Astro Gaming is an unusual accessories company. It’s placed product quality and design high, which is why so many professional gamers use Astro Gaming headsets — even many who aren’t under contract with Astro Gaming. But Astro Gaming is also focusing on the brand experience, seeking to be a recognized consumer brand. As part of that goal, Astro Gaming is opening up a retail store in San Francisco in the booming South of Market area, close to AT&T Park.
The [a]list daily spoke with Astro Gaming’s director of marketing, Aron Drayer, who has a long history in the game business as a producer at companies like Activision, Vivendi, Atari. Drayer provided some insight into Astro Gaming’s thinking about the gamer culture.
“It’s about creating a brand that supports that,” said Drayer. “Look at the action sports space — you’ve got Quicksilver, Hurley, DC. A lot of these kids who wear this stuff don’t actually ski or snowboard. They just identify with that culture. Gaming is twenty times bigger than action sports is, but there is no brand that’s saying ‘I’m a gamer’ in a cool way. That to me, is so much about what I want to do.”
The retail store and the product line is about much more than just headsets, according to Drayer. Astro Gaming is creating a line of apparel and gear for gamers that will both look good and represent the idea of gamers. “It’s the same thing as a kid wearing a Quicksilver shirt,” Drayer explained. “I want them wearing an Astro shirt so somebody looks at them and says ‘Oh, you’re a gamer.’ It’s the bags, it’s the apparel — that’s a key part of rounding out the brand story.”
The retail store is an interesting concept, and not a normal strategy for a company that’s used to selling through retailers. It’s made easier for Astro Gaming since the company’s headquarters have enough space for the retail store, and it’s located in a high-traffic location with good demographics. The store is small, but well-stocked with headsets from Astro Gaming and Skullcandy (which purchased Astro Gaming in 2011) along with screens showing streaming games, headset test stations, apparel and gaming gear.
Drayer acknowledged the challenges and expense of setting up a retail store, but feels it’s an important extension for the company to make. There’s nothing like a retail environment to get good feedback from customers, Drayer noted. And headsets in particular rely on first-person experience to sell them, how it fits and how it sounds. That’s not something you can do in a typical retail store environment, Drayer pointed out. Eventually, if the store proves itself as a useful tool for brand extension, consumer information gathering, and profits, Astro Gaming might open a retail spot in another city or two.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty going in in the current marketplace to keep Astro Gaming busy. It’s been a slow year for accessories due to the impending console transition, but there’s a strong upside potential for Astro Gaming. Will next-gen consoles with built-in streaming make eSports on consoles more popular “I’m really curious to see what happens with that,” Drayer said. “My understanding of it is it’s not going to be full high-def. I think it’s going to create more awareness around the concept of streaming. It’s going to be really interesting to see how people use it. That’s why we’re not racing to be first to market with Xbox One solutions.”
Drayer explained the company’s strategy. “We’re an eSports company, I want to see how eSports evolves and what these gamers actually need, and then we’ll design the product for them to solve those problems. We didn’t start shipping our first Mixamp and our first A40 until the Xbox 30 and the PS3 were almost five years old. We weren’t first movers on the last generation by a long shot, but I think we were the most well-thought out and well-designed solution and to us that’s more important.”
There’s plenty of other opportunities in the marketplace that Drayer sees. “The PC space is going crazy still, and the mobile space is just absolutely exploding,” Drayer said. “I like that because it’s going to introduce more people to using headsets. The truth is with most mobile games right now, do people even play with the sound on They don’t even uses headphones. Swords and Sorcery, they talk very explicitly when you load that game up: ‘Use headphones, it’s part of the experience.'” Drayer expects headset use with mobile games to expand as games come out that provide a richer audio experience, especially on tablets.
Astro Gaming is busy with preparation for the upcoming holidays as well as longer-term projects. “We announced at E3 we’re doing Battlefield 4 licensed products. There’s a special A50 that’s a full boxed product, and it comes with a special Battlefield audio profile setting that we tuned with the team,” Drayer. The future looks interesting, as well. “We’re in pretty deep negotiations with Microsoft and Sony at this point to make officially licensed Xbox One and PS 4 products, so we do expect to be doing that,” Drayer noted.