We've already got every form of gaming accessory imaginable. The next frontier? Gaming desks, if brands have their say.
The pitch is simple. Standard desks, the ones gamers tend to buy, aren't high quality. Cable management isn't typically a thing, the desks aren't adjustable, colour choices might be limited, and most importantly — they're not built for games.
So brands think they've spotted a gap in the market, as was apparent on the Computex show floor this year.
The first brand I ran into on the Nangang show floor was a brand I'd never heard of. They were showcasing a variable standing desk, a short black desk emblazoned with some red trim around the legs. It had a fairly shabby set of controls on the right-hand side, and the first day I saw it, it could hover up and down. The LCD panel displayed its height in inches; I asked whether the metric system was an option.
"I don't think so," the attendant at the booth said.
The next day, I walked past the same vendor. I fiddled with the controls a little, but this time, the desk refused to respond.
There was a time when the word "gamer" used to mean something that was affordable, good value for money. Now it's indicative of a premium — you're paying extra for gaming performance, no matter how real or imaginary that performance might be.
From a business perspective, it makes total sense. Gamers these days have more discretionary income than ever before, and the gaming community has always been keen to spend hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, for the best setup.
So it makes sense that companies like AKRacing, who had a booth at Computex, would invest in the gaming desk market.
Priced from $399, AKRacing's desks are the gaming chair brand's latest product line. They're not adjustable gaming desks, instead focusing on providing a solid steel frame for all your hardware, laminated PVC for a carbon fibre look, a small curve at the front (rather than a square edge, to accommodate people's wrists), and a steel rail at the back for cable management. All of the desks are the same dimensions, coming in at 116 x 75 x 73cm (with 64cm width for the legs).
The pricing isn't that different to what you'd pay for a normal desk. If you discount the legitimacy of a foldup Bunnings table as an option — which have held up many a LAN party in their day — you're looking at around $200 to $300 for the lower end options. Some offerings from IKEA will have cable management built in as an example, but all major furniture retailers will have something available around the same price range.
What most of those retailers won't have, however, is a gaming desk that's also a standing desk.
Standing desks are increasingly common and given how awful most gamers' posture is, it makes sense that brands would start to make standing gaming desks as well. If you can't live without RGB in every facet of your life, Thermaltake have an electric adjustable desk for a staggering $US1200.
There's also a slightly cheaper option — and it's Australian.
A few weeks before Computex, I took a trip to a warehouse in Marrickville to visit a company called Elevate Ergonomics. Run by a single Aussie, Paul Foo, the company's pitch was pretty simple: gamers have shithouse posture.
"We've designed a gaming desk that looks amazing, large enough to accommodate multiple monitors and encourages gamers to get up and move to improve their focus, health and wellbeing," Foo told Kotaku Australia over email.
The product was a spin-off of the company's existing variable standing desks, aimed directly at gamers. It's called the BattleStation Gaming Desk, with a single OLED dial controlling the desk's height, variable profiles for easy adjustment, and in something that's become a point of difference compared to the other desks I've seen, a special coating so the whole desk can act as a giant mousepad.
Available in two sizes (the smallest version is 1.5m long, with the XL desk 1.8m), the BattleStation is adjustable from just under 64cm all the way to 1.28m. You can adjust the height by turning the OLED dial, but you can also connect to the desk via Bluetooth. The app lets you adjust the desk's height — it's not at responsive as doing it manually, but it's nice to have the option — but it can also schedule reminders to encourage you to take breaks and stand more.
It's not as expensive as Thermaltake's offering, but it's still in the four figure mark — $1079 for the standard desk, and $1129 for the larger version. In an interview at his offices, Foo also showed me an optional power board that clips in and out of the underside rail, in case you needed to connect something closer.
The texture of the desk itself had to be designed in Japan, and serves as a durable mouse pad while being resistant to spills and scratches.
"We had to do this about three, four, five times ... you'll notice when you run your finger of it, it's got millions of microscopic particles impregnated into the actual surface coating," Foo explained. It's not quite like a textured surface, or sand, but a hybrid of the two. The surface is then baked to 50 to 55 degrees for two hours as part of the final process.
It's the kind of desk that, Foo says, appeals to people who want a solid home study desk. "This is what I've found is like a dual purpose ... guys that can afford it, that are generally professionals that also like gaming," Foo said. "A lot of people would use it as their home study desk if they're not gaming."
The whole desk takes about 45 minutes for a novice to put together — that's accounting for four or five fumbles, Foo claimed — and the whole thing ships as a flatpack to the consumer.
Foo's background in ergonomics also gave him specific insights about the market. We spoke briefly about the prominence of gaming chairs — they're not that comfortable, he argued, and they're not that suited for Australian conditions because most gaming chairs aren't made out of mesh, and therefore don't allow your skin to breathe in the hotter months.
I asked how gamers were going to get in front of the BattleStation — it's not the kind of thing you'd see on the JB Hi-Fi show floor, and it's priced at the kind of level that you'd really want to check it out before buying. Foo explained that he'll be showing it off at PAX Australia later this year, although the particulars were yet to be worked out. It's currently viewable at MWAVE's showroom in Auburn, although that's not much help to gamers outside of Sydney.
Having just pulled a muscle in my neck, which kept me off my home PC for a solid week — but not at work, because such is life — the pitch had a ton of appeal. The kicker about buying an expensive desk is that it's the sort of purchase you only make once every 8 or 10 years, and unscrewing and moving a giant steel desk when you're renting sounds like a right pain.
Question is: how much is staving off regular physio appointments and the potential long-term damage of RSI and carpal tunnel worth?
All the way back in 2007, I got commissioned for my first freelance story overseas. It was a story about Australian esports, but predominately how much of a struggle it was. And a key part of that struggle was the physical injuries. Even back then, where the numbers of Australians making a living from professional video games was barely double digits, a common thread had emerged even then: injuries.
Players were taking time off from university, pondering the prospect of surgery, and trying to find ways to minimise the damage done to their forearms, wrists, necks, you name it. It was the natural byproduct of pushing yourself further in the pursuit of competition, whilst knowing nothing about the treatments, stretches and measures necessary to stave off RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome, and all manner of complications.
Thanks to time and experience — much of it uncomfortable for the sufferers involved — people know a lot more about posture, their body, and the effects of long-term typing and gaming.
So if anything, we're likely to see more gaming desks in the market. It probably won't be too long before major brands like IKEA invest in the space as well, given the retailer is already looking into 3D scanning to make chairs for gamers.
But should you go with a regular desk or a standing desk?
That's something I'll have to find out for myself, I suspect.