Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Confessions of a Game Hardware Reviewer

This is the only advice you'll ever need in choosing input devices

Gamers, power-users, and just about any computer person who sits around touching a keyboard and a mouse all day have every right to be choosy about their input peripherals. I know I am. As a bona-fide cripple, I use my computer as a connection to the world outside my house. It's my entertainment device; my stereo; my gaming machine; my media viewer; my internet device; and everything else electronic rolled into one.
Logitech plays it cool with the awesome G9x

When I made a living writing stuff like this, a big chunk of that living came from reviewing input devices that appeal to gamers, mainly mice and keyboards. For many years, starting in 1997 as PC Gamer's first technical editor, I gave all kinds of advice on choosing gaming peripherals.

Look for comfort! Tactile feedback! Button placement! Twitch response! Programmability! Features!

And so on.

Now I'm going to tell you something that I never told you before. This advice would have all but made me irrelevant, and my career null and void. I'm not saying that every tech website is going to fire its editors if this goes viral; it's not that revolutionary. It might, however, change how consumers use hardware reviews. When I had the epiphany of this thought, I definitely started looking at peripheral coverage in a new light.

It's a simple as this:

                What you get out of an input device
                is as subjective as your enjoyment
                of the games you'll use it with.

That's all there is to it, allow me to expound.

Hardcore gamers, I mean the really dedicated freaks who don't blink about spending $1500 on graphics equipment for a single computer, will set price aside and look for all, or at least some, of the features I mentioned above. They'll swear that they can feel the difference between a mouse that reads 10,000 dpi than one that "only" detects 8200 dpi. They'll shun wireless input devices because lag. They'll absolutely need control over a mouse's polling rat because being off by milliseconds can mean death. They can go on for hours about why they require a keyboard featuring Cherry Black MX switches to be at the best of their game.


You can go that route in choosing a controller, or you can do this: Pick out of reviews and roundups what features you think are neat, and find devices with those features. As you zero into a particular product, read forums for personal user experiences. Try to choose components your hands agree with, because hopefully you'll have them (the components) for a long time.

Sweet keys from Logitech
When someone demands to know why you chose the Roccat KONE XTD mouse over their all-time favorite Mad Catz Cyborg R.A.T.7, because the Cyborg is adjustable and more sensitive and has a better blah blah blah, just tell him you like yours better.

That is, if you really do.

But that's the thing, to like what you've chosen. If you don't return it and try another one.

I've had the opportunity to try hundreds of mice and keyboards over the years. There's something intangible about the ones that really work, something equivalent to a game's "playability" factor. While games have playability, peripherals have a feel, a certain agreeability, if you will. They compliment how your hands move, they fit how big your fingers are, and how wide the fingers or how narrow.

Read reviews not for scores or opinions, but for descriptions. Look at pictures. Ask questions in forums. When you encounter the right feel, stick with what you've found. Even if its specifications aren't as impressive as those found in the marketing propaganda of a different input device, it's better to own something you're comfortable with - something that you like - than to be pointlessly trendy.


  1. Good point. I've been trying to abide to similar personal rules when shopping for new hardware and found some real gems. Sometimes it can get quite overwhelming to read all the reviews and too muh information can kill the information. Even after reading the reviews, best is to try and go to your local shop to get a feel for the item you want to purchase.

  2. Going to the store works in some cases, Mortenzen, but I've found that hardcore gaming equipment is hard to come by in regular retailers' brick-and-mortar stores. Of course, I don't live in Fry's territory, so YMMV. I heartily recommend it, if anywhere near you carries the peripherals in which you've developed an interest.

  3. Interesting post! Do you still visit your blog and plan to update it?