Razer Kitsune Arcade Controller Interview: Optical Switches, Why Leverless, Fighting Game Collaborations, and More

Following our first Razer interview that focused on the Razer Kishi V2 and mobile, I had a chance to chat with Ali Homayounfar ( Marketing Manager for Kitsune) and Kevin Macleod (Product Development for Kitsune) alongside Will Powers (PR) about Razer’s new Kitsune arcade controller, the hardware, working with FGC pros, collaboration plans, going Tournament Legal, and a lot more. Longtime readers of TouchArcade and mobile controller enthusiasts might recognize the name Kevin Macleod. He used to run AfterPad and has been doing great stuff for fans of playing mobile games with controllers for a long time. This interview will focus on the Razer Kitsune, and it was conducted on a video call. It was then transcribed and edited for brevity in the case of some parts.

TouchArcade (TA): How has the response been from the FGC and everyone else for the Razer Kitsune?

Ali Homayounfar (AH): So we’ve been FGC for quite a long time actually. We started with the Evo Panthera fight stick, so it’s actually a fight stick with a proper joystick, and we were pretty dominant in the FGC for quite a few years. We sponsored pro players like Fuudo on our team. Then we didn’t sell that product anymore. So I would say for a little bit, we were kind of in the shadows.

So with the Kitsune, we want to make a big statement with that product, and so far it’s been great. The reception from the FGC community has been awesome. We had a ton of pro players and influencers reach out to us directly just wanting the products you know, like no money or anything like that, but they really saw the quality, especially at EVO when they got to try it and test it. We say feeling is believing. I think EVO really helped us to showcase it to everybody there. We also had it, I believe, at Gamescom and and TGS this year. So far the reception has been way better than we expected.

TA: What made you decide to go leverless and like an all button controller for this one?

AH: It is like what everyone’s trending towards. Top pro players like Daigo Umehara, he’s been in the game for 20 years. You know, 25 years and these guys are all old school, in the arcades, in Japan, playing on joystick for decades. You even saw them starting to transition a leverless. That’s something that we all kind of saw as well. You just have better inputs. I’ve said it before, but you can do faster execution, better execution, jump is its own button, so it eliminates a lot of risk in error for doing, you know, accidentally forward jumps and stuff like that. But especially with our Razer keyboard tech and experience we have, we could do a really cool leverless option.

Doing a joystick is cool, like I said. I was a joystick user my whole life. I used Kitsune full time now. But with that, it is a really thick JLF piece. That’s a really thick JF piece. You can’t do as many cool things with it like you said with Steam Deck and portability, if you had that big JLF, it’d be a lot tougher to make it so slim and sleek like we did with Kitsune as well.

Kevin Macleod (KM): I would say that it is all sort of tied into the story of the entire product as Ali was hinting at there. Once we made that decision to focus on the all buttons, everything else clicked. We could shrink it down and do this portability angle. We could use our keyboard tech for these optical switches for faster actuation than you get with mechanical switches, so everything in the product came together all at once when we made that decision. If we were still trying to cram in the joystick idea there, we could have done it, but there would be different tradeoffs. I don’t think it would have been quite as impactful as it’s (Kitsune) been on the market.

TA: Ali mentioned in a prior interview that Razer worked with a lot of pros in the community and the FGC for advice on the stick and all. How is it working with someone like Justin Wong on this?

AH: It has been great. I’ve known Justin for I don’t know, almost five years. I worked with him at my old company as well. We actually sponsored them at the previous company I was at, so it was easy to kind of get him on board to help with the Kitsune doing some consulting for us.

It was great. I mean getting his feedback.
Obviously he’s been in the scene for, I don’t know, 20 years. Same with Daigo (Umehara). I think he and Daigo are both legends in FGC, so to kind of get his consulting and stuff on the product was great. He’s done a few tutorial videos too. If you go on our socials, we did a Kitsune tutorial with Justin Wong.

TA: Kevin mentioned how everything came together when you decided to not do a stick. So besides wanting to go leverless, what features did you have in mind from the start that you wanted to make sure were in your new arcade controller?

Kevin Macleod (KM): The key I would say for any of this stuff is responsiveness. If you’re talking about an arcade controller, first and foremost, it has to be immediately responsive and reliable at all times. Just as soon as we started the project, I basically knew we had to go with our optical key switches. Those are our best of the best in terms of responsiveness. They have a relatively low travel distance, but not too low. They actuate without having any mechanical issues or debounce or anything like that, so it’s just an optical beam. When it’s blocked, you know that the input has gone through, so it’s extremely reliable from that standpoint.

We knew we wanted to be officially licensed. We wanted to work with Sony, and we wanted to work on PS5, all above board and tournament legal. We knew we wanted to be really optimized for a tournament setting, so we actually spent quite a bit of time designing our cable latch system in the back of it so that you can insert your USB C cable, and you don’t have any worry about it being pulled out or something like that if somebody trips on it because you’ll lose your game if that happens. We knew we wanted it to look really cool. From my standpoint, at least, that decision to do the aluminum design, the Chroma LED lighting, all that stuff really came together right away. We have really good designers at Razer and they were able to give us something that looks, I think, really incredible and unique.

TA: Going back to the cable you mentioned. That’s one of the things I see spoken about a lot. The tournament lock and the cable are very well designed. Obviously you know this, but there are people who buy controllers like modding their controllers with the buttons, stick, etc. I’ve seen some people mention that you don’t actually sell replacement cables and buttons. Are those planned for the roadmap to start selling these extra parts or different colors?

KM: I would say stay tuned on that. Like we, we know there is a desire for that, and we intend on addressing it one way. Those are not completely proprietary parts or anything like that by any means. They’re MX mount buttons. It would be fairly easy for somebody else to design compatible buttons on that. The cable is a standard IF certified USB C cable. So we designed this to be compatible with a wide range of cables. We know that people actually can have a lot of customization with cables and get some cool stuff. We don’t want to dictate that they have to use ours or something like that. Everything is designed to be relatively standards compliant.

AH: Yeah, if you go on Reddit or Twitter, even today I saw a bunch of people doing some hot swapping with switches with the Kitsune. With different kinds of wraps and other stuff. So it is possible, like Kevin said, they’re not proprietary. You could swap it with different switches.

TA: Building on the customization aspect. When the Cammy and Chun-li editions were announced, I thought those were actually printed on the aluminum, but they are decals applied to it right?

KM: Yeah, they are a decal like a thick 3M laminate that goes on like a vinyl wrap on there. We opted for that solution on those editions.

AH: The durability is similar to a car wrap.It’s very, very durable.
So I think it’s like the 2080 material that people use on cars. So it’s a pretty durable wrap.

TA: Are there any plans to start selling collaboration wraps or branded ones officially on the site this year or is it another state tuned situation?

AH: It’s something we’re definitely thinking about, something we’re talking over with the team, so nothing finalized. Obviously people have been asking us for different customizations and skins, and we actually own our own print facility. We acquired a company that has our print facility that’s close to our office. It is something we’re definitely talking about.

KM: We’ve also, we don’t know if we have published or if we’re going to publish shortly the schematics for how people can print their own skins and the plate dimensions and all that stuff. But we expect people to be able to do those OK? Yeah.

AH: So the template for you to do your own designs is on right now. We are selling custom skins right now, kind of like our Quartz and Mercury. Similar ones that we have on our laptops, I think those skins are available for Kitsune for now.

TA: And Kevin mentioned Chroma. What I wanted to know, is would the Kitsune respond to game changes like you see with the DualSense controller light bar in select games. Would the Kitsune change colors based on characters used or something like that in the future like if I choose Chun Li, it would change to blue?

KM: It’s not possible at this time. We could certainly do that on PC at some point. We could do integration with our Synapse technology on PC, and then any games that are designed to integrate with Chroma would take advantage of that. But we didn’t do that at launch. The focus at launch was doing something that’s really great in cross platform with PS5 and PC. I would say that could come at some point down the line, but it is not part of the product right now. We do have a reactive mode where the lights will kind of flash with each button press that you make. So there is reactive lighting to it, but there isn’t a Chroma integration with Synapse at this time.

TA: Let’s now move to questions for Ali. You’ve been to EVO, TGS, CEO, and tons of these events, and have been playing fighting games since the early days as we said before. I wanna know what you think about the current state of arcade sticks and controllers outside the Kitsune. Like what have you been using before this, what are your favorites, and what do you think of the current state of arcade controllers?

AH: I mean, I’m kind of biased because I used to work at Victrix, so I worked on the Victrix Pro FS 12 and Pro FS. So obviously, before Razer, those were the peripherals I was using. Overall I’m just happy with how FGC is this year. I think with Mortal Kombat 1 just launching, Street Fighter 6, Tekken 8, you have Project L. I’m just super happy to see these fighting games and the community doing so well. I think with Kitsune too, just how well it has been doing. Sometimes you know, a lot of companies and stuff, maybe focus on like FPS and Call of Duty because there’s a lot of revenue there and stuff like that. So I’m really happy to see that the FGC is thriving. We call it the Golden Age this year. Because of all the new games and it’s just been so long since we’ve had, like, a new Street Fighter and stuff like that. I’m really happy to see how it’s been and yeah, for all the other preferred rules like, you know, I’m friends with a lot of those companies and happy for them as well. We are all doing great and the community is, I think, stronger for that as well.

TA: So have you had a chance or have you looked into the new Sanwa JLX stick which they launched a few months ago?

AH: So I haven’t tried that one yet. Since yeah, since I’ve been using leverless, I haven’t been messing with the the joysticks as much, but it is something I wanna get my hands on, and I think that’s one cool thing I’d say about Razer too, is even the buttons like to what Kevin was talking about, we make our own button caps, our own switches, you know, other companies, they have to go through like Sanwa, you know, they have to order through Japanese distributor get the JLF get the get the buttons. I think that’s the kind of unique thing with Razer compared to other companies is that we make this all internally. We don’t have to go through a middleman, distributor or stuff like that. We are the only optical switches out there too, which is cool on a fight stick to leverless whatever you wanna call it.

TA: One aspect which a lot of people haven’t spoken about, is that if you wanna buy a leverless controller right now, you usually like, pre Kitsune, you have to wait for something to come in stock, order from a specialty, or something. With Razer, maximum distribution among anything related to the FGC, so that is a huge boost to leverless.

AH: Yeah, 100%.

KM: It’s a product that’s historically been sold like a niche product. Where you kind of have to go to online distributors and get things and wait in line. I don’t think it’s a niche category. None of us do. We think that the all button design is mainstream, and is probably going to be the big design going forward. We didn’t want to restrict it to that. We thought it deserved to go mainstream.

AH: Having the license too, one huge thing with that, if you buy like you know from another company that kind of does their in-house stuff with like their Brooks converter and stuff like that.

We are PS5 licensed, so no matter how many updates Sony gives us, we’re going to be compatible no matter what. With other companies they would have to do a firmware fix. One cool thing about going with a PS5 license as well, is that, no matter what, you go to tournament, it’s not going to disconnect on you or you have to do updates and stuff like that. I think that’s a huge advantage besides our distribution as well.

TA: So you mentioned going with PS5 like, working with them for being an officially licensed stick. If the Razer Kitsune does well enough, do you think you will do one for another platform?

Will Powers (WP): If there’s ever consumer demand we can, we can always address that by creating a product. We’ve done that a million times. I don’t think you’ll ever hear anyone at Razer say we will never make something, because it’s just not the way we operate. If there’s demand, we’ll create a product.

Kevin then went on to talk about how the Kitsune was also built to be a first class experience for PC players.

KM: Our focus for Kitsune is that we wanted to do something rock solid for PC as well. We wanted to make sure that Kitsune wasn’t just a killer PS5 controller, but that we went all out on the PC mode. It’s usually an afterthought with controllers, so when you flip this to PC mode like the touch pad actually functions as a PC trackpad with multi touch input and scrolling and all that stuff, as you would expect on a PC controller. It shows up via Xinput with all of the traditional button layouts that you would expect. Any PC game that supports the Xbox controllers will automatically work with Kitsune. No mapping required, nothing like that. We wanted to make sure that we were a first class citizen on both of those platforms. That would be what I’d say on that.

TA: So you mentioned Riot’s Project L above. Are there any plans to do collaborations with fighting games like that with say Project L or Mortal Kombat 1 skins? I know I saw a Mortal Kombat 1 posted online, but wasn’t sure whether it was for sale or not.

AH: We made that one for Warner Brothers. For Evo they reached out to us asking if they could have Kitsunes at their EVO booth. They asked if they could do their own Mortal Kombat design. We said, yeah, of course. So we gave them a template. They made that Fire God Liu Kang edition. We printed it and we put it on for them. It was a one off collaboration.

(Note: Ali was visiting Riot for Project L soon after this interview was conducted as you can see in the Tweet below).

TA: With the Kitsune, my main worry about the skins is messing up applying them. I’m bad with applying skins or screen guards and have never used those things for a long time. When I get the Kitsune, I’m going to be sweating bullets trying to apply the skins correctly.

AH: Just for you to know as well, at EVO, we applied, I mean like 50 skins because we got the whole shipment in for EVO. We did the Warner Brothers skins, the Cammy and Chun Li skins, all while setting up. We all kind of pitched in and helped, and it was pretty easy, honestly.

Because it’s such a big square you know what I mean? You can line up the button holes and stuff. We were all kind of nervous like you, and like, everyone did it really, really easily. I’m talking about people that don’t even use this stuff. They did it pretty flawlessly. So yeah, don’t get too worried.

KM: Just to be clear, the Street Fighter 6 edition ones, all of the skin is pre applied.

AH: The ones you get, those are already from the factory.

TA: Now let’s move to questions for Kevin. Let’s go back a bit to AfterPad, then Gamevice, and now Razer. How did you go from mobile controllers to the Kitsune?

KM: I got my start doing a website talking about MFi controller compatible games back in the day, after iOS 7 came out, and I ended up reviewing a bunch of mobile controllers, and that’s how I met the CEO of Razer as part of that process. Eventually that turned into me getting a job at Gamevice who ended up collaborating with Razer later down the line for the Kishi V1 controller. I ended up moving over to Razer and working on the Kishi V2 controller, and then sort of took over the product development at Razer for the console line as well. The console controllers and mobile controllers at Razer, and Kitsune is actually the first product at Razer that I kicked off myself. That’s the first one that I’ve done from the beginning. I came up with a spec for it, and kicked that off myself, and now it’s out on store shelves and the reaction’s been great. So it’s been, it’s been an exciting journey.

TA: You mentioned working on the Kishi. I assume you also worked on both the Android and the iPhone Kishi V2 as well.

KM: Yes.

TA: Were you also involved with the Nexus app in any way?

KM: Yes, I’m also the product developer for Nexus. I’m the product developer for the Kishi hardware controllers, and the Nexus mobile app on iOS and Android.

TA: As Razer, have you done any official testing with the Steam Deck for the Kitsune?

KM: Yeah, we’ve tested, I believe with Kitsune. We show up as Kitsune when you’re using Steam. You can map all of the buttons to whatever you want to in all of those games that would be compatible with Steam Deck, so yeah, I would know that we’re compatible there. Mobility was a core thing that we wanted to focus on with Kitsune, the ability to carry it with you where you go. We focused on it being like the size between an iPad and a small laptop, and to fit into any context where you would carry one of those.

TA: Since you’ve now worked on mobile controllers, console controllers, and also on an arcade controller, do you think we will reach a point where Razer specifically can make something which officially supports PlayStation, iPhone, iPad and PC together or is that something which the first parties would not allow?

KM: PlayStation, iPhone and PC together could be doable. Those could be doable. Where you start to see issues is if you try to do cross platform on consoles. But as long as you’re only on one console, you should be okay with doing compatibility with all the rest, I think.

TA: I’m obviously gonna try the Kitsune on the iPad when I get it, but I don’t even know if that’s gonna work. You probably have tried that.

KM: There’s nothing that prevents us from adding support to it. We would work with Apple to get them some units, and they could add support to iOS for Kitsune. We actually work on Android because it shows up as a standard controller mapping on Android, so there’s nothing at this point preventing it. Apple switched to USB C with everything now, the rules for adding compatibility for devices have been relaxed quite a bit in recent years on the iOS side of things. We could get them units and they would be able to add support to iOS and iPad.

TA: Having now covered controllers for longer than most people I’d say, what would you like to see in controllers going forward? Stuff that isn’t standardized yet specifically.

KM: I would say with controllers that they’ve all converged on sort of a similar design, similar quality, similar feature sets over the years. The basic shape and layout of the controller I think is standard for a reason. People like that design and people like the controller buttons to be where you expect them to be. So whenever people try to make significant changes to that, it never goes well. So that’s from a game controller standpoint I don’t think you’re going to see, I don’t want to focus on trying to reinvent the wheel. What I wanna focus on in general with controllers going forward and what I expect others to do as well, is really polishing up the basics of what a controller experience is and adding additional features where it makes sense in a way that doesn’t get in the way of what people’s expectations for a controller are. So when you look at our key mobile controllers like those are traditional style, console controller layouts, our microswitch buttons that you get from our high end console controllers, we just brought those to a mobile size, and when you look at our high end console controllers, our Wolverine V2 chroma on the Xbox side or Wolverine V2 Pro, we’ve started with the basic sheet people expect.

Then we’ve added Mecha-Tactile buttons, Mecha-Tactile d-pad, programmable paddles, and locking triggers. We augment what people are expecting out of a controller, and do things that only Razer can do, in a way that only we can do to make things better. I would expect to see more of that going forward.

Will then goes on to talk about Razer’s cross collateralization of research and R&D as we discussed in our prior interview.

WP: Whether it’s the aluminum chassis or the switches, we didn’t start from Ground Zero for those with Kitsune. We were able to bring this to market so quickly because we have those resources.

KM: It is a good point. With Kitsune really, it is building off of everything that we’ve done historically at Razer, and that was actually one of the key things that I wanted to focus on with. What do we have that we can bring that puts a Razer identity on this market, that brings the research and development that we have spent on technologies that other people don’t have access to? What can we do to leverage these in the fighting game community? When I said earlier that everything sort of came together at once when we came up with the design of the product, that’s part of what I meant, because we already had these things. We know how to do extremely low latency, key switch-based buttons. We do it with our gaming keyboards. So we already had those parts ready to go. They just hadn’t been used in this context and we know how to do a unibody aluminum design. We do it with our laptop, so we were able to bring that over to this space. We know how to do killer lighting. We’ve been doing it for years on this, so every time that it came to think about what features we need to do here, we already had something that we had had a lot of experience with and we brought all of that over. I do think that’s why it doesn’t feel like a product that just came out. It feels like a product that’s been ready to be made for a long time now.

We’d like to thank Ali Homayounfar, Kevin Macleod, and Will Powers from Razer for their time here.

Stay tuned for more arcade controller coverage on TouchArcade in the future. If you think we should cover a specific controller or do more interviews like this, feel free to let us know.