If you live somewhere in Asia, the process of buying your gaming goods is going to be considerably different than if you live in the US or UK. Where I live in California, I can easily purchase hardware from a number of different online shops such as Amazon or Newegg and get it a couple days later, often at better prices than buying in person. That's not to say that living in Asia is entirely different, but it's a more retail-oriented experience than anywhere else.
A year ago, we wrote about Taipei's shopping malls being a mecca for PC gamers. I wanted to see it for myself, so I took a trip to the "3C" area in Taipei to check out what being a gamer and hardware enthusiast is like in Taiwan.
The 3C area is essentially a digital area in Taipei, where endless shops along the streets and inside buildings, are all selling computer gear and electronics. You can literally get lost in this place.
Compared to the west, it's surprising how strong a presence physical media still has here. One store sold nothing but blank discs. PC games still come on DVDs. And big brands like Intel and Razer have their own dedicated stores, instead of just selling online. Not only are there many shops to choose from, there are also deals that you can make along the way. If you're not careful, though, you can end up being swindled into paying more than you should have.
Computer shops line the streets, and sometimes tucked between them are tiny eateries, where you'll find that the patrons are mainly shop employees that need a quick bite.
Because Taipei is a dense city in general, shops try to make the most of the space they've got, and in some cases there's not a whole lot. Take this shop as an example. It's actually setup on the side walk, in front of another shop.
When I say that the city is dense and there's a lack of space, I really mean it. There's literally almost no room to walk in some places. Every corner is packed with hardware.
The gaming culture in Taiwan is big, as is the country's support for its eSports teams. Many shops will feature prominent eSports teams, like this shop here, which is like the equivalent of a Nike store with a Lebron James poster plastered on the window.
One thing I noticed is that many stores feature prominent brands as their store front signage. This store, for example, isn't actually a store run by MSI, but it does show a great deal of love for the company. Some stores that do well get support from large vendors.
Another branded store. This time, though, it's actually run by a company. Gigabyte had a shop opened here, which you'd never find in the US. And in case you were wondering, the Aorus gaming brand is part of Gigabyte, similar to how ROG is part of Asus.
Graphics cards are the hottest items on store shelves, particularly NVIDIA cards. As if the picture wasn't obvious, stores in Taiwan stock many more Nvidia cards than AMD cards. In this shot, you can count the number of Radeon cards with two hands.
Most of the Nvidia cards on the shelves though aren't high-priced models like a GTX 980 Ti. You'll find mostly GTX 950s and 960s. In the entire store, I was able to find two 980 Ti's and two Titan Xs.
Same situation in another store. Nvidia has the lion's share of the market.
I went to the 3C area thinking that AMD cards should have a strong presence, since they're usually priced lower than equivalent Nvidia parts, coupled with the lower average wages. Speaking with several shop owners though, more people are still asking for Nvidia products.
The picture is similar on the CPU side. Intel dominates market share and almost every shop is showing Intel banners. Many of them, like this one here, use the retail boxes for display.
Extra brownie points to whoever can correctly identify the total number of CPU cores inside this glass display.
Laptops are a big seller in Taiwan, and you can try'em all at plenty of stores. The biggest players are the local brands of course: Acer, ASUS, and MSI. Lenovo has a large presence here too but is dwarfed by the other three.
I noticed that laptops seem to always be covered in plastic wrap, and this was common across all shops. You won't find this at your local Best Buy, but it does keep the finger prints off.
Physical media is still a big deal, and this store is in the business of discs. That's right—it doesn't sell anything else. I didn't realize Razer was in the physical media business...
After walking through the streets, I figured it was time to go into an actual shopping mall. But clearly from the way in, this isn't your typical fashion center. No, what sets you apart in this mall is the graphics card brand on your shopping bag.
As if the shopping experience wasn't already different enough between Asia and North America, Intel actually has its own store here. Inside you can get a feel for various products from different companies that run on Intel CPUs.
Think of it like the Microsoft store, but for Intel products only. I've only seen something like this at CES.
Branding and catching your eye is everything in Taiwan. There are just so many shops trying to grab your attention that the only way you'd stand out is to put a huge, very blue, super-deformed "bunnyman" display outside your store front.
I felt like I was standing next to a rock star. But Intel rock stars aren't like other rock stars.
Inside the shopping mall, the experience was no different than on the streets, except a little more organized. All the big brands own the store front names, even though the majority of stores are owned and operated by individuals.
Because there are so many individual shops selling components and not one giant Fry's Electronics or Best Buy, prices vary from store to store. In most cases, you can haggle your way to lower deals.
The shop in this photo lists its prices right out front so there's no confusion.
Further in, I actually found Razer's first retail location. It's design is very much like an Apple or Microsoft store, except it's dark and lit in green and instead of finding people hovering over the latest gadgets, you find gamers playing.
Asus has its own retail location inside the mall. It showcases the company's entire lineup of products, from tablets, to phones, to notebooks for business folks.
Gamers though get their own area within the store called the ROG area.
HTC has a Vive VR area where you can line up to experience what VR is like. Unfortunately, the demo was just a movie, and not an actual gaming experience. Not sure if everyone in the area already knew that, but there didn't seem to be many people waiting in line.
After a full day of strolling around and getting lost, I found a shop that had my name written all over it.