Chinese internet cafés are surprisingly important to the nation's online game market, according to a new survey that turned up some interesting insights on the popularity of Western games in the cafés, the male-female player ratio, and the cafés' overall cultural role.
507 internet cafés in 18 Chinese cities participated in the study, and Lisa Hanson of research group Niko Partners explains that residents of large cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, rely on internet cafés for online gaming, socialization and competition with friends -- despite owning home PCs.
On the other hand, in China’s more rural areas and smaller cities, internet cafés may be most gamers' sole source of internet access and online gameplay.
Such a market is not well understood by Western developers, publishers, or hardware manufacturers, but the importance of the internet café channel for online game operators in China is massive.
In fact, in 2008, Chinese game firms will generate approximately 40% of their $2.5 billion service revenue through it, according to these new estimates.
But do Western companies already have a slice of this market? Some obvious firms, such as Blizzard, do, but as Niko's Hanson explained to Gamasutra, there may be many more (sometimes pirated) Western games being played regularly in the territory.
The Niko analyst explained: "In terms of online games, World of Warcraft
is the most popular foreign game played. But surprisingly, gamers also spend a significant amount of time playing PC offline games there, and most of those titles are from the West because there aren't any published in China."
But what's the male to female ratio in these cafés, and what types of games are typically most popular? Hanson notes to Gamasutra: "The ratio is 70 to 30, male to female", and both more hardcore and 'advanced casual' MMOs and online games are the most popular games played in the cafés.
Overall, there are multiple regulations governing the estimated 185,000 internet cafés nationwide in China - 71,000 of which are unlicensed by the appropriate regulatory authorities, leading to possible instability in case of crackdowns.
Impressively, the survey estimated that there are 21.9 million PCs that are installed in cafés throughout China, and that the internet café industry is worth $20 billion in total for the Chinese economy - although much of it unrelated to gaming.
More information from Niko Partners' survey into the Chinese game market is available at the firm's official website