Chinese internet cafes get a lot of bad press in Western media, most of which involves young people gaming for days on end and then passing... But while the cafes are seedy places, they aren't exactly bad.
Nearly everywhere you go in China that has a steady internet connection, you will find an internet cafe. According to a 2011 report by the Ministry of Culture, there were over 144,000 registered internet cafes in China in 2010 with over 14 million computer terminals linked to the internet. The report didn't take into account the number of unregistered internet cafes. Net cafes operate under the local security bureaus and fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture just like video games do.
Net cafes started off early in China as a means for the average man to get online. Despite the constant reports of China becoming wealthy and China rising and blah blah blah, the majority of the population is relatively poor. In the cities where people have money, there are huge populations of migrant workers— both blue collar and white collar—who do not have access to a personal computer. This led to a need for internet cafes.
Basic internet cafes offer food and drink beyond the basics of a computer with internet access. Some of the better ones offer faster computers with top of the line gaming equipment. As the gaming industry in China grew, many of the internet cafes started to differentiate themselves by offering certain games that required better hardware (for the most part Chinese online games all have low requirements).
The general set up of an internet cafe breaks down into zones. There are usually three zones in an internet cafe. One is for regular people who just want to use social media/chat programs, watch videos, and play casual games. Another zone is for hardcore gamers requiring better hardware, and finally, the last zone is designed for patrons who wish to surf the net in private cubicles.
Due to the low prices of internet cafes, they have become seedy places. The average price of an internet cafe in Beijing is about 4 to 6 RMB (0.80cents to a dollar) an hour for a "high speed" area (a section of an net cafe with better hardware). That's considered expensive. Often times transient people who don't have a place to stay will choose to hole up in an internet cafe for a night as it's often cheaper than a hotel room. On top of the transients sleeping inside, there are loads of people swearing and cussing into microphones at unseen opponents while playing online games. Indoor smoking is also quite common in net cafes in China despite a country-wide ban on smoking indoors.
Recent changes in China have made internet cafes slightly better. Cafes are now more law abiding when it comes to allowing minors in during school hours as well as random transients—mostly because registered cafes require ID upon entrance. For foreigners such as myself, a passport is required (if you have a foreign experts certification like I do, it's useless, because you will still need a passport).
Once at a computer, you will have to input a series of codes generated from your ID. After logging in you can start gaming. One thing that all foreigners need to know about online gaming in China is that it's nigh impossible for a foreigner to play Chinese online games. I'm not referring to the language barrier, there are loads of foreigners who can read and speak better Chinese than I can, I am referring of course to the Chinese regulation that all online games require a Chinese ID to be bound to an account. Without a Chinese ID card, you can't register, the only way to skirt past this is of course get a Chinese ID...easier said than done.
Getting passed the login, users are greeted with a healthy offering of the latest Chinese web games as well as single system games. The source of many of the single system games are suspect as they include PC games that aren't released in China such asCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Diablo III.
Despite of all the bad press and the cigarette smoke, the internet cafe is an okay place. Some of my friends tell me it's a great place to learn Chinese swear words, others (game developers) tell me it's a great place to do market research. To me at least, it's a place that has air-conditioning, video games and food. Things could be worse.
深化管理长效机制 文化部发布《2010年中国网吧市场年度报告》 [People's Daily]
S Upon entrance the internet cafe needs to take a photo of you for the Public Security Bureau. The photo is supposedly not kept...
S Foreigners need to use their passport.
S Security warning. Every city/district has a different warning but they all pretty much say the exact same thing.
S Another warning page.
S The app portal screen. Here you can click on all the various games available at the net cafe.
S Intereting net cafe food... I'm still alive!
S A no smoking sign...
S Do you spot the cigarettes?