CES 2008 CoverageBosco - January 6, 2008
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On our third day at CES, we had an interview with the founder of Razer, Robert Krakoff.
I want to ask about what you have coming out. What’s the new thing for you guys?
A lot of the products we release are timed around the holidays, so some of the products we’re showing here have been around for a while, like the Lachesis mouse and the Pirhanha headphones and the Lycosa keyboard. Those were introduced in the last couple of months around the holiday times. Also, the Mako speakers, although we showed them a year ago here as a concept, our 2.1 high fidelity, almost audiophile quality, desktop speaker system is now actually in production, so we’re actually showing a production quality product here. So it’s kind of a first look too on that product. That product has already been released in Europe and is now making it to the US.
So the only real product that hasn’t been seen by anybody is probably the product we’ve been working on the longest, and that is the Destructor mousing surface. The Destructor is a surface that we agonized over for a long period of time. It’s really meant to create a solution for the tracking challenges that all laser sensors create. Laser is kind of a strange and funny phenomenon. The first laser mice were built as having the advantage of tracking on any surface. What they should’ve said was except for gaming. Gamers require different stress and needs than somebody who is doing home and office applications. So laser was fine for home office use, but anytime you stress the mouse or the sensor by asking it to track and move quickly, it failed. And the reason was not because of the sensor, but because nobody had developed a surface that was optimized for laser. So this surface is two years in the making. It took us two years to test different composites and different materials, till we actually found something that improved the ability on the laser. Then we found out that it also improves, to a lesser degree, the tracking on optical as well. So it became a pretty interesting product for us, but we spent an awful lot of time validating it. We did a lot of robotic arm testing as our methodology. We took the top five mousing surfaces, including our own, and we found out that actually against the best of that five, it still improves tracking by 37%, which is pretty significant. And then we found out that it improved tracking on optical mice, which are much more stable than laser, by 25%. So anyway, we introduced it here. It also comes in a really, really cool carrying case so it’s really well protected. It’s a really solid, zippered case with a felt top so it won’t slip around, bend, or break and you have something to transport it in. We know that gamers like to take their mice and mouse pads, often keyboards, and certainly headphones and don’t want to use somebody else’s they’re not used to. It also puts competitors at a disadvantage if all of a sudden you have to use a new mouse pad. Obviously a new mouse is even worse, but if somebody throws you into a tournament, and you’ve been practicing for months with one mousing surface and all of a sudden you got a different one, it puts you at a disadvantage. It really tracks differently and gamers are into really, really tight constraints and they don’t have a lot of margin for error. I’ve had guys tell me that they’ve trained with an overclocked USB polling at 500Hz let’s say, and then they go to a tournament and they’re not allowed to bring their drivers and are forced to play at 125Hz and that actually affects their gaming. Little things like that will affect the way you play. There’s a way you practice, it’s one way. So those are the kind of products we’re showing here at CES.
I was wondering as far as wireless, are you looking forward to doing anything with wireless or is all going to be wired?
I think that we don’t shut the door on any technology. Wireless has some inherent problems and challenges. The biggest challenge is not latency nor the battery life, which is always a challenge - I think we can fix that. I think the biggest challenge is when you have a whole bunch of people playing with the same wireless products in a LAN or tournament setting and you only have so many channels and you might have a frequency on that particular product that interferes with a cell phone or a microwave oven or something goes off and it completely mixes with your signal. So it’s really two things. It’s signal bandwidth and the number of channels you are really alloted. I think all of those things can be worked through, but you know, nobody has really taken the time to do the proper evaluation and research that you need to create the ultimate, competitive wireless mouse. So you would want to look at a wireless mouse first. There is already a certain amount of latency, maybe too much so, in a keyboard - wireless keyboards are really tough. You know, with audio, the same kind of situation regarding latency in audio, so it’s really asking for more and more. My guess would be that the mouse would be the first device that would really be successfully optimized for gaming. There are certainly a lot of casual gamers out there that play and are very happy with a wireless mouse, but I’m talking the avid gamers, they’re not really that into wireless mice.
Speaking of avid gamers, what are the most common requests you get for products? What are gamers looking for now?
We get a ton of requests for specific features on different products. We get a lot of requests to develop a trackball mouse, we get requests to develop steering wheels, joysticks, and console products. We think about anything as long as we have the technology for it. If we don’t have the technology for it, we won’t mess with it. There’s no advantage for us to go out and be a “me too” copycat company. It’s not our way of doing things. If we have the technology, we would consider it. The thing right now for us is that we have so many holes in our assortment and things that we still want to make, the real key products like mice, keyboards, and audio products. We have a whole wrap of audio product ideas we want to see hit the market. There’s a lot of things we want to do that are just filling in and adding to the basics. So once we get that done, then we gotta say, "OK, what’s next?" You know, we could do a really great trackball, but how many people are actually going to use it, how many people are actually going to buy it? That’s not our only reason for being. We always have to think of that in terms of well, would I be better off doing another keyboard that people have a particular need for, a keyboard that we haven’t really solved yet, or do I go on and do some products that I’ve never done before because I ain’t got the technology for it. So that’s always our real challenge in doing new products.
Could you give us a preview on some of the latest things coming out? Maybe insider tips?
Haha, that’s really tough. We used to be a lot more open about what we’re working on, but unfortunately, we’ve leaked too much information to our competitors and it gives them an advantage knowing what we’re working on, so we’ve actually kind of embargoed not to reveal much of anything anymore. It’s really the right thing to do. Razer at one point in time was the company that was small enough to fly under the radar, and now we’re on everybody’s radar like most people above us, like Logitech, and people below us. And there’s a lot of Razer wannabes out there now, and more power to them. I mean, I really think competition is a good thing, but I don’t want to leak too much information to them. We are working on some really great technologies that you’re really gonna like and when you see the results of it, probably around June or July, maybe at E3, your jaw’s gonna drop. We’ve got some things that are THAT good. We’re actually working on a mouse that I actually think, if we do it right, it’ll be the best product we have ever come out with. Better than anything else we’ve ever done. It’s that good. But I really can’t say any more.
How is the company doing?
The company has really grown. We’ve tripled our size and volume and profits last year and we’ll do it again this year like the year before. The company keeps tripling in size. We’ve got offices all over the world now. We basically have our design team totally the way we want it now. We don’t need to go out of house for anything anymore, except manufacturing, but nobody manufacturers their own stuff, that would be insane. Now we’re fully staffed; we used to have to go outside for drivers, but now it’s all in house. So that’s a big jump for us. We want to be in complete control of all of our products and all of our destiny and we think it’s the best way to build a product. I think that part of our uniqueness is that we’re different than other companies whereas we do everything in house. We don’t use OEM, we don’t find contractors or consultants to do work for us, and we tend to want to control our destiny completely and have everything in our own control. Companies used to do this years and years ago, and while it’s not an efficient way of doing business, for us it is kind of our secret sauce, what makes us a little different than our competitors.
Thank you Robert for giving us the opportunity to hear from a leader in the field of gaming peripherals.