Acer, Asus, and Lenovo are on a charm offensive at IFA this year, and their target demographic is that reliably spendthrift group we know as gamers. Collectively, these three companies account for a third of global PC shipments, and they represent an industry-wide trend toward promoting more gaming gear. The hope is that slumping PC sales can be rejuvenated by appealing to the class of users who upgrade their hardware most often and spend most lavishly.
The PC gaming market produced $21.5 billion in hardware sales last year, according to data from Jon Peddie Research, which is more than double the revenues derived from console sales. More notably, unlike the broader PC market, which continues shrinking, gaming PC sales are projected to increase over the next couple of years. The JPR analysis suggests the biggest chunk of gaming PC revenue — somewhere in the vicinity of 44 percent — comes from the so-called enthusiast segment, which the researchers identify as "very performance and style oriented, much like sports car owners."
Sports car PCs are exactly what we saw from the big manufacturers at IFA. Acer’s Predators, whether it be on the desktop or in the form of pseudo-portable laptops, ape Lamborghini’s angular shapes and aggressive motifs throughout. Asus, with its Republic of Gamers sub-brand, does the very same. From overclocked monitors to otherworldly arachnid routers, both of these Taiwanese companies are pushing as hard as they can to give conventional, commoditized products the veneer of a fresh attitude and personality. Even the software on their computers features sharp, aggressive edges, superfluous illumination, and promises of unbelievable speed. Just like sports cars.
But there’s one important distinction that Acer, Asus, and Lenovo seem to be overlooking: even very wealthy people can’t easily build their own sports car, whereas most gamers are fully capable of constructing their own gaming rig. Sports cars are sold as discrete luxury items with no immediate alternative. Gaming PCs put on the same airs, but can be replaced by far cheaper and more personal custom builds. Their only advantage is more immediate convenience. And so, even though the flashing LED lights on a gaming laptop might suggest the opportunity for improving profit margins through smarter styling and marketing, it remains highly unlikely that any of these companies will find the gamer salvation that they’re desperately hoping for.
Make no mistake about it, the situation for Taiwan's once-flourishing hardware makers is indeed desperate. Unlike US competitors Dell and HP, who have the insulation of strong enterprise businesses, Acer and Asus produce gear primarily for the consumer, with no diversification strategy to offset slumps in their core business. The blame for their present plight, though, can be found in their own, recklessly aggressive actions.
The two Taiwanese manufacturers struck gold with the netbook craze of a decade ago, selling no-frills laptops at rock-bottom prices and making their profit through sheer volume of sales. They then looked to move up the food chain with the same strategy of undercutting the competition, and the result has been an erosion of profit margins throughout the PC industry. Every time that Asus chairman Jonney Shih takes the stage to announce the price of a new product, it's always that extra bit lower than the rest, raising eyebrows and stirring hype. The latest example is the ZenWatch 2, which at €149 is among the cheapest, yet also prettiest Android Wear options around.