How Samsung gives gamers options beyond buying consoles | Mike Lucero


Samsung Gaming Hub, the video game streaming platform accessible directly via Samsung Smart TVs, celebrated its first anniversary last week with the announcement of a new brand identity and continued expansion. I talked with Mike Lucero, head of product management for gaming at Samsung Electronics, about what the first year of the product has meant.

In our interview, he said the platform has grown rapidly in its first year, with monthly active users increasing thirteen-fold from July 2022 to May 2023 and players from nine territories able to access high-quality game streaming on over 21 million Samsung devices.

The platform now offers over 3,000 games through partner services, including triple-A titles like Halo Infinite, indie games and arcade classics. It kicked off with streaming partners such as Xbox, Nvidia GeForce Now and Utomik, and it has since added Amazon Luna, Antstream Arcade, and Blacknut as streaming partners. Samsung also announced its Samsung Game Portal last week to make it easy for gamers to buy gaming accessories at Samsung.com.

During the past year, Samsung showed up with its “Playing is believing” campaign at game events like Summer Game Fest. The platform’s seamless access to games without downloads or waiting has impressed creators and journalists who were initially skeptical about game streaming, with many asking “what’s next” for Samsung Gaming Hub. I played Halo Infinite on the hub as a streamed title, and it worked pretty well at the recent Summer Game Fest. We’ll see what it does for the Samsung gaming brand.

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Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Mike Lucero, head of product management for gaming at Samsung Electronics.

GamesBeat: Did you consider releasing any information on the actual number of users?

Mike Lucero: Right now we have some stats we’re sharing, but we’re very–as you can imagine, Samsung is very careful about sharing actual user numbers.

GamesBeat: Given what you released, was there something you felt was very telling about the milestones?

Lucero: A lot of what we talked about at Summer Game Fest–first of all, the momentum, the growth numbers, I think they show that we have something that people are excited about. We’re bringing more and more people in every month with all the new content releases and new partners on board. It’s going to be a great year with Xbox and GeForce Now and Luna, with all the great content from partners like Ubisoft. Some of our broader-reaching content from Antstream Arcade and Blacknut is opening up a new set of audiences. It’s all about growth and momentum. We’re very pleased that there’s a healthy appetite for people to just attach their Bluetooth controllers, their remote controls, their virtual mobile controllers–they’re using all of the above, which is great. It’s very steady growth.

The other thing I’ll say, we’ve done a brand redesign that reflects the energy. It underscores the commitment to high-quality experience and high-quality branding. We’ll just continue to improve the polish and the fit and finish. Even if you look at the software itself, we’re always improving it to be a better user experience, whether from a content curation perspective or just the user experiences, including branding. It’s all about continuing to iterate and learn from the data and deliver a better product to gamers.

GamesBeat: Can you characterize the investment Samsung is making here? Is this considered a big investment in gaming?

Lucero: Absolutely. This is considered one of our strategic bets. We make a lot of investments in experiences for TV, but I would say this is one of the more strategic investments. When you think about Samsung and the investments we make from an industry opportunity perspective–when I was brought on board, our president, Won-jin Lee, who blessed this project in the first place, said, “I know that gaming is the biggest form of entertainment out there from a revenue perspective.” Stuff we all know. We’re not doing our fair share in terms of attracting that audience.

By the way, that audience is becoming bigger and bigger using our televisions. It’s imperative for us to create an experience that speaks to that audience. For me, since day one–the reason they brought someone from the game industry was because they knew that’s the way you succeed in gaming. My team reflects that as well. We have people from PlayStation, Twitch and various game publishers. We have a very solid gaming team in my direct report. That’s all reflective of the seriousness of the company in terms of being a real player in gaming. We realize it’s a different type of entertainment.

GamesBeat: Are you recruiting more people, or have you done most of that already?

Lucero: We’re actually recruiting another person right now. We just hired someone from the publisher side. And we are still recruiting further. Our gaming investment continues to expand.

GamesBeat: It sounds like it’s not necessarily a very capital-intensive kind of business.

Lucero: Well, yes and no. More no than yes. When you get into cloud streaming with our partners, for them it’s very capital-intensive. For us, it’s mainly about software. It’s hiring product managers who are great at creating gaming experiences. We have a team of engineers, primarily in Korea, but we’ve also started a team in the U.S. that also comes from the game industry. They do a lot of prototyping and building out. Our design team is based in North America as well. A lot of the look and feel comes from here, and then we have a great set of engineers in Korea that do all the heavy lifting.

But to your point, it’s not as intensive a business as it is for partners like Xbox and Nvidia and Luna across the board. For us it’s more about creating great software, great product experiences.

Samsung Gaming Hub is a year old now.

GamesBeat: When you think of the 21 million devices, is there a certain percentage of the TV base that you have covered now? Or some other kind of measure there?

Lucero: We have three model years covered now – 2023, which is currently shipping, 2022, and then 2021, where we did a software update to allow game streaming on those models. That’s how we measure our footprint, in terms of model years. But it’s each device in those model years. You can play games on them.

GamesBeat: Is there more investment to expect for upcoming years, as opposed to going back and retrofitting features?

Lucero: We’ll go back as far as we can, for two reasons. One, obviously our partners want that. When we went back to 2021 TVs, our partners were very happy, because that opens up a lot more TVs. They want us to do that. But also, the interesting thing about when we went back to 2021 TVs, we actually addressed our biggest pain point from the 2022 launch, which was, “Dang, I have a 2021 TV and I can’t play games on it.” Consumers appreciate that we’re updating the old TVs as well. You would think that Samsung just wants to sell more TVs, but we also want people to love their existing TVs and continue to breathe life into them.

It’s a combination of things. We’ll continue to invest in new experiences going forward as well. We also hope for those to be compatible with as many TVs as possible. Since the game streaming is enabled on the old model year TVs, we can still create great experiences for those TVs as well. We’ll make some more interesting investments over the years. This is just the beginning. Right now we’re focused on getting people to play games through our partners’ experiences, but we might do some other things in the future as well.

GamesBeat: How does the gaming hub coexist with the game portal that you announced?

Lucero: The game portal gives you access to the gaming hub. They’re really pretty discrete experiences, but they are interrelated. The game portal is a place where you can buy the hardware that supports the gaming hub. It’s an entry point to the TVs where you can play through the gaming hub. But they’re distinct offerings.

GamesBeat: And other places where people can buy games through Samsung–you can get cloud games and streamed games through the gaming hub.

Lucero: Right.

GamesBeat: But can you also buy them through the Galaxy store or other places across console, PC, mobile?

Lucero: At a high level, it’s a place where you can get all things gaming from Samsung. But it’s focused on gear. As far as buying games across Samsung, the best place to get that is the Samsung gaming hub. On mobile devices, the best place to go is the Galaxy store. The portal is a place where you get the things that can buy the games. You’re not going to be buying games there. It’s not a marketplace. You can subscribe to Game Pass through Galaxy phones or through your Samsung TV, or you can subscribe elsewhere and play on those devices. It’s all about choice. It just opens up that choice more.

GamesBeat: Have you looked at some of the industry data around how cloud gaming is grabbing more share of the market?

Lucero: We look at the trend data that shows it becoming an ever-increasing piece of the pie. I can’t comment on how we’re trending compared to that, the growth patterns and whether we’re growing faster–I think we’re probably growing pretty fast, relatively speaking. But we definitely are very aware that it’s going to be an increasing share of the pie going forward.

For the ecosystem, the whole–it’s all predicated on the cost side of things. The costs are coming down. That will just make it a more scalable business for them. Again, it’s a lot like the Netflix revolution at the end of 2008. Initially, it was probably pretty expensive for them to serve those customers, but over time it ended up being a very viable business. We see the same trend lines happening for cloud streaming as well.

GamesBeat: Do you feel like the technology is at the right level, or do you feel like there’s still some progress to be made on the technology front to create a better experience, lower latency and things like that?

Lucero: It’s always going to get a bit better. There are always places where you can improve, whether it’s having more servers out there, improved prioritization in the telecom infrastructure, or whatever you want to call the internet streaming infrastructure. Prioritized traffic is a big piece of it with GeForce Now, for example. I’m sure all the providers have that prioritized traffic on the infrastructure side. We’ll continue to improve the performance of our TVs as well. Our TVs are always getting better.

But I think that now, in terms of performance quality, our indicators are that, anecdotally and from a pure latency telemetry standpoint. Obviously, telemetry is important, but user feedback is the most important. We’ve talked to thousands of gamers, and for them, the experience meets the bar from their perspective. Gamers are tough critics. We’ve done quite a few demos with all types of gamers, and they appreciate the experience. They appreciate the convenience. They appreciate the fact that they don’t need a console. It’s a new form factor for them. They appreciate that it exists and they have more choices.

For them, it’s definitely good enough now, but it will get better. A great example, even in this past year, with GeForce Now getting 4K–there will always be incremental improvements along those lines. I imagine that will continue as costs come down and it makes economic sense for these guys to do more of that.

GamesBeat: What have you learned about gamers during the past year? Who is the market that takes to cloud gaming more so than anyone else?

Lucero: The funny thing is that really, each of our apps finds its audience. It’s kind of a composite of different user types. On the extremes, Nvidia, GeForce Now users are going to be much more serious and hardcore. They’ve had to go to a lot of work to make everything work on the TVs, but they put in the work because especially in 4K, it’s a great experience. The Game Pass user is more like you’d expect in terms of–they like the triple-A games. They like variety.

On the Luna side, the Prime members love those free games. That’s a different type of gamer. Some of that stuff is very casual, like Jackbox. They also have their virtual controller, which is a surprisingly nice taste of gaming that they provide with that. It’s an entry-level point. It’s the top of the funnel. It performs reasonably well considering it doesn’t seem like it would be the best experience, but it’s good enough. It really varies based on the content types.

We expect that to continue with Blacknut and Antstream. I don’t recall if you’ve played Mortal Kombat on the Antstream, but that and the new chapter of Fortnite were probably the two most popular games we showed. People loved playing Mortal Kombat. Those were serious gamers. Even serious players were interested in those games.

It’s really a combination of user types. At least initially it’s been the more adventurous gamer who really wants to believe in what the technology is capable of. I think over time it’s going to go broader. We’re going to surface more of this casual content as well to get more of those folks. But we’re also going to lean heavily into–right now we’re promoting, on our promo banner, Cyberpunk through Nvidia GeForce Now in 4K. We’re promoting to all audiences and seeing what comes in.

GamesBeat: It would be interesting to see what would happen if you could cross-promote video game shows with video game games.

Lucero: We kind of do that already. We have Twitch and YouTube. If you go into the game details page, you can see us–it’s not cross-promoting, but it’s promoting Twitch and YouTube content for that game, to help provide more insight about that game whether it’s walkthroughs on YouTube or just streamers on Twitch.

Samsung
Hip Hop Gamer is drumming up some excitement for Samsung Gaming Hub and Xbox cloud gaming.

GamesBeat: I was also thinking about things like The Last of Us on HBO.

Lucero: It’s funny you should mention that. We have some guidelines in terms of what we’ll promote in the gaming hub, but we did include The Last of Us in the gaming hub and actually drew some viewership. We’re thrilled with how the cross-pollination of gaming IP–we’re thrilled that the studios are getting it now. As long as the creators from the ecosystem are involved in that creativity and that production, if it’s going to be true to the IP, we think it’s a huge broadening of the entire ecosystem for us. It brings in more users.

If you’re going to watch The Last of Us, we all know that it’s had a second resurgence with the TV show. We see similar stuff with other IPs happening as well. That brings us joy, I’ll say. And it’s a reason to promote. We all know Avatar is coming out later this year. That’s going to be a great opportunity for cross-promotion as well. That game will be available on GeForce Now and on Luna. We’re licking our chops to really do some fun cross-promotion for that. And looking forward to playing it, of course.

GamesBeat: The opportunity for cloud gaming to make more headway because there was a shortage of game consoles themselves–I wonder how that’s playing out.

Mike Lucero, director of product management for gaming at Samsung, shows off the Samsung Gaming Hub.
Mike Lucero, director of product management for gaming at Samsung, shows off the Samsung Gaming Hub.

Lucero: It’s an interesting question. The way I think about it, it takes away the sense of urgency around needing to have a console. You’re basically getting a console. You’re getting a Series X with Game Pass. In some cases users have the choice of, “Is this good enough for what I need?” If all you want to play is Game Pass titles, the 300+ titles they have–this year is so full of exciting new titles. I have a hard time keeping up with all the new titles. If that’s enough, maybe you don’t have to get the console. You basically get your own instance of the console every time you light up a Game Pass stream on the Xbox app. It does obviate the need.

Of course, not all games are on Game Pass. I had to buy Diablo IV and play it on my Xbox, on my Samsung TV of course. We want to cater to all gamers, even those that play consoles. The gaming hub is a great place for that as well because you have access to your console. It should be a boon for the ecosystem from that perspective. The more value–the person who doesn’t want to buy a console doesn’t have to. But if you do want to play Diablo IV, a game you can’t get on Game Pass, then maybe you’ll invest in a console. Maybe over the console life cycle, the price goes down and you’ll pick it up at a later time. We think it’s very complementary to what our partners want to do with their products. There are a bunch of choices for which price points people can play games. They can do what works for them.

Certainly, the fact that there were fewer consoles available made Game Pass a very good way to play those games that you couldn’t previously. Now you can. Even though you can’t buy a Series X, you can still play those games. Now they’re more available and you have the choice to make. Do you stick with Game Pass or do you want to buy a Series X? Do you want to wait until the price drops? Again, it’s just more options for the gamer.

This year is so full of exciting new titles. One of the big advantages of not playing on a console, playing through game streaming instead, is not having to download those big titles when they come out. Or not having to update them. Or not having to pick which games you can keep on your console because of limited storage space. That’s another important point. Gamers love the fact that they can just play the games on streaming. It’s a huge benefit. When Avatar comes out later this year, the people that have a local copy, it’ll take three or four hours to play it. The people playing it on Nvidia or Luna will be the first to play it. And in 4K.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting how it’s becoming an all-digital world. Microsoft mentioned that Starfield wasn’t going to have a physical disc.

Lucero: For sure. It’s just more instant. The notion of “instant” is really a huge part of the value proposition. We kind of take it for granted after being in cloud streaming for a while.

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