PCR interviews Mionix CEO Carl Silbersky to discover how the ambitious PC gaming brand plans to turn the accessories market on its head.
I first met Carl back at the Entalive Play trade show earlier this year - and immediately knew he was not a typical CEO.
After scanning the usual mix of vendor stands showing off their latest products to resellers, I couldn't help being drawn to the far corner of the room. Hip-hop music was playing out of a speaker there, the guys on the stand were wearing T-shirts and caps, and they had popcorn machines.
What the table lacked in flashy products, snazzy freebies or big-name logos, it made up for with its presence. It oozed cool. Carl might as well have just stood up on the table with a megaphone and shouted: "I don't care what you lot are doing - this is Mionix."
While there were a few of the company's mice, keyboards and headsets on the stand, the journalist in me was piqued - there had to be more to this company.
SOFTWARE > HARDWARE
Carl (who previously sold facial recognition company Polar Rose to Apple) hinted that Mionix was working on software that would work in sync with a PC accessory to adapt to the user's habits and make them a better PC gamer.
"Software leads hardware," he told PCR. "For example, if you look at the Tesla Roadster electric car, that’s a great, intelligence piece of hardware. I can drive it and in the next six months I can download software that will enhance the performance and configurate the car settings to me and my driving. So the upside of that hardware is the software.
"And we think the same about the Mionix NAOS which has an ARM 32MHz processor inside it. There’s tons of things we can do on the software side – and not just colour settings. Major things that will help you improve your gaming. This is where we’re going – in this direction. We hope our software – along with the hardware – will make someone a better gamer in the future.
"When I was convincing our head of marketing Christoffer Suess to join Mionix, I told him: let’s sell a mouse in a brown paper bag. And he was like: "I’m all in”. We haven’t actually done that, but I think we should be doing it."
"Back in 2009, if you would have told someone about face recognition technology, they would have laughed. But we did a video on our tech and the funny thing is, that tech suddenly became so obvious for everyone. That video went viral. Mionix is going to do a similar thing in PC gaming – and outside PC gaming. Our software will change the way you use your mouse and your hardware."
A few months later, sure enough, Mionix revealed details of its NAOS Quantified Gaming (QG) Mouse which is seeking investment on Kickstarter (it has currently reached $65,000 of its $100,000 goal with just under three weeks to go).
The NAOS QG gathers information each time it is used, allowing gamers to compare data to previous performances or share it with other players via streaming platforms like Twitch. It has built-in sensors and can track the user's heart rate, galvanic skin response and actions per minute.
The Mionix NAOS QG smart mouse, which boasts its own heart rate sensor, is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter
Mionix says this ability to track someone's stress levels and body reactions can not only help gamers boost their performance, but it can be used in other areas, opening up its appeal.
"Just like athletes gather and analyse data, we want to do the same for gamers," says Mionix' marketing exec Christoffer Suess. "This might not only be interesting for gamers. A computer mouse is used by millions of people for eight hours a day, just naturally. Think of the potential in the office work area as well, for instance for call center staff trainings or in healthcare."
Mionix wants developers to incorporate QG data into their games or applications to offer new insights into how their games are played. One firm, Overwolf, is already on board. The firm adds app into PC games including Game capture, Skype and Twitch streaming - plus it's the official overlay solution for TeamSpeak.
LIPSTICK ON A PIG
The original NAOS mouse convinced Carl to join Mionix in the first place - he felt it was so different from anything else on the market at the time.
"I tried it and I was blown away by the quality and how it was put together," he comments. "I’m not talking about a basic off the shelf product, I’m talking about a great piece of quality.
"The rest of the industry seems to be a lot about putting lipstick on a pig. It hasn’t changed. It’s all about: “Let’s put a cool slogan or colour on this PC accessory and try to market it down the throat of a 14-year-old.” What happened to the gaming? If you want to build something, you truly need to do it properly.
"You need to get the ugliness out of the way, get some beauty in it, get craftsmanship. And Mionix has all of those fundamental things. We want to move away from all the glowy, shiny PC gaming accessories on the market. We want to shake up the industry.
"The days where you could put lipstick on a pig are over. If you have an inferior product, you can try to market it as much as you want but it’s just going to fall flat. I'm sick of that kind of industry. Other vendors will continue to do that – we won’t.
"The industry is in danger of getting tunnel-vision. I hear so many people say a mouse is about DPI and blah blah blah – no it’s not. You shouldn’t even need to look into hardware specs and feature lists or tick boxes - we don’t do those at Mionix. We focus on what’s quality and the gamer using the mouse."
How Mionix sees its competitors in the accessories market: "The days of putting lipstick on a pig are over," says CEO Carl Silbersky (Image source: Shutterstock)
"The feel and touch of an accessory needs to be right," Carl explains. "We’ve tried to relentlessly strive towards meticulously crafted hardware at Mionix – you need to get that right. Don’t put something in the market that’s not ready – never compromise. Get the shape right. This craftsmanship stands for the performance and quality of a product."
It's clear that Mionix takes great care in its product development process - something that has helped the company build a loyal fanbase.
"The days where you could put lipstick on a pig are over. If you have an inferior product, you can try to market it as much as you want but it’s just going to fall flat. I'm sick of that industry. Other vendors will continue to do that – we won’t."
"Mionix has a brilliant fanbase," Carl says. "You go to places like Bulgaria, where we’ve never sold a single piece of hardware, and you have some local fans on a site defending us. That kind of thing – true fans – you can never buy with marketing.
"Some people want a slightly smaller shape and better prices, but it’s hard to do craftsmanship on low price. We’re never going to make entry-level low-end kind of budget products, but we do have huge respect for people buying our products. Those are our heroes. Yes we’re premium-priced – but at the same time this is not a fashion brand we’re talking about here."
BREAKING THE NORM
Mionix wants to be different from the rest of the pack - but with its focus on innovation and craftmanship comes the attention of rival brands.
"There are some dudes [rival vendors] out there and I feel embarrassed for them," Carl says. "They’ve obviously tried to copy the NAOS and make it faster, but you click the button and it feels so… (pulls a face). That’s what I mean about craftsmanship – you can’t copy that shit! It takes time to figure out. Is this the right pressure on this one? Are we getting the right click? What’s the reaction on this?"
"I feel embarrassed for some dudes out there. They’ve obviously tried to copy the NAOS and make it faster, but you click the button and it feels so… (pulls a face). That’s what I mean about craftsmanship – you can’t copy that shit!"
After Mionix founder Peter Nygren convinced Carl to lead Mionix in April 2014, the first thing Carl wanted to do was to create a team of experts and forward-thinkers to set the brand apart from its rivals.
"We did tons of interviews," Carl explains. "I wanted people that know the gaming industry from the inside out. Benjamin [Sigmon, Mionix VP of sales] is a gamer himself and he’s built something himself. He joined Razer as a young kid and left them because he was getting sick of the industry – he wasn’t getting a kick out of it.
"I spoke to him and told him what I wanted to do – and he said "I’m in". He recommended Christoffer Suess, so we talked to him and I told him: let’s sell a mouse in a brown paper bag. And he was like: "I’m all in”.
"We haven’t actually done that, but I think we should be doing it. With popcorn in the bag too."
While Carl is obviously acting playful, I wouldn't dismiss the idea entirely. Because if I had to choose one vendor that could package a PC mouse in a paper bag and not surprise me in the process, it would have to be Mionix.
They're kooky, cool and they honestly couldn't care less what their competitors are doing.
Carl Silbersky at trade show Entalive Play earlier this year - complete with popcorn making machines, caps and hip-hop music blaring out of a nearby speaker
Stock Mionix products via Entatech - 0333 101 1000