Razer’s evolution from garish gamer hardware to hot-ass gear

Video games have gotten a makeover during the last few years. The hobby once evoked images of Cheeto-stained T-shirts and cargo pants crumpled over flickering CRT screens, the advent of social media influencers has upended the mainstream’s idea of what it means to look like a gaming nerd.

TikTok, the world’s hottest social media app, has seen the rise of egirls, whose on-point makeup and picture-perfect pastels are inextricably linked to video game fandom. At the same time, men on social media have started embracing the “soft boy” look in an attempt to reject toxic masculinity and display tenderness. All the while, millennial pink has continued to dominate Instagram feeds everywhere.

It was perhaps inevitable that gaming companies would start to notice these trends. But it’s been slow-going, in part because artsy social media aesthetics feel antithetical to the dominant video gaming style, composed of neon colors and heavy bases, such as black and gunmetal gray. And nobody has been a bigger proponent of that look than gaming hardware giant Razer, the go-to brand for many hardcore fans seeking to purchase high-end video game peripherals.

Razer initially came into the hardware scene back in 2005, looking to shake things up.

“When Razer was founded, it was about standing out from office mice and office keyboards and making sure that the product looked cool,” Christopher Mitchell, director of product marketing at Razer, tells Polygon.

At the time, the dominant aesthetic for peripherals was “gray and boring,” according to Mitchell, and those products weren’t necessarily developed to enhance gaming performance with speed and precision. When Razer decided to throw its hat into the ring, the company primarily took inspiration from sleek and elegant car designs; think gaming hardware by way of The Fast and Furious.

The move worked. Razer has practically become synonymous with the gamer aesthetic, and most competitors in the space still focus on that neon-on-black look. But that’s not where the story ends.

Going pink

A couple of Razer employees started pushing internally for a pink line of gaming peripherals around 2016. It was a tough sell. “One concern was that the stereotype of girls liking pink or a quartz color may not necessarily be applicable to gamers,” Mitchell says.

Years ago, I spent a long time paining over what accessories could accompany my new PC. The problem was that I hated the garishness and ubiquity of neon highlights that plague gaming hardware. I didn’t need my gaming mice to scream “GAMER” from across the room with bright lights, as traditional gaming products tend to. That can be embarrassing in a world where everyone plays something. I just wanted my accessories to look nice, maybe even match other objects and furniture around my house. If quartz had been an option at the time, I likely would have jumped on it.

But Razer struggled to find data that suggested a pink line could be successful, especially in the face of more traditional color options for these products.

“The Quartz is a very interesting color in of itself — it’s completely the opposite from the very strong black and green,” says Stephane Blanchard, Razer’s director of design.

Another concern revolved around the pink tax, which is the practice of selling items aimed at women at a mark-up. In this case, Mitchell claims that getting Razer products in quartz pink genuinely cost the company more money to produce, but that it still didn’t want to charge extra for a “generally similar product” that it already offered.

The gaming company also wanted to make sure that its pink products didn’t look cheap, or like a toy, which could be an issue with certain shades of pink. Blanchard estimates that the company reviewed over 100 shades of pink over the course of several months before settling on the final colors.

Whatever hangups Razer initially had, the company did start experimenting with few more color options. The thinking was that the Razer identity at that point was well-established enough that it could “add some variety to our design,” Blanchard says, while still retaining the core spirit of the brand alive.

But once the color controversy cleared, a new issue emerged: How could Razer get stores to actually sell a pink product? According to Mitchell, “getting retailers to buy in” was one of the most challenging aspects of developing the Quartz line, which he theorizes had a lot to do with people’s perception of who buys gaming products, and what those consumers prefer.

“There was nothing that said … men would prefer pink over black,” Mitchell says, regarding Razer’s research data.

But the gamble worked. Anecdotally, nearly every gamer woman I know owns something in the Quartz line, or wants to. Twitch streamers and YouTubers love to show off their pink Razer products, while social media posts showcasing gaming set-ups usually have one or two Quartz products in the background.

“Instagram has been super, super instrumental” in getting the word out on the Quartz line, Mitchell says. The line seems to be everywhere — even Belle Delphine, queen of the egirls, owns Quartz products.

Screengrab: Instagram via Polygon

Screengrab: Instagram via Polygon

While Razer declined to share specific sales numbers, the hardware manufacturer told Polygon that the Quartz line — which includes a laptop, microphone, mice, and keyboard, among other things — is “doing really well.” In some cases, the optional colorways are “outselling the black version” of the same product.

“It’s been our most successful color variation by far,” Mitchell says. Out of all the offerings in the Quartz line, Razer notes that its Kraken headset has been the most popular product, likely because headphones are more portable than other gaming peripherals and are often worn in public. Despite this explosion, the line isn’t quite as ubiquitous as it could be.

“Right now [we’re] primarily limited by the retail rollout,” Mitchell says. “So, not every retailer carries it … they tend to focus on the black core product line first and foremost.” Internally, Razer considered it a milestone when it was able to have a rollout of the Quartz line on a national chain like Best Buy on a permanent basis, rather than only selling the items for a season. It was a hard-earned vote of confidence.

But as the line grew and evolved, new concerns emerged. One question came down to just how far Razer could take the Quartz line. Fans kept campaigning for headsets that looked like cat ears, but the company CEO, who is famously hands-on at Razer, was initially “very much against” it, Mitchell says, with a laugh. It wasn’t hesitation around the color — at this point, Razer knew it could sell. But would people start to think that Razer wasn’t “taking things seriously,” as Mitchell puts it? Would it look like the hardware developer was losing its “core?”

For a company that defined what gamers look for in a peripheral, these were downright existential questions.

“But at the end of the day, Razer was founded on one motto,” Mitchell notes. “Which is ‘for gamers, by gamers.’ And fans kept asking for [the cat ears].” Lo and behold, cat ears are some of the most prominent Quartz products on social media, likely in response to the popularity around characters like D.Va from Overwatch.

Speaking to Razer representatives, it’s clear that the mice and keyboard producer has started to redefine its identity, even if they insisted to me that their core ethos has remained the same over the years. Crafting products for gaming dominance is still the mandate, but the aesthetics surrounding that directive are shifting. Technically, the Quartz line is just more Razer in a different flavor, but these tweaks can have a huge impact in who considers the products in the first place.

Kay Simpson, a Mixer streamer who owns multiple Quartz products, says that when she was initially building out her PC gaming set-up, she was taken aback by how “aggressive” and unappealing most products looked. Nothing she saw matched her personality, with many mainstream offerings instead opting for a more “hyper-masculine” aesthetic, Simpson said in an email.

But newer Razer products are a little more subtle about their provenance — Mitchell notes that in recent offerings, like the Razer Viper, the three-headed serpent that defines Razer isn’t visible unless you turn on the LED.

“We’re evolving our design to be more clean, less in your face—but still modern and sleek looking,” Mitchell says. For Quartz, that approach is paying off.

“It’s a line that people are proud to show off,” Mitchell says.

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