Join Mihai Pohontu, Vice President at Samsung, as he talks about the advantages of working with Samsung. He does admit that it can be challenging to get things moving due to the size and complexity of the organization. In this talk at Casual Connect Tel Aviv, Mihai worked to demystify Samsung’s software ecosystem initiatives. He reviewed the product launch programs, the developer support programs and the evolution of Samsung’s app store. The Galaxy Apps offers selected game studios a new discovery mechanism for their games and a reliable means of promotion, especially relevant to indie or self-publishing developers. “For most small developers, the prospect of featuring is actually pretty remote . . . an indie developer would find that more difficult. Not so with our store. We are not an open store (like Googleplay) but are more selective . . . if you have great content, we will find it, we will take the time to identify it and to promote it”, he explained about the Samsung App Store.
Mihai Pohontu is Vice President at Samsung where he oversees an organization encompassing both developer relations and software development. He was recruited for this role by his friend and mentor, John Pleasants, EVP of Media Solutions Center America. They had worked together previously in other companies, and when he presented this opportunity, Mihai found it too good to pass up. This organization is unique because it recruits developers for different Samsung initiatives and then works with them to create specifically catered experiences for their customers.
Diverse and Open-Ended Work
Mihai particularly enjoys the diversity and open-ended nature of his work. His organization supports Samsung’s entire product line of tablets, mobile, TV, wearables, VR and IoT. They also engage in business development for both large brands and indies, operate an app store, and provide operational support for both internal and external projects.
He feels that his entire career has prepared him for his present role. When he founded a studio in Bucharest, he gained an understanding of the challenges of scaling an organization from scratch. He was an early employee at a successful startup in Los Angeles called JAMDAT Mobile and he managed central development at Electronic Arts, one of the largest game publishers in the world.
But his start in the games industry came as QA at Activision, where he gained a ground-level perspective on the games industry as he worked long hours testing games in the basement of the publisher’s headquarters. His first project was testing Civilization: Call to Power, and since he was already enthralled with Sid Meier’s Civilization series, he quickly became fascinated with the games industry. His second project was Cabela’s Big Game Hunter, which he describes as “a necessary sobering experience.” Even so, he found being with Activision a great learning experience; this was during the time they published the hugely successful titles, Quake 3, Tony Hawk and Medieval Total War.
Mihai’s career was inspired by his lifelong love and fascination with the games medium, closely followed by the people in the industry. From his beginning at Activision, he loved the people he worked with. All of them were passionate about their work and willing to go to great lengths and make the sacrifices of long hours and high pressure to build a career in the games industry. He describes, “Some of the most amazing professionals and smartest people in any industry can be found in games, but they’re also rebellious, non-conformists, creative, beautiful human beings. They are the kind of people that can marry art with science, a very rare breed.”
High Points and Challenges
There have been a number of high points in Mihai’s career. These include: seeing the studio he founded in Romania grow to 160 in only two years, seeing Frozen Free Fall, the co-developed game produced by his group at Disney, reach 100 million downloads, and the launch of the first co-developed app at Samsung, produced in partnership with CNN, Expedia and Photobucket. He relates, “Everything I did led to these moments, and it’s worth noting these were not a linear progression, but multiple strands of fate coming together at precisely the right time.”
Many of the challenges involved in working at Samsung are a result of its sheer size, with more than three hundred thousand employees. So navigating the organization and building support for software initiatives are demanding simply as a result of the complexity of the organization. But at the same time, according to Mihai, the company is very entrepreneurial, fast, agile, humble and scrappy. He claims, “You can get amazing things done at Samsung but you need to be persistent and open to working within a large virtual team.”
Finding, Distributing and Marketing the Games
The games he looks for are those filled with depth, complexity and artistry; games that make him think and games that make him feel. These games span the spectrum from turn-based strategy games at one end to narrative-driven games, such as those made by Quantic Dream, at the other.
Mihai is a gamer himself, preferring platform games that allow the player to shape the universe. A particular favorite is Alpha Centauri for its universe and endless gameplay. Others are Morrowind for the sense of wonder and boundless exploration and Heavy Rain for its intimate, visceral story.
Distribution projects Mihai has recently worked on include bringing Supercell and Blizzard into Galaxy Apps. Samsung considers this a major step forward for the fortunes of Galaxy Apps.
The most successful form of marketing, according to Mihai, is success. He insists, “Samsung achieved its current market position through relentless innovation that in many domains gave them a lead to the competition.” Their marketing campaigns are equally successful and regularly earn Cannes Lions and other awards. And owning one of the largest ad agencies in the world is an additional advantage.
Developers and Publishers
When working with developers, Mihai emphasizes that empathy for their challenges is key. And developers always need ROI: traffic or revenues. Delivering on these will lead to a good relationship that will grow over time.
But Mihai admits that in the current environment it is not always necessary to use a publisher. There are multiple sources for funding and certain studios have widespread expertise. A publisher will be useful when it can supply skill or capital that complements what the studio brings to the table.
For the future of the games industry, he is excited by the possibilities of virtual reality and notes that IoT in games is an unexplored field. Samsung has major initiatives in these fields in which he is already immersed.
When Mihai has free time he can often be found playing games or reading and writing. He is passionate about art and design and visits museums and galleries wherever he travels. He loves music, especially live music, jazz and experimental electronica and he loves a good dance party. And he emphasizes, “There are few joys as substantive as finding time to play with my kids, being with my family.”
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.