Popular online kids' game shuts chat after sex scandal

Posted at 06/14/2012 5:02 AM | Updated as of 06/14/2012 10:04 AM

HELSINKI, Finland - Habbo Hotel, a popular Finnish online game aimed at young teens, shut its chatroom on Wednesday after a British documentary revealed it was a hunting ground for paedophiles, the company said on Wednesday.

"I am greatly saddened that following reports of abusing behaviour amongst a very small part of the Habbo community, we have taken the decision to mute all conversations across the site," Paul LaFontaine, the chief executive of Sulake Corporation which owns Habbo Hotel, said in a blog post on Wednesday.

Habbo Hotel has 268 million registered users around the world and nine million unique visitors each month, with 90 percent of users between the ages of 13 and 18, Sulake said.

Britain's Channel 4 aired a documentary Tuesday in which one of its reporters played Habbo Hotel on several occasions while posing as a teenager.

She received a number of sexual innuendos and was repeatedly asked by other players in the chatroom to take off her clothes in front of a webcam, the documentary showed.

Habbo Hotel is a virtual hotel environment where players are able to socialise with each other using customised avatars called Habbos. It also features a number of mini-games within the Hotel environment.

Members contact one another on the Habbo Chat, which acts as the main form of communication throughout all areas of the Hotel.

"The chat is an integral part of the game, therefore (the closure of the chatroom) will affect customers' abilities to play Habbo Hotel," Sulake spokeswoman Merja Turpeinen told AFP on Wednesday.

Sulake said it had launched an internal investigation, but "police are not involved," Turpeinen said.

"Our internal investigation is currently on-going, but we will be sure to inform all users of further developments in the coming days and weeks," LaFontaine wrote on the company's blog.

Sulake Corporation is a Helsinki-based social entertainment company focused on online social games.

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