Of Mice and Keyboards

How Logitech has evolved with the changing games industry, and what's yet to come

Logitech have been making peripherals for PC and consoles for a very long time now, and more recently they've introduced a number high-end professional gaming products catering to the dedicated gamer.

But one of the big shifts this industry has seen in the past year is how the Nintendo hardware has opened up gaming to new audiences, and with that in mind, the way that people perceive their consoles — and the devices through which they interact with them — is changing. caught up with Logitech recently to look at the company's strategy today, and what its plans are for the future. We spoke to Chris Spearing, who's the country manager for UK and Ireland.

Q: How do you see Logitech's position in the market today?

Chris Spearing: What we are all about really is making your experience with the digital world more personal, so the peripherals we manufacture allow you to work, play and communicate in a digital world.

Moving over to the gaming side of the business, we are a technology leader in the peripherals market, and our strap line is "Built by gamers, for gamers." Essentially we had an existing PC gaming business which was based on your traditional products, joysticks, gamepads, steering wheels, those kinds of products, and some of which have been on a bit of a sales decline in retail.

But looking at the PC gaming market, where a lot of the games are now downloadable, with subscriptions as well, some of the retailers have seen a decline in some of the games.

We've had to explain to the retailers that it's not the PC gaming market that's in decline, it's the shrink-wrapped box over the counter sales that's in decline because of the rise in online downloadable games we're seeing at the moment.

Q: Do you think that the MMO subscription model is discouraging people to go out and buy boxed games then?

Well, yes, but they're also playing these games for longer, that's the key thing. Whether you're successful in those games or not there are still other titles that come along and attract other gamers.

We've been doing a lot of research and we've teamed up with gamers, we've been going to LAN parties and finding out what people are playing, what kind of peripherals they're using, or what they'd like to use.

So we've been looking at the trend in customisation. When you go to any LAN party you'll see the real hardcore gamers that customise their mice, which is something we've been working very much on with our weight tuning.

And you see the G9, and the other G series mice that we do, where weight tuning has become a very popular thing there. Some people like light types of mice for certain types of games, other people like heavier types of mice for other games, depending on what they're trying to do.

Also we have the DPI sensitivity-shifting as well, because in some games you need to be moving you cursor faster around the screen. But then in some first person shooters, and that kind of thing, you can go into a sniper mode and then you don't want it to move so quickly because you just can't be as accurate. So being able to switch the DPI down from 4000 to 200 is key for that kind of gameplay.

It's that shift. That's where we've been going as a manufacturer, and that's really down to the trend in games.

Q: It seems to be more of a trend away from the mainstream and towards the niche market?

I think for us, as a technology leader, we've always got to address the top end of the market, and then we go from there. So first off we design the higher end products, and then we come in with the more cost effective products for more casual gamers.

But I think the message is clear across the whole range — that if you want to be competitive in your game, you have to buy our products. You might think that weight-tuning is too far for you because you only play an hour an evening, or when you have time, but we've got products for you too.

Q: When you go to the LAN parties and meet the hardcore guys, how do you approach those situations?

I think they already know who we are, a lot of those guys were already using our products, so when you see our own products, and those of our competitors, being modified, you take a focus group, about 100 of those people, you look at what they're doing and you ask their opinions.

We come along with designs, work with them, find out what they'd really like to see. When we came to them and first showed them weight-tuning, it really blew those guys away. We had such positive feedback from the user groups, and these were the hardcore gamers.

We knew we were on the right track, so we're continually asking people if this is right for them, what sort of game they're playing, is this speed enough, what else can we do — so really working with them, rather than doing what some of our competitors do which is tell them what they want.

I think we've turned the PC peripherals market completely on its head. "Built by gamers, for gamers," isnât just a marketing statement; it's actually what we're doing.

Q: Peripherals are big news at the moment in the wider market, with items such as the Wii remote — is this action-based kind of item good for the market as a whole?

I think it's absolutely fantastic. I think the idea of what Nintendo has done with the Wii, where there's this social gaming aspectâ¦when you look at previous consoles, the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, it's really the more traditional gamers that play that, and a lot of people don't like those sort of games.

With the Wii, I think you have lot of people who would never have bought those consoles suddenly really interested, thinking it's fantastic for when they have their friends around, or after the pub, because the games are quite simple and easy to play. I think their advertising has really shown that. It's opened the gaming market, expanded it, so I think they've done a fantastic thing.

Q: Do you think it fundamentally changes the non-gamer's perception of what gaming really means?

Yes, I think sometimes you can get a view of what is a traditional gamer, and it's a teenager stuck in his room for hours on end, playing scary and dangerous games. And it's not really like that. Why shouldn't it be the people who wouldn't have considered playing those games, suddenly rushing out in their droves to buy a Wii, playing tennis or sports games with all their friends? I think it's fantastic.

It brings more of a visible, social element of brining people together. Obviously with the more hardcore gamers the online element is key, and at home you might be on your on but you're communicating with people. Having people in your living room, playing Wii together, is a really good, social thing.

Chris Spearing is Logitech's country manager for UK and Ireland, and part two next week he'll talk more about the company's plans for the future. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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