As part of a series of getting into the minds of those who run our industry, we were able to take the time at CES to interview two key figures from MSI’s Notebook team who were visiting the show from the MSI headquarters in Taiwan. First up is Eric Kuo, Vice President of Notebook Sales and Marketing who has been with MSI for more than 17 years. Mr Kuo has been in charge of the MSI notebook sales and marketing since 2006, pre-dating the recent rise in laptop based gaming machines. This was a two-for-one interview, with Sam Chern, Senior Director of Notebook Marketing also alongside. Mr Chern has also been at MSI for over a decade. Time was short, but we were able to discuss events evolving at CES as well as a wider company vision from MSI.

Eric Kuo and Sam Chern

Ian Cutress: We are at CES, and CES is a big show with lots of companies showing off exciting things. MSI is here for reason, so what is MSI’s main purpose at CES this year?

Eric Kuo: The key reason is give tours to customers that MSI is focused on gaming products. So not only gaming notebooks, but also gaming AIO, gaming motherboards and gaming VGA cards. So lots of new stuff – we are at CES to show our progress.

IC: Do you have a particular product that you are most proud of this year?

EK: Of course! We have the very innovate GT80 Titan SLI. This is the first gaming notebook with an integrated mechanical keyboard and it also has SLI. As far as we’re concerned, it’s the most special product launched at CES this year.

Sam Chern: I think that the GT80 is one, but another is our GS30 Shadow with the Gaming Dock. I think it’s an excellent product. It focuses on mobility and portability for the main unit, while you leave the dock at home with all its horse power.

IC: What are the intended price points and release dates for these?

SC: Right now in the US the GT80 Titan SLI pricing starts at $2699, and goes the way up depending on configuration. It should be on the shelves if not today, then shortly after CES.

IC: How many years have you personally been at CES?

EK: This is my seventh or eighth time. Since I started it has changed quite a lot – it used to be a very computer oriented show, but now it is a bit mixed. There is a lot more consumer electronics now. MSI has also changed a lot. We used to have a booth on the show floor, but now we are more and more focused on our audience so we have a suite (at the Aria for 2015).

IC: Is CES more important for media or meeting business customers?

EK: Both! We have an extensive meeting list not only with media such as AnandTech but also our distributors and partners as well as internal meetings with the regional offices.

IC: Is there any sort of product that MSI is missing from its portfolio?

EK: We have a roadmap, but of course we are not going to talk about it! I think Computex will be important this year, we are set to release further important products onto the market.

IC: I want to know more about what you do, day-to-day. Most employees work a regular-ish schedule, but for Vice Presidents and Directors, it can be different. What exactly does a person in your position do?

SC: We try to find out what our customers want, including gamers, but also examine what our competitors are releasing onto the market. We keep track of lots of gaming events, because of our gaming focus, so we need to know what gamers are thinking. We listen to feedback, and we learn a lot from media as well. We always read reviews for both professional as well as end-user feedback, to see what people expect from products such as ours.

EK: In my daily job, I focus on keeping track of feedback from different regions. We want to be able to take the data that we receive and come up with products and strategies that fit well in each different type of market. I want to be able to create products that gamers will appreciate and use, as well as provide our customers with something that will ultimately benefit how gamers play and live.

SC: I also think one of the most important thing to do is to play PC games. Eric and I, along with our product managers, all play games. Sometimes we even play together! We also have a company team that has battles on World Of Tanks. I think the fact that we all play PC games is important here at MSI, as it helps us to understand the feedback we get from the gamer’s viewpoint. By both using a product as well as developing a product, it helps us internally to understand, even at the VP level.

IC: Ever considered hosting a VP gaming tournament?

EK: Perhaps we should take some pictures to show others! I like to play games, while some of our product managers are very much into competitive gaming and play every day.

IC: When it comes to gaming sponsorship, which teams are you involved with?

SC: Fnatic is our main team, but we sponsor at least 12 worldwide. But we plan to expand this to at least 20 teams in total through 2015. With the controversy about Fnatic at Dreamhack, we are working closely with them as we want to sponsor teams that play honestly so there is no grey area.

IC: When it comes to sponsoring teams, how far does your sponsorship go?

SC: I think we have different levels of cooperation. It starts with us providing hardware and equipment, then with bigger teams it goes on to monetary contributions from us, with feedback and exposure in return – large-scale partnerships.

EK: We ask for feedback and opinions on the products. The product manager will work directly with the teams to get this feedback in order to improve our products and suit their needs better. I think this is a good cycle, whereby we improve our products generation by generation. We have not looked into Boot Camps yet, as sending products to the team instead is easier right now.

IC: How do you gather feedback from regular gamers?

EK: We monitor the forums as well as social media. We watch these channels and attempt to match their requests. We mainly use our own forum as the platform, but we also read others focused on the notebook markets.

IC: When it comes to specific markets, such as China, South America or Europe, how do you cater the products differently?

EK: Usually in terms of buying power, such as the average selling price of the models in that region. In the US we focus on the high end models and in Europe while it is a high end market they care a lot more on the price/performance scale, so it is a bit different. Each market has a different character. For example we have some sales in Brazil, but not many due to the high taxes and barriers that encourage local production.

IC: What markets are your best right now?

EK: I think Europe, US and China we are strong right now with equally the same position.

IC: What is the most important innovation that MSI has made recently?

EK: I believe that our most important innovation comes in the shape of our GT80 Titan SLI and GS30 Shadow with Gaming Dock. The GT80 Titan SLI comes with a full mechanical keyboard integrated directly into the laptop allowing gamers to have the best performance input possible. The GS30 Shadow with Gaming dock is another innovation that we believe is very important. We provide end-users a solution that includes a powerful and portable notebook for the road, while being able to use the same system at home docked with the full performance of a desktop system.

IC: From the notebook side of the equation, who is more important: the end-user or the reseller, or the business customers?

EK: For the gaming market, the gamer is the top priority.

IC: A slightly different question here – if you were not working at MSI, where would you be instead?

EK: I would probably like to do more photography.

SC: DJ! I love music, particularly old rock and roll. I love Metallica, Guns N Roses, proper 80s rock and roll.

IC: Another question that comes up is about the advice you would give to a high school student to come to work at MSI. Any thoughts?

EK: It depends on which area they want to focus, if they want to focus on R&D, product management, sales or marketing – they all have different aspects. For marketing for example, it helps to understand the product areas. For MSI of course, because gaming is our focus, they really need to understand the gaming environment and the industry. When we interview, one of the questions we ask is if the interviewee plays games! If they’re gamers, they likely stand a better chance of getting hired.

 IC: Is it beneficial to move to Taiwan and learn Chinese (Mandarin)?

EK: I highly recommend it!

SC: There are some MSI people overseas who are gamers and they love PC games. They have passion as well as knowing the industry, the hardware and software, so they join MSI. This industry can be very good for them.

IC: Speaking of interviews, what is staff turnover like at MSI?

EK: I like to think MSI is a very stable company compared to others. We are actually hiring right now, because our business is expanding.

IC: To finish up – having been at MSI for over a decade each, has there been one particular day or moment/event that really stands out in your tenure?

EK: Last year I won a special award from the company for leading the gaming line. This was an important award internally!

SC: We had a big LAN party and event last year in Taipei for pro-gamers. I did not play but I did watch, and it was very exciting to see how far MSI has come within gaming.

IC: Any thoughts on MSI’s future?

EK: MSI’s direction is very clear now – we are focused on gaming and our departments are working in the same direction. It is my aim to provide the best possible products for gamers and we want MSI to be number one in gaming. This is our goal.

SC: MSI is not only the brand or the company to sell hardware – we actually want to build a community for two-way communication with our users and provide the best gear for the gamers.

I would like to thank Mr Kuo and Mr Chern for their time!

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  • eanazag - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I have bought some MSI products in the past and have generally been happy with them. I'd like to see their Twin Frozr video card fans be more durable or at least have a model that has serious 24/7 fans.

    I really do like their mobo's I'm not totally sold on the Dragon logo on all of it, but I think the clean-ness and color schemes are some of the best.

    I will echo that the MSI update software for mobos is one of my favorites. I actually cut back on buying ASUS boards because I had such a pain in the ass downloading drivers from their site. MSI's video card software add-ons are really good (Afterburner and their OC mode tool).

    Warranty and support is important to me, which is why I often overlook ASrock products. The other reason I overlook their products is a less than polished product back in the socket A days. I guess I am a grudge holder or their products haven't been compelling enough compared to the other vendors.
  • etamin - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Lose the dragon logo and all instances of Killer NICs and I would come back to MSI.
  • cuex - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    Killer NIC is the reason I buy MSI mobo, for once in my life full speed torrent cause zero impact to my latency in Dota 2. Love the dragon logo than no logo.
  • etamin - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    I have seen multiple accounts of the Killer NIC causing BSOD when mass torrenting, and I'm in that boat. I've also played around with it enough to know that the drivers break easily.
  • DooDoo22 - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    1. They don't need to saying "gaming" in response to every question.

    2. They need to have an adult lineup as extensive as the gaming stuff. Their Krait mobo is beautiful with the black/white color scheme but it is on the low end of the range. A Krait style 980 would be beautiful and would sell well to people over the age of 15 (people with disposable income).
  • akdj - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    With ya DooDoo. Just a bit over the top, design-wise. The laptops are definitely moving the right direction aesthetically but the mother boards are just too 'busy' IMHO. In a plexiglass, transparent and well 'controlled' cable mangement...I suppose the colors and design would 'pop' at a science fair but like my washer and dryer....the MoBo lives in a closet and no one gets to 'see' it but you if you're the builder.
    My wife and I's washer went after 15 years last summer --- the dryer of the same age was making a lot of noise. I happened to be walking through Best Buy during the same time and the 'scratch n dent' are had a nice stainless (gas) dryer on sale. Originally $1299, knocked down to $999 (last year's model). The one I was looking at was labeled 'returned, cosmetic'
    It took the third trip with my wife to BB to spot the damage. A quarter (coin) sized dent on the left, unexposed 'side' of the stainless/brushed steel finish. Easily seen with the 'right light' shining, yet impossible to EVER be seen in ANY in home set up (looking at dryer , it's on the left)!!!
    The price = $324.99. ½ the price of the best sale I could find on a gas dryer of simple (yet large capacity) build quality. Not one of the 'smart' machines that run into the $1,200+ price range. Why? Who's checking out your washer and dryer? It's a mechanical and simple machine. The more you add, the better chances of failure and expensive fixes down the road.
    Pretty doesn't equal 'good', 'great' or take the product to the next level in quality because of its design....unless it's maybe a JA Henkel knife set, a Breitling compared to a Timex or a tailor fit suit from Nordstrom vs. a 3 for 1 deal at JoeABanks;)
    That said, the SLI config, docking station and moving to external PCIe graphic, storage and external display, Ethernet, & I/O options in the office or 'home' while maintaining some semblance of portability and usability away from 110v. I'm ambidextrous and use both Windows and OS X. I really like Thunderbolt and it's possibilities down the road. To date, I've had great luck with the two TBolt docks I've used on a 2012 and updated '14 -- paper of 15" rMBPs and it's the best near three years in computing I've enjoyed in the past thirty (I'm 44 this year and started on DOS in high school on an Apple IIe toting my 'HDD' with me to and from class. A box of 4/5/600KB 5 ¼" floppies ;). Can't remember their exact capacity but WOW, what a difference the 3.5", 1.44MB 'hard' floppy made for 'portability' lol. Then we got the HDD built in. Now we're working with PCIe SSD storage that works many hundred if not thousands of times 'quicker' (read and write), 'bigger' (capacity), and reliability
    And I feel young! Lol. I didn't work on a 286 until my undergrad, a 486 (w/turbo!) during my master studies. I've still got the latter and if ANYone has a chance to use a floppy today, give it a shot. Just accessing an 800K JPEG is an exercise in patience lol
    And today we're shooting RAW files with 25-50-->100x the size of that JPEG, with the ability to do a massive batch file process in seconds. All expected in technology, Moore's Law and all BUT, a couple of the 'ideas' or functions of yesterday are missed. Ala the mech keyboard. That's. Cool. MSI would certainly benefit by toning down its flamboyance in design, especially internal components at the expense they're charging IMHO would be better spent in an extra pair of external SATA, TBolt, or USB 3 ports. They're definitely on to something with the keyboard, the dock and rethinking the laptops ability to 'game' on the go --- but then again, it's got to be a tough prospect selling a $2,500+ laptop to a 17 year old.
    Especially when that buys you the latest two consoles, peripherals and a few games WITH a decent Ultrabook or tablet and a smartphone! And this coming from the owner of a pair of rMBPs that were a bit more than that. I'm not a huge gamer though. I enjoy my flight sims but we use the gear for field editing of motion and audio. Tabs for our kneeboards while flying either our twin BeechCraft of Otter in Alaska (I've been flying 26 years now and we operate an air taxi service along side the production company...and been lucky enough to charter and produce with folks from Discovery, NatGeo, Smithsonian and several of their subsidiaries). We also work with the FAA testing and flying with ADSB and TCAS systems in the puddle jumpers with iPads.
    Pretty amazing how flying for me, even the high performance (jet) airplanes, we've eliminated a hundred pounds from the plane with these guys. Up to date Jep charts, plates, weather and traffic conditions. NFZs, fuel and diversion airports, filing the flight plan to '3D terrain' following that's very much 'like' the games my sons are playing on Xbox, PlayStation, Wii and the PC/Mac. ADSB is incredible in such a vast state with unpredictable weather, terrain and traffic.
    Being a boutique PC builder, MSI is the one that's held true to their product and hasn't sold out to the the big OEMs, ala Alienware/Dell. Congrats to them. IPS, HiDPI displays and excellent, work station class gamut/calibrated off the line displays is what I'd like to see next. Hopefully with Win10, developers of Windows and the entire consortium' can meet and discuss how to implement pixel doubling the UI or GUI while maintaining canvas resolutions while working in video, photos, audio, CAD, animation or high precision creative as OS X has managed to do with third parties like Adobe. I was a first adopter of the 2012 rMBP and while the first six months were interesting for sure, it was amazing to see the developers and Apple themselves iron the bugs out of the OS, help developers with their ability to scale with XCode, and the incredible speed third party developers DID update their apps to support HiDPI. IMHO, the 1 of 2 of the 'biggest' improvements to internally take place in computing in the last decade (excluding external factors; broadband, LTE, and non OS X programming and software --- or Apple's continued innovation of its core apps and software that aren't 'bloat' but actual, powerful and incredibly intuitive software with a UI even my mother can understand and edit her photos and videos with ease!). The HiDPI display on the iPhone 4, iPad 3/4 and the rMBPs taken to a new extreme, the iMac 5k is an absolute stunning achievement for Apple, as they built the timing chip to keep those pixels in sync. Nearly 15mil pixels DOES allow the entire 4K or UltraHD canvas to be represented 1:1 pixels, while the UI and touch targets are identical to a 1920, 720 or 480p resolution you've chosen as the UI initially
    BTW, it's about thirty months since I bought the rMBP 2.7/16GB RAM/768GB SSD (pre PCIe SSD but still incredibly quick) with Apple Care. Kinda bummed I spent the extra $252 on A/C. It's. Rock. Solid. No 'ghosting', no dead pixels (a helluva accomplishment with over 5,000,000 the it first time out!), and it's used daily...six days a week it's on and being used sometimes 18 hours in a day, sometimes six but always from powered down to up, extreme conditions and various altitudes, temps, humidity and 'users'
    Works as well (better now that I've found and purchased Paragon:-)) as she did the day I bought her and the updated Haswell with a TB PCIe in the 2014 rMBP we just bought six months ago, along with our 2013, delivered in '14 replacement Mac Pro to the 2008 8 core workhorse have both managed to blow my mind even more. Updating a 6, 7, or 800MB program or a 4GB HiDef flick, XCode DL or the OS updates....over 20GB of writing are mind blowingly FAST!

    I'd like to see MSI do what Apple's managed to do with their laptops in form, function and functionality. With their no frills Windows install (no trials, BS crapware or registry nightmares to get rid of...yet awesome access to BIOS, it's over clocked software and specific tools built to optimize itself and not Yahoo, Bing or McAfee/Norton and or Office (MS) 'trial' you can't get rid of without reinstalling and imaging your drive), the mechanical keyboard AND this dock --- an idea I'd really like to see Apple either pursue or bless third party developers to 'build' out the TBolt's incredible abilities. If we see the proposed 40Gb/s bandwidth doubling with the third generation in later versions of Broadwell or Skylake (Intel) --- external, high end GPUs, fast NAS, storage and backup arrays and options, fast transfers, reliable storage and incredible time saving horsepower in a portable factor of form...MSI should be able to hit that five pound mark and equal the build quality and reliability of the rMBP; my absolute favorite computer on today's market (I love PCs, own three and have yet to find one with a working trackpad! {working = try a MacBook Pro if you've never, you'll see exactly what I mean} and I've tried Lenovo Dell, and currently own the HP 2in1 13" Haswell core i5/256 SSD and it's incredible to have a laptop I can run Adobe's suite on as a tablet! As well as the MS Surf Pro 3 and a Dell Quadro workstation for a pair of proprietary and windows only programs). The latter, a near $4k workstation that ROCKS with 32GB of RAM, a Quadro nVidia GPU, mSATA and twin solid state internal drives....I still HAVE to have a mouse to actually use it. What is the deal with Windows and trackpads?
    And how has OS X nailed it? Forever! Since the genesis it seems, Apple and Synaptic have figured it out. But that same part from Synaptic on WinXP, 2000/NT/Vista, 7 or 8 rig...regardless of OEM, the results are the same. After a couple minutes in the trackpad, it's weird but each machine I've got loses its connection to the T/P and it's futile trying to fix. Grab a $5 mouse, you're fine.
    Great job, and good luck MSI. Competition is good.
    MSI and MS, Lenovo and Razor are extremely cool companies with intriguing hardware. MS with the SP3 of course. Lenovo, I just really like their products and Razor staying true to itself and the 'power' it's manged to squeeze in to the same size as the rMBP leads me to that conclusion. As MSI is certainly as ...probably significantly MORE experienced in full on laptop design, that little Razor 15" is sweet too. Minimalist design, discreet, yet sharp and easily 'adult' (while concealing your inner kid) and its size.
    I'll conclude my novel by adding my two cents to the future of boutique development of the hardware to 'game' on. The first to that external GPU dock with an internal IrisPro iGPU and/or (similar to the rMBP) a discreet, on board AMD or nVidia GPU for 'on the go' speed and power like the MSI with PCIe storage, a four pound 15" form factor and HiDPI display with NO bloat will have a grand slam on their hands
    Secondly, they know what they're doing. Why not build out a 'dock' OS X. External GPUs is the answer for portability AND productivity!
  • Maikelele - Monday, January 26, 2015 - link

    There is also a X99s Krait edition as well. i would believe that the X99 would be more of an "
    adult" lineup. as well.

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