Min-Liang Tan: Either you love us or hate us

Razer's head honcho gives us his thoughts on the state of PC games, and why gamers love to hate and hate to love them

Seated in his chair dressed in a simple tee with a mug of coffee in his hand, Razer CEO, creative director and chief gamer Min-Liang Tan looks more like one of the gamers his company makes their products for, than the person that actually runs it.  

Together with Razer President Robert “Razerguy” Krakoff, they both founded Razer in San Diego and built it up from a small office with a bunch of gamers, to a brand that is synonymous with PC gaming and l33t skillz.

Most of the products you’ve seen in Razer’s stable have his direct input and it’s clear that gaming has always been a passion of his, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.


Razer's cult status

Tan is a familiar face to the gaming community; his attendance at major gaming events such as PAX Prime and Gamescom has always drawn a huge crowd and admits that Razer fans (and haters) are equally passionate.

Even the fans themselves have proven to be a double-edged sword. When a Razer mouse or keyboard dies in their hands, the news gets amplified. But for Tan, it’s all about the silver lining.

“For every person that says something negative, we get more saying it's good. “

There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground either.

“Either you love us or hate us. I can understand why people are dismissive of us, because they do not have the product. But I always ask them, why do they hate us?”

The answer to that, he believes, is that there are a lot of gamers who desire Razer products, just not at the prices they’re sold at. Price, however, is something that Tan will not back down from.

“If you are on a budget, go buy something else. Haters will continue to troll us, but I shouldn’t let them affect me.”

That statement seems contradictory when you contrast it with his passionate support for gamers and his refusal to sacrifice the gaming spirit for profits.

However, the best explanation of the contradiction would be why Razer still isn’t a mainstream company.

“Does it make sense for us to go mainstream? Could we make a product like the MacBook Air, which is thinner and sexier, but priced under $1,000? We could, but such a product might not be what a gamer wants, especially if sacrifices in performance have to be made. For us, as long as gamers will use it, we’ll make it. That is the defining factor for us. We design for a person, not a number.” 


There are no limits when it comes to designing a Razer product

That design philosophy and their famous tagline “For Gamers. By Gamers” is alive and well in the company. As Tan would describe it, they build products to be proud of. And just like any parent, the process seems to be worth it. Engineers experience shouting matches during the production process, yet they are willing to stay on because they have free rein to design the best gaming products.

“There are no limitations on budget, dimensions or hardware. We tell them to ignore the limits.”


Valve's Steam Machine

If making the best gaming products is of utmost importance, Razer sure has a lot of them. Judging from its portfolio of mice, keyboards, headsets and even controllers, one can see that the company is all about the gaming PC.

Though focus groups or industry reports point to a dying PC market, Tan chooses to ignore these numbers. He firmly believes that PC gaming will be even stronger, especially with the arrival of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4.

“Even though some games are currently exclusive to certain consoles, they could come to the PC easily since they share the same architecture.”

For Tan, PC gaming is here to stay, thanks to digital distribution channels such as SteamElectronic Arts’ Origin and Ubisoft’s Uplay.

“We took out optical drives before anyone else did, because we believe that Steam, Origin and UPlay are the way forward.”

Case in point - Valve’s Steam Machine, which was just announced recently, and is definitely based on a gaming PC architecture, will easily give the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 a run for their money.

And though Tan is more of a PC gamer and admits that he invests more time with his Xbox than PlayStation, that doesn’t mean he thinks the other platform is inferior. In fact, he says that Razer is exploring options for the PlayStation 4 since it's not an either or situation


Making the Razer Blade

Playstation 4 and Xbox One plans or no, it’s no denying that PC gaming is still at the core of Razer product philosophy. The Razer Blade is a continuation of that philosophy. Back in 2007, Tan was at a crossroads - live with a clunky and heavy gaming notebook, or settle for a thin, pretty and functional notebook with mediocre specs. He didn’t really want to have a choice at all.

“I love the MacBook Air, but as a gamer, I can't use it for day-to-day gaming.”

This yearning for a combination of impressive gaming specifications and razor thin form factor crystalised in the form of the first generation Razer Blade.

It wasn’t exactly smooth-sailing for the Blade though. They got a lot of flak for the unusually high price of the machine but despite that, they still went ahead with production.

He highlighted that the situation was somewhat similar when Razer’s gaming mouse, which were deemed too expensive, came out. However, the result was a mouse that’s faster by milliseconds, and customisable with software and apps developed by Razer’s in-house development team. And although Tan admits that some products like the Razer Onza and Lycosa did not perform as well in the market, overall, their return rate is still less than two per cent globally.

What Tan did not expect however, was the insane demand for the first generation Razer Blade, which only shipped in January 2012 after it was announced in August 2011.

“We totally underestimated the demand, even though it was three or four times more expensive than an average cost of a PC.”

Last year, three months worth of inventory was sold out in 45 minutes during the Blade’s launch. Earlier this year, the gaming laptop, refreshed with an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, had triple the inventory of the previous version and yet it still sold out in the first day. The third time’s the charm, and the Haswell refresh had an average waiting period of 10 days.

“I actually received death threats from a guy who set up a Twitter page just to troll me to give him a Blade.”

Ironically, he cautioned gamers not to buy overpriced Razer Blades from scalpers on eBay.