While attention has largely been focused on the console manufacturers and software publishers during the latest console transition, the multi-billion dollar videogame accessories business has been steadily improving. The category encompasses everything from headsets and speakers to keyboards, mice, and controllers, along with stored-value cards and toys. One accessory that console gamers truly appreciate is something that can help them perform better in a game, and that’s where KontrolFreek comes in. KontrolFreek, according to their website, “is the leading developer of innovative gaming accessories that enhance the gaming experience and give gamers of all skill levels the competitive edge.”
KontrolFreek’s controller stick addons give gamers more precise control over aiming, moving, and shooting — and there’s nothing more important to players in a first-person shooter than getting off more accurate shots faster than the other guy. Ashish Mistry, President and CEO of KontrolFreek, spoke with [a]listdaily about the videogame accessories market and where it’s headed.
What has the accessories market been like for KontrolFreek?
We started in 2009. What I wasn’t sure was a big market has proved to be a pretty substantial market. We’ve been able to build an array of products and a lifestyle brand that’s continued to grow. It was just me in an office tinkering at first, and we’ve got 20-odd people here in our office plus the back office working on the company now. We doubled in size last year, and we will double in size this year.
What has the transition to a new generation of consoles been like for KontrolFreek?
Fortunately we were able to navigate that fairly well. The console transition we thought was going to be really painful, was slightly painful overall but ultimately was a big asset for our business. It drove a lot of adoption for new customers that may not have had the new consoles. It drove some customers to port over, but ultimately the amount of awareness the console manufacturers have generated has just helped us, collectively, to draft in on their OEM sales. Any time you get those sort of marketing dollars applied to a product you’ll generally see a lift across the board for those products that are supported and within that ecosystem. We’re a beneficiary of that, for sure.
Are your products allowed in eSports competitions Do pro gamers endorse your products?
You certainly can, our product was one of the first actually sanctioned for tournament play. Since we’ve been around since 2009, the first products used in a test case were pro gamers. The pro gamers basically brought these to the major gaming circuits. Since they didn’t alter the actual electronics, and they didn’t permanently alter any attributes of the OEM controllers, the devices were allowed and officially sanctioned by all the major gaming organizations.
As much as anything, the product and the gamers have been our best attributes. In the context of how we’ve built and grown the business, we’ve put product front and center and tried to maintain real authenticity around who’s using the product and who we bring on board to support our marketing efforts. We’ve avoided the pay-to-play stuff. You know how these gamers are — they typically won’t endorse something they don’t use, because they know any audience they have would quickly turn on them if something theyÂ recommended didn’t work as billed.
What’s been your experience with retail sales as well as direct sales? What marketing strategies work best for you?
Up until August/September of last year we were 100% direct to consumer. Retail did not come online until last fall. We just landed all the GameStops, so as of now we are nationwide in all the GameStop locations. We’re excited about it. The business should change again as a result. What’s interesting is that all of this stuff is happening at a great time.
For marketing channels, what’s been most effective has been word of mouth. Our customers are vocal advocates, and they have been our best channel. Lots of these YouTube influencers and pro gamers have been the other key assets that we’ve built. All of these relationships are authentic in the sense that they were customers first, and and as a result of being able to apply marketing dollars to help, we’ve been able to build these great, deep relationships with them.
What does the future hold for KontrolFreek, especially over the next year or two?
I think the company will continue to grow, it should if not double be close to double in size. That’s a great marker for us. We will continue to evolve the product line. We’ve relied on our bread-and-butter products to date. We’ve got a lot of great new products that are on the roadmap that should start to come out at the middle of the year. We’re building a really robust product management function within the business such that the products that will roll out this year and the year after are starting to make their way onto the board.
What you’ll see from us is really more of a lifestyle brand in the gaming space that is anchored on these performance gaming products. We’ll use our strengths in the pro and influencer markets with these innovative products that we’ve come out with to really build what’s missing as a lifestyle brand in the passionate gamer segment.