Reading Time: 15 min | Sep 2019

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Design Special

From Gamescom and ESports to the perfect Gaming Hardware

The Gamescom 2019 - the number one fair for gamers and game hardware manufacturers in Europe - has open its doors! No other medium has such a creative and passionate community as games. Whether cosplayers, modders, e-sportsmen or streamers: What do they really want and need? Where do the designers of gaming hardware set in? How important is he/she? Do game hardware designers need to be gamers themselves to understand what their target groups really need? For a gamer, pro or not, the perfect gaming experience is paramount. We believe, a great looking, innovative and easy to handle hardware is irreplaceable to reach this experience. See for yourself and scroll through the Winners of the iF DESIGN AWARD 2019 below.

That is why we asked designers and manufacturers in our iF Design Special on gaming what they believe the next trends are, what role design plays for gamers and what hardware you really need.

iF AWARDED GAMING HARDWARE AND VR DEVICES 2019

Monitors and Laptops
Keyboards and Mice
Headsets
VR Devices
Accessories

What Gamers Really Want:
Kris Verstockt of CRE8 on Gaming Design Trends

Established in 2001, CRE8 Design constantly challenges the status quo, questions apparent constraints, and finds ways to innovate - with a multicultural array of over 45 award-winning product designers, branding experts, and mechanical engineers. We talked to CRE8-founder and iF Juror Kris Verstockt about upcoming trends, especially in gaming hardware, and what the modern gamer really wants.

iF: When it comes to gaming hardware: Where is it all heading, what are the trends?

K.V.: Nowadays more and more gaming hardware design is strongly influenced by popular games. Like PUBG, the online multiplayer battle royale game, its enthusiasts demand more lightweight input devices instead of the over-specced ones.

The same trend also grows among gamers: they are yearning for a cleaner, more mature, refined, sophisticated and serious design without over-decorated and meaningless features. Esports is similar to other sports, and you don’t give a tennis player a squash racket. That is why gaming hardware brands and manufacturers, especially premium ones, must understand what gamers want and deliver the right tool. This strongly indicates a hint of professionalism.

iF: How much do current game scene trends (f.e. Twitch, Fortnite, Cloud-Gaming etc.) influence the design of hardware – if they do so?

K.V.: As mentioned in our answers to the previous question, popular games do help us understand what gamers want and need; however, gaming hardware should serve the purpose of a specific genre (MOBA, FPS…) but not a specific game. The gaming software themes are too volatile for hardware to follow, as for a product cycle, it takes long time to produce, ship, stock and create a go-to-market strategy. Exceptions could be made though. When the original game developer is the hardware provider, then they have the advantage of being very aware of the game popularity and timeline to develop themed hardware while avoiding inventory problems.

Based on our own experience, when World of Warcraft was launched and caused a global phenomenon, drawing attention from 12 million users all over the world, CRE8 was commissioned to design an iconic gaming mice series that would resonate with their devoted followers. It was an interesting experience to design a themed product as we were allowed to hyper-focus. The result, the series became collector’s items and many gamers bought two mice. One to play and one to display.

iF: How would you distinguish and describe the needs and expectations towards gaming hardware of pro gamers and hobby gamers?

K.V.: Pro gamers concentrate on getting the best gaming tournament results, meaning that they have to win, so the hardware design targeting pro gamers focuses on enhancing the player’s performance more than anything else; casual gamers, on the other hand, are more easily attracted to cool factors and like to customize their items. Today’s gamers are well-informed and very knowledgeable though. Cool features need to have meanings too, so gamers can be fully convinced. One thing pro and casual gamers have in common is that they both value comfort very much.

 While gaming hardware design often takes cues from sports cars, the user behavior is also quite similar. If you look at sports cars, no casual drivers will buy a Formula One car, because as much as they like it, it just does not work for their everyday use. Casual gamers may look up to pros and glorify them, but still they need more options and flexibility.

iF: In 2019, Cre8 was awarded by iF five times. What meaning do design awards have in your branch?

K.V.: As a design house, it is important to build our credibility to the outside world. With the honor of being awarded by iF multiple times, we get to prove that we are staying at the forefront of design. For many clients, it is difficult to identify premium design houses from others. We all sound the same, look the same, and present some nifty design ideas. Winning many awards means that our peers think we are outstanding. This inspires our clients to choose CRE8 over others. Internally at CRE8, it makes our team smile, proud, and encouraged to keep up the good work and excel what we have achieved. The awards also help our clients gain trust from end consumers.

Kris Verstockt

"Gamers are very loyal to gaming hardware brands as long as they feel that the brand understands, solves their pain points, and provides the best equipment they need."

iF: A gaming PC case, a keyboard, mousepads: CRE8 was awarded for major components of a classical gaming hardware set. What product is your personal most favorite and why?

K.V.: As a designer, you usually have a mindset that you think the latest project is the greatest. The reason behind is that a good designer will always feel the obligation to make things better by discovering room for improvement, so the most recent design will be the most “enhanced” version, but after a while, you will start seeing things that you think could have been done better, and you will infuse these ideas into new projects. That being said, all of our designs are like our babies, and you don’t choose one child over another…You just love them all!

iF: The design of all awarded products has its own handwriting. How important is good and recognizable hardware design in the gamer scene?

K.V.: Gamers are very loyal to gaming hardware brands as long as they feel that the brand understands, solves their pain points, and provides the best equipment they need. Some of the most iconic products that we designed have been popular among gamers for almost a decade. The recognizable features do help, but they are not the main reason. Gamers love the design because of its usability and enhanced ergonomics. These days, gamers have much easier access to all the product information and reviews; they see the cool and recognizable elements as a plus, not the drive for decision making when buying an item.

iF: Last but not least, a rather personal question: Gamer or not?

K.V.: While personally I am a casual gamer at best (mostly Xbox), we have all kinds of gamers at CRE8. An interesting fact for you is that, our best gaming hardware designers are not necessarily hardcore gamers. A simple reason for it: hardcore gamers could be very, very, very opinionated about what a certain piece of hardware should do, and this is way too specifically geared towards their personal needs. Sometimes you see things more clearly when you are emotionally less involved.

DESIGNING FOR GAMERS: CRE8´S AWARDED DESIGNS OF 2019

iF DESIGN AWARD 2019, Discipline Product COUGAR GEMINI X Gaming PC Case
In order to accommodate a dual system, GEMINI X allows you to build two full computers within a single case. Inspired by a catamaran, the two chambers can be linked together or stand independently. On top of that, it works both vertically and horizontally to suit your space distribution and to show off your RGB displays. For the best overclocking and gaming experience, the highly robust modularized frames provide maximized customizability and capacity for high-performance accessories.
Delux T6 Left Handed Gaming Keypad
Designed to fit the highly portable nature of gaming peripherals, T6 took inspiration from folding weapons and features a revolutionary structure. A foldable and detachable palm rest mechanism enabled by magnets makes travel and storage easy and convenient. Covered by soft, textured rubber, the palm rest also provides gamers with enhanced comfort. Equipped with two interchangeable spacebars in different sizes, the left-handed keypad comes with a layout for superior ergonomics and performance.
Delux M628 Gaming Mouse
Designed for gamers who enjoy an effortless glide when using a mouse, M628 incorporates a sleek and structurally lightweight body without compromising on performance. A cutting-edge hollow tail allows for an indirect lighting effect, protecting users' eyes from harmful effects of strong RGB lighting, while accentuating the mouse's details. The textured and curved side grips offer enhanced stability and a comfortable support.
Delux M627 Gaming Mouse
Targeting high-end FPS gaming enthusiasts, M627 integrates a state-of-the-art structure with ambient lighting. Centered around the theme of fluidity, the button-plate seemingly floats over the body to create an innovative hollow effect. The bottom frame features an open design under the scroll wheel, exuding RGB lighting in an attractive, ethereal manner. The enlarged right and left keys, as well as the interchangeable magnetic thumb grips in different sizes, provide enhanced ergonomics and comfort for ambidextrous users.
Fnatic miniSTREAK Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Measuring merely 28mm at its thinnest point, miniSTREAK is one of the world’s thinnest mechanical keyboards, pairing excellent design with minimalist beauty. Dedicated to esports, the travel-friendly form takes out unnecessary distractions to provide superior agility for pro gamers. Putting comfort and portability first, this compact yet sturdily built full metal RGB keyboard comes with softly rounded edges, perfectly balanced key height, a detachable wrist rest with three adjustable levels and a textured and padded PU leather top.

Counterstrike, FIFA, World of Warcraft: Fnatic for ESports

Whether you are a pro gamer or beginner – ESports are the new trend in the gamer scene! Never heard of it? The term refers to the athletic competition between people in a computer game, by using the multiplayer mode. The rules of the competition are determined by the software or game itself and external competition regulations, such as the rules of the competition organizer.

ESports

ESport operates on personal computers as well as game consoles. There are national and worldwide cups and competitions, where the pro gamers can win huge amounts of money from sponsors. It is a much anticipated and growing sports trends. There are many ESport players, who earn a living with gaming. However, there is no “E” in ESport without the perfect hardware.

Since eleven years, Fnatic has been one of the number one outfitters for ESports. “After 11 years of blood, sweat, and broken gear… we know what makes great Esports hardware”, says Fnatic on its Website. Esports gear is about simplicity, comfort, and reliability.

George Barrett

"Our aim in 2020 is to continue to build on performance whilst being conscious of our consumer's lifestyle and the role our peripherals play in them. With the rise of mobile gaming the hardware we design needs to follow suit."

We talked to Fnatic's industrial designer George Barrett and asked him: what are the new trends for 2020? What are the next big things in eSports? "Our focus is on performance first with an increasing emphasis on individual expression and self branding. Our aim in 2020 is to continue to build on performance whilst being conscious of our consumer's lifestyle and the role our peripherals play in them. With the rise of mobile gaming the hardware we design needs to follow suit", he said. The design of hardware itself has not the major role, but: "The primary role is to reduce the gap between physical and digital. Peripherals are the tools used as a catalyst to heighten the immersive experience of esports", Barrett emphasized.

However, design awards, like the iF DESIGN AWARD 2019 for their Fnatic miniSTREAK Mechanical Gaming Keyboard play an important role - though not exactly for the customers themselves: "Design Awards can be a great motivator for the internal team as they recognise the standard of their work outside of our industry which can help moral. The consumer in esports are less concerned with awards when it comes to purchasing so it is less important from that perspective."

"A Gamer's Headset": Designing the perfect Gaming Performance

As in ESports or any computer game where sound and the communication between multiple players is key, a good headset is paramount. There are many good headsets on the market - but what is actually "good enough", how do gamer headsets differ from headsets for musical use only? We talked to Tino Soelber, CTO at SteelSeries - one of the world's biggest and most awarded manufacturer in gaming peripherals and accessories such as headsets, keyboards, mice and mouse pads. Their Arctis Series, which was honored this year with an iF DESIGN AWARD twice, got much recognition worldwide. We wanted to know, what the perfect gamer headset is? How they get to know their target groups and what role design plays?

ALL AWARDED HEADSETS BY STEELSERIES

Arctis 9 Series (Xbox and Playstation) - iF gold award 2019, Discipline Product
The Arctis 9 Series are premium wireless headsets designed for console gaming enthusiasts. The design aesthetics are geared towards slightly older users than most competing products. The use of materials like precision cast aluminum and spring steel creates a truly luxurious feeling. It also features SteelSeries' iconic "Ski Goggle" headband system that offers a full custom fit and minimizes fatigue over long gaming sessions.
Arctis Pro Series (GameDac & Wireless) - iF DESIGN AWARD 2019, Discipline Product
The Arctis Pro series includes premium headsets designed for both PC and console gamers. Featuring a more serious design aesthetic that many competing products, with the use of materials like precision cast aluminum and spring steel creating a distinguished, luxury feel. The Arctis Pro + GameDAC has superior audio quality with its Hi-Res Audio capable speakers and the dedicated external DAC (Digital-Analog Converter).
SteelSeries Siberia Elite - iF DESIGN AWARD 2014, Discipline Product
The SteelSeries Siberia Elite merges iconic, modern design with advanced audio engineering to create an incredible experience of both sight and sound. A powerful physical design features a steel arc and intuitive controls built as dials on each ear cup. Advanced audio engineering crafted its finely tuned next-generation SteelSeries audio drivers that leverage both Dolby® Headphone and Dolby® ProLogic IIx for complete immersion.

iF: As a designer for gaming headsets: Are you a gamer as well? How important is a personal connection to the product you design?

T.S.: Most people on the product team (really in the entire company) are gamers at heart. Some of us play more than others, but we all play some amount of games. On the design team we are primarily FPS gamers with a secondary love for racing games.

iF: The Arctis headset series was honored with some design awards worldwide and is popular amongst gamers. How would you describe this success?

T.S.: We are very happy with the way the world has received Arctis. We set some very high goals for ourselves when we started the process, and the Arctis design process was by far the biggest and most rigorous design project we had done. To some extend it has changed our internal processes for all following products.

Would you say that there is a higher design awareness when it comes to gear among gamers? If so, why is this so and how would you describe it?

T.S.: There is always a high awareness when you design objects that enable people to perform better at something they are dedicated to. In many cases a good product design can help you get better faster by removing an obstacle between the action in your head, and the action you perform. For headsets like the Arctis line, another aspect is of course that we really wanted to create something gamers could use for other things than gaming - and be proud to do so. A gamers headset, not a gaming headset.

Tino Soelber, CTO at SteelSeries

"For headsets like the Arctis line, another aspect is of course that we really wanted to create something gamers could use for other things than gaming - and be proud to do so. A gamers headset, not a gaming headset."

iF: Do you incorporate customer testing in the development and design process? How would you describe your customers?

T.S.: We do a lot of customer testing at SteelSeries; from the very first concepts, over feature testing with focus groups, UX testing in contained environments to full blown proto and pre production testing of actual physical products. Our customer-base has really expanded over the years. The first years were very focused on ESports or enthusiast gamers only, but over the years we got a good foothold with more leisure type and experience seeking gamers. The age spectrum has definitely widened as well - many of our customers have followed us for many years and that most definitely has an impact on the type of products and price points we are able to produce.

iF: What are the next big major trends, when it comes to Gaming gear, especially headsets?

T.S.: We believe that the key pillars are the same as always; Comfort, great audio reproduction, durability, customization, versatility. With an ever changing landscape of technologies we are able to push forward on all of these fronts - it is not a single trend that will change everything.

COMPANIES AND STUDIOS: GAMING

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