How One Company Spent Millions On A Gaming Mouse

How One Company Spent Millions on a Gaming Mouse

There's a room on Logitech's bright, modern-looking campus in Lausanne, Switzerland full of contraptions specifically designed to torture PC hardware.

Pneumatically-powered metal rods insistently click on mouse buttons and clack on mechanical keyboards, faster than any human hand. One machine hammers keyboard keys 6 times a second, endlessly, testing that they can withstand the millions of presses that Logitech sets as a performance benchmark. You could hammer these keys 6 times a second for 10 hours a day for 2 years before they'd give out, an engineer tells me.

Other things that Logitech has done to "test" its keyboards and mice include: driving trucks over them, dropping them from great heights, strapping them to strange turntable devices that spin around and around at crazy speeds to test their pinpoint accuracy on different surfaces, fixing them to the end of a pneumatic metal arm that swings wildly from side to side. I feel weirdly sorry for these peripherals.

"The goal is really to torture stuff," says Maxime Marini, Logitech's senior director of engineering and gaming development, as the various machines clack away around him. "We stress it in every possible way. At the end, the goal is that whatever gets out of here is 100% perfect and has no issues."

All of Logitech's pro-gamer products look and sound like they belong on a spaceship. They're all glowing blue lines and angular black plastic, with names like Daedelus Prime, Proteus Core and Hyperion Fury. It's a very aggressive, rather teenaged aesthetic, evidently popular both with the professional eSports players who use them and the people who buy them as a result of their endorsement. To me, as a casual observer, they seem absurdly ostentatious products, and astonishingly technically advanced. The latest gamer-oriented keyboard, the G910 Orion Spark (see what I mean?), involves more then 360 different LED lights, filtered through a micro-lens in every key so that each can be programmed to pulse a different colour. It costs £159 ($US250).

They also cost millions to develop - I couldn't get an exact figure out of any of Logitech's staff, from the R&D supervisor to the head of their games division, but when you spend a year working on a new mechanism for a mouse click or keyboard key and a fortune inventing contraptions that torture keyboards and mice to within an inch of their lives for testing, the costs start to add up. According to its latest financial report, Logitech spent over 16% of its gross profit on research and development in the six months from March to September this year: over $US63 million.

That figure covers all of Logitech's business, but the company's high-end keyboards and mice are likely to be a large slice of that R&D cost, because Logitech's engineers evidently care a great deal about making extremely good PC peripherals. In addition to the Room of Tortured Hardware, Logitech's Swiss campus contains this insane room, designed to filter out all signal interference to test wireless mouse response times. This room cost 550,000 Swiss francs (£362,000, $US571,000). The equipment outside, which precisely maps the radiation that the isolated mouse emits, cost a further 250,000 Swiss francs (£165,000, $US259,000).

How One Company Spent Millions on a Gaming Mouse

"It's millions of dollars, that you invest," Maxime hints, giving me an idea of the scale of production on one of its gaming keyboards or mice. "There are a lot of people who touch a project like this: at one time, it's maybe 20 or 30 people. You have 2 or 3 guys on the software, mechanical engineers, electronics engineers, then the management, the people doing all the materials, the finish, the paint… one guy working on the keys, the chromatics… it adds up. It's often seven figures."

"The toolset for a keyboard costs 100, 200 thousand dollars already. If you do wireless stuff, you have to pay for all the compliances in all the countries you want to sell it in, which can be tens of thousands of dollars. And then there's all the money you spend on advertising and marketing."

After hearing that, and watching several deeply technical presentations on Logitech's newest keyboard's key mechanism (which is a new invention), my biggest question was: how on earth can that be worth it, financially? eSports players are a vanishingly small percentage of even the PC gaming market, and their needs often conflict with those of the general mouse/keyboard-user. Pretty much nobody else spends 8-10 hours a day playing video games with intense speed and precision, and these mice and keyboards are so optimised for games that they're not exactly ideal for more general use (the elevation of the keys, at one point, actually made them impossible to type on quickly - something that Logitech had to fix before production). With such a teensy potential market, how is spending millions on a mouse worthwhile?

"The profit margin varies product by product," Maxime tells me. "The global profit margin was 38% last quarter - some products are higher than that, some are lower. But some of the high-end products, honestly, if you really want to do them well then it's not that easy to have a good margin. You can't just keep increasing the price. So on some of the high-end products we do not have a good margin because they are tough to make and there are a lot of very expensive components."

"You can do the best product in the world, but if people don't know about it… that's something we're changing now, we were always an engineering company, quite nerdy, but now we're trying to explain better to people that we do. If you don't explain to people, they just think, 'this is a $US179 keyboard.'"

Logitech is a very solvent company, it seems, so spending these astronomical amounts on new products is something it can afford to do even if the profit margin isn't all that great. Presumably, many of its other, less demanding products - iPad cases, portable speakers, more normal mice and keyboards - make enough money to allow for it. But I get the impression that these things are passion projects for a lot of the people who work on them. Logitech is an extremely nerdy engineering company, at heart. It's spent 33 years making mice. The people there take pride in making the best ones.

"The engineers have pride in the products that they have built," says Ujesh Disai, general manager of Logitech's gaming division, who had been in the job for all of four weeks when I talked to him. "I've seen other companies think that gaming peripheral means get a regular peripheral, paint it fancy colours, maybe put some lights on it, do some real glitzy, flashy marketing, and that equates to gaming peripheral. That's not what we try to do here. We're trying to build a differentiated product line specifically for gamers."

I ask Ujesh what can be done to prevent other companies from simply reverse-engineering these products that have been extensively developed and tested over the course of years. "Nothing, frankly," he says, smiling. "5% of our revenue is what we typically invest in R&D - that comes from our founder, and his point was that you can't rely on your past success, you've got to keep innovating. Especially in the tech industry. Otherwise you're just here today, gone tomorrow. We can't sit on our hands. We constantly have to be pushing forward. That's the only way to prevent people from catching up, because they're going to copy you."

I don't think I could personally bring myself to actually purchase and use a £70 ($US110) mouse called Proteus Core, but there is a large and growing population of people who definitely would: not just eSports players, but eSports fans. You could make an apt analogy with sports equipment here; sure, nobody apart from professional tennis players actually needs an ultra-light-weight tennis racquet with three years of R&D behind it, but people buy it because that's what the pros use. Logitech sponsors eSports teams for precisely this reason.

How One Company Spent Millions on a Gaming Mouse

The scene from League of Legends' Worlds tournament.

When you look at photographs of stadiums packed with rapt people watching top MOBA and FPS competitors - a scene that has appeared almost from nowhere over the past 4 years or so - you might see a phenomenon, but I reckon Logitech sees a market. Some research puts the eSports viewing audience at more than 70 million people. Perhaps spending seven-figure sums on making mice and keyboards for their heroes to use isn't such an indulgent thing to do.

Disclosure: Logitech provided Kotaku UK's travel and accommodation near its campus in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


Comments

    Great article! Fantastic to get a peek into the background behind these devices. those margins are relatively very small definitely have a lot of respect for the Logitech guys driving innovation despite this.

    I have that mouse. It's fantastic!

      Yeah, I was a bit put off by the way it looks but I'm really glad I chose it. It's absolute overkill for what I do but it makes things super comfortable while still having additional buttons I use for the few games I play.

        Same here!
        I thought it'd be terrible from first glance, then I tried using it and loved it,
        And I'd have to count myself in the eSport fan category, but also just like having quality hardware that should last.
        It's not something I needed, but definitely something I like having.

      If this article was advertising it damn well worked, just got one off ebay, new upgrade from my old WoW mouse.

      Absolutely. I got one and haven't looked back since. I actually use every single function. I constantly switch between high DPI and low DPI for twitch shooting and sniping respectively. And the accuracy of the thing... my god the accuracy. It is simply beautiful.

    and this is why all my keyboards/mice are Logitech. Apart from the odd failure after a few years they have all been good quality devices. hell my original MX510 is still going.

    I guess my g700 mouse missed the testing. Dead mouse button after less than 2 years. Not the first time ive had a Logitech mouse die either. Never again i will by a mouse from Logitech.

      Well that is unfortunate, but your case is simply exception to the rule.

    I'm not a Logitech peripheral fan (I'm more of a Corsair guy, I just prefer the more understated looks - though I'm glad I got mine before the whole Corsair Gaming thing), but it's really refreshing to see a company that's genuinely passionate about their products like this. You can tell the gaming division guys genuinely love what they do, and it's nice to see Logitech support and invest in that.

    Nice article as well, more behind-the-scenes pieces like this would be awesome.

      yeah me too (plus i happen to like pirates so having a man-of-war on my keyboard was pretty sweet) - alas, then the inevitable: water + mechanical keyboard = become sad then go buy a new keyboard...... and now I have some stupid pre-pubescent tramp stamp on the top of my keyboard instead. ugh

        It's meant to look like a pair of crossed cutlasses or something, but you're right. It just looks like a tribal tramp stamp haha. It's lame, because the original Corsair logo is awesome, and their peripherals are still designed really well.

        Surely you could find some leftover old stock on eBay/Amazon/etc if you were so inclined?

          Yeah, but the new one has full chromatic back lighting on all keys - it's a fair trade off for a shit logo

    I wish they'd make a damn "silent" mouse.

    Since switching to the Nexus (http://www.amazon.com/Nexus-NX-SM-7000B-SM-7000B-Silent-Mouse/dp/B004FKBZ8M), I cannot stand the clicking sound old mice make.

    Which sucks - because the mouse itself is only average.

      My SteelSeries is relatively quiet. Nice, soft clicks.

    Yep when it came time to upgrade everything, build my new gaming rig and buy new peripherals, I researched and researched, spent weeks on Toms Hardware et al. Logitech time and time and time again came out on top as the most reliable. I have that G502 Proteus Core mouse and the G710+ Keyboard and they are both absolutely beautiful to use. The mouse in particular is just so smooth, with a great shape fitting my hand nicely, and extra buttons laid out in such a way that you have lots of other options for key bindings without having to stretch at all.

    If only they could have put in just that little bit more and replicate my old G7.

    I'm really interested in the Roccat Tyon. its just a bit pricey right now.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3baifyG58OM

    I tried one at Pax, it was really comfortable and had lost of accessible buttons, build quality wouldn't be as good as Logitech though.

    Bring back the G9x!! I miss it. That said the one I have (pictured above) is really good too.

    My first Logitech mouse was the MX500 at around 2004 and have been with them ever since. The scroll wheels and plastic sliders on the base always ware out after a couple of years of solid use but I've never had one break. I generally buy a new one every 2 years but I like the simple mice without all the gimmicky nonsense. The next mouse I get will be the G402; a mate of mine has the G502 which feels amazing to use but I don't like all the extras on it, so the G402 would be perfect for me and it's only $49 at pccg :D

    Last edited 18/12/14 4:46 pm

    Didn't this article already happen numerous times?

      Yeah I've seen a few actually that are re-posts. Not sure what's going on.

    Too bad Logitech can't spend millions on their software, I abandoned their stuff a few years ago because it was so awful (OH YOU UPDATED YOUR INSTALL, WOULD YOU LIKE TO REGISTER THIS PRODUCT ON SYSTEM BOOT FOR THE FORTY-SEVENTH TIME?!?!).

    I have the the G502 Proteus Core Mouse and the G910 Orion Spark Keyboard and both are wonderful to use. While I have no doubt that this stuff is overpriced considering that these sort of accessories are complete overkill to my skill level at gaming and even my genres as a gamer (I don't need a fancy mouse and mechanical switches to play hearthstone for instance), I find that these accessories are pleasing to the eye and still great to use.

    The mouse was a fairly easy buy. Outstanding reviews and visually appealing, combined with a competitive price made it a strong contender for it's budget range. I happened to stumble upon the keyboard when a streamer on twitch was using it and was talking about it. Fell in love with it's look instantly and managed to snag it at $200 on a Christmas sale, but took a lot of hesitating at the price.

    That said it's hard to argue that these items are not luxury items. They're generally pretty excessive in what the average person needs.

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