Turtle Beach has been making audio hardware and accessories for over forty years, and it is still considered one of the top brands in the gaming headset space. It has maintained a lead in the market by constantly innovating and adapting to the changing needs of gamers. Most prominently, the company has partnered with eSports teams OpTic Gaming and FaZe Clan to promote the recently launched Elite Pro gear. In addition to that, the company showcased the Stealth 350 VR at E3 and Gamescom this year, which is the first audio headset designed specifically for use with virtual reality devices.
MacLean Marshall, director of PR and communications at Turtle Beach, talked to [a]listdaily about the company’s past and future, especially in the crowded market of audio headsets and accessories.
“One thing is that Turtle Beach actually pioneered the console gaming headsets,” Marshall explained. “We were the first company out there to let anybody playing on a console (Xbox, PlayStation 2, etc.) to start talking to one another. Allowing gamers to communicate with each other evolved into today’s competitive gaming world, and also on the commentator front with streamers. We’ve seen the needs of a traditional gamer expand from someone who sits down by himself to play video games to someone who sits down to play with a selection of top-notch competitive players with a team. Beyond that are people who livestream themselves playing a game or commentate on someone else playing a game.”
When asked what the difference was between the enthusiast gaming audience and the eSports audience, Marshall said, “In my opinion, the eSports audience is its own contained sort of mindset. There is a subset of fans who are interested in watching eSports and being on that bandwagon, like how traditional sports fans have their favorite football or soccer team. But I think in the gaming space, it’s more contained to be sort of its own audience—where you have a hardcore gamer who is looking forward to the next big game, but not interested in following teams and players competitively. I think there’s still a line in the sand for the different audiences, and how we approach the eSports audience is more through our partnership with the eSports teams that we work with, which are OpTic Gaming and FaZe Clan.
“On the hardcore enthusiast side of things, obviously the eSports resonates, but also having more targeted messaging and campaigns that really speak to that person who is not necessarily interested in eSports but wants a kickass gaming headset.”
Marshall detailed how Turtle Beach came to partner with OpTic Gaming by bringing samples of the developing hardware to their house in Chicago.
“We really did take a gaming headset and redesigned the idea of the gaming headset for today’s audience and eSports athletes. Prior to this, there were a bunch of gaming headsets out there that were good use for competitive gaming, but there hadn’t been anything designed from the ground up to be an eSports headset, and that’s where we win with the Elite Pro,” he said.
OpTic was already familiar with the Turtle Beach brand because of its long history. “We have history in the console headset space—nearly everybody’s first console gaming headset was a Turtle Beach headset,” said Marshall. “It’s kind of neat, because there’s no BS with these guys. They’re either going to like it or they’re not.”
OpTic was impressed with the Elite Pro gear and were willing to discuss a partnership, and a similar story led to the FaZe Clan partnership. “That marked the start of a more integrated relationship with the pro teams,” Marshall said.
When asked about the kind of impact eSports has made on Turtle Beach’s designs, Marshall said: “Turtle Beach has a deep history of being innovative and being first to market with certain features. We were the very first company to have a 100 percent wireless headset for Xbox, and had three wireless headsets before any competitor had their first one out. This is our 41st year in business, and the company has a DNA that is rooted in evolving with the technical time frame. For the past decade or more, we have been focused on gaming headsets and we’re the leader in that space. We’re the gorilla in the corner when it comes to market share with over 40 percent of the market, which is bigger than the next three competitors combined.
“ESports is the next iteration of where the market is going, when it comes to headsets and accessories. Streaming is another big area of opportunity.”
Marshall further explained that eSports impacts Turtle Beach’s approach in creating products as well as what audience they’re speaking to and how they’re speaking to them. They speak to their eSports audience mostly through their partnership with OpTic and FaZe, because they’re aspirational to fans. “A fan will want to have the same headset the best teams are using, similar to any kind of accessory from traditional sports,” he said. “We kind of let the product sell itself. We put out the features and how they matter, and the team talks about it when they’re out and about.”
Turtle Beach currently has a number of cross promotional headsets, such as an officially branded Heroes of the Storm edition. We asked Marshall if the company was considering other cross promotions, particularly with branding from their eSports teams.
“The question is: would it make sense? To answer that, especially with the pro teams, is something that we’re actively talking to OpTic and FaZe about,” said Marshall. “You always have to take into account the cost of doing stuff, because what typically happens with any sort of licensed or branded product is that you see sales peak within the first three or four weeks, and then they drop off. We’ve started to kind of move away from one-off licensing for products. In 2015, we stopped our partnership with Activision for Call of Duty headsets. It worked great for a few years, but after a while, it didn’t resonate as well. That strategy has let us partner with OpTic and FaZe. We’ve taken money out of the ‘let’s partner with everybody’ mentality and focused it.
“For instance, we’re still partnered with Lucasfilm and some Star Wars properties. So last year, when both the Battlefront game and the movie came out, that was a smart partnership. We came out with two exclusive headsets for the game and movie. We’ll continue to evaluate those things.”
Considering how there are a multitude of gaming headsets on the market, including official ones from Microsoft and Sony for their respective consoles, we asked Marshall how Turtle Beach stayed ahead of the competition.
“We have a wide variety of headsets that fits every budget, whether they’re buying according to what they can afford, or on what features they want,” Marshall replied. “Whether it’s low-end, mid-end or high-end, we have the entire array that caters to everybody’s desires. We also continue to innovate, like with an all new streaming microphone coming out in October that’s completely new. It’s not even a headset, but it’s the first livestreaming microphone that’s plug-and-play compatible with Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Mac.
As for keeping the brand going for over forty years, Marshall said: “I separate the audience into two different categories. You have a little bit of an older generation of core gamers who are in their thirties and forties and are either familiar [with the brand] or need to be reminded. Then you have the newer generation of gamers who are in their teens and twenties who are coming into the world of gaming accessories. Again, where we win is in the price you want to pay and the features you get.”
ESports and livestreaming aren’t the only areas of innovation. We asked Marshall what inspired the creation of the Stealth 350 VR headset.
“All you ever see is the visual side of things, and you never really see or hear about the audio side of the VR experience,” said Marshall. “The experience is 50 percent visual, and it’s also 50 percent audio. That experience you’re going to get is half driven by the audio experience. You look at all these VR devices, and they either come with no audio at all, or they come with small on-ear or in-ear [headphones]. Sure, they’ll deliver a decent audio experience, but is that going to be the best audio experience? Absolutely not. We saw an opportunity to take the overall experience further by taking the audio experience from good to amazing.”
So what would be needed for VR to truly take off? “What I would hate to see happen to VR is the same thing that happened to 3D TV. It was a flash in the pan,” said Marshall. “I think what is needed for VR to take off is simplicity and price. With VR, some are simple and straightforward, but others are more involved and need a multi-thousand dollar gaming rig setup. As we get further down the path, we’ll see simplicity take effect. Turn on your PlayStation, put on your stuff, and you’re going.”