Interview: Alienware’s Joe Olmsted


At PAX AUS, Stevivor had a chance to chat with Alienware’s Director of Product Planning, Joe Olmsted, about the company’s focus, current products and a little background on himself.

Cav, Stevivor: So where do you fit in with the Alienware Story?

Joe Olmsted, Alienware: I started with Alienware back in 2003, when it was a small private little company. I was asked to do one thing upon starting and that was to make living room PCs. It was called the DHS and we started selling it about six months later. It won a bunch of awards, but all of the problems that came having a PC in the living room were still in the living room: Hooking up media centres to tuners, dealing with Windows updates with a keyboard and mouse. So all those things, and even the category, really kept it from being a success, as did; so we moved onto other things. So with the purchase of Alienware by Dell, I moved to Austin, Texas. Since then I’ve been doing our peripherals, our notebooks, our desktops; I run the group. So now we just sit back and try and work out what we are going to do in five years.

Stevivor: So what do live events like PAX Australia mean for you and Alienware?

Olmsted: We love PAX. We love ALL PAX! We do two types of shows each year: The Trade shows and the Customer shows. We try to do as many of the Customer shows as we can, because they’re our life blood. Customers to us, as in any business are important. We have a fan site just dedicated to our customers, We have four million members. We don’t sell on it, we don’t pitch on it, we just have Alienware folks go on and answer questions. Mainly it’s just a User Support community. We have a team that works directly with Game Developers, so we’ll go off and get 10,000 beta codes and give them away to our fans, or do something like give the Alienware badge for your Call of Duty brand. So yeah, we do love these shows just because they’re customer focused.

Stevivor: So how do you find the feedback from your consumers, with many of them competitive gamers, are they overly critical of your product?

Olmsted: Well they are critical, but I’m glad they are because it drives us to make a better product. I would much rather have ten guys criticise my product and tell me what’s wrong, than for them to be silent and have me go on, making the same mistake over and over. The thinness of our notebook is a direct result of customer feedback. We did not chase 15mm, 16mm, because customers did not want to give up performance, they didn’t want to give up keyboard, and they didn’t want to give up the Ethernet port. The Ethernet port is nearly 10 mm high. So to do all of that, if we were to just chase the trends and go 17mm we would have lost out. Our customers made us… well they didn’t make us, they told us “don’t do that” and we listened.

Stevivor: What do you believe puts you ahead of other manufacturers? Power or design?

Olmsted: Well what we are seeing know is that anyone can put a GTX860 into a notebook. That’s about as authentic as putting a V8 into a Ford Festiva; it’s not the same experience. So not only do we have the performance components from Intel, NVidia and AMD, but we include Killer networking, we include Creative Labs audio, we have a gaming quality keyboard. We look at every single thing that a customer touches and we base our designs around a gamer. For instance none of our notebooks have a video port on the right side because that’s where your mouse is. You don’t want to have a big cable coming out where your mouse is and have to move further to the right. When we design our products, we absolutely think about how customers are going to use them. By the way it’s not always convenient to put the video port somewhere else and yet we still figure out a way to do it. We don’t put the power port on the right side. We only put things on the right side that are small and unobtrusive.

Stevivor: Is there anything here that you wanna showcase for us today?

Olmsted: The Alienware Graphics amplifier, we are so proud about this. We’ve been working on this for a long time. We finished the hardware design in 2011, but it took us a few years to solve the software design. So if you have a desktop running and there’s a graphics card in it and it’s on, then you pull the graphics card out of the system, that’s pretty much what’s happening when you pull the cord on out Alienware Graphics amplifier. It took us a few years to solve that, so now when you pull the cable the system won’t crash. The app my crash, but the system won’t.

Stevivor: So, Joe, onto you: You’re a gamer?

Olmsted: I am.

Stevivor: For how long?

Olmsted: Oh man, I started in the Atari 2600. So now I have a two year old and I’ve been married two and a half years, so that means I don’t game as much as I used to. So te games I’m playing now are the ones I can get in and out of real quick, like Bro Force. If you haven’t played it, go give it a try, it is unbelievable. Another good game is called Cannon Brawl. Again it’s a simple, two person, real quick, in and out. If I’ve got twenty minutes to kill, we can play this at the office on our computers…

Stevivor: I call that QFG: “Quick Fix Gaming”

Olmsted: Exactly! I may start using that term.

Stevivor: Go for it! So what’s your favourite genre?

Olmsted: I’m a shooter. Battlefield – I’ve played all them. I like Left For Dead. Even Bro Force, it’s still a shooter.

Stevivor: And do you prefer gaming on a laptop or a desktop?

Olmsted: I prefer gaming in my office on a big screen and I don’t care what’s plugged into it. I do have a 34 inch display…. I do live in Texas (laughs).

We thank Joe and Alienware for taking the time to speak with us at an extremely busy PAX Australia.