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Laptop Sales Soar in Russia Thanks to Widespread Adoption by Gamers

While fashion and innovation have made some computing technology all but obsolete, the laptop has found a new niche.

Photo: Cybersport Russian-style: Only the most lethally configured laptop can guarantee success. (Shutterstock.com/Roman Kosolapov)
Cybersport Russian-style: Only the most lethally configured laptop can guarantee success.
Photo: Cybersport Russian-style: Only the most lethally configured laptop can guarantee success. (Shutterstock.com/Roman Kosolapov)
Cybersport Russian-style: Only the most lethally configured laptop can guarantee success.

With the digital world ever in a state of flux, many former stalwarts of the scene – most notably desktop PCs – seemed set to be inevitably sidelined by sleeker, more user-friendly 21st century arrivistes. Indeed, in 2010, when Apple first popularised the tablet format with its then-revolutionary iPad, it seemed as though the death knell was sounding for laptops in particular, with their functionality, portability and accessibility all usurped by the finely-honed ergonomics of this upstart technology.

Despite the widespread obituarising that has marked its passing several times in recent years, the humble laptop is actually doing rather well for itself, particularly in Russia – as well as in many of the other former Soviet nations – where it has become the mainstay of the relentlessly expanding online gaming community.

This is partly because Russia is home to a disproportionately large number of online gamers, a development driven by high levels of digital literacy, ubiquitously rapid broadband and mobile connectivity and, crucially, the relatively low cost of the required hardware and software. In fact, pretty much all of the world's leading gaming-oriented laptop manufacturers – including such veterans as Asus, Acer, MSI, Lenovo, HP, Apple and Toshiba, as well as a number of relative newcomers to the sector, most notably Microsoft, Huawei and Xiaomi – have designated Russia as a priority market.

As a consequence, Russia's dedicated gaming laptop market was valued at US$120 million in 2016, with that figure expected to grow by at least 10% for the year ending December 2017. It is now estimated that one in 10 of all laptops sold in the country are destined for gaming use, compared with one in 25 as recently as two years ago.

Typically, the standard gaming laptop has been enhanced by the addition of an external graphics card and the required adapter, refinements that cost about US$1,000 to implement, although some high-end systems can push that figure up to beyond $10,000. In the latter instance, such spending would generally only occur among the country's hardcore professionals, many of whom view gaming as a career, making their living from tournament prize money and sponsorship deals.

Such professionals aside, the majority of gamers in Russia, as in other countries around the world, fall into one of two categories – casual players or hardcore enthusiasts. The casual players, those who game only occasionally, account for 50% of all of Russia's gaming laptop purchases, while the hardcore enthusiasts, those for whom gaming is a way of life and their only leisure activity, account for a further 40%. The high-spec machines sought out by career gamers account for the rest.

In terms of future market development, sales are expected to expand by 10% in the casual-player sector, while the professional sector could grow by 5%. The highest level of growth is likely to come from the hardcore players, with sales in this sector tipped to rise by as much as 20%.

Across all sectors, expansion is expected to be driven by two particular factors – an across-the-board fall in hardware prices and a surge in demand for virtual reality cybersport gameplay, a phenomenon that has already been observed in a number of other countries, including China and South Korea. Indeed, the rise of cybersports has now added another revenue stream into the mix, with the most able players sought out and offered transfer fees of up to $250,000 as an incentive to switch their allegiance to a rival team. In light of the huge revenue opportunities represented by cybersports – including streaming fees, merchandise and boosted game sales – it is perhaps no surprise that one Russian investor is said to have already sunk $100 million into the sector.

Any Hong Kong manufacturer or supplier looking to capitalise on the emerging opportunities in the Russian gaming market should consider directly approaching the relevant retailers/distributors, many of whom are permanently on the lookout for innovative accessories and peripheral systems. It is also worth considering many of the general consumer e-commerce channels, as well as the growing number of dedicated gaming online marketplaces, especially as Russia takes a far more relaxed approach to the taxes payable on digital transactions than many of the countries in the neighbouring EU. There's also a growing market for figurines and other memorabilia related to many of the most popular online games and cybersports.

Hong Kong businesses interested in the online-gaming sector could also benefit from keeping an eye on developments in two other East European countries – Belarus and Lithuania. Belarus has already made something of a name for itself with the success of both World of Tanks, a hugely successful online multiplayer combat game created by Minsk-based Wargaming, and Viber, with the country's developers credited as playing a vital role in refining this increasingly popular cross-platform instant-messaging system.

More recently, a number of Belarus' most high-profile software personnel have migrated to neighbouring Lithuania, drawn by the online gaming and betting development opportunities on offer within the country's growing number of technoparks. Given the track records of many of these individuals, their future activities may also merit close attention.

Leonid Orlov, Moscow Consultant

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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