Tyler Suiters

Hey, everybody! I'm Tyler Suiters with the Consumer Technology Association. We are the owners and producers of CES, the largest, the most influential tech event on the plant. We are here to help you get CES ready. The upcoming show is January 7-10, 2020, as always in Las Vegas.

And today we are talking about one the more captivating areas of the show, that is gaming. So CES is where you find the latest hardware, software, and accessories, and this is for the panoply of gaming, whether you're on mobile, you're a PC gamer, or even consoles. And also the sector itself is becoming more real time, more immersive seemingly by the quarter, right?

So this is an area that is ripe for innovation. Take a look at the numbers, and you can see why so many are so optimistic about this sector. CTA data shows that hardware sales here in the US in 2019 will grow 3% year-over-year, and think about how heavy the market already is. Roughly 45% of US homes now have a video gaming console. That is up from the year before. Fifteen percent of our homes now have VR headsets. You see where I'm going here. And 14% of us say we plan to buy VR headsets in the next year. So clearly this is a sector that is ripe for even further disruption and innovation.

Today we're taking on the perspectives of two elements of the gaming sector that are a little bit disparate. First of all, the founder and CEO of a group called Sugar Gamers. Now this started out as a group for gamers, both top shelf and wannabees, and now it's evolved into something that includes seemingly everyone in between, but also so much more. It's an in-depth interview you'll want to catch.

Also a well-known company in this space, Razer, very prominent at CES every year. This is a company that is focusing on display, immersion, and is very clear about its purpose: to build a better ecosystem for the gamer. All that is coming up on this edition of CES Tech Talk.

It is a pleasure today to have with us Keisha Howard. She is founder of Sugar Gamers, but really so much more to her narrative beyond just that one title. Keisha, it is lovely to have you with us today.

Keisha Howard

Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk to you.

Tyler Suiters

Well, you know we usually start our conversations with what is going on right now, and we love looking into the future of course, but I'd be doing you a disservice not to start at the beginning, because your back story is pretty remarkable, growing up in Chicago and a fairly rough spot. Your parents didn't want you out after dark. Not very conducive to getting into the tech world in the gaming space, at least that's how it would seem from the outside looking in.

Keisha Howard

I mean it was really interesting. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, raised by my grandmother, but she was very, very much a worry wart. I was also a very introverted kid. So what ended up happening totally by accident is that my older brother would always get video games, and he was my only friend when we were growing up.

So video games and technology was something that he originally was interested, but by participating with him in the things that he was so passionate about, we were able to bond, and I was able to get into these things in that way. So video games became my first sort of entryway into the world of the future and technology, and things of that nature.

Tyler Suiters

What was the real appeal there, Keisha, that drew you in. I mean, yes, your brother is doing it, and yes, you're around each other a lot of the time, but there had to be a hook there, right? Something tapped into your passion.

Keisha Howard

Well, I mean there was an escapism element of it, and you know being able to actually be immersed in a narrative that I can engage with in different ways, so I was an avid reader as a kid, so video games to me represented the next level of that, because it wasn't just as passive as watching TV, and it had all the special effects of something in an action movie. But if it was a great game, it would have a great narrative. So the escapism quality, the immersion in a narrative seemed really... It did it for me.

Tyler Suiters

What is it like being, I'd image somewhat isolated, I think that's the right term, as a young African American, a teenage, in a very urban setting doing something that very few of your friends or peers, if anyone, is doing and has a passion for?

Keisha Howard

It was hard, definitely when I was younger, and isolation is the accurate word for it. You know, there were other boys that played video games, of course, but none of my... No girls. Girls, as a matter of fact, in my school actually thought I was very weird for being so interested in video games.

Tyler Suiters

And let's fast forward a few chapters. You're in the professional world. You're doing well. You're in real estate, as a matter of fact. When does the door really open for you professionally to get into the tech space and realize that you know this is more than just a hobby, this is a passion?

Keisha Howard

I mean, I was in real estate, and I actually wanted to be an architect, so I would use AutoCAD, which I think now is Autodesk, which is used in so many different forms. But I worked for a real estate developer getting the process of how they kind of used the same sort of programs that were used in video games to demonstrate what this development would look like, and I was like, "Wow." So it started to kind of click then to just see how technology was being used in real estate.

And then the recession hit, right? So before I could really deep dive into how that would all work for me. The recession hit, and everything I had worked for up unto that point disintegrated with the economy.

So I was left with sort of nothing, and I, on a fluke, just looking at Craigslist and saw an ad to be on a show called Ultimate Gamer. I was accepted... I answered the ad, was accepted for tryouts, and at the end of those tryouts, they're like, "Okay, basically you're an awful gamer. You're not good at this."

And then I come back Chicago, and I just kind of upset, because one of the reasons why they really sort of wasted so much of my time during these tryouts was they kept me the entire time and didn't tell me until the very last minute that I wasn't going to be able to take advantage of this opportunity. They wanted me because there was not many people that fit my demographic in 2007-2008 that were self-identifying as gamers. So there weren't a lot of women, and there weren't a lot people of color, so I fit that sort of diversity checkbox for the show, and they still didn't want me.

So I come back to Chicago, and I'm like, "I'm going to start my own thing then." Actually, it didn't even start there. I came back to Chicago, and I looked for an organization, and this organization needed to just have a few things. Number one, it needed to be in the Midwest. Two, it needed to include women and people of color. Three, it had to include gamers that weren't just competitive. So I wanted to have a competitive element to it, but I didn't want that to be the foundation of the organization.  I just wanted to have-

Tyler Suiters

... This isn't a professional league or status symbol, it's by definition inclusionary, right, in terms of the will and the passion to people who want to be involved?

Keisha Howard

Exactly. So I would never have started Sugar Gamers if it already had existed. I would have joined that organization and just been there. But what surprised me is that nothing like this existed, and I didn't think it was that unique of an idea, actually.  So I put out my own Craigslist ad for women to just this community, and I go so many responses. In addition to the responses, a lot of women shared that, "Aww man, this sounds so cool, but I'm not good at games. Oh, I would love to be around, but I don't have a system. I love games, but I only like puzzle games. Can I still be a part of it?" 

And I sort of happened upon a void. There is a gap in what we were all talking about, because there was nothing for the causal people or these people who just wanted to learn about this space. There was no community for them to belong to. You were either a hardcore gamer or you didn't have a community, you know? That's how Sugar Gamers came about.

Tyler Suiters

I promised we would get back to the present and then the future, but what is Sugar Gamers today then, Keisha, in terms of knowing where it started and what your original intention was, and how it fits in to an atmosphere that is so different than what this space was in 2007?

Keisha Howard

Oooh! Well, Sugar Gamers now is completely inclusive. I originally started it just for women, but upon meeting so many different people that had overlapping challenges, I opened it up to everybody who just believed in our mission of being inclusive.

So with that being said, Sugar Gamers has actually turned into a tech advocacy organization for an underserved demographic, specifically in the video game space. And the reason why is because, there again, there isn't like something bridging the gap between the people who are already like super hardcore into it and they're comfortable in that space, and the people who don't know. And it's very intimidating to be ignorant of something that is so highly discussed and so well publicized. But people don't know and they like a warm, sort of introduction to what this is without feeling shame or without feeling like, you know, they're going to be sort of looked at in a negative light if they don't come to the table just knowing everything that there is to know about the space.

So the advocacy comes in like, "Okay, like now we can share these opportunities with people who might not have known that this space is for them too, because if you don't have the representation or if you don't have a warm environment to learn, then you're going to be less inclined to try.

Tyler Suiters

So you have this remarkably diverse audience, and I don't mean just by self-identification, but diverse audience in the spectrum you just described Keisha, which is some people are interested in gaming, but aren't very good, and others, I would imagine, are exceptionally good at it and want to instruct and not just learn. So what do you do with all of this data?

Not too long ago here on CES Tech Talk we had Congressman Will Hurd out of Texas, who is a dedicated techie. And one of his favorite turns of phrase is that, "Data is the coin of the realm." So you have a more casual form of data. But this remarkable subset of social group around video gaming, what do you do with that? That's potentially a lot of power and a lot of influence.

Keisha Howard

It is. You know, it's pretty amazing how challenging it is to really articulate that. Because at the end of the day, it's not even about social responsibility. If you're a company, you want to sell your product to as many different types of people as possible, so your marketing needs to be universally compelling. But if you're leaving out groups of people because of your oversight or because "You always did something this way, so radically changing that would be, you know, detrimental" or whatever, there is money that's being lost because you're not including potential consumers.

So that's one thing that we do with the data, which is do some consulting. Two, we stay emersed in the community. So everybody that's involved with the community is pretty visible, so it has that "boy band effect," so-

Tyler Suiters

... In a good way, right? Not the "spinoff the single acts," right?

Keisha Howard

Right. It's like there's somebody for everyone sensibilities, and we're not like diversity and it's just like women or people of color, it's literally everyone.

Tyler Suiters

You're a CES Veteran, been a number of times, and that is access to the future, and you pick your tech sector that you want to explore. But sticking with video games, what's the value get out of going there? I'm sure you get pretty amped up about it for a few weeks beforehand, but what is it that you find... Well, I should say that you seek, and then you find at CES each year?

Keisha Howard

Well first of all, CES is hands down my favorite event each year. It's like something that's for me, like personal for me. I try to not really work it.  CES for me is like going to college in five days.  There's so much to learn, and you have people from all over the world with all this energy, sort of cacophony of ideas, and noise, and lights, and sounds, and it's pretty overwhelming and spectacular.

But really it's like a crash course education in what's happening in the tech world.

Tyler Suiters

So for everyone who's listening, you come to CES 2020, and when you see someone with an immense smile on their face, just radiating sunbeams, that is going to be Keisha Howard, chances are. She is the founder of Sugar Gamers, but so much more.

Keisha it's a pleasure to get your perspective on this and to hear such an authentic and passionate ambassador for the tech in the gaming section. I really appreciate your time today.

Keisha Howard

I appreciate being able to share this with you. I'm all excited about CES.

Tyler Suiters

Razer is a gaming company that is known to put a specific focus on gamers themselves. And joining us now to talk about that experience and the industry in general, is Kevin Allen. Kevin, good to have you with us today, sir.

Kevin Allen

Thank you so much, Tyler, a pleasure to be on this podcast.

Tyler Suiters

So Razer focuses on the gamer. Great mission statements. Explain that a bit. How would you have that play out?

Kevin Allen

Well, you know the gamer needs a lot of different gear and services to make the entire gaming experience an enjoyable one, and we make components, and hardware, and software, and services that support all of that, Right? Whether it be a keyboard, or a mouse, or a headset, it would be laptops that power the games, and even so far as the new streaming devices that allow them to put their content out there on the Internet for everyone to see.

We even have services, like our Chroma System that allows them to control lighting inside the room, and even with all their various components that really makes the gaming experience more immersive, more enjoyable, more emotional even.

Tyler Suiters

Interesting point. So what is it that drives emotion for the gamer in Razer's mind? Is it the tactile experience, is it the immersion in the game itself? Is it as simple as the graphics and making them as lifelike as possible?

Kevin Allen

I mean, it's all the above, but starting from that tactile experience that you mentioned, you know mechanical gaming keyboards are soft of a gold standard. We innovated even last year with an opto-mechanical using a laser-guided switch, so the laser actually actuates the switch, and that's called The Huntsman.

So innovating it in small waves like that, that make the gaming experience more... higher performance, quicker actuation, more accurate, higher levels of DPI for the sensors that are in our mice that make the accuracy and the precision of movements within the game.

So that the gamer is physically in control. They feel like they’re in control. And when they feel like they're in control, they feel like they're reaching their optimal gaming level, right? So they're always wanting to level up. That's a phrase that's used in gaming, "leveling up," right?

Tyler Suiters

Yeah.

Kevin Allen

And immersion is lighting and audio as well. So all the above, we touch all those different areas.

Tyler Suiters

Let's pull out a sec, Kevin, to the entire gaming sector, and clearly the pace of innovation is moving at lightning speed, like highly competitive industry, but highly innovative as well, what is your view or snapshot of where the industry is right now and the experience that you're delivering?

Kevin Allen

That's a great question, and I think it depends on which type of gaming your talking about. In the case of, for example, mobile gaming. One thing that's been a trend over the past year and will continue is mobile gaming delivering AAA titles in a mobile format, right?

So that taking games like PUBG and Fortnite, and bringing them to the mobile platform that allow gamers to experience when they're on the go, as well as when they're at home. And those AAA titles allow them to kind of follow the IP, and they said they call the IP the characters, the same story lines that they want to be a part of, or the same groups they want to play with, or the same ecosystem of that game. They can play in various platforms, whether it be PlayStation, Xbox, on the PC, or on the mobile device.

And we have the Razer Phone 2, which is the fastest and most applicable mobile device for gaming of that sort, which have 120 Hz refresh rate display that gives you that crisp movement of every single character in the game.

Tyler Suiters

So how did you decide to move in that direction, which is a device distinctly designed for the mobile gamer. Was it based on growth numbers of demographics in general, or is it direct conversations and anecdotal evidence from folks who say, "I need more out of my phone because I'm gaining so much on it?"

Kevin Allen

Well mobile gaming, just based on downloads and based on a number of titles that were available, we definitely saw a trend in that space, and it's going to continue. Now whether or not we have the devices... you know there's new devices from competitors that validate our original innovation of delivering a mobile gaming smart phone. Now there's competitors that have brought out other devices. And the accessories that will go along with those devices are just as important. Like, How do you interface with that device? Are there different ways?

We have mobile controllers you can use, like a console-style controller called the Raiju Mobile with your smartphone. So that applies to any Android-based smartphone.

And so there's other things that we were looking at, like the number of people that we had that were signing up on mobile devices playing mobile games, and we have a Razer ID, which we have access to seeing the logins, and where they're logging in from, and we can see that there's definitely a trend of people using mobile devices to play more and more games. And more hours of gaming even.

Tyler Suiters

Another area of growth that we've seen, and I mentioned this earlier in the podcast, at least in terms of device ownership, is virtual reality, VR headsets. We saw something like 35% year-over-year growth in terms of US households that own a VR headset between... across the last 12 months, I think is the right timeframe to use. Immense potential for what that could mean for a panoply of sectors, but gaming especially. And when you get into Razer's emphasis on immersion, Kevin, that seems like an especially ripe area.

Kevin Allen

Absolutely and what we have right now is we have the laptops that power that entire VR experience. So all of our laptops that we produce, the Blade 15, the Blade 17, Razer Blade Pro 17 inch are VR compatible. They're more than VR capable in fact. In order to engage with that demand, that high demand of graphical interface, you need to have a powerful laptop, a Razer Blade, that has NVIDIA RTX Graphics card that is delivering a high level of graphics, incredible speed.

So there's different devices that you can connect to it, and there's a new game that just came out called Trover Saves the Universe. It's available on PC, or you can play it in VR. So that's now another trend is giving users the choice of whether they want to engage with the game on a normal PC environment, on a big screen TV, or in VR.

Tyler Suiters

So you mentioned Fortnite earlier, Kevin. Great touch point there in the standpoint that all of the elements you've been talking about, can in a sense fold up into one topic, and that is platform, and the growth of streaming as the platform of choice for gamers seemingly across every demographic you can come up with.

Kevin Allen

That's right. And now even beyond streaming their gameplay is now they're able to even stream games with the news announcements from Google's new Stadia Service and Microsoft xCloud, which was announced this week, that are new platforms to allow you to play games even with a non-high-powered device, so you can connect to servers that power those games, and then they deliver that content via streaming, almost like you're streaming Netflix or Hulu, and you're playing those games sort of remotely.

That's going to be a different trend. We'll see where that goes. It certainly is going to be something that requires a lot of future development in terms of the server technology on one end, the latency between the server and the device. You know, there may be additional devices that have to come out to support that, whether it be controllers or the new router technology that increase the latency in a Wi-Fi connection, etc.

Tyler Suiters

Let's talk about being on the ground at CES, Kevin, and the strategy for Razer, what you're looking for there. I preface it by saying to me it's among the more eye-catching displays it exhibits when you're there, the logo is iconic, and it's almost like you're entering... When I say a video gaming world, you think, of course, of being in a game, but once you've set foot in your booth, everything has to do with video games. If you haven't been there, you'd shrug and say, "Well of course, that's the company." But it's a bit more than that. You're delivering a bit of an experience.

Kevin Allen

That's right.  You know, it's display technology, like the new Razer Raptor that we introduced at CES this year. That's a 144 Hz refresh rate, 27-inch monitor for gaming. Whether it be the haptic experience that we demoed for attendees that allows you to experience full immersion haptics with a mouse, a wrist rest, and even a chair that has haptic technology inside of it. That's all connected to the game itself.

And those types of experiences are only possible in a real world scenario, where you get people on a show floor. You get to engage with them, demo those types of technologies, and really convince them that your brand has something to offer, and that's the level of innovation that Razer wants to always bring to the marketplace, and why CES is so important for the brand because it's the perfect place to bring those types of things. 

You know, in 2017, we had a product called Project Valerie, which was a 3-screened laptop. In 2018, we introduced the integration of our Razer Chroma Lighting Technology with Philips Hue, so that you can get full lighting immersion inside your room when you’re playing games.

And these type of partnerships and announcements of technology innovations are best placed in that show.

Tyler Suiters

So final question for you, Kevin. How much can you predict looking ahead to CES 2020, not just for or Razer, but what you expect to see or what you're most excited about from a vertical standpoint there at the show?

Kevin Allen

I would say within gaming 5G technology is really going to be an important pillar of the future of gaming, because connectivity is so important, especially as we talked about mobile gaming, whether it be Wi-Fi or 5G is really powered by the connectivity you have to whether it be the streaming service or the Internet of others, the other people you're playing with, the Esports competitions that are taking place worldwide.

So 5G is going to be something really big. Display technology is always going to continue to improve. Something we introduced this year was 240 Hz refresh rate displays, OLED panels on our laptops. This is something that will continue to grind, whether it be curved displays.

You know, there were curved smartphones this year, right? We don't know where that's going to go, but curved screen technology, 5G, and I would say just the entire ecosystem, being able to bring stuff together, whether it be streaming that content or connecting players in competitions worldwide in real time statistics.

Those kinds of things are really going to help the industry grow and help gamers really achieve their best results.

Tyler Suiters

Ladies and gentlemen, start your consoles for CES 2020. Kevin Allen is with Razer at the forefront of the gaming industry in a sector that just continues to grow year over year.

Kevin, I appreciate your time and take, my friend.

Kevin Allen

Thank you so much, Tyler.

Tyler Suiters

All right, next time on CES Tech Talk, if you think gaming is ripe for disruption, think about the sectors of Blockchain and cryptocurrency often intertwined. Great interviews coming up on our next episode, including a look at a young founder and CEO who had nothing to do with the financial or tech sectors but found his way in thanks to the lure of cryptocurrency.

Dmitri

One day, especially during the boom, you know, I had a lot of people coming to me saying, "Hey, Dmitri, how do we buy this cryptocurrency thing?"

Tyler Suiters

All right, we want you to be CES ready. So download the CES App. You can build your personal, favorite exhibitors, also get the speakers you want to follow and sync-up in real time across all your devices.

And a reminder, CES 2020, January 7-10 in Las Vegas. The information you need is CES.tech.

As always, none of this is possible without our true rock stars: executive producer Tina Anthony and our senior studio engineer John Lindsey. You all are the best in the business. 

Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Tyler Suiters. Let's talk tech again soon. 

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