November 02, 2015

Alienware Is Building Steam - A Chat With Joe Olmsted

At PAX Australia, I was lucky enough to sit down with Joe Olmsted from Alienware. We spoke about many things and even briefly about how he loves Australia and his impressive 7 week holiday here.

Maxi-Geek: So showing off the Alienware Steam Machine in Australia for the first time, was it the plan to do this at PAX Aus, or was it just good timing?

Joe Olmsted: Well the Steam Machine launches in North America on November 10th, so this was really the perfect venue to show it off down here. There aren’t many IT or PC shows and obviously we do PAX right, so it was one of the new things we thought would be great to show the Australian public. And we wanted to get our early enough, because it won’t be available for sale until sometime in Q1 here, the controller is going through final Australian regulatory approval, which can take some time.

MG: All the fun government stuff

Joe: Yep, so as soon as that’s done we’ll be able to offer it down here. We just wanted to give everyone down here a sneak peek. It’s actually the first time we have shown it in the Southern Hemisphere. We also have the Valve controller, the first time it’s been show, so we’re just down here to try and get a little buzz with it and also the hardware is the same as the Alpha which we showed last year, just now running Steam OS and of course has the Valve controller.

MG: So has the reaction of the people playing been good so far?

Joe: It has, the biggest mental block in a console is the controller and so the people that I have spoken to today, it’s very different because it’s got these two trackpads on it. But those trackpads enable you to use the controller in a way you have never been able to do with a PS4 or Xbox One controller, in that you can actually play a PC game. You can play City Skyline, which is absolutely a mouse driven game, with the controller and after a few minutes you’re up and running like it was nothing. So the controller is very well received, it’s the thing for most sceptics, because again you are loyal to that controller, I know a bunch of friends who would use their PS4 on their Xbox if they could get away with it and vice versa, cause you get that muscle memory going, so that’s another reason why we wanted to show it.

MG: So alongside the Steam Machine, is there anything else you brought to Australia?

Joe: So the other thing is we just launched new updates to all of our notebooks and desktops, the 6th generation intel core was just announced and launched just back at PAX Prime, about two months ago, those are now on display here and they are just now arriving down here in stores, we have made over two dozen updates to all of those units. We’ve added USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt to all of our notebooks, with a type C port, we updated the CPU’s to all be 6th gen Intel core i5 and i7, on our 15 and 17 inch we added a new software function that does dynamic overclocking. So if the notebook has a maximum thermal rating, well I mean they all do, the software will sense that there is room that is not being utilized and automatically overclock the components inside the notebook, so that way even Word is being overclocked, even though it may not need to, because there is that thermal headroom and we wanted to give people the ability to use all the stuff they pay for.

So we built that into the notebooks now, we announced our partnership down here with Roccat, we realized a few years ago that we are a great PC company, but we are not a keyboard company, so we found Roccat and we have incorporated our lighting technology into their keyboards and mice and now the Roccat keyboards and mice work with the Alienware FX Lighting System. They are a keyboard and mouse company founded by gamers and they are innovating in that space where we couldn’t, so we are really happy. They are actually here as well, which is why you see their name right next to ours and they do a great job and you will see those keyboards and mice available here soon as well.

MG: So right above us, there is a thing called Zero Latency, when you first heard the pitch was it something you thought was possible or was it more skepticism, let’s see how it goes?

Joe: Well we have been involved with Oculus and the HTC Valve consortium for years and the hardest thing we have had to overcome is to make it wireless, well not wireless but make it untethered and so in February of this year, (2015) the local team down here came to us and said hey we found this great company that is doing it and there is no tether and we were like, Whaaaat? So we just dove right in and its amazing what these guys have done, so they are taking our Alpha Steam Machine, which is running windows and they strap it onto your back in a really light weight harness, because the steam machine only weighs about 2.7 kilos, so they strap it on there and there is a battery that powers that little desktop, they have a DK2 Oculus dev kit on and a gun and you’re doing live zombie killing with your friends, 6 people at the North Melbourne facility or here we are doing 2, but it really shows what is happening with VR.

There will really be a lot of high end uses for VR, in CAD, the real estate market and games too, but this is an experience driven around you and your friends just getting together and playing a better version of laser tag then you have ever played in your life. Because you are running around shooting zombies and you get that feeling that everything is shaking when you are moving around, it really is a great way to experience VR.

MG: So, looking around you can see the booth is really popular, a lot of people checking things out. Is there one thing that you wanted to show off, but for time’s sake or such didn’t make it, or was everything you wanted to bring here?

Joe: Everything that we showed at PAX Prime in the US a few months ago is here today, because we don’t want to leave anything out. All of our products are available to Australia and New Zealand.

MG: So this is your second time to Australia, as you were here at PAX Aus last year, as a visitor has PAX changed year to year for you?

Joe: It’s much bigger this year from what I can tell, certainly I am getting more questions, there is more interest, when I was setting things up, getting things good to go and planning the show, we knew that the stuff we had was great, but we really wanted to showcase, so companies like Zero Latency showed up, we have Roccat here with us. We also went out and found all the developers that are doing our Steam Machine development software, they are now here, so we are seeing a much bigger industry participation as well. You know when we go to plan these things we get calls from Nvidia and AMD going, “how can we be involved in your PAX Australia event?” so it’s a much bigger event coming from our perspective from where we come from.

MG: So I am not sure if you knew, but the Melbourne International Games Week was going on this week.

Joe: I did not know that.

MG: Well from Thursday last week, there was a dinner and there have been developer sessions, hackathons, sponsored by Microsoft, Google, Intel and more with PAX being the anchor for the event
Joe: Oh wow

MG: How does an event like that make you feel as someone working in the industry.

Joe: Well, I gotta tell you, the indie developers keep us going. If you think about it, we have been in the industry, next year will be our 20th year and if it wasn’t for indies we wouldn’t be where we are today. Six years ago we started working with an indie called Riot Games and now they’re League of Legends so because of those successes and frankly is easier to do software development now than it was 20 years ago, we are seeing software and games that are way out of left field. There is this huge retro movement in 8-bit, there is a developer, Devolver with Bro Force and Hot Line Miami and then we have Screen Cheat which is from a Melbourne company here, where you spend your time cheating, but looking at your opponents screen to figure out where they are at, I mean I never would have thought about that.

So I really think we have been part of the industry that has brought so much performance to such a vast amount of people, so companies can just throw that stuff out now.

MG: One final question, the tri sided case that is out on display, you announced it last year, is that on sale in Australia now?

Joe: It is available on and it was in some JB HiFi’s, but it is a hard thing for people to get their heads around in a shop, but it is around. I fully expect that chassis companies to have something like this by this time next year.

MG: Joe thank you for taking the time to chat, it is has been great.

Joe: No, thank you, it is always nice to talk to you.

My thanks to Alienware for setting up this inteview with Joe and of course Joe himself, who is always a blast to talk to.

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