Wired2Fire's Toby Roberts

PCR’s Feb issue Big Interview with Independent Retailer, Wired2Fire’s Toby Roberts

In an exclusive interview with PCR, Toby Roberts, co-owner of independent UK PC retailer Wired2Fire shares his view on the current state of PC gaming and demand for PC components

Wired2Fire is an independent PC retailer that has been building, configuring and selling PCs in the UK since 2004. Based in Dorking, Surrey, Managing Director Toby Roberts has seen numerous changes in the PC retail space, with the introduction of successive technology generations and changes in consumer buying habits.

Focused on gaming PCs and workstations, along with systems designed for specific roles such as flight simulator PCs, Wired2Fire is currently putting the finishing touches to a new website design along with introducing new PC ranges based on Intel’s new Alder Lake platform.

Toby Roberts, Managing Director, Wired2Fire reveals all.

What do you think have been the biggest changes in gaming over the last 15 years?
Gaming has totally exploded in popularity all over the world, including gaming on PCs. The PC was once something of a niche platform compared with consoles, but that’s certainly no longer the case.

Streaming, social and competitive gaming have been a huge change too. While these now exist on all gaming platforms, the PC is where a lot of the focus lies, possibly due to the platform’s flexibility with such a wide selection of hardware, games, and software options.

A typical gaming setup now includes a mic and camera, with many people maintaining online communities on platforms like Twitch, sharing their gaming experience with others. Especially among younger people, PC gaming has become less of a solitary pastime and more of a group activity.

It’s one reason we’re expanding our workstation line for content creation. Video editing is no longer just about curating clips from a family holiday, but people really want to achieve the same professional-looking presentation they’re used to seeing on the most popular YouTube channels with their own footage.

What do you think makes PC gaming popular?
People are attracted to the PC because unlike consoles, no single company or organisation dictates what you can do. The software and hardware, and potentially even the operating system is customisable, the opposite of the fixed-platform nature of consoles. You can add more storage or memory to your PC, swap to a new CPU, upgrade the cooling and so on, and your PC evolves over time.

That freedom has a lot of appeal and the PC has the widest options for gaming. You can play with a mouse and keyboard or use a game pad if you prefer. Because of that, all games work well on PC, with strategy, FPS or MMO games that need mouse control and eat up hours of your time, or racing, sports and fighting games that are better for a quick session.

It helps that the technology is more accessible than before. Advice and information is no more than a few clicks away so it’s easy for people to learn what to look for when buying a PC. But it’s not just that. PCs even look less intimidating now, with a wider choice of colours and configurations. You can go with snazzy RGB lighting if you want it, or opt for a minimalistic approach instead.

Why would someone choose a PC from Wired2Fire?
On almost all gaming forums, one of the first things you’ll read is that it’s cheaper to buy components separately and build a PC yourself. That’s something certain people will always opt to do, but it does require some existing knowledge of PC hardware. Doing a good job on the PC build, avoiding common problems, or setting up something more advanced such as water cooling or overclocking is definitely not easy for everyone.

Besides, the cost difference between a pre-built and DIY PC build is now a lot less than it used to be. We only charge a relatively small markup.

With the market now so wide and inclusive, there are plenty of people who are enthusiastic about PC gaming but simply don’t have the time to learn all the ins and outs of PC assembly techniques themselves. With our PCs, you’re getting a guaranteed expert PC build, five-year warranty and honest advice.

We know that we compete with gaming PCs and laptops from global brands that are household names, some of which are excellent. But we can offer better value, and total flexibility in the choice of components. We’re not using cases with custom layouts that are difficult to upgrade after purchase and we’re not tied to selling components from any single vendor.

It’s really easy to change the components in any of our PCs from the very first page on our site, and if something isn’t listed we encourage customers to call us to ask for whatever case, cooler, motherboard or processor they prefer and we help them make it work.

We don’t upsell the most expensive components we offer but suggest a configuration that meets the needs and budget of each customer’s gaming preferences. We like to talk to customers, offer advice and work out what they need before purchase. It means people are more likely to be satisfied as they get the exact PC they want.

This personal service is especially important for people new to PC gaming as they might not be aware of every component available and what it has to offer.

Brand loyalty matters, and we often see satisfied customers return to us when it’s time for a PC upgrade. It shows us we’re doing something right.

What have been the biggest challenges of the last 18 months?
Lockdowns around the world led to more people staying at home, spending their time and money on gaming, which sounds great for a PC vendor, but it’s one factor behind the current component shortage that has made it frustrating for gamers who are unable to get the hardware they prefer.

The new consoles have also been in short supply for an entire year, which has pushed some people towards gaming on PCs, only to find that the graphics card they want is impossible to purchase without paying exorbitant fees. That’s not just scalpers on eBay, some retailers have added huge markups to their graphics card prices too.

We think that’s the wrong approach. It may sound old fashioned, buy we value customers’ long-term trust in our brand over short-term gains, so we aren’t seeking to fleece people for a few extra quid over a GPU.

Even though everyday life is slowly returning to normal here in the UK, demand around the world is still high and the last year has seen other supply chain issues add to these woes. Any delay in shipping times from factories has had a compound effect when supplies are already limited.

However, we are hopeful that this situation will ease up slightly next year.

Where is PC gaming headed?

Although the technology moves fast, and PC gaming is always changing, we think the benefits of the PC as a gaming platform will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. The PC will remain open and customisable with a great choice of games and for this reason people will continue to want gaming PCs.

Since gaming is now such a huge worldwide phenomenon, and still growing, there’s plenty of space for many different ways to play games. DIY PC builds, independent vendors like ourselves and big-name PC brands can coexist with consoles and mobile gaming. In many cases, the most enthusiastic gamers play on multiple platforms. It’s really common for a household to have both a gaming PC and consoles for example.

New peripherals such as VR are still developing and that’s really exciting. VR is already great fun and works best with a PC that has some real 3D oomph! behind it, but it’s clear that VR headsets as well as the games that run on them have some room to improve and evolve. It’s something we’re watching closely, especially for our flight simulator range.

Similarly, display technology is coming on in leaps and bounds. Gaming beyond 60Hz refresh rates with adaptive sync is becoming more affordable, not just a high-end feature found on the most expensive PC monitors. While displays that can do 120Hz at 4K resolution are still something of a luxury, and only high-end graphics hardware can maintain that level of performance in the most visually rich gaming titles, that too is something we can see changing in the next few years.

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