Ah Razer and OUYA, two companies I once liked and respected who have both done something to draw my ire. For Razer it was their shameless price gouging tactics for Australian citizens, something which they continue to this day. OUYA simply smoldered its way through all the goodwill I had towards them, ultimately delivering an unfinished product late that has since lumbered along in a kind of zombie state. There had been rumours that OUYA had been courting Razer for a while now, hoping to find a buyer, but like all acquisition talks both sides were rather mum on the details. Today Razer has announced that they will acquire OUYA and use them to bolster their own efforts in this space.
The deal has said to be an “all cash” acquisition meaning that Razer has used its own cash reserves to pay off all of OUYA’s investors. This pegs the asking price at somewhere around the $33 million mark which sounds like a lot however Razer was just valued somewhere in the order of $1 billion meaning an acquisition of this size won’t put much of a strain on their purse strings. Still I and many others really didn’t see how OUYA could fit into Razer’s business model which, for the most part, is centered around gaming peripherals more than platforms. As it turns out Razer may be looking to OUYA to fix it’s Forge platform which, funnily enough, is encountering many of the same issues that OUYA struggled with.
As part of the acquisition deal Razer will take on the software branch of OUYA but will drop the hardware business. This makes sense since Razer is, in essence, already selling a competing platform but also because the OUYA in its current state is heavily outdated and unlikely to provide much value as another product line. The OUYA store will be integrated in Razer’s Cortex platform, along with the 200,000 user accounts and all the games currently published on the platform. The OUYA brand name will remain but will transition to focus more on becoming a publisher for the Cortex platform more than anything else. Overall it seems like a great outcome for OUYA but I’m not convinced that it’ll do much for Razer.
The Razer Forge’s launch was, to be blunt, a complete disaster as the console proved to be buggy and largely unusable on launch day. Sure the base functionality seemed to work fine however that’s not something that’s unique to the Razer Forge and indeed other products will provide that at a much more reasonable price. Things get worse when you compare it to, admittedly slightly more expensive options, like the NVIDIA shield which received universal praise for the quality of all aspects of the product. Whilst the OUYA team might be able to help fix these problems I feel like they’re already several steps behind the competition and throwing more bodies at the problem isn’t going to solve it.
It may be my dislike for both these companies speaking through but in all honesty the only people that won out in this deal where the investors who were likely staring down the barrels of a soon to be bankrupt company. The Android micro-console market just doesn’t have the legs that everyone hoped it would and the market is already saturated with dozens of other devices that do a multitude of other things than just play games. I will be very surprised if Razer manages to make their Forge TV anything more than it currently is, even with the supposed expertise of the OUYA team behind them.
There are few things I find more enjoyable than putting together a new PC. It starts off with the chase where I determine my budget and then start chasing down the various components that will make up the final system. Then comes the verification where I trawl through dozens upon dozens of reviews to ensure the I’ve selected only the best products for their price bracket. Finally the time comes when I purchase all the components, hopefully from a single vendor with price matching, and then after the components arrive I’ll begin the immensely enjoyable task of assembling my (or someone else’s) new PC. Nothing quite beats the feeling of seeing Windows boot up for the first time on a new bit of hardware you just finished building.
Of course I realise that the vast majority of the world doesn’t enjoy engaging in such activities, especially if all you’re doing with your PC is watching movies or doing the occasional bit of word processing, and this is typically when I’ll send them to any one of a number of PC manufacturers who can give them a solid device with a long warranty. My gamer buddies will typically get me to validate their builds and, if they don’t feel up to the task, get me to build it or simply stick to consoles which provide a pretty good experience for much of their useful life. This is why I think Razer’s Project Christine is trying to target a market that just doesn’t exist as it sits in between already well defined market segments that are both already well serviced.
Project Christine is, as a concept, a pretty interesting idea. All the core components that make up a PC (RAM, storage, graphics card, etc.) have been modularized allowing almost anyone to build up a custom PC of their liking without the requisite PC building experience. The design is somewhat reminiscent of the Thermaltake Level 10 which used the compartmentalization of different parts to improve the cooling as well as to make maintenance easier. Razer’s concept takes this idea to the extreme, effectively commoditizing some of the skills required to build a high end gaming PC whilst still retaining the same issues around configuration, like knowing which components are the best bang for buck at the time.
Razer could potentially head off that second issue by going ahead with their subscription based model for upgraded parts. The idea would be that after you’ve bought whatever model you wanted (this service appears to be targeted to the high end) then you pay a monthly subscription feed to get the latest and greatest parts delivered to you. For the ultimate in hardcore gamers this could be somewhat attractive however it’d likely be an extremely expensive service to opt in to as the latest PC components are rarely among the cheapest or best value. Still if you’ve got a lot of money and not a whole lot of time then it could be of use to you except the fact that you’ve invested so much in a gaming rig typically means you have enough time to make use of it.
This is where I feel Project Christine falls down as the target market is a demographic of people who are interested in configuring their computer right up to the point of physically building it. Whilst I don’t really have any facts to back up this next assertion it has been my experience that people of this nature are either already well serviced by custom build services (which most PC shops provide) or know someone with the capabilities to do it. Sure the modular nature of the Christine is pretty awesome, and it certainly makes a striking impression, however that also means you need to wait for Razer to Christine-ify parts before they’ll be available to you. You might be able to crack them open and do the upgrade yourself but then you’re really only one step away from doing a full PC build anyway.
With consoles and PCs lasting longer and longer as time goes by concepts like Project Christine seem to be rooted in the past idea that a gaming PC needed constant upgrades to remain viable. That simply hasn’t been the case for the better part of a decade and whilst the next generation of consoles might spur an initial burst in PC upgrades it’s doubtful that the constant upgrade cycle will ever return. Project Christine might find itself with a dedicated niche of users but I really don’t believe it will be large enough to be sustainable, even with the Razer name behind it.
I like to think of myself as a good customer, having spent a good 6 years on the other side of the consumer equation. Whilst I might be ruthless in my product selection once your product is past that hurdle you’re guaranteed a whole bunch of free marketing from me, usually in the form of recommendations to my friends and sometimes even here on this blog. It’s not much but I’ll be damned if I haven’t swayed dozens of people to products that I’ve bought solely on my recommendation. It goes both ways though so if your product (or business practices) are terrible then you can be assured I’ll be voting with my wallet and encouraging others to do so.
Today, I’m going to do exactly that.
So for my birthday last year my loving wife bought me one of the TRON keyboards from Razer. It’s a very pretty keyboard but it’s unfortunately not all that great for gaming thanks to the extraordinarily large keys and tendency for the keys to get stuck in the on position when several are pressed together. Figuring that it would make a great keyboard for either my spare test machine or media PC I set about looking for a potential replacement keyboard, something more suited to my main purpose of gaming.
I had heard good things about the Razer series of mechanical keyboards. These are preferred for gaming due to their distinct actuation points rather than the rubber domes that are common on most keyboards today (including the TRON keyboard I have now). They’re also renowned for being quite loud due to their mechanical action and the keyboard I had my eye on, the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate is known for having some of the loudest keys around thanks to Cherry MX Blue¹ type switches. Razer does make the same keyboard in a stealth option which uses the quieter MX Brown switches, something that I’d prefer to have so I don’t get driven insane by the loud clicking.
So of course I started looking around for somewhere to get the keyboard. Strange though all my usual sites don’t seem to stock it, but they do stock every other keyboard. Frustrated I check Razer’s store and it’s available through there for US$139.99. Googling around reveals that the stealth version is exclusive to the Razer online store. Fair enough I thought, the price is a little on the high side but it’s one of those things that you buy once and don’t replace for a good while. Attempting to follow the order screen through to see how much the total would be lead me to a brick wall, not being able to ship it to Australia.
Undeterred I saw that they had an Australian version of the store and the keyboard was available in there. The price, however, was no where near what I expected being a whopping $90 greater than its USA counterpart. Now Australia is renowned for getting gouged on pretty much everything, including in places where distribution doesn’t matter like Steam, but I still don’t tolerate companies that do it. Frustrated I tweeted at Razer about it, hoping for some kind of response but alas I got nothing. I could use a remailer service to get the keyboard here but then I’d be giving my money to a company that obviously doesn’t respect its customers enough to price their products fairly.
So instead I went looking elsewhere for a similar product and not 5 minutes later did I come across the Corsair K90 which ticks all the same boxes and has the better Cherry MX Red switches to boot. It might be more expensive than the stealth Razer in the USA but it’s available here from pretty much everywhere. Corsair also have a history of not treating their customers like crap either, I’ve sent several sticks of faulty memory back to them only to get better memory in return. I’m more than happy to give them my money, especially when it means not giving any more to Razer.
Will Razer respond to this post? Probably not, but it needs to be known that Razer have no respect for Australian consumers if it’s trying to pull crap like this. I’m doing the only thing a consumer can: voice their discontent and then vote with their wallet. If enough people don’t put up with these kind of shenanigans then maybe one day we’ll be able to buy products in Australia at fair market prices rather than at the garbage, price gouging levels we get today.
¹If you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about here check out this guide to mechanical keyboards on overlock.net to get the low down on the different types.