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Gaming Accessories

Mad Catz, maker of gaming peripherals, is back from the dead

The company's Rat mice, Strike keyboards and Freq headsets are alive and well.

It looked like an early April Fools' joke. Who would believe that Mad Catz, the bankrupt gaming peripheral company, would rise from the dead on "4.1.18"?   

But the teaser trailer, which swept across rakish, angular renders of what was unmistakably a Mad Catz modular mouse, wasn't referring to April 1 -- but rather Jan. 4. Today, in other words.

Mad Catz is back. (These shots are not all the same mouse.)

Mad Catz / GIF by Sean Hollister

And having chatted at length with long-time company spokesman Alex Verrey, I can confirm: Mad Catz is coming back this year.  According to Verrey, nearly all the company's assets were swept up by a Chinese holding company that wanted to keep the brand alive, and this January's CES in Las Vegas will mark Mad Catz's revival with a whole slate of products.

Why should we trust Mad Catz's new owners to be better stewards than, say, the new owners of Polaroid, Nokia and BlackBerry? Verrey says it's because many of those involved have some very relevant experience: They had a hand in manufacturing much of Mad Catz's product line including its mice, keyboards and headsets.

It turns out that the Chinese holding company that's rescuing the Mad Catz brand from near death is composed of people who worked for the company's Chinese factories. They saw an opportunity to keep doing what they'd already been doing -- but now they'll be working for themselves. 

"It's not like people are just using the Mad Catz name to push out a new and unrelated range of products," says Verrey. "The new guys understand the products because they were the ones who made them."

Now known as "Mad Catz Global Limited," the firm's starting by reviving products that were already in development at Mad Catz before the company shut down last March -- and it's using the same exact factory tooling to pump out the same parts.

mad-catz-earbuds-boom-mic

Earbuds... with a boom mic? The new Mad Catz E.S. Pro+ was actually in development at old Mad Catz before it shut down.

Mad Catz

Out of roughly a dozen products the company plans to show us at CES, three have been formally announced so far. There's the Strike 4 mechanical keyboard with RGB lighting, the Freq 4 gaming headset, and what appears to be the main attraction: a new gaming mouse known as the Rat Air which can operate completely wirelessly -- thanks to a wireless power system built into its included mousepad. 

(Unlike Logitech's PowerPlay mice, there's no battery inside. You can plug in a wired cable when you're away from the pad, though.)

rat-air

The Mad Catz Rat Air mouse.

Mad Catz

Update: The company's website is now live with details about each of its new products, including 8 mice, 2 keyboards, 2 headsets and several mousepads. Yes, Mad Catz is actually making a set of earbuds with a boom mic for competitive gamers, and bringing back the Rat Pro mouse (now Rat Pro X3) with its swappable sensors, analog scroll wheel and swappable teflon or ceramic feet. 

According to Verrey -- who left the original Mad Catz when it was forced to shed all non-essential personnel, some 37 percent of its workforce, in early 2016 -- the new owner's goals are a tad different. He says the focus now will be on quality instead of quantity, and with fewer unrealistic products like the crazy $300 transforming gamepad the company showed at CES 2015. 

"Part of the learning at Mad Catz is the understanding there might not be a market for $300 mobile game controllers," says Verrey, with a laugh. 

The LucidSound LS40 is a rival headphone created by former Mad Catz talent.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Right now, the company's focusing on peripherals for Windows PCs, and only under the Mad Catz brand, but Verrey says the company will branch into peripherals for game consoles later on. 

It's worth noting that while Mad Catz may have the same name and manufacturing chops, it doesn't necessarily have the same design talent in-house. Many of the company's current angular products were originally conceived by the Saitek team in Magor, Wales, but Mad Catz was forced to sell Saitek to rival Logitech in late 2016. And while Mad Catz does still own and could revive the Tritton audio brand, some of Tritton's audio talent left Mad Catz to create rival LucidSound in 2014. 

Verrey says the new Mad Catz has assembled a new internal design team in Asia, and is in conversation with various former employees. But one that probably won't be joining the team is Mark Julio, aka MarkMan, who arguably turned around the company's reputation by helping design and market Mad Catz's celebrated arcade sticks for the fighting game community before he, too, was let go.

When I showed MarkMan the original teaser video, he offered these thoughts:

I believe in the brand focusing on its strengths. I felt Mad Catz had a few good products and key communities that backed them. It'll be interesting to see how fans, communities and individuals will feel about them making a comeback. Just having a product is one thing, having the vision and competency to make the products live longer than just their marketing/shelf life.... that's another thing. 

Many people (myself included) have moved on with life after Mad Catz. Can ghosts from our past still find a place in today's gaming world? I think so... they're gonna have their work cut out for them though. Timing is everything.  

Still, it's pretty exciting to see Mad Catz on its feet, and I'll happily give its new designers the benefit of the doubt. Stay tuned: We'll be checking out the company's first slate of products for ourselves at CES next week.