A little while ago, I received a whole bunch of mice for testing from ZOWIE. But instead of receiving one or twice mice, I got a box with several - and that reminded me of a very real problem gamers face when buying a new mouse.
Everyone knows one or two gamers who have a habit of buying way too much stuff in one particular area. Maybe's it's retro games. Maybe it's everything on Steam. Maybe it's NES cartridges off eBay. Maybe you just like collecting old consoles. Maybe that person is you.
It's a vice I have as well, but with gaming mice.
At one point, I had a drawer that was filled with nothing but gaming mice. And that's because the only way to find the perfect mouse involved either buying a new one, or borrowing one from someone else. And given that people tend not to loan out their gaming mice very often, you often had to suck it and see.
Which brings me back to the box of ZOWIE mice recently.
A matter of centimetres.
Part of the reason ZOWIE sent several devices was the same reason they, and other companies, make so many variations to begin with. Everyone has different sized hands. Some large, some small. Some are wider than others. Some people have longer fingers. And everyone holds mice differently: some rest their palm atop the surface, others prefer fingertip grips, others like to keep their knuckles raised in a claw-like fashion.
And just like the human hand, each mice has subtle differences too. The ZA11 and ZA12 have a difference of 2mm at the front, the width, and 3mm at the base. One's 5 grams lighter. The EC1-B is 5mm fatter than the EC2-B at the base, 4 grams heavier, and 8 grams longer from head to toe.
We're talking mere millimetres here. It's such a small difference, that you can't really tell whether your hand would be better suited without a proper roadtest.
Because people don't want to keep throwing cash at the wall, gamers have been looking for other methods to try and at least narrow down what mice they should be thinking about. One method, proposed by YouTuber and Aussie Quake player Zy Rykoa, is to measure your hand.
After you've measured the length and width of your hand, Rykoa recommends multiplying that amount by 0.6. By his calculations, 60% of your hand matches up to what would roughly be the most comfortable. It's not a perfect calculation: the measurements change slightly if you use a palm grip compared to a fingertip grip, and again if you're a palm user.
So while getting some measurements helps, it's still no replacement for roadtesting a mouse yourself.
Speaking of ZOWIE mice, they're pretty straightforward offerings. There's no pesky software to install, there's plenty of variety for hands of all sizes, the cables aren't braided, their optical sensors are fantastic, the Huano switches are reliable and the mice can take several accidental whacks against the side of the keyboard without complaint.
They're not perfect, of course: the surface of the shell wears down pretty quickly after 6 months, and the left and right mouse buttons take more force to click than other brands, which can become a real problem in a game like StarCraft or Dota 2.
But this has been the case with almost every ZOWIE mice ever made. The question is: which one was the best for me?
I thought I knew prior to testing, having owned older ZOWIE mice and measured up my hand against each of the specs. But after weeks of competitive Overwatch tracking accuracy, marathon sessions of CS:GO deathmatch, and the third-party Aim Lab trainer, the smallest mouse ended up returning the best results.
I've spent way too much money on mice over the years. Even then, my intuition still couldn't hold a candle to a proper roadtest.
My previous daily driver, a Logitech G Pro mouse.
So, what's the alternative?
You could try going to a gaming convention, although choice is limited by whatever brands are available at the event, whether you can go, and whether you're happy to pay for the convention in the first place. You could size up your hand and ballpark the device that best fits, but it's far from an exact science and if your choice is just a little bit off - well, you're back to shelling out more money.
One option is to test mice in person, at a vendor or storefront somewhere. But a lot of computer vendors are often located in industrial areas that aren't easily accessible by public transport, and nobody wants to drive out to an area just to get a few clicks in. And many resellers don't have the retail space to actually showcase or demo product, anyway.
A better alternative would be an exemption within existing refund policies for mice, where users could try a product for a week or two and return it without charge or for a small fee if it's not suitable. That would at least ease some of the burden on making a choice: if you know you can get most (if not all) of your money back, you're more liable to try different products.
Time limits on returns could offer some assurance for resellers, which would need some certainty to ensure that sales don't totally collapse. A better solution can't exist without the companies that sell products getting involved, although in the long-term it might be direct sales (buying through the online stores of Razer, Logitech, and so forth) that are better suited for this.
Nonetheless, there needs to be a better way for gamers to get the right mouse for them. There's plenty of good devices on the market - but the buyer experience still leaves a lot up to chance.