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Razer took the wraps off some new products today, including its first-ever gaming laptop with a processor from Advanced Micro Devices. It also unveiled a new charger that uses gallium nitride, or GaN, rather than a traditional silicon-based charger. That makes it smaller and much more power efficient.
I talked to Min-Liang Tan, cofounder, chairman, and CEO of the gaming peripherals maker that has transformed itself into a “global lifestyle brand for gamers.” We discussed Razer’s decision to participate in this year’s online-only Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and the products that it’s introducing.
The products include the Razer Blade 14, with an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor and up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 laptop graphics processing unit (GPU). It has a quad HD 165Hz display, Razer Chroma RGB backlighting, THX Spatial Audio, and Nvidia Max-Q tech. It is only two-thirds of an inch thick. The $1,800-and-up device has two fans, both of which have 88 blades that are 0.1 millimeters thick. Tan called it the most powerful 14-inch gaming laptop.
With the laptop, Razer also announced its first GaN charging device, the Razer USB-C GaN charger for $180. (I wrote about the advantages of low-power GaN chargers here compared to silicon chargers.) It can provide up to 130 watts of power for smartphones or laptops. Tan said in the E3 event that it is “insanely small, insanely powerful.” It is 59% smaller and 17% shorter, small enough to fit in your pocket. It can charge four devices at once.
Lastly, Razer introduced its Razer Raptor 27, a new 27-inch monitor with a 165Hz display and a one-millisecond response time. It has QHD resolution and it has tear-free adaptive sync with both Nvidia G-Sync and AMD Free-Sync Premium. It’s the world’s first THX gaming-certified monitor. It has cable management in the back and it is VESA mount compatible.
Razer recently reported that it hit $1.2 billion in 2020 revenues, up 48% from a year earlier. It also turned a slim profit ahead of plan, and it announced how it wants to become a carbon-neutral sustainable company in the next decade.
Nothing about the past year turned out as expected. The demand for mask manufacturing actually drove Razer to develop a smarter mask for gamers, and it has taken a moment to redesign the new mask it was planning to ship, dubbed Project Hazel. It has two big filters but it also has see-through plastic in the middle so you can see a person’s lips move as they speak.
The new masks will be available in drop quantities in early Q4. It has anti-fog coating, and it has sustainable design features as it is reusable. Each filter lasts three times longer than surgical masks and it uses 80% less material. In the meantime, you can check it out how it would look on Instagram with a filter.
The company closed last year with 123 million user accounts, up 54% from a year earlier. Tan expects further growth in 2021, as he believes that more people are picking up the gaming habit.
We talked about how the nerdiness of gaming transformed into coolness and now is being embraced by the mainstream. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You haven’t spoken in an E3 program before, right? This is new. Why did it make sense to do it this time?
Min-Liang Tan: We’ve been with E3 for many years, even from the first year we were founded. We had a tiny booth in one of the halls run by one guy, myself, and somebody else. We’ve grown up together with them through the years. But it’s the first time we’ve been part of a keynote.
I’m covering a couple of things. One is how the brand has grown in terms of influence globally in gaming. It’s a huge step for us to be part of the E3 keynote. It’s also a great platform for us to get out there to the public. Last year, when E3 was canceled, everyone was a bit disappointed. What we did last year, we held Razer Con, and we had more than a million concurrent views. That was one thing that spurred a lot of other video game events. We all realized that there’s a huge pent-up demand from gamers who want to know what’s the latest and greatest. This year we’ll do both the E3 keynote, and we’re still going to hold Razer Con, because we see so much demand for that content.
GamesBeat: You also had the DevCon event.
Tan: Yes, but that was more focused on developers. It was very well-attended. Razer has one of the larger gamer ecosystems right now. We have more than 120 million gamers on our platform. We do payment services for gamers. We reach out to them daily. We help game companies acquire and connect to more gamers. Chroma is a smart home ecosystem. We’re seeing a lot of hardware companies and game companies connecting to Chroma. We thought it made sense to have these events to connect with the developers.
GamesBeat: You have flagship projects. I’m curious about the nicknames.
Tan: Nicknames are fun. It’s branched out a lot. We’re not only using favorite characters and things we’ve picked up along the way. But we have a couple of flagship products to announce at E3. We have the Blade 14, which we’re bringing back. It’s a strategic partnership with AMD. We’ve designed what we believe to be the ultimate AMD gaming laptop. We have a GaN charger, which personally I’m quite excited about. It’s going to be a massive hit. Some people say, “It’s just a charger.” But we’ve shrunk it down to less than half size. It might not be as relevant today, but if you travel a lot, you know how annoying it is to carry a big charger. Now we have a really tiny charger. I’m very excited about that.
GamesBeat: I spoke to the CEO of Power Integrations, and he explained GaN to me, about the chargers and how much smaller they can make them now. It’s pretty amazing technology. It sounds like that will be much smaller than what you usually have to carry.
Tan: Yeah, it’s super amazing. It’s way smaller, and we’ve packed in a lot more features. We’ve also added another form of charging port to it. It’s combining every single one of your chargers into something ultra-small. It works with Macbooks, with Dell laptops, what-have-you.
GamesBeat: Is this your first generation with AMD?
Tan: For the past 10 years we’ve always been with Intel. Intel still makes phenomenal CPUs, but one thing AMD has done very well in this generation is propelling the CPU to much greater heights. We’ve had a lot of our fan base ask us to make AMD-based laptops. This is the very first one. If you look at the specs, we’ve made it the most powerful and the smallest, which is difficult to do at the same time, with the Blade 14. It’s going to be a benchmark for all other gaming laptops, AMD laptops, moving forward from here. The expectation is that if this does well, we’ll make this a multi-generational product, and we expect it to do well.
It’s not just fast. It’s actually the most powerful AMD-based gaming laptop. It has both an AMD CPU and a 3080 GPU. Typically the ones out there are only 3060 in a 14″ form factor. The second thing is that it’s not just small. It’s actually the smallest. Typically when it gets more powerful, it needs to get bigger. We’ve managed to make it the most powerful 14″ laptop and the thinnest and smallest 14″ laptop. That’s why I think everyone’s so excited about it. It’s a quantum leap over pretty much every other 14″ gaming laptop out there right now.
GamesBeat: You mentioned two flagships and then other products. Can you explain which is which?
Tan: Well, I’m excited about all of them. But we have the Blade 14, and that by itself is a huge jump ahead. We have a Raptor 27 monitor, a refresh. The monitor is doing very well. We’ve put in a VESA mount. We’ve upgraded the display. The monitors have done incredibly well for us over the last couple of years, and this is the first time we’ve refreshed it. Then we have the GaN charger, and we’re doing an update on Project Hazel for the public, because there have been a lot of queries about Project Hazel, when we’re going to launch. Many countries are still in lockdown or opening and closing a bit, like Singapore. We’re providing an update on the design, some of the feedback we’ve taken.
We’re taking a long time with Hazel, candidly, because we’re doing a lot of certification and testing at the same time. Given that we make medical and surgical masks right now, we’re going through a lot of the same testing that we do with the surgical masks.
The fintech business, the payment processing, that’s grown dramatically through the pandemic. The sustainability side is still something we’re pushing ahead. It’s a big topic for us. Hazel is a part of the sustainability push. Recently we just crossed the 300,000 trees mark. We hope to get to a million trees by the end of the year.
GamesBeat: I’m curious about gamers and sustainability. Do you feel like that was more your corporate leadership that pushed sustainability? Or do you feel like gamers demand it from you?
Tan: We’ve been working on it for many years. I think we were a bit ahead of the curve, because it’s something we care about at Razer. We’ve become a leader in the environment and sustainability side. People look to us. We do investments in different things, offbeat things on that front. I think it’s a bit of both. On one hand, we were pushing sustainability, and on the other hand I think there was an awakening in our userbase about how important sustainability is, what’s going on out there.
There’s always that tension internally. People care about GPUs on one end, and you have miners on the other end using up electricity. But there’s a growing acceptance and understanding that sustainability is important. It’s not a big thing about gaming companies. Up front, I think we’re the only guys in the gaming space talking about it all the time. But I hope to see more gaming companies get into this. I expect them to look at sustainability as a big thing for the years to come. Maybe 10 years from now, like what we’ve done with the Blade — we’ve created these new industries along the way. Sustainability, I do think, will be a big talking point.
GamesBeat: What is ready? Is there anything that will be shipping soon that you have this summer?
Tan: The Blade 14 will be shipping. Right at E3, at the end of E3, we’re opening orders for the Blade 14 to ship immediately. The GaN charger we’ll be shipping within 30 days of the announcement, as well as the Raptor. All of them, you can place orders and we’ll be shipping them immediately.
Project Hazel, we’re getting everyone to sign up for it. Something about Razer products, typically every time we open an order, everyone comes in, it sells out immediately, and it leaves a lot of people unhappy. People will go out and scalp it on eBay, all that kind of stuff. One thing we’re doing with Hazel, we’re getting everyone to sign up, and then we’ll pre-inform everyone to do drops. We’re committing to launch it in early Q4.
GamesBeat: It sounds like even though there’s this big semiconductor shortage out there, you’re managing all right.
Tan: We’re also impacted like pretty much everyone else. Well, perhaps to a lesser extent, because historically we’ve always sold the most premium products. Our unit sales tend to be lower, but our revenues tend to be much higher given what we ship. But we’ve definitely been affected on the laptop side of things. On the peripheral side we still do very well. The laptop side, we’ve been impacted a bit, primarily because there’s been a bit of a shortage, and demand is through the roof. We’re trying to catch up with demand for laptops right now.
GamesBeat: As far as where we are in the pandemic cycle, if we had this big hardware boom that happened, I’m curious if you’ve seen a change in the pattern. At least in the U.S., it feels like it’s coming to an end.
Tan: We’ve been tracking this for the past couple of months. We have this gaming platform. We can see gaming activity across different games. We’re unique in the sense that our software platform allows us to see who’s playing, how long they play, and so on. We’ve been tracking the previous months, what’s happening with the markets, and some are opening up somewhat, like China. We realize that it’s trending up. But even as markets open up, the normalized rate is higher than pre-COVID.
I think we’ll see that this is a new norm, where digital entertainment has become so much of a part of everyone’s life. We have even more hardcore gamers now. Great games have come along, like Warzone. Then you have non-gamers in the past who’ve become gamers because of the pandemic. They’re not going to go back to being non-gamers just because life goes back to normal. They may cut down on their amount of gaming, because they’ll have access to different activities again. But the new norm, this has accelerated the growth of gaming quite a bit.
Here’s a bit of context. Prior to the pandemic we looked at double-digit growth. It was very strong. But with the pandemic it went up to triple digits in some cases. Now that it’s come down, we still see high double-digit growth moving forward from here, just because this is the new norm for all of us.
GamesBeat: I saw that IDC did a report on this, at least on mobile. They expected that the engagement levels were going to stay high. Some of it would drop off a bit, but most games will stay at their current levels.
Tan: That’s what we see on our software platform. We have 120 million gamers on the platform, and we still see sustained activity moving forward from here.
GamesBeat: As far as the keynote goes, do you have a message that goes with the new products?
Tan: It’s primarily the new products. The key message for the AMD gaming laptop is what we’ve done over the past 10 years. Ten years ago we launched what we called the first true gaming laptop. There was a lot of controversy back then, because gaming laptops were thick and heavy. They weren’t really laptops. They were luggables. Exactly 10 years ago, 2011, we launched the first ultra-thin, ultra-powerful gaming laptop and called it a true gaming laptop. I think there was a lot of controversy as people said, “You have to be kidding. Gamers don’t want that.”
But 10 years later, every single gaming laptop is following in the path of the Blade. We’ve created an entire industry. Every single one of the vendors have pivoted across to doing exactly what the Blade is. We still maintain that benchmark. I’m proud of that, given that from a PC gaming perspective, we’ve continued to do incredibly well. We’re straddling mobile gaming and console gaming. The whole gaming lifestyle has come to the fore.
GamesBeat: These laptops are going to be pretty quiet. They used to be quite noisy 10 years ago.
Tan: One big thing that I’m quite proud of and that I’ll talk about, we’re using this next-generation vapor chamber cooling system. Our thermals continue to be the benchmark. The one thing we’ve also done over and above is we’ve redesigned the fan with our vendors. We have fans with 88 fins, ultra-thin blades. We’re talking about 0.1mm. Every blade is the width of a human hair. We’ve been able to bring down the heat and bring down the noise. It’s a revolution, what we’ve done with AMD on this front with the Blade 14.
GamesBeat: Has the desktop market ever looked very interesting to you? Do you see any trends there — anything you would like to do?
Tan: We do very few products at Razer, and we take our time to design them, quite a bit. We’re interested in the desktop market, but at the right time. We have our core ID engineering team, and we polish our products for many years before they get out into the market. We think the gaming desktop market is ripe for a new design from the ground up, but at this point we’re still focused on the laptops.
GamesBeat: Microsoft had an interesting talk with Satya Nadella. He was talking about how they’re all-in on gaming. It’s interesting to hear that from people who are perhaps more above the gaming industry, the platform people, the tech giants. A certain validation comes when people like that pay attention and see that gaming is one of the most attractive markets of all. Do you think there’s a difference emerging here between those mainstream brands and gamer-focused brands?
Tan: Everyone is all in on gaming. Many people call us the Apple of gaming. We have a core, very passionate group of people. There are two consumer tech brands where people get tattoos of the logo. Apple is one of them. We’ve got thousands of people with Razer logo tattoos. Many people ask me when we’re going to go mainstream. I’d say that gaming is already at that cusp.
If you think about the Apple user 40 years ago, 30 years ago, they were a bit different. They were quirky. They were design-focused. The gamer today is still considered, oddly enough, a little quirky, a little different. We have our own subculture with our own language. We have our inside jokes and memes. But I think it’s inevitable. As we keep growing, the mainstream will come to us. Esports is going mainstream. This growth is inevitable. Pretty much every tech company will be all in on gaming one way or the other, whether it’s cloud or accessories or hardware or software. It’s the main form of entertainment for millennial and Gen Z youth. Just because they grow up, it doesn’t mean that’s going to change.
That’s one reason why, as we expand our road map at Razer, we’ve always said that we’re for gamers, by gamers. Not because we’ve changed our products, but because gamers have evolved over the past several years. Gamers 10 years ago are still gamers today. They may be starting families, growing up, building careers, but they’re still gamers. Razer is not going to go mainstream, but the mainstream is going to come to us.
GamesBeat: You can still sometimes tell when the tech giants are pretending to be in love with gaming, though.
Tan: Well, it’s a bit of a start-stop thing. Sometimes it’s frustrating. But it’s not necessarily the tech giants. It’s just the non-endemics who don’t really understand gaming yet. I believe that at some point in time, inside and outside, their executives who are gamers will gravitate toward gaming. We’ve seen that with esports sponsorships, for example. They get excited one year and then the next year they’re gone. It’s the nature of a subculture, an industry which requires a lot of inside knowledge, unless you’re actually playing the games. If you understand that — some people are going to love games or hate games. Even if the guy’s a gamer, he may love this game or hate some other game. That’s just part of the culture.
GamesBeat: Coming back to E3, deciding to double down on E3 as opposed to going off and doing your own thing, was that an easy decision?
Tan: We’re still going to do our own Razer Con. Last year, as I mentioned, we had 1.2 million concurrent views, which made it one of the biggest virtual events of the year. It was massive. Supporting E3 came from a couple of different things. We have so many new products this year that it’s a great opportunity to showcase some of them. That’s one. But second, we want to be able to send the message that gaming is here. Whether it’s a virtual or in-person event, we want to bring that buzz back.
Everyone’s been cooped up a little while too long. Having E3 brings some level of normalcy. I hope that next year we get an in-person event, but I do hope that the virtual side remains. Not everyone can go to E3. But moving forward from here, I think we’ll see hybrid events. Likewise, with Razer Con, we’ll make sure we have hybrid events at the same time.
GamesBeat: One of the benefits of E3 — it used to feel like that was the one week CNN would show up. They would send their camera crews out and expose the world of gaming to a much wider mainstream audience. It’s interesting what kind of calculations the big companies are making now when they decide not to participate, like EA and Activision Blizzard and Sony right now. I don’t quite get the math on that. They can’t beat a billion eyeballs in a week.
Tan: I can’t speak for other companies. But I actually don’t know whether the general press — don’t get me wrong. I have great respect for CNN and so on. But for gamers, because our market has grown so much, we know what publications we go to, what we read. I don’t know if there’s a need for the non-endemic press anymore. They’re the ones trying to get more news about gaming at this point in time. We read things like GamesBeat. We go to the Polygons of the world.
Today, E3 has become more like a gathering of sorts, to showcase stuff. The networking is missing, at least this year. It’s hard to do all that. That’s something I miss, running into everyone sitting there doing their own meetings. All the restaurants are packed every night. Maybe it’s the virtual side of things that has people more concerned. But having that buzz of real life is always going to be a big thing. That’s one reason why we used to hold our Razer Store events, which would gather people along the way. We hope to see that come back.
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