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SteelSeries Interview with Kim Rom


by Stuart Davidson - 3rd Feb 2010
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HH: How would you sum up SteelSeries? What is the company’s main goal?
Kim Rom: Our main goal is to make gaming peripherals that improve the performance of players and help gamers win. That’s definitely a broad mission statement, but it’s something we take very seriously and something we put a lot of time, energy and soul into. Making a great headset is drastically different from making a great mouse or a great keyboard, especially since a great product might not be the same for everyone - an expert Warcraft III player uses his equipment in an entirely different way compared to an expert Counter-Strike player. In some cases, players from one continent will use products in an entirely different way than players from another continent. It’s challenging but incredibly rewarding.
HH: What is your role within SteelSeries and what tasks make up a typical day?
Kim Rom: As a company we have a pretty fluid structure, where almost everyone in the company is a jack of all trades and helps out in whatever area they can. Personally, I run our global marketing team, I spend a lot of time testing and evaluating new products with our gaming experts and professional players, and I also try to not get killed by our CFO when I hand in my expense reports 6-8 months late. A typical day is hard to define. Most of the year I live in suitcases, as I go around the globe to do testing with professional players or tell journalists and reviewers about our new products, and why exactly they are what they are.
HH: Are you a gamer? If so, what are your favourite titles and what SteelSeries gear do you use?
Kim Rom: Yes, for sure. My favorite titles right now are Mass Effect 2, QuakeLive and CSPromod for PC (I have been Beta testing for quite a while now, and I’m really into it), geoDefense for iPhone, and every Final Fantasy game I can get my hands on for Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. I spend a lot of my time traveling, where I often end up in hotels with less-than-awesome internet connections, so I have had to scale back on multiplayer gaming in general. I usually have a travel kit of our products with me, for testing and comparison purposes, I seem to favor the Xai, Siberia v2 and QcK Mass the most.
HH: Which item in your current product range is the most popular amongst gamers?
Kim Rom: Honestly, I don’t know exactly. While I obviously want our products to be successful, I spend very little time looking at sales figures. For me, product reviews, forum comments and feedback from actual gamers are a lot more important. Right now I’m certain it would be either the Xai mouse or the Siberia v2 headset. Both of them have been incredibly well-received.
HH: What do you see as being your most important product of 2010?
Kim Rom: Okay, so... This is going to sound lame: We are announcing a new product within a few months that I believe will set a new benchmark for that type of product. We have been working on it for so long, we have put so much time into it, and we have come up with some ideas that I seriously think will wow just about everyone. My CEO would strangle me (very slowly, and very painfully) if I revealed what it was, and I realize that all this sounds like a lame marketing spiel, but this product is really just awesome in many ways. I see that baby as our most important product for the core competitive scene in 2010. When we release I suggest we give some to your readers and get their opinion on it... I am confident they will be wowed. Smile!
HH: The SteelSeries Xai recently won our Gold Award. What was the main goal you wanted to achieve when designing the mouse?
Kim Rom: We wanted to make a mouse that could make the user a better gamer. In many ways, we feel that the new gaming mice being released today fail in that one simple task - they don’t really make you better a better player, compared to, say, a gaming mouse released in 2001. A modern gaming mouse boats higher sensitivity and a few other tech specs, and they usually glow or pulsate a lot more than they did in 2001, but they don’t really make the user more accurate or more precise. We wanted to accomplish that with a new level of pixel precision. That’s also why it took us roughly three years to create the Xai.
HH: Xai was designed with the input of professional gamers, how did this process work and what was the most valuable feedback they gave you?
Kim Rom: The process started with a really big and really boring book about ergonomics, 5 different shapes based on reading that book, and then a considerable amount of airline miles. Myself and some of my colleagues would go to gaming tournaments, LAN-events, and "bootcamps" gathering feedback on the shapes, go back and change them based on the feedback we got, and then go out again to get more feedback. It was a slow process, for sure. When the Xai was finally close to being finished, I showed it to a couple of Counter-Strike players I had done testing with in Dallas in 2007. It was interesting to see their facial expressions as they recalled conversations that took place two and a half years earlier, and realized just how much we had listened to them. I think it’s really hard for me to define what the most valuable feedback was, because every aspect of a mouse matters. Things like shape, weight, center of gravity, materials, clicks, lift distance, functionality - on the Xai, these are all based on feedback from experts in various kinds of gaming environments. I believe that we created such a great mouse in the Xai - and at the same time I can’t really even take any credit for it. A lot of gamers created that product, we just listened to them.
HH: How was the product received by professional gamers, outside those who were part of its development?
Kim Rom: As well as I had hoped for I, would say. For a high level gamer, a mouse is, by far, the peripheral that is subject to the most personal preference and scrutiny. So, going to the tournaments and seeing seriously high level gamers using the mouse, all having bought and paid for it themselves, is what I was hoping for.
HH: Where do you see gaming going over the next 12-24 months and what do you see SteelSeries doing to enhance the gaming experience in that time?
Kim Rom: I think gaming is rebounding right now. As a competitive platform it is still a relatively new thing, and competitive gaming still haven’t really found the perfect format for tournaments and spectators. The eco-system is highly dependent on corporate sponsorships and marketing budgets, both of which took a huge hit when the world economy went kapow - not just in gaming, across the board. As things (hopefully) start to get better, so will gaming again enter an expansion phase. As the consoles start to play a bigger role in competitive gaming, I think things will get really interesting and expand the reach of competitive gaming as a whole. As for us, we will continue to work with the best gamers we can find and develop products with them based on a simple question: what could make you better?
Thanks to Kim Rom - Chief Marketing Officer for SteelSeries

Kim Rom - SteelSeries
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