When A Mouse Requires An Internet Connection, You're Doing 'Cloud' Wrong
from the so-many-options-for-the-hardware,-so-few-for-the-users dept
In a situation eerily similar to “always-on” DRM schemes, Razer mouse and keyboard purchasers are finding their high-end peripherals bricked by software that requires an internet connection to function.
So, why would a mouse need an internet connection to be usable? Well, it's supposed to be a feature, but it's behaving more like a bug. A forum member at Overclock.net explains the problem with his new ~$80 mouse:
This really took me by surprise. Just bought a new Naga 2012 mouse, installed the software and get greeted by a login screen right after. No option to bypass it to use the software to configure the mouse, set the options, sensitivity, shortcuts, macros etc.
So I go ahead and create an account and try to log in. Nothing. Try several more times, and still nothing. Try to make new accounts with different email addresses and it still wont work.
Finally call Razer who tells me the activation server is down, and I wont be able to use the mouse until it goes back up and will only be able to use it as a standard plug and play mouse til then. I ask about a workaround to use the mouse offline and they say there is none. Supposedly once the mouse is activated on the computer offline mode will work, but it needs to upload my profile and activate my account first and since their server is down its not going to happen. I ask for a supervisor to confirm this is the case and ask again for a workaround to use it offline. He said sorry theres nothing they can do, tells me the call center is closing and hangs up on me.
I'm pretty shocked Razer thought it was a good idea to do this to customers. Nowhere on the box does it say anything about needing an internet connection to “activate” a mouse. If the servers go down in the future, anyone who buys this mouse is out of luck.
The idea behind this unfortunate requirement is to save your gaming preferences for supported mice and keyboards to the cloud so the next time you're at a LAN party (assuming your LAN party lets you “dial out,” so to speak), for example, you would just log in and retrieve your settings, rather than start from scratch on a new computer. Unfortunately, the execution is all effed up.
Synapse, the software driving the cloud setup, has both an online and offline mode. Unfortunately, you can't access the offline portion until you've registered your new hardware. This is a problem, especially when the company forcing you to create an account before you can use your mouse can't keep its servers up. Furthermore, if you're away from your own computer (with its offline settings synched) and without an internet connection, your mouse becomes useless again. And it's not just spotty internet connections that cause a problem. It's also other software.
If you work somewhere that has a network behind firewalls, chances are even though you can download the Synapse software, the firewall may also block you from activating and using the software as well.
As for Razer's suggested workaround (“standard plug and play”)? No one spends $80 for a “plug and play” mouse (or over $300 with the keyboard — which also requires a connection and an account). The FAQ for Synapse (required going forward for Razer's products) suggests that once your setup is complete, moving between online and offline modes will be a “seamless experience.” The definition of “seamless” seems to vary from person to person.
If your connection drops out for any reason, the Synapse software will make a habit of locking up on you while it transitions to offline mode. During that time your settings may revert or possibly not be saved.
Google disagrees with Razer's definition of “seamless” as well. Searching for “Razer Synapse” autosuggests the following, which hardly inspires confidence.
Reviews of Razer hardware requiring Synapse haven't been too kind either (at least not to the software). Here's what the person shelling out nearly $400 for just a Razer keyboard has in store for them:
As of this writing the Razer Synapse driver software is easy to download and frustrating to use. Conceptually, it's great: download Synapse and create a free Razer account, then customize your peripherals and your settings will be saved to Razer servers automatically, meaning you can take your Razer gear anywhere and simply download Synapse to have access to your custom configuration. In practice, Synapse runs slowly and sports an unintuitive interface.
Most frustrating of all, during testing Synapse had a hard time reliably detecting Razer peripherals; while testing the DeathStalker Ultimate I had to install Razer Synapse three times across three different PCs, and each time I had problems convincing the software that I had in fact connected our review keyboard. I was able to solve the problem on all of our test machines by either rebooting the PC or reinstalling the software, but it was always a headache.
Fun stuff. All this hassle for a “seamless experience.” Min-Liang Tan of Razer had this to say in defense of the Synapse software (via a Facebook post):
We invented onboard memory for gaming mice many years ago and called it Synapse to allow gamers to bring their profiles with them on the go. However, we realized that we ran into another issue where we had to keep increasing the amount of memory onboard to provide for more storage and this resulted in higher and higher prices for gamers.
We then invented Synapse 2.0 where we could provide almost limitless amount of storage for profiles, macros, etc in the cloud as opposed to being limited by physical memory.
We wanted to avoid raising prices to gamers for higher memory space onboard (think about it like having to buy bigger and bigger hard drives as opposed to having all your storage on the cloud) and provide a much better service for our users.
Synapse 2.0 is NOT DRM. Our products work perfectly well out of the box without Synapse 2.0. Synapse 2.0 provides ADDITIONAL functionality of almost limitless memory in the cloud as opposed to taking away functionality (which is what DRM is).
We recognize that gamers will want to be able to use their gear without an online connection, and that's why Synapse 2.0 has an OFFLINE mode. Basically you have to register, create an account, save your initial settings and if you so prefer, you can stay in offline mode all the time without going online.
I realize that we have had issues with the activation server, and we're making sure we get that sorted out.
First off, it would appear that Razer's products don't work perfectly well out of the box, seeing as they require activation and a registered account before settings can be tweaked. They make work as well as much, much cheaper plug-and-play peripherals but people don't buy Razer devices with the intention of using them like a $10 Kensington vanilla mouse. Second, claiming additional functionality is a bit rich when the software itself is too flaky to guarantee this additional functionality. “Limitless memory in the cloud” is only as good as the software connecting it to the user and, so far, it looks like Synapse 2.0 isn't getting it done reliably.
Third, while it's true that Synapse has an offline mode, it's completely unusable until everything else has been connected via registration. It would be preferable to have a choice before all the extra steps (register, create account, save settings, etc.), rather than be forced to utilize the online version first. (One helpful user of Overclock.net has helpfully posted a real workaround that allows Razer purchasers to use their peripherals and preferred settings, rather than settling for plug-and-play limitations.)
Last, if internal storage is so expensive, why are competitors able to keep their peripheral prices in line with Razer's while still offering the same options and functions? If the price is an object, why not give users the option to store their settings on something else equally portable, like a USB drive?
And then there's the data harvesting. This post at Overclock.net goes on at great length about Synapse's terms of service even though there's nothing really unusual about them. Razer wants as much data as it can get ahold of, much like any other company or online service. The difference here is that registration is forced, with the device pretty much held hostage until the purchaser jumps through all the hoops, hopefully dropping lots of usable information along the way.
Registration for computer hardware is nothing new, but for the most part, people could just indefinitely delay the process if they so chose, or eliminate it completely. I've installed hard drives, DVD writers, printers, etc., all of which asked me to register and voluntarily hand over personally identifiable information. Whether I did this or not had no effect on my usage of these products. Sure, anyone can fill out a form with a bunch of fake information, but Razer will still collect usage data and specific computer information from every computer it comes in contact with. Bringing your mouse with you to a LAN party and downloading the Synapse to access your settings just gives Razer more data to work with.
While some people are referring to this internet-connection-required aspect as “DRM,” it really isn't. What it is though, is a consumer-unfriendly choice. If your customers are going to shell out $300+ for a keyboard, wouldn't you think they deserve more than one badly implemented “option?”
Perhaps its Razer's lack of an online help forum that has shielded it (until now) from the complaints of Synapse users. Sure, it has an email address for technical support, but most people probably consider that a last-ditch option at best and a customer service black hole at worst.
Bottom line: people loathe software that requires internet access to use. Pushing Synapse going forward doesn't necessarily make Razer a bad company, but the insistence that users log in and register first certainly plays right into its desire to collect information on its customers. Compounding this misstep with a party line that basically states “Synapse is great and works great” is a large step in the wrong direction. Razer claims to crafting a better user experience, but perhaps it should actually listen to its users, rather than telling them what they'll like and getting defensive when users express their displeasure.