It's not terribly unusual for two companies to partner up when there's a mutually beneficial opportunity. Usually, the upside for both parties are fairly obvious, but when Lenovo and Razer told us that they were going to team up on a fleet of gaming products, we had to think rather hard about it.
Both companies have excellent brand recognition, and both (appear to) do brisk business. Further, some of their product lines overlap -- for example, Razer makes gaming laptops, and Lenovo has a whole line of gaming peripherals now -- so it was not immediately clear what benefit(s) one has for the other.
Reading between the lines, though, we suspect it may have mostly to do with virtual reality.
Backing up a bit, we spoke with Lenovo (Victor Rios, Vice President and General Manager, Workstation BU, Gaming and Industry Solutions) and Razer (Kevin Sather, Razer's Director of Product Marketing) representatives in a conference call where they were to elaborate somewhat on the press release we received announcing the partnership. To be honest, we didn't learn much. The press release is full of vague language, and the Lenovo/Razer folks we talked to didn't provide too many more details, despite our pesky questions.
What we can say with certainty is that the products born of this partnership will be special "Razer" editions of Lenovo's Y-series of gaming products. This will start with a gaming desktop and expand to other areas, including laptops and peripherals. These systems will sport Razer's excellent Chroma lighting and software (no one has specified if that's Razer Synapse, or some custom version of it).
We also know that the first system from the partnership will launch at CES 2016 for Q1.
There is also something to the idea that Razer is known mainly to enthusiasts, whereas Lenovo is favored more heavily by mainstream and workstation types, so the brand awareness of each could grow a bit with a partnership.
Still, that all seems rather minor, and there's actually a potential negative hit to both companies. There is the fact that Lenovo is now making a full line of gaming peripherals, and based on the answers we got from our call, it doesn't sound like Lenovo is planning to pull those anytime soon. Razer does not appear to be planning on killing off its Razer Blade line of thin gaming laptops either, which seems odd considering that Lenovo's Y-series gaming laptops will have some Razer branding and Chroma.
Altogether, we're not sure this all adds up. So what gives? Why partner?
I Smell VR
I'm speculating here, but it's possible that this simple announcement foreshadows something more exciting: a collaboration on virtual reality.
First of all, we can parse out the language of the press release somewhat. The word "immersive" is used multiple times, particularly to describe Razer's expertise. For example, one passage reads, "Lenovo's engineering expertise merges with Razer's immersive technology to enhance gaming experience."
What is immersive about gaming keyboards and mice and cool backlighting? Nothing. No, "immersive" is a buzzword around VR, and it just so happens that Razer is a force behind the Open Source VR (OSVR) project.
Neither Rios nor Sather threw cold water on that idea, though they wouldn’t confirm anything specific. Maybe there could be some accessory bundling, they noted, and maybe there could be some “deeper work with the ecosystem.” A VR HMD is technically an accessory, and it’s one that Razer already has in its pocket.
We asked whether Lenovo and Razer would work together to create PCs that are qualified for OSVR, and Sather answered by saying that would be cool. That's a non-answer, but it's telling, and it could jibe with this bit from the press release: "Additionally, both companies are looking to jointly double down efforts to fast track the development of new technologies, including gaming experience enhancements." The keywords there are "new technologies" and "gaming enhancements."
VR Makes Sense
We are certain that Lenovo is testing the VR waters; that is to say, the company is definitely exploring it, but we do not believe that Lenovo has necessarily made any solid decisions on exactly how to approach it. However, making friends with Razer and its OSVR technology would be a sensible move in that regard.
Further, this would make sense for more mainstream consumers interested in VR. This coming year will undoubtedly be the Year Of VR -- we expect to be inundated with VR news and products at CES in January, and of course the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are forthcoming -- and any major OEM worth its salt will be looking to cash in lest they be left in the dust.
For a huge company like Lenovo, it could serve more mainstream gamers intrigued by VR; for a successful gamer-focused company like Razer that has the OSVR hot potato, having the world's largest PC maker as a de facto distributor for its VR HMD could help it snatch a large chunk of the about-to-explode VR market away from the flagship HMDs (Rift, Vive, etc.).
A shared stake in VR is what makes the most sense for a Lenovo/Razer partnership. We'll certainly learn more at CES in January, and in the months to follow.
Seth Colaner is the News Director at Tom's Hardware. He curates and edits the news channel and also writes on a variety of topics. He would have become a professional ultimate Frisbee player, but he was born 15 years too early.