(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the internet cafe sector
The first internet cafés were able to capitalise on the fact that, while there was growing interest in the opportunities offered by the internet, many consumers did not have their own access to it either in their homes or in the workplace. Now, however, the internet is an essential part of modern day living.
The majority of consumers no longer have to rely on internet cafes for access to the web. Internet service providers (ISPs) have continued to improve the level of service they offer and the vast majority of UK customers, both business and domestic, have switched to the much faster broadband (or better) connections now available. Broadband coverage is now available to nearly all of the UK household population and the number of connections taken up continues to grow. The 2010s have also seen the roll out of super-fast fibre optic broadband such as BT's Infinity at very competitive prices.
As well as increased domestic connection to the internet, many people now have free internet and email access in the workplace as well as full access through their smartphone or tablet (through their data plan as well as WiFi). The ongoing roll-out of 4G mobile broadband - with speeds approaching low-end fibre home broadband - is also likely to further undermine the traditional role of the internet café.
Competition has also increased due to the growing number of coffee shops, hotels, bars and even buses, trains and taxis that offer customers WiFi access, usually free of charge.
In response to this, the sector has had to evolve. Today's café must offer fast internet connection and a range of other services to attract custom. For example, some have introduced services such as photocopying, faxing, printing, lamination, scanning, phone repair and unlocking. Some have set up gaming leagues and other social activities, while others offer internet and general computing lessons for beginners in the hope of attracting new customers - perhaps older people. As a result, internet cafés are now increasingly used by groups of like-minded people as a community centre. In many areas they have become popular meeting places for people of particular nationalities who are visiting or have settled in the UK. Nevertheless, it seems almost inevitable that the internet café sector will continue to see business closures as the level of demand shrinks, although it is unlikely that it will disappear completely in the foreseeable future.
Keep up to date with developments
As a result of the contraction in the sector, there is no longer a trade association dedicated solely to internet café businesses. If you offer networked gaming, it may be a good idea to join iGames which offers support and guidance in various areas including game licensing and promotion. iGames membership is open to LAN centres around the world. Visit the iGames LAN Center website for more information. If you intend to offer a fairly comprehensive food and drink menu, you might consider joining one of the catering industry trade associations such as UKHospitality or the Institute of Hospitality.
Websites such as Eurogamer are excellent sources of news and other information to help you keep up to date with developments in the gaming industry.