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PAX 2009 Interview: SteelSeries CEO Bruce Hawver
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PAX 2009 Interview: SteelSeries CEO Bruce Hawver

We had the great opportunity to meet Bruce Hawver, CEO of SteelSeries gaming gear, this year at PAX. From the very get-go, Bruce was eager to display some of his finest wares, and his great energy comes through in his company's products. From mousepads to headsets to custom drivers...SteelSeries has an impressive pedigree, and we got to see some of the latest hardware available, and hardware soon to be released.

Tucked to the side by the Bayonetta booth, SteelSeries had an interesting promotion going on: gamers could literally smash their own current accessories and receive a discount on new SteelSeries accessories for doing so. Why smash them? This was more than just a publicity gimmick -- Bruce demonstrated for me first-hand that SteelSeries keyboards and mice are nigh unbreakable...hence the violence against more frail competitors' equipment.

Rather than conduct a traditional interview, I let Bruce explain to me what makes SteelSeries so superior. I'm not much of a PC gamer, so he really had to break it down. I gotta say: aside from the obligatory bias of a CEO for his own products, Mr. Hawver knows his tech, and his company knows how to really push the envelope.

Right off the bat, I was treated to a "punch this keyboard" demo that was pretty impressive; the keyboard took quite a beating -- most likely not its first of the day -- and didn't show one bit of wear. It was explained to me that the keys have an 18-karat gold-plated pressure switch mechanism that only required a half-press to activate, as opposed to traditional membrane contacts. This was the most durable keyboard I'd ever seen, but without sacrificing comfort. (Keyboard demoed: SteelSeries 7G - MP $149.99)

Bruce also showed me a keyboard for the less abusive gamer: the Zboard. This keyboard has a permanent base that houses the keystroke contacts, and the keys themselves can be swapped out for customization purposes. The retail package comes with a full standard keyset plus number pad, and also a special gaming keyset that eliminates unneeded character keys in exchange for custom macro keys. An additional World of Warcraft keyset is currently available, with plans for Aion and StarCraft II keysets rolling out in the future. (SteelSeries Zboard - MP $49.99 / Keysets - MP $19.99)

A common staple among all of the keyboards, mice, and headsets that were shown were steel-braided cords that are purported to be so durable that you cannot sever the connections by hand. Speaking of mice: I was shown three models, all of which are ambidextrous, and each of which had their own merits. The simpler of the three -- the Kinzu optical mouse -- was still a robust offering, and reported to be the favorite of international championship gaming team fnatic. The Xai model, which is not yet available, has been upgraded with a laser eye and even more settings to tweak, and expands the Kinzu's built-in LCD display to a two-line window that displays even more information at request. My favorite function of the Xai is that it includes on-board firmware that stores the mouse's drivers and your saved settings (multiple profiles can be made) on the hardware itself, so that you don't have to re-tweak if you're using multiple -- or sponsor -- computers. (Mice demoed: SteelSeries Kinzu mouse - MP $34.99 / Xai mouse - MP $89.99)

Before I move to the last segment (the headsets), I wanted to highlight the World of Warcraft custom mouse -- this mouse features 15 programmable buttons than can be assigned macros within the game. According to Bruce, Blizzard had a hand in the design of this mouse, and furthermore plan to support it with the next in-game update. Currently, the mouse's software includes a drag-and-drop interface...Blizzard plans to implement this interface into World of Warcraft for changing macros without exiting the game screen at all. Up to 10 different profiles can be stored, each indicated by a custom lighting scheme that glows between the buttons. It's a very slick and comfortable mouse, if a little pricey compared to the others. (Mouse demoed: SteelSeries WoW MMO mouse - MP $99.99)

Finally: the headsets. I don't use a headset and I did not listen to the sound quality, so I apologize that I can't vouch for the sound. I'm told that the headsets support virtual 7.1 surround sound via an onboard sound card made specifically for these headsets, and can be adjusted to the user's liking. The boom mics -- although sturdy enough to stay in place -- are extremely flexible and can retract into the earpiece for portability. In fact, the 5Hv2 model can break down into three pieces for just that reason. Once again, steel braided cords keep the working parts together. I can attest that the headsets are very comfortable; according to Bruce, they were specifically designed to help filter -- but not eliminate -- outside noise, and the pads are soft enough that wearing eyeglasses with them will not irritate the player (I did try this with my sunglasses, although admittedly for only a couple of minutes). (Headset demoed: SteelSeries 5H v2 USB - MP $119.99)

This was not all of the info that I was fed, but it's more than enough for a glance at what SteelSeries is offering to the gaming scene. In a nutshell, this hardware lineup is interesting from a durability and customization standpoint, but for the most part do not carry the heavy prices that I expected to see. Everyone has their favorite brand or style, and Bruce Hawver and associates seem to be on top of what hardcore gamers want. For the rest of us: in the starter items we can get small tastes of the almost over-the-top degree of tweaking available in the more expensive pieces, but without breaking the bank.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out their website. If nothing else, CEO Bruce Hawver and his team are very accessible for feedback, and that's what PAX is all about.


For more info visit SteelSeries