Fad check: RGB LEDs in everything (including your games)

Logitech G633 Rgb

If you’ve paid money for a new gaming keyboard, mouse or headset in the past year, I’d bet you five bucks* it’s blinged out with customizable RGB LEDs. Hardware companies have been sticking little blinking lights in everything lately. At first, it was enough to be able to set a color or an animation pattern and leave it at that. But now the bigger hardware vendors are trying to give those LEDs more to do, and at least three of them—Corsair, Logitech, and Razer—not only let you sync lighting profiles between devices, they want to integrate those lights into your PC games.

All three offer SDKs to game developers, which will let them flash your keyboard LEDs when a MOBA ability is on cooldown, or an enemy closes in on you in an FPS. I think that means it’s time for a fad check: this is the next big push for peripherals, but does anyone really want it?

Let’s take this a piece at a time.

Corsair K70 RGB-teaser

First: Do you want RGB LEDs in your mouse, keyboard, and headset? Do you like to customize them, or just enjoy having the hardware light up, and leave it at that? Are they worth paying a few extra dollars for?

Second: Do you care about being able to synchronize those LEDs across devices? Is it cool or pointless to have your keyboard and headset harmoniously “breathing” with the same color scheme?

Third: The big one: Game integration. Corsair demoed its RGB SDK integration with an upcoming zombie shooter called Moving Hazard at CES 2016. The developers had programmed the lights to show you which buttons are usable. WASD are white, and abilities like grenades are green until you’ve used them up, and then they turn red. The number pad also serves as a damage indicator, notifying you which direction the damage is coming from. My colleagues at Maximum PC recorded a video of the demonstration.

Logitech has a similar SDK with its Spectrum RGB lighting. Same with Razer’s Chroma. We’ve yet to see a high profile game utilize any of them, but perhaps that’s soon to come... if, that is, RGB game integration is a trend and not a short-lived fad that sounds good, but never really materializes. (Update: Razer asked me to point out that Chroma has Call of Duty: Black Ops III integration, and will work with Blizzard's Overwatch).

I’m undecided on the benefits. When playing a game like League of Legends, it would sometimes be nice to have a key turn red when an ability is on cooldown, then switch to green when it’s ready to fire. There’s some potential benefit there. On the other hand, gaming is a lot like typing—you shouldn’t be looking at the keyboard most of the time you’re doing it. You should be looking at the screen. And if you’re looking at the screen, all the information you need, from ability cooldowns to your HP to the direction attacks are coming from, should be conveyed by the HUD. If you’re looking down at the keyboard, you’re probably missing something.

Here’s your chance to weigh in. If more games integrate RGB keyboard lighting, would you take advantage of the feature? If you have an RGB keyboard or mouse already, do you go out of your way to program its lights? Let us know!

*Please don't hold me to this $5 bet (unless I'm right, in which case I'll gladly take your money).

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).