Years after it began having its own switches made for its BlackWidow keyboards, Razer is after a wider market. No longer content to keep its switches part and parcel of its own roster of keyboards, the company has tapped other OEMs to experiment with building keyboards bearing Razer switches. The long-term plan also involves Razer selling its switches loose to the DIY market.
Understanding How Razer Thinks
Razer has a mixed reputation in the mechanical keyboard world. It has many ardent fans but just as many haters. It’s enough of a phenomenon that bashing Razer is an easy way to prove that you’re a Very Serious Keyboard Enthusiast, unlike the riffraff that buy “mainstream” mechanical keyboards. “Razer is a marketing company, not a tech company,” people are sometimes fond of saying.
Without commenting one way or another about the products, another read is that Razer is a really, really smart company that is exceptionally good at marketing and customer research. They know what people like, which is why they’re always #1 or #2 in sales in the mechanical keyboard market. Maybe Razer fans are just keebpleebs™, but they buy BlackWidows by the tens of thousands every month.
Razer knows of its tricky reputation in the hardcore keyboard enthusiast world, and this switch outreach is a big part of its push to capture some of that market.
The Significance of Ducky and Thermaltake
I don’t know what went on behind the scenes and with which companies Razer discussed switch options, but it was significant that the two OEMs showing off Razer-switch keyboards at Computex were Ducky and Thermaltake.
Ducky is of course popular with the less mainstream mechanical keyboard market–a great brand for post-Corsair/Razer/Logitech buyers–whereas Thermaltake is more of a mainstream OEM (but rather minor one when it comes to keyboards). When they’re combined with Razer, you get a broad representation of the keyboard market: a sort of left, right, and center, with King Razer firmly seated on a throne in the middle. Add that to the possibility that bags of Razer switches will be available to purchase for DIYers, and suddenly Razer has its fingers in virtually every part of the keyboard market.
This isn’t the first time Razer has attempted to get in good with the cool crowd (remember the infamous giant keyboard at CES?). But being “cool” is something you are, not something you become, of course. “How do you do, fellow keyboard enthusiasts?”
But for as tempting as it is to see hubris (at best) in Razer’s attempt to get the cool kids to buy its cool switches to make cool keyboards, a source told me that it was some OEMs that approached Razer about a collaboration, not the other way around. And neither party is paying the other; in fact, my source told me that Razer isn’t even involved in the financial transaction between the switch factories and the keyboard makers.
The Chroma Part
You didn’t think this was just about switches, did you? Internally, Razer is fanatical about its Chroma lighting system. Before so many OEMs like Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and others had their own lighting and software systems that integrated and unified LEDs across their entire product lines, Razer was putting Chroma onto and into everything it could find. That includes a gag cupholder that was distributed to journalists as a swag gift at CES a couple of years ago.
Currently, there’s a bit of an arms race in that submarket, because those softwares are all proprietary and bound to specific companies’ product lines. Personally, I’m a little surprised that no one has called a truce and come up with a neat and tidy standard so we can all get on with our lives. In the meantime, getting people hooked on your software system means that you have a significantly better chance of enticing them to buy more of your gear. Therefore, if you buy a Ducky keyboard with Chroma lighting, perhaps you’ll consider a thusly equipped Razer mouse or laptop.
That’s the game, and that’s why getting OEMs to use Razer switches is not just about keyfeel or branding. It’s about buying into an ecosystem of products that are unified by their software and lighting.
Razer wins either way; it can make money selling its switches to Ducky or Thermaltake or you or me, or it will enjoy knock-on sales of other Razer products. Or both. However, for now it’s my understanding that the latter–a play for mindshare, at least–is what Razer is focused on.
Wait and See
It’s unclear if either Ducky or Thermaltake, or anyone else, is actually going to launch a keyboard with Razer switches on board, though. Neither of the aforementioned companies even had photos of their respective prototypes from Computex that they could locate when I asked. It seems like the prototypes were a minor part of the Computex booths. I believe that Ducky is likely to create a Razer-switch keyboard, and I’m told that if it does, the keyboard will indeed use Razer Synapse/Chroma. I have yet to receive confirmation either way on that point from Thermaltake.
Regardless, these are intriguing developments, and Razer is testing the waters.
For Reference: The Razer Switch Lineup
There are now at least seven Razer switches, made by at least three different manufacturers:
- Razer Green (clicky)
- IP54 Razer Green (clicky)
- Razer Orange (tactile)
- Razer Yellow (linear)
- Razer Purple Optomechanical (clicky, present on the new Huntsman keyboards)
- Razer Ultra-Low Profile (clicky, present on the Razer Blade Pro)
Both Kaihua and Greetech are manufacturing partners for most of these switches. A4tech (Bloody) makes the Purple optical switch.