We managed to get some time with Razer’s Heathcliff Hatcher and the crew to talk about the Razer Onza (after the MLG forum post about a ban on it), their new Xbox 360 controller. I also managed to hold it in my hands at GamesCom 2010 and it will be part of the pending Razer write up from the show. The controller would in no way give anyone an unfair advantage. There is no auto-fire feature and only features 2 bumpers (multi-function buttons) that can be mapped to almost any other button on the controller as well as tension rings on the thumbsticks for finer control.
[GDN] I know Razer has stated that they were in communication with the MLG during the development of the Onza, what was the initial overall reaction at Razer when someone at MLG stated they wouldn’t allow the Onza to be used during tournaments?
[Robert Krakoff] I am aware that our US marketing team has been working closely with MLG since we announced the Onza in January. This notice was posted on a forum that many of us saw before it was withdrawn. My comments were more from the shock of learning of their decision vicariously, through a forum post, instead of hearing directly from MLG.
[GDN] Robert commented that he was aghast that they would ban a controller without ever having one in hand, has no one from the MLG made it to a single industry show to hold one? Even I managed to do that at GamesCom.
[Robert Krakoff] No, we didn’t witness anyone from MLG at the GamesCom booth. We would have welcomed them to test drive the Onza, as so many pro-gamers did during the event. Besides our features demonstrations, there were a number of gaming stations where players could test the Onza thoroughly. By the way, user response was extremely positive.
[GDN] Do you think this has anything to do with an alleged deal between Mad Catz and the MLG or perhaps was it someone just speaking out of turn at the MLG? Could it all just be a misunderstanding?
[Robert Krakoff] You’d have to ask MLG about that. If this is true, at best it is collusion and at worst, restraint of trade. Our only goal is to get the Onza certified with MLG and we are still working toward that end.
[Robert Krakoff] If it’s true that the Razer Onza is banned, this will take professional gaming a step backwards. Razer was the first to start sponsoring professional gaming on the PC and we’ve built an entire industry by supporting pro-gamers worldwide. We see electronics moving to more ergonomic designs, and The Onza is meant to make it easier to reach buttons like the back button, which is now used in Battlefield II to spot enemies. Many players have disabilities and Razer understands that. Do gamers want to reach halfway across their control to hit the back button, or just hit the MFB (Multi-Function Button)? Yes, if the Onza is banned it will unfairly limit players.
[Robert Krakoff] Honestly, I really doubt it – we’ve heard only good things from pro-gamers and the community. Razer has always developed our products for the good of the gamer and professional gaming leagues have supported these goals. Unfortunately, sometimes this might not sit well with the expectations of some leagues. We had these same questions with our first gaming mouse, the Boomslang™ and now our mice are used daily in tournaments around the globe.
[GDN] Do you believe the reasons they stated for banning it remappable bumpers, chance of mod/hacking the controller, their inability to check every controller properly) are valid?
[Robert Krakoff] I disagree with that statement and it’s possible that the MLG misunderstood the functions and features of these buttons. Every controller, even the original equipment Xbox controller, can be hacked. This has nothing to do with remappable buttons or the inability to check every controller. I have been to hundreds of PC events where the refs check every system for cheats. MLG needs to listen to the community of gamers who have tested the Onza, or test one themselves before making these judgments. We are willing to work with the refs to oversee any cheating in tournaments. Since the controllers in tournaments are already being checked for cheats or mods, we’d gladly train any refs to familiarize themselves with the Onza controller in order to ensure there won’t be any cheating.
[GDN] Do you see the ability to remap buttons on a controller as an unfair advantage provided everyone has the opportunity to do so?’
[Robert Krakoff] It’s already built into a couple of games. It doesn’t quite make sense, especially since everyone should have the chance to play the game the way they see fit. As I said earlier, remappable buttons do not necessarily mean that they are modded, just simply that gamers can relocate buttons to where they desire. What is unfair is not allowing us to cater to the gamers’ needs by banning a product before they have had a chance to see one. The Onza controller can also aid those who have a disability, allowing them to have the opportunity to play in tournament leagues. If anything, we are making it more fair.
[GDN] What kind of compromises or solutions are you willing to discuss with the MLG, aside from complete reconfiguration of the Onza?
[Robert Krakoff] We’ll need to find out what they have in mind. This is an officially licensed and approved Xbox 360 controller. It was designed to improve ergonomics and increase human factors within any console game. Our biggest question is why not use it?
[Robert Krakoff] We’ll do whatever we can! However, MLG could have the Ref’s check the controllers, too. Again, like we said, we’d be willing to work with the MLG to train refs and make sure they are checking the controllers correctly in tournaments to ensure fairness for all players.
[GDN] Would Razer still be interested in making a deal with the MLG in order to get the Onza into tournament play?
[Robert Krakoff] Absolutely. I still think this is just a great misunderstanding, and they truly need to test and see the Onza controller for themselves and see that it’s not about modding, but about the comfort and customizability that gamers need. We’ve received a LOT of emails and phone calls (not even counting the amount of press we’ve received) from pro-gamers who are begging us to push it through, so we’d hate to disappoint them.
[GDN] Really, what’s the big deal? So they don’t let your controller into the tournaments, how does that really affect Razer?
[Robert Krakoff] Well, it’s a pity for the pro-gamers – but right now, it does make a statement that Razer may not have the best interests of the gamers in mind, and that just isn’t true, especially since we have been talking to them about the Onza since Day One. Although we have immense support and loyal fans, for the people who are unfamiliar with us, what does a product being banned mean to them? I think it can send mixed messages.
[GDN] How is a controller with remappable buttons any different than a keyboard and mouse combination?
[Robert Krakoff] It isn’t any different from a keyboard or mouse. PC peripherals have those same capabilities and pro-gamers are able to use them in tournament play, so it should be the same for console play.
[GDN] Is there any continuing discussion now between Razer and the MLG in regards to the Onza and its exclusion from tournament play?
[Robert Krakoff] We are in talks and are now trying to clear up all of our questions and concerns. We can only hope that the Onza will be included. We have plans to work with them on other programs like StarCraft II, so it only makes sense.
[GDN] The original marketing materials for the controller stated that there was an auto-fire slider on the back. However, the unit I saw at GamesCom didn’t have that. Was that nixed during the development phase or is it yet planned for another version of the controller?
[Robert Krakoff] It’s definitely out – there’s no autofire at all and it has been made clear to the MLG.
So there you have it, right from Razer, there’s no auto-fire, the controller helps those with disabilities making an even more level playing field and the controller isn’t any easier to ’hack’ than any other controller. Plus the mappable buttons are no different than utilizing a gaming mouse and keyboard during a tournament. GDN will attempt to contact the MLG to see what they have to say on the matter.