People Want Content – Interview With Alienware’s Joe Olmsted

At PAX Australia 2015, Ewan caught up with Alienware’s Product Manager, Joe Olmsted to discuss their Steam Machine and Oculus-ready PCs. 

You’ve got this steam machine that’s come about. I imagine our audience is somewhat familiar with the idea of steam machines – bringing PC gaming into the living room. Tells us what’s special about yours and what sets it apart from some other ones – some ones yourself have got on the market with the Alpha console. Walk us through it, what’s so special about yours?

“…there will be over 1500 games in the Steam Library that will be available on Steam OS…”

So if you’re familiar with Alpha, then you’re familiar with Steam Machine. It’s actually the same hardware that we have running Windows on the Alpha, though when the Steam Machine launches it’ll be running Steam OS. We’re actually showing Steam OS and the Valve Steam Controller for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere here at PAX. It’ll be available in the first part of next year, we’re still working our way through approval down here in Australia. We can’t be more excited about it. By the time it launches, there will be over 1500 games in the Steam Library that will be available on Steam OS, so the games you have now are also likely gonna be ready to go on Steam OS at that stage.

A 1

And what sort of options have you got with the Steam Machine, and in particular, how is it different from your Alpha one?

The primary difference between the Alpha and the Steam Machine is just the OS. It’s actually the same hardware. So we’ll have the same hardware config, so like i3, i5, i7; 4, 8, 16 gig, a number of hard-drive options depending on how much storage space you’re gonna have.

And you’re obviously competing with consoles here, in terms of this market, moving into living room and away from the desk. What does your Steam Machine have that benefits over a console and why should people look at switching over?

“…people want content…”

Well, the thing that we learnt in the near 20 years that we’ve been in this game is that people want content. Like, people wanted an Xbox because they wanted Halo, and it was only available there. So, with over 4000 games in the Steam library that are available day one on there, so if you wanna follow the best PC gaming into the living room, you wanna buy a Steam Machine, you buy an Alienware Steam Machine or an Alpha. And so we know that content is what really drives this and so if our favourite game is, heck even City Skylines, which is a great desktop game but with the Steam Valve Controller you can actually play that in the living room, of course it’s a PC game. But there are thousands of PC games that are only available on PC that now will be in that space. And that’s why you want Steam Machines, because you want that content with that same traditional console experience.

A 2

Sure, and so what you guys have most recently announced is your integration with Oculus, with your Alienware PCs. How do you see that taking off and how important is it for you to have this integration.

“We couldn’t be more excited about Virtual Reality.”

We couldn’t be more excited about Virtual Reality. Because it really is going to bring a brand new experience to how you play games. In fact, at the booth here, we have up here a group called Zero Latency running, using Oculus DK2s plus out Alpha box strapped on you back giving you an un-tethered experience as you’re walking around shooting zombies with your friends. Now Oculus is announced and they’re gonna have something in Q1, and we have  Oculus certified rigs ready at that point in time so customers are sure to know hey this is the one I need for the full Oculus experience. And those are gonna run Nvidia GTX graphics, just like out Alpha console does that’s running upstairs, and it’s gonna run core processors and DDR4 memory, so we’re gonna have great pre-certified, Oculus Ready kits bundled, so customers know they’re getting that experience.

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Sounds nice and easy, super accessible.

Very easy because look, it’s brand new, the idea that you put goggles on…

Well that kind of goes to my next question. Steam Machines and VR are somewhat unproven technology and how we see them taking off with the everyday gamer remains to be seen somewhat. There’s not a huge heap proven there. So how confident are you that these are gonna be popular and there’s gonna be demand for these?

Well, there are, oh wow, one hundred and thirty million Steam customers. I don’t expect all of them to get a Steam Machine…

Even a small chunk of that is quite a lot!

“…VR is going to be absolutely an early adopter question in the beginning…”

A 3

A small chunk of that is pretty nice. So, you know a subset of them will want to do VR. And VR is going to be absolutely an early adopter question in the beginning, but eventually it will be the way you look through a house. You know, your real estate agent will send you a whole bunch of VR content and they’ll sit and walk you through your house with the architect. Or obviously games. So, I really do think it’s going to change a lot of the ways you play games and realize other content, Hollywood it going to take advantage of VR. So, I do believe that were at the forefront of those. Again, even the company we have upstairs, is taking our desktop, strapping it to an Oculus headset and you’re running around the room killing zombies. It couldn’t be more fun.

“We’re not going to hit a home run  every single time…”

How important then is it for Alienware as a brand to really stay on this cutting edge. Was it really important for you to be the first ones into the market? We’re you tempted to take a wait and see sort of approach?

“It may not be in every home, but it’s gonna be on a lot of couches.”

We don’t have a wait and see approach because our customers don’t have a wait and see approach. We’re not going to hit a home run  every single time, you know obviously we though 3D was going to be the next thing and we had notebooks that had 3D in them. It’s kind of gone away so we’re not in the 3D business anymore, but this a lot bigger and a lot more involved and you see the content behind it, particularly what we’ve seen with Valve and with Oculus, and it’s gonna be hard to understand a world in five years without VR. It may not be in every home, but it’s gonna be on a lot of couches.

Both the Alienware Steam Machine and Oculus Ready Alienware Systems are due to be released in early 2016. 

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