How gamers pushed Razer on sustainability | Min-Liang Tan interview

At the recent CES 2024 show, I was able to sit with Min-Liang Tan, CEO of Razer, the gaming lifestyle company who motto is “by gamers, for gamers.” I had a chat with him about the sustainability mission that the company has been working on for years.

In the booth, I saw the company’s commitment to use 40% recycled materials in PC products such as headsets, a focus on right to repair so that older computers can remain useful for longer, campaigns to inform consumers about its sustainability efforts, and its certification by third-parties like Underwriters Laboratory.

Then I went out to check out Razer’s products in the booth. They included Razer Blade 16-inch and 18-inch laptops with blazing fast OLED screens. They also showed off the new Sensa HD Haptics technology with a concept dubbed Project Esther. The company embedded the force-feedback tech in gaming chair cushion, as well as a game controller and in headphones. It was all coordinated haptics making me feel explosions while I was fighting off enemies attacking my base.

All of that — as well as a Gillette-branded Razer razor — was pretty impressive. But one of the more interesting things about Razer’s attention to detail was related to the company’s gaming chairs. They had an ergonomics expert on staff and he measured my fit with one of the chairs. He gave me a prescription for how to adjust the chair so that I could get the most comfort and fit out of it. It’s this kind of attention to detail and customization that earns Razer its fans.

GB Event

GamesBeat Summit Call for Speakers

We’re thrilled to open our call for speakers to our flagship event, GamesBeat Summit 2024 hosted in Los Angeles, where we will explore the theme of “Resilience and Adaption”. 

Apply to speak here

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Tan.

Min-Liang Tan is CEO of Razer.

GamesBeat: Can you give us a progress report on the sustainability issues you’ve talked about before?

Min-Liang Tan: I’m happy to talk a bit about that. Some other interesting things would be how the brand is evolving. We’ve been doing all kinds of interesting collabs with Dolce and Gabbana, with Procter and Gamble, with Gillette. But fundamentally speaking, we have this manifesto called Go Green with Razer. We’ve chatted about that before. This was very early on. We’ve been known for pretty elaborate packaging back in the day. Gamers would keep it, put it on a shelf, take photos, stuff like that.

About 10 years ago, though–I spend a lot of time on social, chatting with gamers. I started getting feedback about our packaging. “Hey, it’s too elaborate.” I realized that our users – Gen Z, millennials – are very passionate about sustainability. We had this huge re-look at the company with sustainability at its core. We created, in a single line, our Go Green with Razer sustainability manifesto. It’s based on our products, the organization, the community, and even our investors. There are four pillars.

On the product side, in addition to designing for quality, we also wanted to design for sustainability along the way. Then the organization. With all our offices, about 19 of them worldwide, we wanted them to be 100% powered by renewable energy, ahead of the curve. We’re aiming to be carbon neutral at the same time. We’re probably the first gaming company in SBTi, the Science-Based Targets initiative.

On top of that, we look at the community. How can we galvanize them? One thing we do very well is galvanizing the Razer community. A lot of people are familiar with the logos. They come to our shows. They’re passionate about these things. We created a mascot, Sneki Snek, that really drives this. We started looking at tangible goals. We took all our learnings from running a business and said, “How do we make this hit particular targets and make things happen?” We had a target of trying to save a million trees. We’ve grown past that to 1.4 million, 1.5 million together with Conservation International. We’re quite proud of that. We still do that. We have an animated series. We have a whole bunch of merch, all sustainable merch, fully recycled materials and so forth. Finally, we’ve started deploying our dollars, investing in companies for sustainability.

We’re ahead of where we want to be in terms of getting our products to use recycled materials. Our offices will be fully on renewable energy. We’ve pulled some of our targets forward. We’re now going a little further. Specifically for this show, we’re talking about how we’re designing our products for sustainability. Repairability is one of the first things. The second is recycled materials. The third is, how do we make sure that we use third-party auditing on the work we do?

Up to 40% of Razer’s products will be made of recycled material.

We’ve realized that as sustainability has become a buzzword, while we’re ahead of that curve, many people are going in that direction at the same time. We think it’s good to have a third party to come in and audit us and the work we do. We work with UL, one of the biggest certification bodies out there, to get third-party certification for the products we have. Designing for sustainability, repairability is number one. Up to 40% percent of the products we have are using recycled material. Finally, we have these logos that provide a bit of clear representation around the work we do.

GamesBeat: Have you gotten interesting results from, say, looking at what you’ve done and asking, “Are we doing more than a slogan? Are we really getting somewhere with this?” When you examine it closely, what comes out of that?

Tan: Because we started earlier than some others–I’ll be very candid. In the early days we had higher costs. There was a lot of intense conversation internally. “This is the cost of the product. We’re increasing the cost because of the work we’ve invested in this.” The benchmarks we set were very important for us, to ensure that there were tangible goals, goals that we could measure. It’s not just a feel-good thing. That’s great. But we have a lot of young staff, and they see that we’re doing the right thing for the planet.

A case in point. We said we would not use carbon credits or renewable credits unless we didn’t have a choice. The first thing we needed to do on a business process level, it had to make proper sense. Failing that, then we would do the carbon credits or the renewable credits. Having set very clear, tangible targets, that made a difference to ensure that we did the right thing. Over and above, the costs were higher. But now we’re happy about it, because we invested around those costs in advance. Our users, our customers, got used to that.

Some of the innovations that have come through that I’m pretty happy about–we came up with a calculator. We were able to calculate the carbon impact for all the products we manufacture, emissions and things like that. Then we were able to present this carbon impact to our customers at the point of checkout and say, “We can offset these carbon emissions. What would you like to do about this?” It also helped UL with the certification. All of that was based on clear numbers and targets for us to get things through.

GamesBeat: What does 2024 look like to you? We’ve had some conflicting signals. I see forecasts from CTA and others about hardware growing for games. But we also had all the layoffs last year, and some disappointing game launches. What would be your forecast?

Razer’s logo at its CES 2024 booth.

Tan: Post-pandemic, there was a dip in consumer demand, at least for consumer electronics. Everyone did their purchases during the pandemic, and now they were spending their money in different ways. Gaming has recovered a little faster. However, 2022 and 2023 were probably more reflective of the inventory that had built up over the pandemic. There was a lot of discounting going on, things like that.

We do see growth moving forward from here. We’re probably more concerned about inflated costs. Inflation has become a huge issue. It’s not just raw materials. Freight costs have come back down, but due to geopolitical risks and things like that, they’re starting to spike up again. We’re cautiously optimistic about growth, but we’re concerned about inflation and rising costs.

GamesBeat: Does that affect consumer buying power?

Tan: It affects consumer buying power. It affects our costs at the same time. There’s still sustained activity in gaming, though. It’s continued to grow. We’re excited about some big content that’s coming through. There have always been these cycles, multiple cycles. I’ve seen some of them already. We see new categories of games coming through. Whether it’s battle royale or MOBAs or MMOs back in the day, it’s come every five or seven years. We see cycles coming through and we’re excited about some potential new genres.

GamesBeat: For Razer itself, what are you excited about in the projects you have underway?

Tan: We’ve always been very focused on gaming. We’re probably the first consumer electronics brand that’s been focused on gaming. We continue to focus on gaming. I like to joke that we’re one of the first and we’ll be one of the last. It’s not just a business for us. It’s always been our focus.

The ecosystem continues to grow for us. We’ve gone private. We’re very focused on what we need to do. Hardware continues to be great. The focus for hardware is the innovation that we continue to bring. CES is great for us. One key thing we’re focused on here is what we’ve done with Chroma RGB. Like it or not, we’re probably the ones that created this whole RGB movement. We’re taking it to the next level. We’ve made an open platform with Chroma to onboard all the third parties.

Haptics is something we’re very excited about. In the very early days it was just rumble. Rumble was cool the first time you tried it, but then it became–okay, is this as far as it goes? We see haptics as something that brings additional immersion. It’s a bit like Chroma at the same time. But it’s all about immersion, making sure someone has an even better gaming experience. We’re innovating on the hardware side of things.

Gillette and Razer are making a Razer Razor called the GilletteLabs Razer limited edition

I always like to say that I design products for myself. It’s always been the same thing. At one point I was getting a really bad neck ache. It was a combination of posture and working too long in front of the computer. When we designed our line of furniture it wasn’t meant to be a big part of our business. But we came up with the first ergonomic support–we brought in physicians and experts to help us with it. Now, with version two of Iskur, we’ve come up with prescription pads to fit exactly how you sit. We get a lot of great reviews. People call them the best gaming chairs in the world.

That’s what’s unique about Razer. We’re not a laptop company. We don’t make productivity mice. We put the gamer right in the middle and we build everything around them. I don’t know of any other brand that does this today. It’s still us. We’re hyper-focused on the gamer.

In software we continue to onboard people to our platform, whether it’s Axon or Cortex, our game launcher. The services, the games payment stuff we do, continue to grow. What’s unique about Razer is that we’re not a hardware company. We’ve built this ecosystem. We process billions of dollars now for game payments alone. Third party payment is something that a lot of content guys are looking for.

GamesBeat: The alternative store market seems to be opening up more as an opportunity. You can do even more of your own commerce.

Tan: Absolutely. We’re not so keen on the store side of things, though. The right people to run the stores will be the content guys. Today Razer Gold–we power many Tencent games. We power Steam in many regions. Our goal is to onboard Razer gamers on our software platform. How do we onboard gamers in emerging markets like Latin America, the Middle East, and southeast Asia, so we can bring them to our partners? That’s been our goal and we’ve done it very effectively. We don’t bring out numbers today, but when we first started doing it, it was when we’d just gone public in 2017. Now it’s a significant portion of our business on a top line basis.

GamesBeat: When you’re deciding what to do with something like haptics, how far to go with it–it’s seemed like a gimmick over the years in a lot of cases. There hasn’t been integration into games. How far do you think you can go? How big is that opportunity?

Razer Blade 16 with a new OLED screen.

Tan: Haptics has been around a long time. When I was a kid, which is kind of scary, they had haptics. The difference today is, traditional haptics–I see it as a bit like how, when we first invented the gaming mouse, there was a lot of existing technology. Traditional haptics was binary. Just ones and zeroes. It buzzes or it doesn’t. When we started looking at acquiring technology, we had haptics engineers internally and we were testing it out. We realized that there’s a huge amount of depth that can go into haptics that also requires integration with content.

It wasn’t just about content, too. It also required hardware at the same time. It was this complex thing where you need hardware people, software people, and content people at the same time. That’s one thing we’ve done with Sensa. On the hardware level, we’ve focused on how we can build the right actuators for it. We believe that there is a hardware benchmark that will provide for these ultra-high wideband discrete actuators to come through. That’s the hardware bit. The software bit is, how do we create the SDK? We’ve gotten the haptics people to do it such that anyone can build and create on top of this platform. The final bit is content. This is the kicker. We spent a lot of time figuring how to isolate audio so that all content worked for it.

Any content, off the bat, will be able to work with this effectively. If you want a really insanely great experience you can then integrate over and above. A lot of the content you have is just going to run, though. Getting the hardware all in–it’s not just the chair mat. It’s the headphones. It’s the controller. You get this complete immersive experience. The next question is, is this going into the metaverse? How much further can we take it?

GamesBeat: How actively are you pursuing the metaverse? There was initial excitement, then some backlash, and now some projects that are coming through to fruition.

Tan: The metaverse has already been here for a long time. I don’t see the metaverse as VR or AR or anything like that. I see it as, is there a virtual world that we can immerse ourselves in? With varying degrees of immersion, whether it’s just a screen, whether it’s haptics, whether it’s VR and so on. But for gamers the metaverse has been there from Ultima Online and onward. It’s a place where people have interacted virtually. There are just different modes, different levels of immersion.

You don’t necessarily need to build an entirely new world. Roblox is doing a great job. We have a partnership with Roblox where we’re talking about hardware. Even things like payments. How do you make that seamless? For gamers the metaverse has been around, and it should only get bigger. The bigger games will get bigger. Everyone’s excited about the next GTA.

Non-endemics – we like to use that word – are slowly warming up and realizing that the metaverse is here. It’s with gamers. We’ve had great partnerships with Lamborghini, with Dolce and Gabbana. That’s an Italian high fashion brand. Panerai, we’ve done a watch with them. I’ve had conversations with them. When they reached out to us, the premise was, they see the youth. They see gaming. They see esports. They see the metaverse. They’re interested in all this, and we’re the biggest lifestyle brand for gamers at this point in time. There’s an understanding right now that the gamer demographic is really the demographic to reach out to the youth and reach out to virtual worlds.

GamesBeat: When it comes to the more experimental projects here, is there anything in particular that you’re excited about? You had some codenames that seemed pretty wild in the past. What’s some of the wild stuff that you foresee?

Razer’s CES 2024 gaming products on display.

Tan: We continue to have a couple of themes. One is the competitive aspect, esports and things like that. Esports now, the prize purses have gone through the roof. There are dips and troughs, but we continue to be leading at the forefront when it comes to innovation for gamers. Most esports athletes use our products. We’re focused on, how do we get tracking even better? How do we get latency down? Latency continues to be an issue for streaming and esports. A lot of our engineers and scientists are pushing on that front.

Immersion is where haptics, Chroma, lighting and things like that come through. We don’t want to innovate for the sake of innovation. We want to make sure that it’s deployed in the millions of mice we ship out. Haptics is something I’m quite excited about, because haptics is going to have a variety of applications. We want ease of use, where someone can really jump in. It’s why we picked a chair mat versus a whole suit. How do you get somebody into the technology, into the innovation, in a matter of seconds? As opposed to an involved process of suiting up and so on. That’s a big bet for us.

The other one would be fundamental deep engineering, everything from vapor chambers to laptops. We do a lot around cooling and things like that. I hate to use a buzzword, but we’re spending a lot of time looking at AI and how that’s going to affect gamers. That’s probably something for a future conversation. We wanted to intentionally not talk about it here. But we do see a lot of applications for AI in gaming that will change that face of gaming in the future.

GamesBeat: When it comes to AI, do you think there’s more impact for the people inside your company, or for consumers?

Tan: Both. First up is using it for tools and things like that internally. But for gamers I do think AI is going to be a big part of their lives around gaming. There have been multiple attempts at this. To give an example of some low-hanging fruit, we launched AI wallpapers for gamers with Razer Axon. It’s done insanely well. We partnered with a company called Leonardo. A gamer right now, when they build their desktop with their Razer mouse and Razer keyboard, that’s layer one of immersion. Layer two is when we bring in Chroma, where the lighting systems–when someone gets hit in Fortnite, it flashes red. We work with Epic to do all that. Chroma is now the biggest platform when it comes to that. We pioneered RGB. Today you see people who are very proud of taking photos of their RGB battlestations.

Razer was giving out chair prescriptions at its booth.

Now we’ve created this wallpaper application, Axon. We worked with all the game companies initially. Halo wallpapers and so on, very high quality premium wallpapers, we put them up. Then we got feedback from gamers who wanted to be able to create their own wallpapers and upload them. The vast majority of gamers are probably not equipped to do Photoshop and create content that way. So we partnered with an AI company, and it’s been a bit of a sleeper hit. You can go and say, “I’d like to have Master Chief from Halo in the middle of a Diablo hellscape.” Boom, it generates that absolutely free in super high quality. That’s an application for our users. They’ve generated millions of wallpapers at this point, using AI in a pretty interesting way.

That’s the kind of low-hanging fruit we’re looking at right now. We’re using AI tools to help gamers create a better experience for themselves. What’s going to come next will be how AI gets implemented in games, together with what we do. That’s a longer conversation.

VentureBeat’s mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.