AusGamers Razer "Blade" Interview with Razer CEO, Min-Liang Tan
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:47pm 25/09/12 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan to talk about the Australian launch, this November, of their gaming laptop "Blade". Read on for his thoughts...
AusGamers: Can you tell us about the genesis of the Blade and how did you manage to keep the Blade’s arrival here in Australia under your lid?
Min-Liang Tan: Well, the whole company are gamers at Razer, and we pretty much design our products for ourselves. And for the longest time, we’ve always wanted to get something portable, that we can carry around and play games; so what we did was essentially that.
From that want, and the (pretty badass I think) non-compromising attitude that whenever someone said that “it’s impossible to do this”, we basically said fuck you, we’re just going to continue doing that. We designed the Razer Blade, and launched this in North America last year, and it’s gotten a phenomenal response, but we’ve been getting pinged by Australian gamers all the time on Twitter: “hey man, we always get the things last over here”, and stuff like that.
And because there’s so many PC gamers here in Australia, we said “what the hell! We’re just going to set it up and get it shipping in Australia”.
AusGamers: PC gaming is such a fickle thing, it’s almost an uphill battle for hardware companies. With everything going digital, and touchscreen... so for you guys to say ”fuck it, we’re going to make a platform that gamers can use, that’s traditional, but kind of marries a little bit of where the future is”, how long was that process for you guys from a development perspective?
Min-Liang: About four and a half years. So it’s been a long time. About four and a half years ago, I remember we all sat down... in ‘08 we sat down and said we wanted to design something... in fact, a funny thing is, about four and a half years ago, I spoke to Intel about it -- we were chatting with Intel; and two months ago, I was just leaving Intel, I was just having a meeting with this guy that I met in ‘08 and he turned around as I was leaving and said “Min” -- he shouted across the hall -- and I turned around, “four years ago when you said you wanted to do this, I didn’t believe you guys”.
So it’s been a labour of love for us for about four years. We’ve been having to acquire companies, acquire great talent. We’ve got some of the smartest engineers in the world. And to be candid, it’s not because we’re lucky, but because all of these big PC companies were basically saying “I don’t want to do design anymore; I just want to buy something generic from Taiwan and slap on my brand”, they were cutting all these great, talented engineers, and we were going “Hey great! Come and join us!”. So with this great developer talent, we were able to build something like the Razer Blade.
AusGamers: Was that four year development cycle problematic though? Given that technology moves so fast? How was it possible for you guys to just maintain a momentum that seemed that at the end of that four year cycle, was still fresh and something new?
Min-Liang: I think there’s a lot of faith involved. I mean, I had engineers that tried... to get to where the plate is today, we had to cancel four projects. So every year there was a single project, that when it was finished, we said “not good enough; let’s start again”.
We took all that knowledge; restarted the project; engineers worked... so for four years there were teams of engineers that didn’t contribute to the bottom line of the company, or anything to do with the company -- a lot of these guys that have been here for a long time, and have not launched a single project.
Partly, it’s because of our belief that gamers really want a project like that; and we were able to have resources to do it. It was touch-and-go a couple of times, but I’m glad we managed to launch it.
AusGamers: Are you guys aggressively seeking basically only gamers to buy this platform? It seems like it’s got a lot of other functionality -- especially for developers and things like that. But the flipside to that question is that so many other products out there now are white and sterile -- very clean. Whereas you guys are going really... [dark].
Is that a conscious decision? What’s the process there for you guys?
Min-Liang: Well, it’s a Razer product. All our products are dark [and] green. And for us, we’re just interested in appealing to gamers, because we’re gamers ourselves. I know of guys who are purchasing the Razer Blade, who are game developers, designers and stuff like that, which is great -- we’re happy; we welcome all of that. And I’ve got pals who go “wow, I could buy a standard, boring laptop, but I’m a gamer once in awhile; I want to get that badass laptop instead”.
So I think our key focus will always be gamers. If there’s somebody who wants to buy our product that’s not a gamer: great, I hope he becomes a gamer through us.
AusGamers: You’re using the phrase “The first true gaming laptop”. Some of your pals like Alienware might try and argue that point. Can you run me through a deeper understanding of why you came to that tagline?
Min-Liang: Well, I think gaming denotes performance, and laptop denotes portability right? So I think traditional gaming laptops... guys like Alienware do a phenomenal job -- I love their laptops; they design a great laptop, if you’re just obsessed about performance, because you stuff an immense amount of performance into something really thick and heavy, but it tends to be about five centimeters thick, and they tend to be about 10 kilograms -- seven to 10 kilograms. That’s not exactly a laptop in our opinion, it’s a luggable desktop-replacement; it’s something that you put on a desk, and that’s it. So it’s like a gaming desktop replacement.
We are calling it a true gaming laptop, because we want to draw attention to the fact that it’s not just gaming, it’s a gaming laptop that’s super-thin, and super-light; something that you can carry around; not a desktop replacement.
AusGamers: What sacrifices did you have to make for portability? Battery life, or anything specific?
Min-Liang: Price. Mainly because the only way to get... it’s got the same battery life as traditional gaming laptops, it’s got the same performance as traditional gaming laptops, it’s just half the thickness, and half the weight. The only way to get there, is that we had to mill everything out -- we had to use custom parts for everything.
Once you start using standard components from the shelf, you tend to have to work around the aesthetic components to fit the standard components. But what we did, was to redesign everything from scratch: the thermal solutions etc; so much so, that it gets really thin, but it gets really expensive.
If you look at a power supply for example, there is no reason why anyone can’t just say “I want a much smaller power supply”, the number of people who go “wow, that’s really light, and really thin”: but anyone could have done that; if they’d put their minds to it, and they were prepared to pay the premium for it. For us, we wanted to be able to design something great.
So Alienware makes great laptops: the Delta... if you get the same performance with an Alienware, with the same performance of a Blade: the Delta is about 25 percent cheaper. So if you’re only interested in performance, and don’t care about portability: get the Alienware; it’s 25 percent cheaper. But for guys like us -- I suppose you travel a lot, and move around; bring your laptop around -- would you pay that 25 percent premium to get something much thinner and lighter? I think quite a number of people might too.
AusGamers: Was it a bit of a concern for you guys, coming into the space now, with the Blade, given that generationally, technology is moving forward. We’ve seen what Battlefield can push out of machines; we’re going to see what Crysis 3 can push out of machines. Were you guys worried that... I mean, the problem with a laptop is that it’s not necessarily upgradeable.
In your research, did you find that there was a cycle that you could exist within, remain profitable, but still give what you want to the gamers, and to that generation?
Min-Liang: Candidly, Razer isn’t run like a business, so we don’t really look at profitability much to-date. It’s a little crazy, but we’ve been really lucky. We design products, and then we decide what the price-point is afterwards. Most companies look at a price-point first, and then force the designers to work with their price-point.
We do it the other way. We start with: “What’s cool?”, and they say “Oh, that’s cool; because I’m building something really, really cool”. Once we finish building that, then we go “Holy crap! It’s really expensive. How are we going to sell this?”. So we do it the other way around.
In terms of the design cycles: today, this can run Battlefield 3 on ultra...
AusGamers: Yeah, I saw that. I asked the handler: “What’s this running on”, and he said “Oh, I think it’s running on mid-level settings”, then we had a look, and it was ultra. And I played it, and it was smooth as all hell, it’s amazing.
Min-Liang: It’s crazy right? So it’s running on ultra today. Maybe next year it’s going to run some of the latest games on high; a year later, it’s going to run on medium, and stuff like that. It’s the natural progression of tech. And I think it’s a great natural progression of tech, because we’ll have new products coming out all the time. I think it’s a good thing, rather than a bad thing.
In fact, I hope that it continues like that. My only fear is that the consoles hold things back. That’s the worst thing that could happen.
AusGamers: But do you feel that at the moment, it’s probably better from a tech perspective... it definitely slows progression down, I won’t deny that, but it allows consumers a chance to catch up. With the concept of Moore’s Law, and technology doubling every two years, you kind of need a paper-weight basically, because it helps you guys maintain at least some kind of profitability -- whether or not that’s a part of what you do.
Min Liang: I think it’s a bit of a balance of both. The way I see it, is that the consoles are great, to create a great platform of ISVs [Independent Software Vendors], and stuff like that, but PC has its role too: to continue pushing the consoles, to keep going up. I see both areas having complementary skill sets.
Today, let’s say that if the PCs get way faster, and looks way better than consoles, then the consoles go “Holy crap, I need to keep up”, and I think it’s great for everyone. The cycle, I think, is good for... I’m looking forward to even better graphics, I’m looking forward to even better user interfaces and stuff like that.
AusGamers: Are you at all, thinking about (at Razer) OUYA; its a really big thing. Kickstarter proved that there’s a lot of people out there looking for open-source console stuff to get onto your TV. It seems like a perfect fit for you guys.
Min-Liang: I’ve chatted with the OUYA guys before they launched. I would say that the one that I’m really excited about is Steam Big Picture. OUYA is great -- I’ve ordered my own OUYA, and stuff like that -- the thing is, it’s going to have its own challenges that I hope it pulls through. Getting ISVs on board, and things like that.
But Steam on the other hand, has got all the games already available. I don’t need to buy a new device, I can just “Bam!”, get it onto my big screen. I think Steam Big Picture is something I’m truly excited about.
AusGamers: Ok. Do you know something that we don’t about that?
Min-Liang: I’ve only mentioned that... the beta’s out, so anyone can go in the beta. Try the beta; it’s great.
AusGamers: Well I’ll leave it there, because I can’t really get much more details on Razer Blade, than just sitting down and playing with it. Just finally, can you tell us why European’s aren’t getting it?
Min-Liang: Well, when we first launched the first Razer Blade, we thought we had 30 days of inventory, but we were sold out in 30 minutes. So we’ve been trying to catch up with inventory, and catching up with demand. We were supposed to do a global launch last year; we were unable to do that. The whole of last year was just North America.
This year, with the new Razer Blade, we thought that we were catching up with demand. We have more than tripled our production compared to last year, and we’re still not able to catch up with demand.
So I think we can still manage Australia first. I really cross my fingers, and hope that... it’s really weird, but I hope that Australian gamers will pace their orders and not take my servers down from the first day [laughs]. But Europe: it seems like it might be difficult for us to catch up with European production right now.
AusGamers: Alright. Well we’ll leave it there. I’m glad that we’re getting the platform first. Thank you so much.
Min-Liang: Thank you.
AusGamers: Cheers. Thank you.