Razer May Be Done Building Gaming Phones
Back in 2017, Razer released an Android gaming smartphone with an emphasis on gaming specs, including a high-end 120Hz LCD. In October 2018, the company launched a refreshed model with an updated SoC and some additional improvements. Now, however, it looks as if the company is done with phones.
Over the weekend, Razer announced it was shutting down its gaming store. Then, Droid-Life received a tip that the firm was actually shuttering its mobile division altogether. When that site reached out for confirmation on whether Razer was specifically done with mobile, the company responded:
In our mobile division, there were some staff members who were let go, and others who were reassigned to other new projects. We see great opportunities in the mobile gaming space that we created with the Razer Phone and will continue to invest in this category through a combination of hardware and software initiatives. We are working on new exciting mobile projects and will share the news when we are ready. The Razer Phone 2 will continue to be on sale and we are committed to supporting it with the latest updates and features.
The site suggests that Razer has kept some employees around to work on Razer 2 software updates, but that it may have let about 30 employees go. Following on the closure of its game store, this suggests that the future isn’t bright for Razer gaming hardware.
Why Android Has No Game
Obviously the header above isn’t literal — mobile gaming is huge. As a revenue generator, mobile gaming dwarfs both console and PC gaming. Despite this fact, no one has ever managed to build a successful push around a gaming-centric smartphone.
I suspect the reason for this has more to do with the vastly different nature of the smartphone ecosystem than anything else. In the PC market, gaming has always been a premium experience. Even in the mid-1980s, long before the advent of 3D acceleration, your gaming experience was tied to the quality of your video adapter, the speed of your CPU, and whether your computer had a hard drive to install games on.
This positioning has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Gaming serves as the breakpoint between the mainstream market and the performance space. A high-end gaming rig isn’t automatically identical to a high-end workstation — the latter might opt for higher CPU counts and less GPU power, depending on the workload — but a high-end gaming system will certainly run workstation tasks far better than any non-gaming rig would. Gaming has always straddled the gap between low-cost consumer hardware and high-end, expensive workstations.
Critically, nothing like this gap exists in mobile. Are there mobile devices that are more or less powerful? Absolutely. But the midrange smartphone market in the United States has never been particularly large; monthly payment plans and phone contracts have always made high-end handsets affordable to a much larger segment of the smartphone population than ever owned an equivalent top-end PC.
Apple’s own share of the smartphone market in the United States is emblematic of the difference — in the PC space, Apple has 12.5 percent of the market, as shown above. The iPhone, meanwhile, commands 39 percent of the US market.
Unlike in PCs, there’s no separate line of gaming chips that you can purchase, and no Snapdragon or iPhone parts specifically intended to be used for that purpose. In PCs, gaming drives (or drove) sales of uncounted peripherals, from sound cards, better speakers, and higher-end displays to headsets, webcams, and high-end capture cards for streaming. There is no equivalent upsell or high-end peripheral equivalent for the smartphone market. Every company that has attempted to create such a space has failed to pull it off. Even Nvidia was unable to transform its PC gaming credentials into a prosperous line of Android gaming products, despite multiple attempts to do so and positive reviews for its various Shield systems.
In this light, Razer’s failed attempt to create an ecosystem around its own phone isn’t surprising. It’s not clear any such market could exist in mobile, where the products, pricing, expectations, and opportunities to transform gaming into a premium experience are so vastly different compared with the PC or console spaces. For better or worse, the same tactics don’t work.
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