Saitek (pronounced Say-Tech) is a manufacturer of PC gaming hardware, most notably the X52 Flight Control System, the Pro Gamer Command Pad, and the recently released follow up to the successful Eclipse keyboard, the Eclipse II keyboard. We recently got a chance to sit down with Mark Starrett, Product Marketing Manager for Saitek USA for the past four years. He joined Saitek 10 years ago to work on the launch of their PC Game controllers, and is an avid flight simulator fan and motorcycle enthusiast. We asked him about the processes of creating new gaming hardware, the demise of E3, and what Saitek has on the horizon.
GamingNexus: Saitek displays a couple of products at E3 each year that may not be fully developed. How is the decision made on what products will be brought to market?
MS: We measure the feedback from our retailers and consumer reactions. It’s critical that we have a strong response before we commit fully to a new product.
GamingNexus: How long does it usually take for a product to go from finished design to store shelves?
Normally, our cycle runs about 12 months. We are planning 2007 right now.
GamingNexus: How do customers have an effect on the products developed by Saitek?
We take all our customer comments seriously. We monitor our web forum, special interest websites, forums, reviews and blogs to see what our customers are asking for, and the kinds of features that we include. Most of our team members are also gamers, so they incorporate what they learn.
GamingNexus: When you have a successful product, what leads to the decision to make changes to that product?
We’re always trying to improve the product, and the technology available improves as well. We don’t normally change a product significantly. We usually offer a new or updated model to add new features. The X-52 is a good example. We added Hall-effect contact-less sensors and a LCD MFD to upgrade the X-45.
GamingNexus: Isn’t there a good deal of risk in changing a successful product?
Yes there is. It has to be better than the last one, and some of our products have been very tough to beat. Still, we have to keep moving forward.
GamingNexus: Not every product will be as successful as hoped. Can you talk about what happens when a product doesn’t quite live up to expectations?
Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen. When it does, we try to find out why. Sometimes we’ve gone too far on a design, were too far ahead or just didn’t get it right. We learn from it and try not to make that mistake again. There are plenty of new mistakes to make!
GamingNexus: Flight simulator software strives to emulate reality as closely as possible. Flight control systems like the Saitek X-52 are designed to help further that feeling of realism. What do you think is the next step in furthering the realism in flight simulators and flight control systems?
The next step is probably expanding the envelope of the simulation. What this means is getting the simulation beyond the screen. Controls and accessories that provide in-game information or communication are possibilities.
GamingNexus: At what point will flight simulators and controllers reach a point where further innovation simply isn’t possible (aside from putting the player in an actual plane)?
I’m not sure there is a limit. We’ve seen force feedback, 3D monitors, and head-tracking technology bring up realism. It might even be possible to simulate G-effects, or a virtual cockpit. The only limits are the relative cost of delivering it to the mass market.
GamingNexus: The hot topic in the industry right now is the “death” of E3. How long has Saitek had a presence at E3?
We’ve been at the last ten E3’s.
GamingNexus: The changes to E3 will likely have the largest effect on the smaller software and hardware vendors. As one of the largest residents of Kentia Hall (the E3 home for most small software and hardware vendors) at previous E3’s, how do you see the repackaging of E3 affecting the smaller companies?
E3 was a good opportunity for small technologies and software companies to get noticed. 1C (Il-2 Sturmavik, Pacific Fighters) started in a little 10x10 in Kentia Hall.
GamingNexus: Does Saitek plan to participate in the new E3? If so, what changes should we expect? If not, what alternative does Saitek have in mind?
We’re curious to see what the new format will be, or what other venues like CES might do to fill the gap. We work very directly with the press to keep them informed on our new products, so that might get even more emphasis.
GamingNexus: The controller for the Nintendo Wii, the Wiimote, is a major step ahead in video game console controller design. What impact do you expect this innovation to have on PC gaming controller design?
I don’t think it translates well to the PC, except in the media PC role, which is more console-like. The dominant PC interface will be Mice and keyboards followed by joysticks for the near future.
GamingNexus: What new products does Saitek have on the horizon? Are there any product areas in which Saitek is looking to move?
We have a couple of new and exciting products coming this season that have not yet been announced.
The first is our all-new Aviator joystick. Aviator combines styling influenced by Spitfires and Mustangs with Saitek’s precise designs and programming technology. The result is a twin throttle five axis programmable joystick for dogfighters and bush pilots everywhere. It will be available in October.
The second will have to wait for now, but Saitek will be raising the bar again.
We'd like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk to us.