Anyone who keeps an eye on my content online (here or any other social platform) will soon find out that besides covering products and technology, I also intend to cover something else I’m particularly interested in: the business side of technology companies and their behavior towards consumers. As someone who has worked as a business consultant for most of my professional life (including on areas such as online marketing and customer service) I usually have a few (humble) opinions on these matters. And it just so happens that I have some of those this week, after observing another rather interesting episode in an industry I tend to pay close attention to.
“PC Gaming Race”, an American company who named themselves after the “Glorious PC Gaming Master Race” meme, has been an amazing case study about how to penetrate an already established market (PC peripherals in this case) and disrupt the living hell out of it! With their line of very successful gaming mice and keyboards (including the popular GMMK that I used on my first YouTube video that you can check it out here) and other peripherals, they took the PC gaming world by storm in 2019 when they released their first Models O, O- and then in early 2020 with the Model D and, more recently, the D- gaming mice.
Their peripherals have been highly praised by gamers and product reviewers from the beginning, not only for their performance, snazzy looks (mice full of hexagon holes to reduce weight became one of their most recognizable traits) and affordable pricing (compared to the rest of the industry giants like Logitech and Razer), but also for their tong-in-cheek marketing and their direct approach when dealing with their customers and the gaming community as whole.
From their very humble beginnings selling mouse mats and keyboard wrist rests, they always kept their customers up to date not only about their new products (like most other companies do), but also on their problems and challenges with the “transparency reports” they regularly publish on their company blog) and that always struck me as something refreshingly new in this industry.
As any new company, they had their fair share of problems with the first version of their Model O mouse (mostly issues deriving from their packaging that was damaging the mice cables in some cases). But unlike the normal practice to try to bury the bad press, they embraced it and took upon themselves the mission to make their affected customers whole while keeping their corrective measures public for anyone to see what they were doing (they eventually changed the cables and the packaging). As a result, they quickly turned the bad press into positive reactions from customers and influencers which, in turn, helped them to sell a boat load of gaming mice ever since. Now, with all the buzz going on for the last few years on the custom mechanical keyboards’ scene, Glorious PC Gaming Race decided to shake things up a bit in this market as well.
But let me give you some context first…
Since around 2010 many PC peripherals companies of all sizes have thrown their hats into the “mech” ring. But, for the most part, the big industry names have been mostly dominated by a single supplier of one of the most important components of mechanical keyboards: the key switch.
Ever since the “custom mech” scene started to flourish (circa 2010), mechanical keyboards switches had been, for the most part, a captive market of Cherry GmbH, a German/American manufacturer of computer input devices and other electronic components. But after their Cherry MX switches’ patent expired in 2013 the market for mechanical keyboard switches exploded into dozens of, mostly Chinese, manufacturers that completely supplanted Cherry’s original designs in terms of performance and “quality of life” features (such as better tactility, smoothness, sound, etc.) especially among the mechanical keyboard enthusiast community that was craving for more options. Asian manufacturers such as Gateron, Kailh/Kaihua, Outemu/Gaote and JWK basically dominate the enthusiast scene nowadays.
And this brings us back to Glorious PC Gaming Race most recent play to join this booming segment in the PC peripherals market by releasing their own mechanical keyboard switches with the same flair they did it with their mice offerings.
You see, when Glorious decided to make their first gaming mouse, the Model O, they were clearly inspired by the overnight success of another interesting industry outfit: Finalmouse. Finalmouse was the famous (or infamous depending on how you look at their success) company that hit mainstream when the Twitch superstar streamer “Ninja” started to promote the US$ 89.00 “Air58 Ninja” super lightweight gaming mouse in early 2019, which immediately sold-out. But such sales success was not without all sorts of problems with logistics (shipping delays), marketing (with their “aggressive” Twitter campaign, to put it lightly), sales and product availability (people using bots to buy as many units as they could and then flipping the products on eBay for sky-high prices), and tons of customer service horror stories.
Not long after Finalmouse’s earth shattering sales success, Glorious came out with the Model O, which was considered by most reviewers at the time to be as good as (if not better in some areas) than Finalmouse’s first product, but for a much more affordable US$ 50.00. Not only that, but Glorious went out of their way to ensure a constant supply of these things and to make sure they wouldn’t give their customers the same traumatic experiences people had with Finalmouse. And the rest, as they say, is history… Glorious went on to sell over 1 million units of all their gaming mouse models combined, while Finalmouse, even after following up with its “Ultralight” series, is nowhere to be found nowadays* (despite their never-ending teases on their Twitter account).
Analogous to the light gaming mice craze, the mechanical keyboards community had a similar phenomenon with a specific tactile switch nicknamed “Holly Panda”, a “frankenswitch” created by “QUAKEMZ” (from Top Clack Studio and a famous member of the mech community) sometime in 2018 when he put the steam of a ‘Halo’ tactile switch (designed by HaaTa, a member of the Input:Club at the time and manufactured by Kailh/Kaihua and now sold by Drop.com) into the housing of an ‘Invyr Panda’ linear switch (designed by Geekhack members “Zisb” and “27” and manufactured by Chinese switch manufacturer Bsun), which had a very limited production run in 2016. QUAKEMZ eventually described the whole story of how this switch came about and all the craze that derived from it in a blog post on Top Clack on December 2018.
Given the exclusive nature of this switch, since it required the housing of an obscure linear switch that was no longer in production, it became a “holy grail” status symbol in the mech community, reaching prices of up to US$ 5.00 per switch in the aftermarket throughout 2018. Prices would eventually come down a bit as many designers and manufacturers came out with their own clones and variations on the same idea: a switch with a very distinct tactility (a big round bump on the top of the switch trajectory), feel and sound (derived from the nylon bottom housing, polycarbonate top, POM stem and 67 grams spring). And that was when some of the famous Holy Panda “clone” switches, such as Zeal PC’s Zealios (the V2 in particular), Bsun Gsus, Yok Pandas and JWK’s T1s became famous for being good alternatives to the elusive original Holy Pandas (Invyr Panda housings + Halo stem).
Then, in mid-2019, Drop.com (known as Massdrop at the time) announced that they would offer what they claimed to be the original Holy Panda switch pre-assembled and pre-lubed in a group buy, and then again in 2020 (where you still need to pre-order these switches at US$1.20 each and wait around a month to get it).
And when all this community drama for a keyboard tactile switch seemed to finally start to settle down, Glorious PC Gaming Race announces on Twitter (on August 23rd) that they would release their own version of the Holy Panda (the “Glorious Holy Panda”) made with the same housing molds of the original 2016/17 Invyr Pandas:
Needless to say most people in the mechanical keyboard community reacted with skepticism, since they knew that even if Glorious could get the original Invyr/Bsun switch housings, they still wouldn’t be able to use the Halo switch stems (that are property of Drop.com), thus making the use of the “Holy Panda” name inaccurate in the best case and disingenuous and dishonest in the worst.
But then comes the news that Glorious had filed for a trademark on the “Holy Panda” name…
…chaos immediately ensued!
Glorious, who had enjoyed a good relationship with PC gamers within the mechanical keyboard community until then, was now a villain… And very evil one at that!
r/MechanicalKeyboards sub-reddit was lit on fire by people, with pitchforks proudly in hand, blasting Glorious for trying to steal and appropriate the work of the mech community and for representing the worst type of greed and shady corporate behavior Capitalism can offer.
If this story ended here, we could all agree that no one would honestly claim to be surprised that an opportunistic group of savvy business people could come in and unethically take over and explore someone else’s idea and work (everybody seems to be pretty cynical about these things after more than a century of “American Capitalism”).
But here is where the story, actually takes an interesting turn in my humble opinion! In August 31st, Glorious PC Gaming Race’s CEO and Founder Shazim Mohammad posted what amounts to a very smart (to say the least) letter right smack in the middle of r/MechanicalKeyboards to explain why he did what he did and, most importantly, to apologize to the community and to show how he planned to fix the problem and regain the community’s trust and respect again:
Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the honesty and truthfulness of this move, I guess we can all agree that it was an extremely precise and effective one by Glorious (as a company) and its founder, as most comments on the sub-reddit seem to indicate.
And I think this whole episode teaches some extremely valuable lessons for any entrepreneur and business person who wants to have a long and successful career in this or any other markets out there:
Don’t wait for bad press to get out of control! Take charge of the situation and hopefully you can regain control of the narrative;
Don’t be afraid to apologize! Even if you think you didn’t do anything wrong or illegal, since when these PR incidents happen, the facts tend to matter less than the optics of the situation;
Identify who better represents your resentful customers, potential customers or "influencers" (of your customers) and immediately and respectfully propose your solution to them. If you can reach an agreement with this person, group or entity, the whole community they represent will be much more likely to forgive you and give you another chance.
Do the right thing! Your customers are not stupid. If you think you can manipulate consumers and get away with loot, you’re much more likely to be exposed and have your business/personal reputation damaged for a very long time.
I know most Glorious PC Gaming Race customers are not members of the r/MechanicalKeyboards and: a) would probably not be aware of any controversy at this point; and b) probably wouldn't care. But, regardless of that, putting the fire out with the mech community (who can be very influential on the long run on which products succeed in this segment) very early on was a wise move and the right thing to do both in the business/financial sense and on the ethical side.
In the end, I think Glorious averted a PR crisis and I am sure the release of their new switch will be a resounding success later today when they open the gates to pre-orders of their newly renamed “Glorious Pandas” (although the packaging for the first batch will obviously still sport the “Holy” in the name).
I, for one, will order a batch and compare to the “OG” Holy Pandas and Yok Polar Pandas I have here, and will have a video showing my findings on my channel soon. Stay tuned!
And finally, I think that despite all the natural aversion most people on these close-knit communities (such as Geekhack and r/MK in this case) can have against larger businesses coming into their sacred hobbies, I believe that having market forces coming in to increase competition, lower prices and increase availability of good quality products that consumers are craving… is always a good thing!
Let’s face it: if there is one thing the custom mechanical keyboards segment desperately needs right now is more competition, more products availability and lower prices!
*UPDATE (July, 31st 2021): while Finalmouse is back with their new "Starlight" series of wireless mice for an eye-watering US$190, it is still the same low-production-run style of "products drops" where even if you want to pay their high prices, you still cannot get their products.