There's a number of wildly popular 'games' (online worlds?) that fly under the radar in terms of press (unless, like Club Penguin, they get purchased for a lot of money), and Habbo Hotel is one of those - some of this is a demographic issue, and some of it is that games like this don't fit into our idea of what a 'game' is or should be.Gamasutra has an interesting interview with Habbo's lead designer, Sulka Haro. It's an enlightening look at those virtual worlds that fall into the part virtual networking site, part 'game' (depending on your definition), both in terms of design and actual implementation. And how we should be defining 'games' in the first place:
Some people have been saying that while we don't look at products like yours essentially as games straight out, we probably should be expanding what our definition of "game" is. That's because Habbo Hotel is the sort of thing that people are playing. What do you think about that?
Sulka Haro: I guess I really don't look so much at the definition of "game" as much as I look at the definition of "play." If you look at Habbo, nobody can say that people aren't playing in there. People really do play in all of these environments, so I would use that as the unifying metaphor for discussing the different environments and products you can use to play. It's more clear.
Obviously there's products that are more "game," and they define gameplay, and the algorithms, as Raph [Koster]put it, where the meshing actually has a way to compute the thing that's going to happen next. As opposed to the purely social play, like Habbo. But people are still spending time doing something that could be really said to be "play."
It's a lengthy interview that hits a lot of points, but well worth a read through.