The big interview: Overclockers’ Steve Ling

System builders have lots of opportunities in the PC gaming space, with the rise of virtual reality (VR) and strong demand for high-end systems. Overclockers UK is one of the leading players, with builds like the OrionX and a partnership with GAME. PCR asks executive director Steve Ling about gamer buying habits…

How has 2016 been for Overclockers so far, in comparison to recent years?

2016 has been a fantastic year so far for Overclockers UK. The year started with the rollout of our partnership with GAME, bringing PC gaming back to the High Street in over 10 stores. More recently we worked with Multiplay to open a Gaming Arena at the Trafford Centre store in Manchester, which is a dedicated floor for PC gaming.

The first quarter of 2016 saw the launch of VR headsets and we partnered with HTC Vive to make VR a reality. We built a 20 square metre extension to our shop to provide a dedicated room-scale VR experience for members of the public to try VR for free. We have been steadily building a catalogue of demos and games so customers can tailor
their experience.

We have continued to push the boundaries, creating some of the world’s fastest PCs. Launched at Computex in Taiwan, the 8Pack OrionX gained international recognition due to its complex design and outstanding performance.

Q2 saw the launch of NVIDIA 10 series graphics cards, and thanks to some great work we launched with the biggest range of cards available on the market. This was followed by a range of new Radeon cards from AMD – and again Overclockers UK led the way.

What do you think of the latest range of graphics cards from both NVIDIA
and AMD?

It is great to see these new ranges come to market with products for all types of gamers, from class-leading performance to price-effective eSports solutions.

The GPU is the most important consideration when purchasing a gaming PC, especially in conjunction with VR. Competition is healthy for consumers and enables games to bigger and better. Keep up the good work!

Why do you think PC gaming has seen such a rise in the past few years? Do you feel that consumers are turning away from consoles to PC, and if so, why?

Many console gamers progress to PC gaming and will usually continue to game on both devices. 

It seems that kids are getting into PC gaming earlier, influenced by the growth in YouTube content. Combine this with the growth in eSports, where a majority of games are PC-based and it is easy to see why PC gaming is growing in popularity. I do not think consumers will turn away from consoles, as they provide a cheaper entry to gaming – and the impending arrival of VR will generate more excitement.

In what ways do you think Overclockers will be affected by Brexit?

The fast and steep decline of the pound immediately after Brexit resulted in around a 10 per cent increase of prices in a short space of time, and we have had to manage this situation. With so many product launches and VR driving demand for hardware, we have not seen any negative impact on business as a result.

There is a lot of speculation about the future of the economy. We are used to market prices fluctuating with exchange rates, as a majority of tech products are imported, and I doubt we will see anything quite so abrupt.

If we do see a fall in consumer spending, it will likely be in the form of extending the use of existing tech products such as TVs. 

I believe that the growth in PC gaming will be relatively unaffected.

What do system builders such as yourselves provide to customers that tier one vendors can’t?

The most obvious benefit is that we can customise our systems to meet customer demand. At Overclockers UK it is not just about selecting hardware specification, we also pay a lot of attention to colour and design. We offer a range of options including in-house modifications and custom made hard line water-cooling.

Another key benefit is that we can bring new technology to market far quicker. While tier one vendors have a channel full of systems featuring previous generation hardware, we are able to build and ship the latest available products. We also have the ability to tune this latest hardware, providing some of the fastest PC systems in the world.

You’ve jumped onto the VR train, dedicating an entire section of your site to it. How big a role do you think virtual reality will play in consumers’ PC purchasing choices going forward?

Virtual reality is certainly no fad. We are at the start of a revolution in the way we interact with gaming and entertainment. Headsets will improve, become smaller, more affordable and wireless. Developers will utilise this technology to bring us new and immersive experiences.

Around this, a range of devices and accessories will come to market. The purchase decision right now depends very much on which games they play and the resolution of the monitor, 4k for example. The situation with VR is very much the same and our role is to assist customers to ensure they enjoy a fantastic gaming experience.

What new tech excites you most in system building?

While new technology is great to play with, building systems is becoming an art form. The advances we have made in designing colour-coordinated systems with custom water-cooling solutions bring a new level of satisfaction in building the best PCs.

What do you think is the most important thing that consumers look for in a PC purchasing experience?

Consumers are all different and purchase decisions will depend on many factors, including if they are a first-time buyer. Overall the most important thing is to deliver a good balance between price and performance. Consumers are constantly looking for a great PC at a great price, but importantly you cannot afford to deliver something that does not meet their expectations.

“Virtual reality is certainly no fad. We are at the start of a revolution.” 
Steve Ling, Overclockers UK

A survey has found that almost half of consumers in the UK don’t know about tailored experiences when buying at retail. Offering lots of different options is one of your selling points. Why do you think that others fail to capitalise?

Being able to offer a broad selection of build to order PCs is a time consuming process and requires a level of expertise. We have our own dedicated team who take care of this, meaning that the latest component selection is always there for customers. While we pride ourselves on it, others may not have the necessary resources to undertake a detailed process like this, or may not have the same customer demographic as us. A section of society will only know famous retail brands and are happy to purchase an off-the-shelf solution that meets their budget.

Tell us about your relationship with GAME and what it means to be visible to High Street shoppers.

Our partnership with GAME is an important stepping stone in raising awareness of PC gaming. Our solution is designed to make it easier to jump from console to PC gaming, helping first time buyers to choose the right PC. Combine this with GAME’s interest free offers, reward points and trade-in schemes and we have a winning formula on the High Street.

Do you see the Game Arena in Manchester as an entry for eSports into the mainstream? Will the Arena expand to more stores?

Yes, the Multiplay Gaming Arena in the Trafford Centre is somewhere for everyone to visit and get involved with eSports in person. Watch this space!

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Gaming – in association with VIP Computers – is running throughout September 2016 – click here for more articles

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