So, it turns out that online worlds may be pretty important to the future of the video game industry - we've been asking about just that on Gamasutra recently, with our 'Question Of The Week' on Habbo Hotel and World Of Warcraft, and of course, we have the entire Worlds In Motion weblog on this subject.

But browsing round major U.S. retailer Target a couple of weeks back, we spotted prepaid cards for Habbo Hotel, and thought - what would it be like if we had to spend $10 on setting ourselves up in Sulake Labs' (largely kids/teen-centric) Web browser-based online world? What do you get for your money? This, GSW friends, is what happened:

This is where it all starts - a Target $10 card for in-game items.




And this is what $10 gets you in the chat environment - 50 coins to spend on room stylings, pets, accessories, etc.




Here's the starting point for 'monikertown', my avatar simoniker's beautiful abode.




The Monty Python-sized hand delivers your items - just chairing up, here.




Wallpaper, carpet, a table, and paintings help decorate my 'stylish', spartan setup a lot - about $4-$5 spent here.




This is what 50 credits ($10) got me for your private room - though I wasted a good few on paintings I didn't like in context, and an English flag that was out of place, so it's probably closer to $7 worth of items.




Feeling all proud, I wandered into a nearby room designed by a fellow user, and... youch! How much did this cost? I've been well and truly shown up.

Some conclusions, then: Leigh Alexander's profile of Habbo on WorldsInMotion.biz covers all the basics and more, to be honest. Now, the age of users in Habbo is skewed very young indeed compared to GSW readers (Sulka Haro's Austin GDC keynote has lots more great info on demographics.)

But from my experience, even as a 30-something male gamer in Habbo, doing interior decoration for one's own virtual chat room is extremely good fun, even when all the objects cost real money. (You don't have to decorate your own room, incidentally - you can just hang out in the public spaces or in other people's rooms.)

So sure, this part of Habbo's online environment is similar to The Sims and/or Animal Crossing room decoration with microtransactions, and as a business model for online games, it works. Looking forward to seeing more games using it - and we'll be trying Nexon's $10 virtual item card next, on games like MapleStory and Kart Rider.