone a happy pride, and a wave of well-wishes comes back.

Habbo Hotel: Origins, truthfully, feels like stepping into a portal to a time where the internet was wild, anachronistic, and had an entirely different set of ways in which it'd scar unsupervised children for life. But that's not been the case for every player—some have stuck with the game since its inception.

The Habbo Military and The Great Mute

An image of the Great Mute of Habbo Hotel, with many Habbos holding up torches.

(Image credit: Sulake / Gina=me of the Habbo Wiki)

After they reached out to PC Gamer's tips line, I was able to speak with Controllable, a player who has been Habbo-ing it up on and off again for around 19 years: "I first checked into Habbo Hotel in April 2005," they say, before revealing the most early-2000s introduction to a game imaginable: "I was at a weekend sleepover at my cousin's house when we discovered Habbo from a magazine in a GameStop store on Long Island, New York." God, those were the days.

Controllable tells me that the community—which includes a surprisingly comprehensive military roleplay scene—kept him hooked: "I currently lead the Habbo US Defense Force (USDF) military roleplaying community on Habbo … I personally extend my welcome to all Habbos to come visit our rooms in Habbo Hotel: Origins, which are stylized in the same iconic way as they were almost 20 years ago."

Fascinated at the prospect of almost two decades of preserved, first-hand lore, I asked Controllable what notable events occurred between the game's inception and today to make a reboot like Habbo Hotel: Origins significant.

Controllable cites a few things that removed "the novelty and charm" of the original game: "Removing the iconic public rooms during the end of the Shockwave client era in 2009, the merger of all the English-speaking hotels into one flagship hotel on Habbo.com in 2010 … removing "gambling" from the game in 2014, and the end of life of the Flash client in January 2021."

He also brings up "The Great Mute"—wherein Habbo Hotel's denizens were silenced between June 13 and June 19, 2012 after a Channel 4 news report alleged poor moderation, leading to underaged players engaging in sexually-explicit roleplay.

(Image credit: Sulake)

"At that time on the internet, that type of misbehaviour was found on every chat-room based game and was more of a broader issue rather than a specific 'Habbo' issue," argues Controllable—a perspective that doesn't seem far from the mark. I'd maintain that Habbo ought to've tightened the screws sooner, but the internet of the late 1990s to early 2000s was a weird and wild west. Not acceptable by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly a symptom of the time.

The mute, which saw players hemmed into a restrictive set of phrases, led to protests where they held candles in popular rooms in support of the developer, a gesture that would later produce an official badge and trophy. A limited chat system was introduced July 19, before "free chat" returned August 3. However, players still had to pass a "safety quiz" to have access to it.

But that shouldn't be as much of a problem for Habbo Hotel: Origins, since it requires you to be above the age of 18 to enter—though the terms of service still prohibits "depiction of acts of violence and sexual acts". Regardless, the assumption that everyone's an adult is bound to make moderation less fraught.

"I am a huge fan of this policy for Habbo Hotel: Origins," Controllable notes. "While the game of Habbo is still aimed at teenagers, a lot of the existing player base on Habbo are now adults who have had issues with the language filter throughout the years. The current moderation filter picks up harmless words and can sometimes lead to frustrating interactions or even accidental sanctions on accounts."

The feeling I get from Controllable—and from the community at-large—is that Habbo Hotel: Origins doesn't just represent a way to 'play the old Habbo'. Rather, it's a fresh start devoid of unsavoury controversies and controversial chat changes, for good and for ill. I'm reminded of how quickly World of Warcraft: Classic dropped the "no changes" shtick and started properly treating it like a second go—Habbo Hotel: Origins has a very similar vibe, especially now that an era of internet safety scares has long passed.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.