Once ubiquitous across South Korea, Internet cafes are quickly disappearing as gamers go mobile amid tightened government regulations, including an indoor smoking ban.
PC bangs — “bang” is Korean for room — have long been haven for computer game junkies. Their popularity exploded with the push to install ultrafast Internet connections nationwide in the 1990s.
The number of PC bangs peaked at 21,547 in 2009, but has declined steadily to 12,500 by the end of last year, according to data from the Korea Creative Content Agency.
In the same period, the mobile game industry has grown fourfold to 1.21 trillion won ($1.2 billion) as the smartphone has become a must-have item for many teenagers, who enjoy chatting on messaging application KakaoTalk and playing Kakao’s games. The nation’s mobile penetration rate has been above 100% for years, meaning there are more active cellphones than people.
“Everything’s going mobile nowadays and Internet cafes have lost much of their glamor. PC bang owners are looking for ways to attract customers by providing more pleasant rooms, but the outlook isn’t that bright,” says Ha Young-soo from the Korea Internet PC Culture Association, a private lobby group for Internet cafes.
Mr Ha said tightened regulations, aimed at improving hygiene at computer-gaming and entertainment establishments, are also putting many PC bang operators out of business.
“Most users of the PC bangs were male adults who wanted to smoke freely while enjoying video games at the same time. But with the ban on smoking, many people quit PC bangs instead of smoking,” he said.
The government prohibited smoking in public places, including restaurants and video-game venues, in December 2012, with a one-year grace period. Starting Jan. 1, a complete ban on smoking in PC bangs took effect, with offending establishments subject to a fine of up to five million won ($4930).
Mr. Ha said other regulatory requirements, such as installing water purifiers and mandatory fire insurance, were also a financial burden for owners of PC bangs, which are basically “mom-and-pop” businesses.
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