The Rainbow Tax: Are RGB Keyboards Worth the Extra Cost?

RGB accessories and PC components have been blowing up lately. Most mainstream manufacturers are introducing new lines or updated versions of their products with RGB lights, at a higher price point. Keyboards were one of the first accessories to have RGB lights added, and offer some of the best flexibility of lighting zones and programmability.

But the markup for this purely cosmetic feature on keyboards seems pretty drastic, which causes us to question if adding these lights is a rainbow-camouflaged attempt at increasing peripheral profit margins.

To measure what this mark up is industry-wide, we looked at the percent increase in MSRP cost when RGB lights were added to identical keyboards from the same manufacturer. Our study analyzed 15 pairs of keyboards from Cooler Master, Corsair, HyperX, Logitech, Razer, Roccat, and SteelSeries.

We found that, on average, RGB keyboards are marked up 41% higher than their non-RGB counterparts.

The most significant RGB keyboard markup we found, by percent increase, was between Razer’s Blackwidow X Tournament Edition and the Blackwidow X Tournament Edition Chroma (V1). The Chroma version costs 86% more than the same keyboard with standard Razer green lighting.

Now, we should acknowledge that the addition of RGB lighting probably does cost manufacturers more to produce the keyboard. So to continue to make a reasonable profit margin, the manufacturer would need to pass along this added cost to the consumer by raising the MSRP. But we still struggle to believe that it costs them 41% more to add on these lights, even with the development costs of the controller software considered.

It’s rather funny that the second we see customizable rainbow lights on our WASD keys, we throw our standards for continuous technical improvement that we hold component manufacturers to out the door. Can you imagine the rage that would ensue if next year Intel released a new i7 with the same speeds but with RGB lights on the rim of the processor at a 41% markup?

So why is the gaming community continuing to upgrade to RGB keyboards despite the 41% higher sticker price?  We have a few theories, outside of the obvious visual upgrade.

Small Visual Changes
By changing the visual appearance of the keyboard, potential buyers infer that significant changes have been made to the performance of the keyboard. Many of the RGB versions of the pairs we analyzed had small cosmetic changes, the most common of which were the addition of a wrist rest and refinishing the surface. 

This, combined with the RGB lights, makes the keyboard seem new and improved despite the hardware of the switches or additional keys remaining untouched.

The Everlasting Desire to Have a Better Set Up
The great (and annoying) trend in the PC gaming industry is how rapid improvement cycles occur. If you built a high-performance gaming PC today, chances are half of your components would have upgraded versions a year from now. This cycle causes many of us to feel our PC is never top of the line, despite having high-performance computers that can play most AAA games at 60+ FPS with great graphics.

Because of this concept, the addition of RGB lights seems like another upgrade to our set up to stay with the times.

The Need for PC Customization
There’s a stigma in the PC gaming community against pre-made computers and consoles. Against pre-made PCs for being too expensive and lacking the creativity it takes to build a computer, and against consoles for their lack of customization, limited FPS, and graphics capabilities. Those who build their gaming computer tend to be very proud of it, and love to think of it as one of a kind. 

The included customization abilities of the different zones of the keyboards allow for PC gamers to continue to personalize their entire set up. Keyboards themselves have remained rather static. The edition of RGB lights is the first major visual customization feature of keyboards, and people have flocked towards it.

The customization and visuals of an RGB keyboard are fantastic to complete your setup, but you need to consider the rainbow tax.  While a 41% markup on a $100 keyboard is pocket-change compared to the price of the average build, this money could be better spent elsewhere. Challenge yourself to find a way to increase your performance with the same amount of money. But if money is no object, rainbow away.