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Razer is the “mad scientist” of computers, “always pushing against market expectations”

Tuesday, 22nd October 2013 14:12 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Razer’s Min-Liang Tan is used to being laughed at and described as crazy, but in his chat with VG247 the CEO explained the company’s constant commitment to doing what it wants to – not what seems most sensible.

“You’ll find a lot of other gaming companies you’ve got a CEO whose never played a game in his life. People ask him, ‘What kind of games do you play?’ And he’ll say ‘Go ask my marketing guy, he’s the gaming person’. Once they have to do that? It means that the entire company is not fully aligned behind what they want to do.”

Although it’s now one of if not the market-leading performance gaming peripheral manufacturer, when Razer was founded in 1998 it didn’t even have a market to lead; not the most auspicious beginning

“I think from the very day we were founded we were always pushing against market expectations. When we invented the first gaming mouse, everyone thought we were nuts. Mice were like $10. Nobody wanted a performance mouse. We knew as gamers we wanted one, so we built one,” Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan told VG247 recently.

“People thought we were nuts to do a gaming keyboard. I’m surprised they thought we were still nuts when we did a gaming laptop; everyone in the industry laughed. But now we’re seeing copycats come from everywhere – the same people we approached many years ago to help us build one who laughed us and threw us out of their offices are the same people copying us right now.”

Tan said people call Razer staffers “the mad scientists of gaming”, and seemed quite content to accept this title; his ambition is just to keep making the products he wants to use himself, even if people think he’s lost it.

“You’ll find a lot of other gaming companies you’ve got a CEO whose never played a game in his life. People ask him, ‘What kind of games do you play?’ And he’ll say ‘Go ask my marketing guy, he’s the gaming person’. Once they have to do that? It means that the entire company is not fully aligned behind what they want to do,” he added.

“Everybody at Razer is committed to one thing – to build really great product.”

This ambition comes at a cost, and that’s something new employees have difficulty adjusting to. Razer’s ethos of “create great things” has no room for Key Performance Indicators and other tools of the corporate trade. And Tan, for all his friendliness and commitment to quality rather than profit, may not be the easiest man to work for; his insistence on perfection sends products back to the drawing board over and over again.

“There are prototypes that I’ve seen in the company that have been there for like five years, six years, that we constantly improve. It’s hard to tell when we look at it and go ‘Wow, it’s ready’. Even the version before this? The prototype before this? Was just a hair thicker, was at 21mm. Fully working, ready to launch, last year for Ivy Bridge. But I still killed it, because there was just something I felt that we could do better. 16.8 was the magic number. 21 was just a bit too thick.

“I remember our engineers going ‘Min – how do you tell? What are you going to do? Why is 16.8 any better than 21?’ I don’t know. I just think that 16.8 is the magic number. And we started all over again; we just tried to do it. They said it was impossible, but we did it, and that’s cool. And that makes it easier every time somebody says ‘It’s impossible’, I say, ‘That’s what you said the last time. Get back to your room.’”

The executive has “seen grown men cry” when he’s killed their products; staff who have been with the company for years but are yet to see their products on a store shelf.

“The thing about hardware is that there is a point of what we call tooling or molding that is the most expensive. Usually millions of dollars is spent at that time. 99.98% of companies, once they’ve reached that point – because all of the investment has gone into that – they launched a product. We kill products really regularly even after that point. And it’s insane,” he said.

Back to the drawing board

Just how much money does Razer spend on products that don’t make it to market? We’ll probably never know, since it’s privately held, but in our last chat with Tan he noted that Razer products ship at a loss.

“Nobody does that in the industry because it’s too expensive; it doesn’t make any sense at all. You’re just ready to ship it, but still we believe until a product is perfect we don’t want to launch it. If it’s not perfect we won’t launch it. And that’s the ethos of the company.”

It’s an ethos that can be frustrating for Razer’s talented pool of designers and engineers, but Tan believs he has a responsibility to consumers.

“The YouTube videos we see of people unboxing the product; people write to us; people tattoo logos on themselves for Razer. It’s cool, but it’s a huge responsibility. It means that we have a responsibility to these guys to never, ever do anything against our own ethos,” he explained.

“There are two technology companies in the world that people tattoo logos of on themselves. One of them is Apple and the other one is us. We view it that every single product we ship is a huge responsibility. These guys have basically told us, ‘We believe in you, to the extant that I’m ready to believe in you for life.’ And that’s what we wanna do, to make sure that we have something constantly that we can stand by; that we’re shipping the very best.”

Tan said that when the Blade was first announced, even Razer’s hard-core fans were scathing; he compared its initial reception to that of Steam, noting that in both cases, the negative faction was proved incorrect, and now people don’t even remember the hue and cry.

“They stuck at it, and they managed to see things through, Likewise for us, we believe in our design vision; that we’re doing the right thing for gamers in general.”

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18 Comments

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  1. Xbone

    Overpriced crap.

    #1 9 months ago
  2. Llewelyn_MT

    @1: You picked your alias yourself. Why troll it in an unrelated article? o.O

    #2 9 months ago
  3. foofly

    People have the Razor logo tattooed on themselves? Wow.

    #3 9 months ago
  4. tatsujin

    Bought few of their stuff. The naga is one of them and lycous keyboard (or whatever it is called). Both started to wear out after 2 months of use. Keyboard had few keys getting stuck. Didn’t feel like a high end product and it was 80 dollars. The mouse’s keys started to wear out fast. It was also getting warm for my hand. Then on its beginning of the second year cycle the mouse didn’t respond fast enough. Kept getting stuck on a vertical line when you try to move it around on the screen … Lol. Then 4 months later the pointer started to go bottom-right by itself…slowly. Few months later it got worse. Why did I keep both? Because I was saving for haswell i7 which I just built recently.

    Also, both products gathered dust and skin from heavy usage in a matter of two weeks. Cleaning is useless. So my new upgrades are the Logitech G600 mouse and Corsair K70 keyboard (red cherry, mechanical). I’ve had both for 4 months now and they are the best mouse/keyboard combination I have ever bought. Both product’s keys didn’t wear out. No finger prints. No dust or skin-stuff on the products. Regular dust, very low volume gathered only on the keyboard and I just air dusted it a week ago after 4 months of heavy gaming. The materials used for the G600 and the keys for the K70 feel extremely rich, excotic, rugged and very tough. The base and wrist part for the keyboard are heavy, rugged, and the materials are metal and durable plastic. Check out the videos on YouTube. I have a behemoth rig ATM.

    Haswell i7 4770K
    NH-D 14
    G.Skill Snipers QC/DC @2400mhz (32 GB)
    Samsung EVO 250 (main)
    Samsung Pro 250 (gaming/heavy multitask programs)
    WD Black 4TB
    WD Black 2TB
    Other older HDDs I don’t remember
    Asus Maximum Hero VI
    EVGA GTX 560 Ti SC x2 (sli) – upgrading to EVGA GTX 880 when it comes out.
    Sonar Essence SRX
    Corsair HX 850
    Blackhawk Ultra

    Hmm that’s what’s inside my rig. I got 2 Asus monitors with IPS panels 24″. Shure SHR 840 headset. Logitech Z5500 system. G600 mouse. Corsair K70 keyboard.

    I mean in all honesty, Razer is not a high-end gaming production company. They are below average to me. I heard their newest naga mouse is really good and doesn’t gather dust and no hardware bugs. But its not as good in quality, build, structure, or feel like the G600. Plus the price difference is there too. I got the G600 for 58 USD on amazon.

    Razer, if you are reading this, please make better products that will last us long. Durable, nice build, easy to handle, etc. I’ll post later at home. I’m at work ATM.

    #4 9 months ago
  5. MFBB

    Buy Logitech, be happy.

    #5 9 months ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @4: Thanks for the warning.

    #6 9 months ago
  7. dizzygear

    @4 My Razer Lycosa keyboard is still going strong after 2 years of daily use. My Razer Imperator mouse i bought the same day as the Lycosa still works fine as well despite the abuse i put it through.

    I suggest you treat your stuff better.

    #7 9 months ago
  8. DSB

    I’ve got a Steelseries Ikari mouse which is very simple, but it does everything I need. And then I have a Logitech Illuminated keyboard, which lights up and that’s kinda silly (although I kept pressing the light button like a 5 year old for the longest time, heehee lights!) but the cool thing is that it’s slim, so it’s as comfortable to type on as a laptop keypad.

    So yeah, dunno nothin’ about no Razer.

    #8 9 months ago
  9. noamlol2

    nah razer is like apple

    over-priced and made from cheap matirels

    in other words, buy either logitech or steelseries if you want your products to last long

    #9 9 months ago
  10. Llewelyn_MT

    My A4Tech mice last 1000+ hours each in shooters and action RPG alone, not to mention everyday use. That’s 2 years of heavy use for $20..25. Beat that. I only change them when I get bored as not one gave up on me in 10 years.

    #10 9 months ago
  11. Pitts

    I’m a PC gamer, but I don’t think I’m their target audience at all. I love simplicity and I can’t stand superfluous lights on my electronics. Except maybe the keyboard. That can be handy.

    That said, I own a simple Naga. It’s a great mouse, but their other products seem way too specific for my needs.

    #11 9 months ago
  12. DSB

    @11 I never understood that goddamn light thing. What is that? Unbeknownst to me, my last rig came with red and blue lighting in the cabinet and I was just looking at it thinking “Why would anyone enjoy that?”.

    And twice I’ve had to cover diode lights (one on my Creative T20 speakers, and one on the old cabinet) with duct tape because they made my eyes hurt.

    I just really don’t get it. Do diode lights make your penis bigger or what’s the dealio?

    #12 9 months ago
  13. GwynbleiddiuM

    I love to get my hand around that Sabertooth controller, looks solid, then again my Razer Naga Hex looked solid too, and I was so excited to get that after searching Paris like Curiosity on Mars in search of life to finally find a shop that sells it, and just a week after I was back to this post-apocalyptic wasteland called middle-east the scroll button died, how in the bloody hell am I ever to replace that?

    That’s why I always get Logitech peripherals it takes a Hulk to break them and they’re just fucking precise.

    #13 9 months ago
  14. freedoms_stain

    @12, looks sci-fi or some shit.

    I hate blue lights, I’m not colour blind or anything but my eyes seem to have a little bit of an issue focussing on them.

    #14 9 months ago
  15. viralshag

    I’ve had a Naga Hex mouse for some time now and I love it. No problems for me either. Finally switched out my Logitech G11 keyboard too with the G510, love them G-keys, all 18 of them. Perfect set up for MMOs.

    #15 9 months ago
  16. MrWaffles

    These guys are the Vibram Five Fingers of computer peripherals.

    #16 9 months ago
  17. Oni

    Ducky DK9008 Shine II keyboard Cherry Brown switches and SteelSeries Sensei Pro mouse. Go home, Razer.

    #17 9 months ago
  18. tatsujin

    @7 – Razer is not a good gaming production company. Your Lycosa keyboards keys are worn out by now and most keys are getting stuck, too. It’s on the Internet if you JUST google it. So I don’t believe you. Their more recent keyboard releases must be better but they are no where near the level of top-enthusiast gaming level designs like the Roccat’s recent mechanical keyboard and Logitech’s mechanical keyboards.

    I suggest you go to Best Buy and try out some real mechanical keyboards.

    @9 – Yup. Couldn’t agree more.

    VG247, please go interview Logitech’s gaming sidelines rather than some third rate companies like Razer. I’d rather read about something interesting.

    #18 9 months ago