Internet cafes change model to keep custom

In the previous era of bad connections, internet cafes served primarily to hook up users with services like Facebook and Gmail, charging for access to the online world.

“I used to depend on internet cafes,” said Ko Thein Htike Aung, a frequent internet user. “But that was when internet connections were harder to get.”

Cafes traditionally provided more services than a simple connection. They often guided their customers through setting up Facebook accounts and gave basic tuition on using word processors, steering users to online connectivity.

Yet their role is change. Users like Ko Thein Htike Aung are increasingly likely to access the internet primarily through their mobile phone or even with a home connection. Internet cafes face a changing marketplace, and many have shifted away from their former roles.

“Now there’s much more knowledge about opening Facebook, Gmail and G Talk accounts, it’s much easier,” said U Kyaw Lin, owner of Blue Sky Internet Cafe on 42nd Street. “Young people are developing IT knowledge, and using these services on their smartphones.”

“The amount of internet cafe users has decreased in the marketplace,” he said.

There are also other reasons to rely on friends to guide a new internet user through setting up accounts than relying on shops. U Min Thu Aung, who reckons himself a Facebook guru, said periodically problems crop up with Facebook accounts, and it is much easier to ask the friend for help rather than locating the same employee at the internet shop who set up the account.

U Aung Nin Oo, owner of 99 Fiber Internet Cafe in Hledan township, said he has always taken it for granted that he needs to guide new users through the process of getting started. Yet his business is changed. Few casual surfers visit his shop these days, and he mostly caters to gamers.

“Dota 2 online game is the hot title in my shop at the moment, but I’m still in the internet cafe business,” he said.

Still, though, he reckons business has dropped by 50 percent compared with last year. Unlike the often solitary internet surfers who formerly visited his shop, it is now reliant on groups of friends coming to play games.

Online gamers say they like the team atmosphere of internet shops, which cannot be easily replicated over mobiles.

Ko Thein Htoo Aung, an aficionado of Dota 2, a multiplayer action-strategy game, said gaming has supplanted Facebook as his main reason for going online. He often visits internet cafes, though also says he worries about playing too much.

“Each gamer should have limits, or they risk giving up on their life goals,” he said. “So I don’t float on this game all the time.”

Many of the current games are international titles, which require English to understand. Ko Tint Zaw Htoo, another gamer, said one draw is that by playing, people are forced to develop their English skills.

The market for internet cafes is changing, and keeping up with these gaming trends will be more important in the future than the old business of setting up Facebook accounts and helping to type emails.

Source: Myanmar Times

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