One of the fastest growing markets in the home PC scene is centred around the age-old tradition of tinkering with mass produced items to individualise them and make a statement about personal taste.
Just as the car-modifying scene emerged as a huge market once the automobile became a mainstream possession, customising of home computers is now very popular amongst PC enthusiasts. For some wholesalers and small retailers it is also becoming very big business.
Garrison Huang, managing director of Melbourne distributor, Anyware Computer Accessories, said he had seen remarkable growth in this space over the last 18 months.
“I don’t think anybody has actually scoped just how big this market is yet but it is now becoming very popular and growing all the time,” Huang said.
“Because it is changing every day, it is up to the distributors and resellers to create the trends themselves. That is certainly what we are now trying to do.
“It is an area of our business on which we are putting more focus and where see some good opportunities.”
Huang said that Anyware recently launched its own range of accessories under the Modware brand which it had registered as a trademark and to which it would be continually adding products.
The Modware range includes glowing fan cases, round cables with silver braiding and UV reactive tubes and much more all of which are designed to be seen through viewing panels that are cut into cases.
“A lot of the products and trends have been adapted from what has been popular in the car modifying scene,” Huang said. “The prime motivation of these modders is similar to the car scene as well. Some enthusiasts modify their PCs for better performance while others are just interested in making their PCs look good.
“Over time there will be many approaches. People are starting to realise that a PC does not have to be a boring beige box. There is a lot you can do with them and people want to see inside of them.”
In addition to distributors such as Anyware, there are vendors such as Antec, AOpen and Lian-Li that are now manufacturing cases specifically catering to this market. In some instances with windows and lights are already built in.
Perhaps even more indicative of how this market is growing is the number of specialty computer stores that are starting to find opportunity in focusing on this niche. Melbourne’s PC Case Gear is one of the best known at this stage but Digiworld and Custom Cases in Melbourne also cater to this emerging market. In Queensland there are numerous stores. Gamedude Computers is one, The Disc Shop — which has three locations in Brisbane — is another that has a strong range while others include Cool PC and Below Zero. There are others in every state including PC Range in South Australia and Sydney Metro Computers.
Clearly there is an opportunity here for small dealers to add to their range of products and to attract new customers. When ARN rang PC Case Gear to get an idea on how the market was going, the company didn’t really want to talk to us for fear of alerting potential competitors to the prospect.
A salesperson at one of the leading Queensland retail outlets servicing this market and who asked to remain anonymous said the modding scene was “pretty huge” amongst LAN gamers and other PC enthusiasts.
She administrates “LAN parties” in Brisbane with some friends. This is where a group of gamers and enthusiasts will gather with their PCs and link them for some network gaming.
“It is very rare to find a LAN gamer at one of these meetings who has not modified their PC in some way”, she said. “It usually starts with a paint job because that is pretty cheap and then it gets more involved from there.”
It is at these LAN gatherings that people get to show off their handiwork and where trends, product sources and information sources are exchanged.
The origins of PC modding are hard to pinpoint, according to Anyware’s Huang, however he said that it lay somewhere in the process of overclocking CPUs. This was where enthusiasts tweaked their CPUs to make them run faster than the manufacturers’ specifications.
“Overclocking requires additional cooling which necessitates additional fans and case modifications,” he said. “Once people started modifying their PCs the trend progressed towards showing off your handiwork thus windows and ventilation shafts were cut into the cases. Lights were then fitted to illuminate and highlight modifications.”
One reseller focusing on this market felt that it would “be difficult for mainstream independent dealers and retailers to get into this market” and added that a large number of their sales are originating online.
“These people live, eat and sleep for their PCs so it is obvious that they will be searching the Internet to see what the latest and greatest products are,” the reseller, who didn’t want to be named, said.
Huang said he thought that it was the independent retailers that were best suited to this market opportunity.
“Many of them are hard-core enthusiasts themselves,” he said. “That is the nature of their business. I guess that this is not yet really a mainstream category of products. It is a group of enthusiasts that have their own network of contacts and communication.”
Huang said that he had not seen mass-merchant retailers such as Harvey Norman introduce modding products yet because it was very much a “do-it-yourself” market.
“It is a bit of a hassle for [Harvey Norman] to have the product range that supports this type of enthusiast,” he said.
ARN also asked a forum on the hard-core Overclockers Australia site (www.overclockers.com.au) for their thoughts on PC modding and was overwhelmed by the response. There is a raft of information on modding at this site for anyone who wants to delve deeper.
“Practically anything’s open for modification, you just need to understand the consequences,” one forum contributor said. “It’s cheaper than modding a car, it’s fun, it’s creative and it’s physical.”