A San Diego-based coffeehouse-cyber game chain is firing up plans to explode into Arizona with 15 wi-fi cafes and three or four high-tech game centers before the end of 2005.
Eight CyberBrew Net Cafes, five of them in the East Valley, are already in the works and will open in the next six months, said Michael Noll, chief executive officer of CyberZONE. The company is also looking for seven or eight other Valley locations for the specialty coffeehouses.
CyberZONE is working with mall owner Macerich to find spots for the company’s other chain, CyberZONE PC Gaming Centers, Noll said. PC stands for personal computer.
Noll expects to have three or four of the game centers in Valley malls by the end of 2005. Macerich is the parent of Westcor, which owns most of the local regional malls, including Mesa’s Superstition Springs Center, Chandler Fashion Center, Scottsdale Fashion Square and Paradise Valley Mall in northeast Phoenix.
CyberBrew Net Cafes are already signed on for space at Superstition Springs Center and at the Boulevard Shops near Chandler Fashion Center, but Noll said the two chains offer different experiences with different target audiences and would not cannibalize customers.
The cafes sell coffee drinks and pastries, along with wi-fi capabilities for customers who bring their laptops and high-speed PCs for those who don’t. Wi-fi refers to wireless fidelity, or the ability to connect to the Internet without phone lines like a cell phone does. At CyberBrew, it’s a pay-as-you-go system, Noll said. For $3 per half-hour or $5 per hour, a customer can get connected. There is no membership fee or further obligation, unlike those required at some Internet cafes, Noll said.
The cafes also serve as minibusiness centers with faxes, printers, and photo readers available for a small fee.
The typical CyberBrew customer is anyone who wants to sip a gourmet cup of coffee and check e-mail or do business while out and about, he said.
CyberZONE PC Gaming Centers are aimed at serious gamers — mostly males aged 13 to 30, Noll said.
“PC gaming has been huge around the world for a long time, and in the United Sates for the last two years,” Noll said. Online industry tracker Jupiter Research estimates 47 million people play PC games each month.
CyberZONE centers feature about 30 computers, each with high-speed, direct connect to the Internet and about 20 of the most popular games, from shoot-’em-ups to strategy games, Noll said. Gamers pay by the hour to play against themselves, against other gamers in the shop or gamers around the world. The gaming centers are destined for malls and replace the old-style video arcades popular a decade ago, Noll said.
The advantage of PC gaming, Noll said, is that if a game gets hot, the CyberZONE will buy it and make it available to customers right away, while video arcades with a Ms. Pac-Man, for example, are stuck when the game becomes passe.
CyberZONEs are packed with gamers in the evenings and on weekends, Noll said, but the company is trying to make the game centers more appealing to the business bunch in weekday hours.
“We always have a quiet zone in the front of the stores with a few PCs for travelers who want to check e-mail or do business,” he said.
CyberZONE has five PC game centers — all in Southern California, and five under construction.
There are four CyberBrew Net Cafes, and one about to open in Southern California.
Noll said the company plans to open another 30, including the Valley versions, within the next 18 months.
CyberZONE targeted the Valley because of its proximity to the company’s home base, he said, and because “it’s not incredibly saturated with Starbucks,” he said.
“There are a lot of opportunities in the Phoenix area, a lot of new building, and we are trying to grab the spots before Starbucks,” Noll said.