DE­SIGN­ING TECH FOR GAMERS

PCPOWERPLAY - - THE PCPP TECH HANDBOOK -

Join­ing Daniel Wilks, Edi­tor of PCPP and Hy­per were Joe Olm­sted, di­rec­tor for Alien­ware and Dell Gam­ing, Le­nard Swain, com­mu­nity team lead for Alien­ware, Vince La Duca, Global Prod­uct Man­ager for Linksys, Matthew Letts, Se­nior Tech­ni­cal Mar­ket­ing En­gi­neer, In­tel

DANIEL WILKS: It would be re­ally good to fig­ure out what gam­ing hard­ware is be­cause if you be­lieve the ads, you be­lieve the things they say in print mag­a­zines or on splash pages on web­sites, gam­ing tech­nol­ogy just means there’s more RGBs on it. That’s ob­vi­ously not true. To my left I have some peo­ple who ac­tu­ally de­signed and know far more about gam­ing, de­sign­ing gam­ing tech­nol­ogy and what ac­tu­ally it is. They might be able to guide us through what it means. I’ll get them to in­tro­duce them­selves and then we’ll kick it off.

JOE OLM­STED: Sure. Given that I’m in the pole po­si­tion right here. Joe Olm­sted, I’m the di­rec­tor for Alien­ware and Dell Gam­ing world­wide so all prod­ucts with an Alien­ware badge come through my team and we do de­sign all the hard­ware and we had the RGBs first.

LE­NARD SWAIN: How you guys do­ing? I’m Le­nard Swain and I work at Alien­ware as well and I lead our com­mu­nity teams. Our global com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tion. Things like Alien­ware Arena our com­mu­nity site, our Alien­ware TV, our Twitch chan­nel, Youtube, so­cial me­dia, and Red­dit, Dis­cord. Any­thing that in­volves Alien­ware di­rectly reach­ing out to gamers. My­self and my team lead those.

VINCE LA DUCA: Hi my name is Vince La Duca. I am the Global Prod­uct Man­ager for Linksys Cor­po­ra­tion re­spon­si­ble for the WRT Line, one of the long­est run­ning CE brands that’s been out there for at least 15 years. MATTHEW LETTS: I’m Matthew Letts. I work in In­tel’s gam­ing eSports and VR group. I’m re­spon­si­ble for tech­ni­cal mar­ket­ing which is sup­port­ing all of our hard­ware and soft­ware part­ners with their gam­ing line of prod­ucts as well as sup­port­ing our coun­try teams all over the

world like in Aus­tralia, on de­liv­er­ing great gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for you guys. DANIEL: I should have said I’m Daniel Wilks. I’m the edi­tor of PC Pow­er­Play. Just to start off and to keep things nice and gen­eral and broad and sim­ple, I might get my panel­lists to ac­tu­ally de­fine what they think a gam­ing prod­uct is. JOE: RGBs. [laugh­ter]

MATTHEW: As many an­ten­nas as you could put in a prod­uct.

JOE: I’ve been with the Alien­ware brand now for 13 years. We don’t try to be dif­fer­ent than a main­stream prod­uct but all the lit­tle touch points that you have as an in­di­vid­ual, we want to be gam­ing fo­cused. So we use dif­fer­ent net­work­ing cards, we use dif­fer­ent au­dio chips, our ports are laid out in a way that you don’t have an HDMI port just smack dab where you’d want to hold your mouse.

We don’t have 8 or 9 or 10 inch touch­pads be­cause you’re not re­ally using the touch­pads un­less you’re in Word or Chrome. We don’t fo­cus at all on chas­ing some of these main­stream touch points be­cause we know you don’t want some­thing in the way of your mouse or you don’t want that big honk­ing power cord to be some­how in­ter­fer­ing with what you’re at.

That’s how we fo­cus it. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily what’s in­side be­cause we can all make some­thing with a 1060 in an i7. It’s all the other things that we fo­cus on when we think of gam­ing ver­sus main­stream and we put on a lot of RGBs. [laugh­ter]

LE­NARD: For me, I’ve been at Dell for 17 years and Alien­ware for 11 years now. It’s re­ally about the pas­sion we have for gamers and the im­mer­sion in gam­ing. We know that peo­ple play games and they buy games. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily buy the hard­ware. They buy the hard­ware to play the games. What­ever we can do from a hard­ware stand­point that al­lows you to get in to the game quicker and have a pre­mium ex­pe­ri­ence from whether it’s a frame rate stand­point or be­ing able to turn on all the bells and whis­tles. That’s re­ally what we look for with an Alien­ware de­sign.

VINCE: For us at Linksys we have what we call a gam­ing router ver­sus a nor­mal, con­sumer based router. With the im­por­tance of on­line game­play that’s what we’re fo­cused on in mak­ing sure that the on­line game­play is the top pri­or­ity. Not in the con­sumer sense where it’s more of a mat­ter of ei­ther video streaming or just gen­eral ac­tiv­i­ties on the home. That’s what we set up to do.

In a gam­ing router we want to make sure that on­line game­play is the top pri­or­ity no mat­ter what is go­ing on in that home be­cause what we found out in re­search when it’s time to go on­line and go do your on­line game­play typ­i­cal in the past you had to run around and tell ev­ery­body to get the hell off the net­work. Now with the tech­nol­ogy that we’re putting forth in our gam­ing router, it’s all about on­line game­play as num­ber one.

MATTHEW: I think for us it comes down to mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence as good as pos­si­ble for you guys. Hav­ing a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in ex­pe­ri­ence from per­haps a main­stream prod­uct to a gam­ing prod­uct. Adding in fea­tures or whether it’s just straight per­for­mance or other fea­tures or there’s a lot of work that goes into the soft­ware side of things as well that makes that ex­pe­ri­ence for a gamer that much better on a gam­ing spe­cific prod­uct.

DANIEL: From what you are say­ing, the gen­eral con­sen­sus seems to be there’s the con­ve­nience fac­tor, there’s per­for­mance fac­tor, and there’s speed fac­tor that seem to be im­por­tant in gam­ing hard­ware. The con­ve­nience of not hav­ing things in the wrong place or ex­tra stuff that isn’t needed or lay­ers that will get in the way of the ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence. The ac­tual power to bring up all the bells and whis­tles and the speed of get­ting into a game faster than with main­stream prod­uct.

When de­sign­ing a new prod­uct say with Alien­ware a new lap­top or a new small form fac­tor PC, when you’re com­ing up with a new prod­uct, do you first look at where in the mar­ket you wanted to go? Or is it, “We have an idea for a new prod­uct. We think we can find a mar­ket for”? Or is it based around new tech­nol­ogy that you’ve got? What’s the first step in de­sign­ing a new prod­uct?

JOE: The first thing we do is, be­cause right now my team is fo­cused on what we’re go­ing to do in 2019 and 2020. We think about what be­sides just a first­per­son-shooter you’re go­ing to be do­ing. Es­pe­cially now with VR and MR and what those re­quire­ments are go­ing to be. What kind of CPU-GPU combo we’re go­ing to need. What kind of net­work­ing combo we’re go­ing to need.

We try to fig­ure out ex­actly what’s that go­ing to be. We work with In­tel, we work with Nvidia, AMD. We also work with our au­dio com­pany. We work with Killer Net­works for all of our Alien­ware prod­ucts to make cer­tain that they will be able to pri­ori­tise that con­tent. Then we fig­ure out what it’s go­ing to look like and how much it’s go­ing to weigh and how thick it’s go­ing to be. How many lights are we go­ing to have?

Right now, we’re spend­ing as much time with HTC and Ocu­lus to fig­ure out what their head­set re­quire­ments are go­ing to be for 2019 and 2020 more so than a lot of the other tech­nol­ogy guys. Be­cause right now there al­ways so many ports on the back and do we em­pha­sise more USB-C ports or Thun­der­bolt ports or Mini Dis­playPorts. Then you have to fig­ure out if G-sync’s still go­ing to be de­liv­ered over Mini Dis­playPort or if they’re go­ing to move to HDMI.

We spent just a ridicu­lous amount of time, nine months to prob­a­bly a year, just try­ing to fig­ure out how you’re go­ing to con­nect into the base plat­form. Then we try to make it thin and light and we do have the thinnest 180W 17-inch note­book. Although, I don’t think any­one here would con­sider it thin but then we try to do that.

For desk­top, again it’s about is Nvidia go­ing to go back to three SLI, or four SLI, or they’re go­ing to stay with two SLI and that would re­ally de­fine how big the box is go­ing to be. And re­ally it’s just col­lect­ing all of this in­tel from our part­ners and what we’re go­ing to be do­ing and then fig­ur­ing out how to make it com­fort­able for the av­er­age gamer and af­ford­able.

DANIEL: With gam­ing prod­ucts and I think this ap­plies across the board. How im­por­tant is a unique aes­thetic when you’re bring­ing out a prod­uct? Is there some­thing that as far as looks go that de­fines gam­ing apart from RGBs?

JOE: Yes, I mean I think that if you look at a Macin­tosh, they have a very very dis­tinct look and it ap­peals to very dis­tinct set of peo­ple. I think we find and I know Vince you de­fine your prod­ucts this way as well. We want a prod­uct that al­lows you to stand out and it’s not just with light­ing. We could all make just a sim­ple square or rec­tan­gle, not that there’s any­thing wrong with that.

We do spend a lot of time with fo­cus groups, we also lis­ten to our com­mu­nity. I get as much pleas­ant and won­der­ful feed­back from our com­mu­nity as I do from any­one else. When we go to do a brand new de­sign, we also want it to be a de­par­ture from where we’re at ver­sus just a slight it­er­a­tion. Be­cause the cur­rent de­sign of note­books we have right now we’ve launched here in 2013 and so we’re work­ing on what that next de­sign might look so what we do meet with sev­eral fo­cus groups in sev­eral coun­tries. They don’t know it’s us, but we do that as well.

VINCE: For us the re­search com­po­nent is pretty im­por­tant. First of all, we’re try­ing more so to solve prob­lems but ideas are a re­ally im­por­tant thing. There are some that take that idea in the routers a lit­tle too far. It’s re­ally more of just mak­ing sure that it’s do­ing the right thing at the right times. For us, it’s more of what’s un­der the hood. We’re tak­ing a lit­tle more of a sub­dued, more stealth look with the new WRT that we’ve put out that works re­ally well with your guys’ stuff.

We’re also using some of the Killer Net­work­ing tech­nol­ogy on there, which has re­ally been an amaz­ing thing to make that on­line game­play good. Ideas are that part that ac­tu­ally gets it home, then once you get it home you re­ally got to have it per­form­ing un­der the hood as well. We did put blue LEDs on this one.

Gam­ing hard­ware cer­tainly has a distinc­tive de­sign aes­thetic

DANIEL: That ques­tion of aes­thet­ics is es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing. I think when it comes to things like modems and routers be­cause when they’re work­ing you should es­sen­tially for­get you have them. The only time we should no­tice them re­ally is when they stop work­ing and like you go and re­set it. If you look at some of the gam­ing routers they aren’t subtle. Hugely pow­er­ful, very ex­pen­sive, look like a gi­ant alien spi­der.

VINCE: Would you want that in your home? [laugh­ter] DANIEL: Where do you draw the line from point­ing out that this is a gam­ing de­vice be­fore it looks above the top and out­landish than a func­tional prod­uct?

VINCE: I think it’s about it per­form­ing and do­ing its thing with­out you hav­ing to worry about it. In our re­search, gamers are not net­work en­gi­neers they just want it to work and they want to make sure that game­play is num­ber one on top of ev­ery­thing. When we do our re­search we find out what they are pay­ing points are, that’s what we want to ad­dress not the aes­thet­ics are re­ally more so.

Any­thing else is re­ally just per­form the way that they need it to per­form. They can, the gamers, like you guys out there, can just pay at­ten­tion to im­prov­ing your game­play. Es­pe­cially now, how it’s be­come such more of a com­pet­i­tive arena with eSports Ex­plo­sion there. They don’t want to be mess­ing with the net­work. Just have it work and that’s what’s great like what we’ve done with the Killer Net­work­ing tech­nol­ogy and the kind of the con­nec­tion that we’re mak­ing like the Alien­ware stuff where it is all hap­pen­ing au­to­mat­i­cally. You hook up our router to the Alien­ware desk­tops and lap­tops. It au­to­mat­i­cally de­tects it and it au­to­mat­i­cally is han­dling all of that band­width man­age­ment.

DANIEL: When do you draw the line when it comes to the ac­tual looks and with the VR head­sets or any bit of tech re­ally. Where do you draw the line? How do you draw the line from this is what our look is go­ing to be, be­fore it’s os­ten­ta­tious?

JOE: If any of our de­sign­ers from Austin are watch­ing this, I apol­o­gise in ad­vance for say­ing this. We want our prod­ucts to be no­tice­able and we want them to be clearly iden­ti­fi­able. They will stand out from others. There are some peo­ple who will find that gaudy, some peo­ple who will love it and some peo­ple who will think it’s not far enough or not ag­gres­sive enough.

For ev­ery per­son I’ve met that loves how our prod­ucts look, there are those I meet who don’t love what it looks but they all know what it is. The first thing we want to do is to have some­thing that is ab­so­lutely iden­ti­fi­able with our brand and there is al­ways a story be­hind it. Again, some peo­ple love it, some peo­ple hate it. Some peo­ple want red in­stead of sil­ver, or black in­stead of gold or what­ever it is.

We all send out re­gion­ally. There are some mar­kets that like things very very dif­fer­ent than other mar­kets and it’s re­ally a fine line. Be­cause I can’t make an Alien­ware sys­tem for China, and one for Ger­many, and one for the UK and one for Aus­tralia. We want it to be ab­so­lutely some­thing you know what you’re look­ing at. That tends to be a lot more ag­gres­sive than a Macbook and have multi-colored lights. DANIEL: Light up alien eyes. JOE: Yes, and they do. DANIEL: When a new tech­nol­ogy comes out, just had the an­nounce­ment of like the Ryzen mo­bile or the 1070 Ti go­ing to be com­ing soon, things like that. Is that a kick­off point to your de­sign­ing a new prod­uct in the range or is it more like a global over­view of when it­er­a­tions are go­ing to come out or when the next big devel­op­ment step is? JOE: Yes.

MATTHEW: In­tel just launched the Cof­fee Lake desk­top pro­ces­sors, Oc­to­ber 6th through 7th. Day and date we launched it in North Amer­ica as well as in Aus­tralia the same day. That was a pretty ma­jor up­date, 6-core In­tel desk­top prod­uct. We did not put it in a new chas­sis, we just put it in our cur­rent chas­sis and it’s on the stand as well. The 1070 Ti, es­pe­cially, the desk­top graph­ics they come when they come.

As we all know, we all get about a month’s no­tice be­fore we re­al­ize that our graphic cards go­ing to be ex­tinct. We might get too much no­tice but it’s not great. Usu­ally, those will just shove into what­ever we’re do­ing but we do plan our ma­jor de­signs around new tech­nol­ogy. When NVIDIA came out with the 10 se­ries graph­ics last year, we in­tro­duced a brand new set of note­books around that. Be­cause just from a devel­op­ment stand­point, we have to change the moth­er­board at the same time, might as well change the me­chan­ics around this prob­lem.

VINCE: When the ther­mals changed like their note­books can get dra­mat­i­cally thin­ner or your cool­ing so­lu­tions can get dif­fer­ent.

JOE: Yes. NVIDIA re­cently an­nounced that the Max-Q tech­nol­ogy and there were a slew of note­book ven­dors that try to came out with these sub 20mm 1060 note­books.

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DANIEL: Sim­i­larly, with routers like Killer or Killer 2, is that an im­me­di­ate flow and ef­fect with a new de­sign or new im­ple­men­ta­tion of that tech­nol­ogy or is it some­thing that’s fig­ured out well in ad­vance?

VINCE: In the net­work space where we work with the chipset, we meet with the nor­mal cast of char­ac­ters out there sup­ply­ing net­work­ing game com­po­nents to find out where they’re at, where their roadmaps are at. Like when the 802.11ac tech­nol­ogy comes out, you saw that whole pivot. To their routers they’re usu­ally about a year ahead of where all the client WiFi and Eth­er­nets are go­ing.

We’re re­ally the ones that usu­ally have to step out there first and now lead the way as cham­pi­oning the new tech­nol­ogy. I think what’s more im­por­tant es­pe­cially in the gam­ing space is mak­ing sure we’re still staying true to the mis­sion. If we’re mak­ing a gam­ing router, no mat­ter what that tech­nol­ogy is - it could be XYZ chipset that’s com­ing out - but is it re­ally fo­cused to be able to main­tain ping times no mat­ter what’s go­ing on.

It’s more about the need and then does the new tech­nol­ogy fit that par­tic­u­lar thing. We can split the lines up a lit­tle bit, maybe do ex­plo­rations more in our con­sumer prod­ucts to see how, and use that as a pi­lot be­cause with WRT it’s more about per­for­mance and per­for­mance per­fected. That’s what we do with WRT: wait un­til we know that they’re ma­ture and in mak­ing sure that it’s ac­tu­ally pro­vid­ing that ben­e­fit.

DANIEL: It sounds like you’ve got a bit of, like you said, you’re lead­ing the way for a lot of things that you’ve got a bit of future proof­ing built into de­signs. Does that give you more lee­way to ex­per­i­ment with tech­nolo­gies?

VINCE: It’s al­ways a risk. It’s a heavy lift be­cause then you take on that bur­den of ed­u­cat­ing what the ben­e­fit is of a new tech­nol­ogy. We’ve got AX right around the cor­ner which is the new­est WiFi tech­nol­ogy. Mak­ing sure that it’s align­ing with what’s go­ing on with Killer, and where they’re roadmaps are, and how that’s in­te­grat­ing into what Joe’s put to­gether, it’s a bit of a puz­zle to put out there. We try to make sure we’re staying ahead of it and mak­ing sure that we’re do­ing that ed­u­ca­tional com­po­nent to ed­u­cate why we’re do­ing this and why is it go­ing to ben­e­fit you if it does.

MATTHEW: One of the things that we are look­ing at is, and all the PAX peo­ple here will know, is that gamers are very in­ter­ested in shar­ing their gam­ing mo­ment. There’s live streaming now and fea­tures be­ing added into the hard­ware that will let you share your mo­ments with your friends or your so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing. I’m sure Leonard has his com­mu­nity that try and share also and I imag­ine that some of the fea­tures that we’re look­ing to put into our hard­ware will make live streaming on Twitch better, all those kinds of en­hance­ments. I say that di­rectly re­lates to the net­work as well be­cause you need to have that high-speed net­work with no latency.

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DANIEL: Last year we talked about the HDR, things like that. Do these new emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies change the way you think about de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts? That would not just be con­nec­tiv­ity but you have the power to run things. Also, weight if you wanted to do room scale or back­pack size stuff. HDR with streaming takes more band­width than reg­u­lar. Do these emerg­ing other tech­nolo­gies play a part in how you de­sign?

JOE: I think the hard­est, the most con­tentious ques­tion we have with our de­sign team and our en­gi­neer­ing team is bat­tery life. No one buys a gam­ing note­book so they can have an eight-hour bat­tery life in Ex­cel or Chrome. We can’t sell a note­book with a small bat­tery be­cause every­one de­mands in­cred­i­bly strong bat­tery life but yet you never play off of the bat­tery.

When you travel all of our note­books have 180-Watt AC adapter now so you can’t even plug them into an air­plane. For some­one like me fly­ing around way too long, that flight is just a killer to get down here from Texas. I don’t even bother to take my note­book out be­cause I can’t plug it in be­cause the first thing I’ll do is shut the out­let off. To me, when we’re de­sign­ing our note­books, cer­tainly less so our desk­tops, every­one wants this in­cred­i­bly long bat­tery life but they can’t use it when they’re gam­ing.

To me, our next gen­er­a­tion of note­books we’re try­ing to solve gam­ing on a bat­tery at the level you would want and ex­pect from an Alien­ware brand. All the other things, our OLED screens on a 13inch note­book is the most beau­ti­ful screen I’ve ever seen in a note­book. Ob­vi­ously, the phone ven­dors are all mov­ing to OLED. We have it in our note­book but it is a bat­tery hog. That note­book does not get a great bat­tery life and, iron­i­cally, we get dinged on it in the press but yet it’s this in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful OLED screen. To me, the hard­est part about these new tech­nolo­gies is main­tain­ing the ex­pec­ta­tion of bat­tery life for these cus­tomers or for every­one in­clud­ing me be­cause I still like to use my note­book when I travel and play games when I travel.

DANIEL: Does that mean that when the fuel cell bat­ter­ies and stuff come out you’ll be look­ing at that? [laugh­ter]

JOE: I will be ab­so­lutely the first with the fuel cell bat­tery, you bet. DANIEL: Does that play into de­sign? LE­NARD: For us, we’re work­ing with a lot of the VR ven­dors and try­ing to op­ti­mise soft­ware stack and make sure the la­ten­cies there and some­what defin­ing stan­dards on what a good VR ex­pe­ri­ence is and how you can mea­sure it. Then help the soft­ware de­vel­oper as well as the hard­ware ven­dors sim­i­lar to the way tra­di­tional games are. You buy a game and they set their min­i­mum and the rec­om­mended specs. Then you can know what hard­ware you need to play that game. None of that re­ally ex­ists for VR right now. I think Ocu­lus and Vive have their main hard­ware specs. There’s some good VR, high-end VR ti­tles out there that will strug­gle at that min spec.

JOE: I think VR’s fi­nally given us a rea­son to be cau­tious be­cause it’s the one gam­ing tech­nol­ogy out there right now that’ll make you throw up if it’s bad. Bat­tery life is great, no doubt about it, but if you start puk­ing be­cause the sys­tem can’t re­ally han­dle it or you get dizzy and you fall down, it’s im­me­di­ately no­tice­able. I think we’ve all strug­gled with that - even me run­ning VR at my house I put my daugh­ter in VR and she loved it then the sec­ond the frames got a lit­tle skippy then she was not happy. She didn’t throw up but it wasn’t a great day.

MATTHEW: You can ride out dips in your FPS when you’re play­ing Over­watch or Counter-Strike but when you’re play­ing a VR game and you’re sick and then sud­denly it’ll dip, your world will go for a spin.

JOE: I think that’s ab­so­lutely some­thing we’re all sure go­ing within the hard­ware in­dus­try now around VR is every­one wants a great VR ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s a very high-end PC that you need to do it. Then not every­one can af­ford to buy and re­place their new PC. Watch­ing a movie in VR is very dif­fer­ent than play­ing the lat­est Triple-A ti­tle in VR. You’re right the ports are easy but if we can’t sup­ply a steady stream of frame rates it gets bad and it gets bad quick for those of us who have seen it. MATTHEW: It’s in­ter­est­ing it’s like a full sys­tem work­load. You need a good CPU, a good GPU and all the latency ev­ery­where and the whole sys­tem goes into de­liv­er­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence. We’re all work­ing to­gether to fig­ure out the best way to do that for you guys.

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DANIEL: Do you think the so­lu­tion to that is the ap­proach that Mi­crosoft has taken with the Mixed Reality head­sets? There’s ac­tu­ally a base­line tech­nol­ogy that ev­ery ven­dor that does one has to hit. Do you think that will solve this prob­lem of a min­i­mum re­quire­ment or is it just a catch-all?

MATTHEW: I think we’ll al­ways try to have better ex­pe­ri­ences. We do it in reg­u­lar gam­ing now, the graph­ics con­tinue to get better and some game­play gets better. I think we’ll de­mand that from the VR de­vel­op­ers as well.

LE­NARD: I think that it was Mi­crosoft look­ing out an op­por­tu­nity. If you haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced VR, def­i­nitely, while you guys are at the show, ex­pe­ri­ence it. There is VR ev­ery­where. We have it in the Alien­ware stand. If you haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced VR it is truly im­mer­sive. It is a truly great ex­pe­ri­ence and as it’s been men­tioned on this panel that ex­pe­ri­ence right now from an Ocu­lus or from an HTC is quite an in­vest­ment.

The op­por­tu­nity is how do we get VR to gamers in a quicker, lower price point fashion? Mi­crosoft saw that op­por­tu­nity. We have a Dell HMD Vi­sor that sup­ports the Mi­crosoft VR ini­tia­tive. They have the abil­ity with their Mi­crosoft store to pro­vide games to the com­mu­nity and all of that as an op­por­tu­nity. At the end of the day it’s Mi­crosoft tak­ing ad­van­tage of an op­por­tu­nity for a gam­ing tech­nol­ogy and gam­ing in­ter­ac­tion that is quite an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence.

You know in my role specif­i­cally and I kind of tie that into com­mu­nity, a lot of what we do from a in-house de­sign stand­point or future op­por­tu­ni­ties for Joe and his team to look at, prod­uct devel­op­ment and things like that, comes di­rectly from the com­mu­nity. Not just be­ing at events. Events is a great op­por­tu­nity that get the lo­cal feed­back but we’re on­line 24/7 lis­ten­ing to gamers whether it’s Alien­ware Arena which is our com­mu­nity site.

We’re con­stantly get­ting pinged on Twit­ter, Face­book, Dis­cord. We have a Dis­cord com­mu­nity in the Alien­ware sub­red­dit. We’re con­stantly hear­ing from the com­mu­nity about how they like our prod­ucts, how they use our prod­ucts, and all that in­for­ma­tion gets fed back into the de­sign process.

DANIEL: With the com­mu­nity as­pect, when de­sign­ing, is the com­mu­nity the first kind of port of call for any­one when you’re look­ing at, like, this is the VR prod­uct niche we need to fill or this is the kind of spec the peo­ple are look­ing for, or do you look out­side what could be con­sid­ered be­yond es­sen­tially an echo cham­ber?

JOE: The gam­ing au­di­ence cer­tainly does not lack in pro­vid­ing feed­back.

LE­NARD: Not at all. [laugh­ter]

JOE: I would say a few years ago, prob­a­bly, five years ago we weren’t lis­ten­ing. We had an event after launch and we han­dled it very poorly. Frankly, we were telling peo­ple on­line that we had a man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­cur­sion which is an­other word for the fac­tory did some­thing wrong but the prod­uct wasn’t bro­ken. We didn’t lis­ten to the com­mu­nity. We re­ally suf­fered for it and it re­ally caused us to re­think ev­ery­thing we do. Now, Le­nard and his team has been in­volved in ev­ery part of our defin­ing of new prod­ucts since 2014?

LE­NARD: Yes. JOE: 2014. We make cer­tain that the mis­takes we’ve made with the com­mu­nity in the past, we have some very spe­cific test­ing now to make cer­tain we don’t re­peat those very spe­cific things. Be­cause again, the worst thing I think we can do is to make the same mis­take twice be­cause you as a gam­ing au­di­ence will re­mind us that we have made that mis­take twice.

It’s al­ways quite em­bar­rass­ing. I know when I speak to my lead­er­ship that we did that again. The com­mu­nity for us, at least, it’s the most valu­able tool that we have and it may not seem like we lis­ten be­cause the out­come may not match what some­one said but we are lis­ten­ing none­the­less.

VINCE: For us, when Linksys was ac­quired by Belkin, that was one of the things that we saw that Cisco didn’t do very well with those Linksys cus­tomers is re­ally lis­ten. Belkin as a par­ent of Linksys now re­ally pays at­ten­tion to peo­ple and how they use prod­ucts. I’m af­forded an amaz­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence team that was carved out of the Belkin team to re­ally lis­ten to the com­mu­nity and find out what are those needs.

Mak­ing sure that we’re pay­ing at­ten­tion to those needs and wants of the on­line gam­ing com­mu­nity be­cause it be­ing so im­por­tant nowa­days. It’s all about UX and re­search for us even be­fore even sin­gle line of code is writ­ten, even a sin­gle PCB is scrib­bled out. We’re pay­ing at­ten­tion to what’s go­ing on out there and lis­ten­ing to fig­ure out where those play points are. Again, you guys should cer­tainly let us know.

DANIEL: How do you come back from that mis­take? When you talk out and the com­mu­nity lets you know, how do you come back from that? How do you deal with it?

JOE: I think five years ago we would have just ig­nored it but now we ac­tu­ally ad­mit it and we apol­o­gise.

LE­NARD: It’s all about con­stant feed­back, right? Ac­knowl­edg­ing that you hear the con­cern and pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion back on a very rou­tine ba­sis. The fact that it’s the in­ter­net, we’re out there, my team, we’re all per­son­al­i­ties. We put our names out there. We are known Alien­ware em­ploy­ees. If we go into a gam­ing fo­rum, if we’re on Red­dit, if we’re in Dis­cord, like I’m Le­nard.

When the work day ends I’m still Le­nard on the in­ter­net and I’m still Le­nard the Alien­ware guy. My team has taken our per­sonal chan­nels, whether it’s our Twitch chan­nel, our YouTube chan­nels, our names on Dis­cord, our Twit­ter ac­counts, all our so­cial me­dia ac­counts. I get pinged day in and day out at all times. I tell ev­ery­body, I do it daily and at night you can ask me any­thing and ev­ery­thing and I’m go­ing to be 100% truth­ful and hon­est.

Some­times, the an­swer is go­ing to be “I can’t an­swer that right now” but if there is an is­sue that you have we will per­son­ally hand carry that into the com­pany whether it’s on ser­vice sup­port, whether it goes in de­sign, whether it goes in mar­ket­ing or PR, we will hand carry those things and we’ll pro­vide an up­date. We can’t hide be­cause we do this ev­ery sin­gle day of our life and on the in­ter­net ev­ery­body ex­pects to be able to reach out to you and ping you. A 24-hour pe­riod doesn’t go by where we’re not up­dat­ing our com­mu­nity.

MATTHEW: Yes, you can­not go ra­dio silent any­more. LE­NARD: Yes, you can’t [laughs]. Once you put your name out there and you’ve an­swered one per­son, you got to give ev­ery­body that same level of re­spect. MATTHEW: We ac­tu­ally, in a sense, we owe it. You guys are the ones that are ba­si­cally writ­ing our checks. We owe that to you guys.

DANIEL: In a cou­ple of min­utes we’ll be try­ing an open fo­rum for you guys to an­swer some ques­tions of these guys but I think a point to end on from our pan­elists would be, po­ten­tially, the most con­tro­ver­sial one. It’s that gam­ing prod­ucts usu­ally seem to have a higher pre­mium when it comes to a price tag than a main­stream coun­ter­part. Why is that?

JOE: They’re also heav­ier. [laugh­ter]

JOE: As cheeky as it sounds they cost more be­cause they weigh more and they weigh more be­cause we put more stuff in them. As weird as that sounds we put in our note­book nearly a pound of mag­ne­sium be­cause a gamer can get emo­tional dur­ing gam­ing and the last thing we want is for a bad kill to have some­one pound their note­book and crack it. That’s one of the rea­sons it costs more.

An­other rea­son is we have to pack into our 17-inch note­book 260-odd watts of ther­mals and that’s all done with cop­per heat pipes and the fans are big­ger. All of that stuff is big­ger. All weighs more. The av­er­age Ul­tra­book is run­ning at about like 20 watts be­tween the CPU and mem­ory and I shift 330W adapters. My adapter weighs more than some of our note­books, some of the Dell Note­books, the Ul­tra­book Note­books. That’s the pri­mary driver is I got more stuff in the note­book and the more it weighs, the stur­dier it is, the heav­ier it is, all that stuff costs money and it costs more money to put it to­gether.

DANIEL: More money to ship? JOE: Yes. Es­pe­cially to here. [laugh­ter]

JOE: I don’t know how many stops those boats take but it takes a while to get things down here. I don’t even need to tell you guys that.

DANIEL: We’re re­fer to that as the Aus­tralia tax. JOE: Yes. Yes. I hear that of­ten. [laughs]

VINCE: I see. In the routers with WRT we’re using it at en­ter­prise grade chips is in there so there’s that added cost, higher level layer of PCBs we have to use be­cause we want to make sure we en­sure that per­for­mance.

AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 1: Have you ever con­sid­ered ex­ter­nal or mod­u­lar power sup­ply bat­tery packs for lap­tops?

JOE: We have, ac­tu­ally. The pri­mary is­sue with that for us is the dis­charge rate that you have to get through the bat­tery pack. If you think about a power drill you get an in­cred­i­bly – you know how the bat­tery will last an hour but you get re­ally high torque out of it. That’s how fast it dis­charges. There are rules about how many of those bat­ter­ies you can put on a plane. And so I can’t make a bat­tery pack that dis­charges that fast and hit most fed­eral re­quire­ments. We do have a power com­pan­ion that’ll charge your note­book when you’re not plugged in. But it won’t give you a plugged-in gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. So it has to do with dis­charge.

AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 1: My cur­rent one re­quires its own sort of plug be­cause it’s got around a 700-watt power sup­ply.

JOE: Which one does? AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 1: I’ve got a top-of

the-line – JOE: Oh, one of those. AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 1: Yes, an SLI one. JOE: Yes. No, that’s the one that can do it but I can’t put that – I can’t ship that in an air­plane. VINCE: So, it’s in­ter­est­ing how reg­u­la­tory re­ally kind of drives some of the things to – I mean glob­ally wouldn’t be –

JOE: Ev­ery gov­ern­ment has their own lit­tle rules, that’s for sure.

DANIEL: And we have all of them. JOE: We have very spe­cific power sup­plies just for this coun­try this I’ll let you know. Go rec­om­mend.

DANIEL: Any­thing over a cer­tain size is a bomb. VINCE: [laughs] Yes, ex­actly.

AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 2: Hi. I’m won­der­ing what reg­u­lates and pushes into mon­i­tor de­sign. In fact seven years ago, when buy­ing a desk­top mon­i­tor, I could go 24-inch 1920x1200 res­o­lu­tion mon­i­tor and then within a cou­ple years, the home main­stream was ev­ery­thing had to be HD which ac­tu­ally down­sizes the size of your mon­i­tor to 1920x1080. And to try to get a sec­ond mon­i­tor to match my screen is im­pos­si­ble now be­cause it’s a – even though it’s a better mon­i­tor for gam­ing be­cause it gives you more ver­ti­cal real es­tate, you can’t get any more. And how – now I’m see­ing RGB. But at least RGB doesn’t di­min­ish your gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

But how do you as de­sign­ers deal with the mix be­tween, “Oh, this is the cur­rent so­cial stan­dard right now at 4K TV so it has the same as­pect ra­tio, but it doesn’t give you the best gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Well, maybe it doesn’t. I haven’t run the tests with so­cial groups. But it doesn’t give you the best gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on what ac­tu­ally would make a better gam­ing PC.

JOE: From an LCD per­spec­tive, it’s the one in­dus­try we have to deal with that is en­tirely driven by fac­tory ef­fi­ciency. When they build a – and I don’t know how it’s done, but when they build a ma­chine that makes LCDs, the width is de­ter­mined by cost and they cut those screens into how many they can get side-by-side. And so ev­ery sin­gle one of those tran­si­tions: the 4:3 to 16:10, the 16:10 to 16:9. Now we see 3x4, and 4x3 – And two by some­thing is com­ing?

DANIEL: 2x9. JOE: This is the most frus­trat­ing part I have to deal with in the world. And it’s com­pletely driven by the en­gi­neer­ing ef­fi­ciency of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. It has noth­ing to do with what we want. Be­cause we agree. We’ve loved that 16:10 as­pect ra­tio. The 19x12. It was also 1680x1050 be­cause you got some great Y. But the in­dus­try moved on us and went to some new as­pect ra­tio when we were all proper... We were all changed to move into that cat­e­gory. AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 2: Thank you. JOE: Next.

AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 3: Hi. Any­way, I’m just cu­ri­ous since you guys are all part of the in­dus­try if you’re gamers your­self. Are there any stand­out ex­am­ples of games or se­ries that you like, “These guys have done it right.”? JOE: [laughs] That’s a weird ques­tion.

LE­NARD: Ac­tu­ally, it’s not weird. I get asked all the time. Yes. In the Alien­ware of­fice, a vast ma­jor­ity are gamers. Some game less than others. I game a whole lot. A whole lot. I can at least four or five hours a day. Mon­day through Thurs­day, and then Fri­day through Sun­day. If I’m up I’m gam­ing pretty much. For me, my com­mu­nity is prob­a­bly watch­ing this right now. League of Leg­ends is the game that has sucked my life for the last eight years go­ing back to the beta. Any­body that played League of Leg­ends back in the very be­gin­ning days – It was a hor­ri­ble game. [ laughs] I don’t think it was all that great when it first launched.

But what Riot did very well is that they lis­tened to the com­mu­nity and they evolved the game. Now, I mean the game is so big that the com­mu­nity maybe doesn’t get lis­tened to as much as pos­si­ble but that’s ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly smart of Riot at this point. But I think as a les­son from your ques­tion about who has done some­thing right. I think Riot did re­ally well. Be­cause again the game wasn’t that good in the early days.

AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BER 3: I’m ac­tu­ally a big X-Plane guy. Flight sim­u­la­tions. So I ac­tu­ally started get­ting into that and do­ing some amaz­ing things with that, with Wi-Fi, with X-plane, and iPads be­cause of some of the avion­ics stuff that you can do on iPads. That ac­tu­ally led me into ac­tu­ally pur­su­ing my pi­lot li­cense. I’m ac­tu­ally mov­ing back and forth be­tween X-plane at home, on a nice 4K TV right in front of my face to do maybe some test­ing some flight paths and then go­ing out and hit­ting the field, and ac­tu­ally go­ing up in the sky and ac­tu­ally do­ing it.

It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause a lot of the iPad apps that we use in cock­pit are all Wi-Fi based, and they’ll work on the sim on X-plane. I’ll take that iPad and go right into the air­craft, pop it in there and ac­tu­ally have all the same avion­ics or backup avion­ics that I’ve used on X-plane in the real deal. Do­ing that, it’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing to move back and forth. What’s ac­tu­ally re­ally cool is when my son is sit­ting with me, and he’s ac­tu­ally work­ing some of the avion­ics in the air­plane. We’ve worked out a deal to where he has to do an hour on the sim, and then he gets to play an hour of Over­watch. [laugh­ter]

JOE: I don’t game nearly as much. My wife and Le­nard’s wife don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree on how my free time should be spent, but

LE­NARD: I get to go home and say, “I’ve got to play games. I’ve got to know what my com­mu­nity is play­ing. It’s my job.”

JOE: I’m ac­tu­ally – I love Cities: Sky­lines. I’m prob­a­bly over 1000 hours into it now. It’s also be­cause I can do it after my kid goes to bed and my wife is watch­ing what­ever she is watch­ing, and I can take a con­fer­ence call with our en­gi­neer­ing team in Tai­wan and I can do both. I tried to get into Over­watch, but I couldn’t con­cen­trate on it and any­thing else. PUBG, I played that, a lit­tle bit, but I got so tired of get­ting killed be­fore I could even get out of the para­chute.

VINCE: That’s why I put mine on Over­watch, and I put up the ping mon­i­tors and do all my test­ing while he’s play­ing away. That’s how I make it work.

JOE: Yes, I still play. Not as much as I used to, sadly. It’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing, but it’s my own prob­lem. I’ll man­age that through ther­apy. [laughs]

MATTHEW: I used to be a gamer in col­lege, and then started at In­tel, it kind of sucks the rest of your life from you.

[laugh­ter] I play a lot of ev­ery – a lit­tle bit of al­most ev­ery game, be­cause we do a lot of test­ing and see what the games and fol­low the com­mu­nity, see what’s pop­u­lar. Some­how, we have man­aged to get a bunch of se­nior en­gi­neers hooked on PUBG. When­ever they have free time, they’ll come into the lab, and we’ll play a few rounds, and have some in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sions on how we could do MPG tech­nol­ogy at the hard­ware level and stuff like that. I don’t know how it cap­tured their in­ter­est, if it was the genre or the game, but that is sort of in­spir­ing these, fairly se­nior, In­tel en­gi­neers on the “how could we re­shape the in­dus­try” kind of ques­tions. They did a pretty good job, how­ever they did that.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing ef­fi­cien­cies have re­sulted in as­pect ra­tio ho­mogeni­sa­tion

Gam­ing hard­ware costs more be­cause it needs pro­tec­tion from an­gry gamer fists

Mi­crosoft’s Mixed Reality ini­tia­tive is an effort to pro­vide con­sis­tency to the VR world

Op­ti­mis­ing VR to de­liver con­sis­tent fram­er­ates is crit­i­cal for the tech’s future

New tech­nol­ogy of­ten in­flu­ences the next gen­er­a­tion of prod­ucts

Over­watch, PUBG and Cities Sky­lines are on our hard­ware guys’ playlists

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