The State of PC and Console Release Cycles, According to Alienware

"PC has won."

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GameSpot had the chance to sit down with Alienware co-founder and vice president Frank Azor during PAX Australia 2016, to discuss the current state of the PC market.

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Azor has been with the company for 18 years, starting when he was merely 16 years old. “I was in high school,” he said. “A family friend told me he was working with a couple of guys that were started a computer company, and they were looking for some help. And that was it!” Azor began by working for free with the company that would eventually become Alienware. “I thought I was too young and inexperienced for what they were looking for,” he said. “It was four of us initially, At the time we were taking off-the-shelf components and assembling them together and optimising the machines for playing video games. From there things progressed, we started doing really well, a lot of copycats came in, we figured we had to build our own products, so I quit college to focus 100% on Alienware and I created the product group.” Azor worked hard, right through the Dell acquisition, and eventually took over the entire Alienware business in 2011.

The PC market has changed over the course of those years, yet Alienware has remained steadfast in targeting the high-end gaming audience, through the production of expensive but high-performing desktop PCs, and notebooks.

With the console platforms moving to a more frequent release cycle, we were curious about how this would affect Alienware’s position in the market. “It affects us a bit, yeah,” Azor told us. “The console market and the PC market have converged in ways that we’ve never really seen before. Consoles look more like PCs, and PCs are starting to look more like consoles.” It was at this point that Azor started to smile, it seemed this line of questioning played into his hands. “The console guys have realised they can’t operate on seven year cadences anymore, because they can’t keep up with the amount of innovation that’s going on in the industry, with HDR, 4K, VR, and the long path we have ahead of us in VR evolution. They’re having to evolve in order to survive, to be a lot more like the PC side, where they can’t come in with a $300 or $400 piece of subsidised hardware. They can maybe only afford to subsidise for $50 or $100, because the lifecycle they’re going to have to recoup that investment over the lifecycle or the customer’s journey is going to be two or three years, not the seven years they had before.”

“Console architecture, funnily enough, is more PC-like than ever before, so I think that’s a real testament that PC has won,” he crowed.

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Azor also believes that the upcoming major console refreshes are a positioning opportunity for Alienware. “We’re not trying to actively compete against consoles,” he said, somewhat incongruously with his previous statement, “we see them as complimentary devices. We’re trying to focus on gamers and helping them as much as possible. There are some games that play best on PC, and some that play best on console. As long as you’re playing games, as long as the games that we’re bringing to market are fun and responsible, as long as the community is healthy, then everyone is winning in the industry.”

Well, if Alienware doesn’t see itself as competing with console manufacturers, what about other PC manufacturers? What is it about Alienware that differentiates it from its major competitors in the gaming notebook market?

“We’re going after a different use-case that is very different, and a lot of times the polar opposite to what Razor is chasing out there. Their priority is around dimensions, our priority is around quality, performance, upgradability, and comfort,” Azor said. “Longevity, keyboard comfort, long battery life, performance. So wherever our dimensions end up after we’ve made those key decisions, that’s where they end up. Some of those other companies out there will say we’re going to develop the fastest notebook we can, at 18mm or 20mm. All those other factors get thrown out the window.”

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Azor went on to act out a fictional conversation he believes to be representative of the market position of some Alienware competitors.

“Okay we have to reduce the Z-height and the travel on the keyboard in order to hit our form factor target. Okay, go. Reduce it.”

“No upgradeability, because that adds Z-height to the product. Okay, remove upgradeability.”

“Cut the battery life. Throttle the graphics card. Put no overhead into what the graphics and CPU can offer.”

“All of that might be fine in year one,” Azor said, firmly, “but after year one your thermal efficiency is going to begin to get reduced, and you’ve built no overhead into your thermal module. So that system is going to begin throttling, if not overheating, if not bluescreening. We know that you have to build in overhead, and that overhead drives dimensions.”

“I’m not going to name any names in particular, “Azor said, with a knowing look on his face, “but some folks are more interested in selling the computer on day one, without worrying about year four. We’re focused on the entire customer lifecycle, and their ability to resale that product, or use it for a very, very long time. That’s why we’re a little bit more expensive.”

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    Avatar image for bbq_R0ADK1LL
    bbq_R0ADK1LL

    I would never buy or even recommend Alienware. They're overpriced & tend to skimp on quality components where they think people won't notice. many consumers will look at the GPU & CPU but they won't know to look for a decent PSU. Most pre-bulit systems only focus on the elements that sell & Alienware doesn't appear to be any different.

    Avatar image for stewart24
    stewart24

    Would you look at that! A PC company claiming PCs have won. Story would of been way better if he would of said"well we lost"

    Avatar image for Gravity_Slave
    Gravity_Slave

    @stewart24: lol true

    Avatar image for girlusocrazy
    GirlUSoCrazy

    @sellingthings: Citation needed... These figures say otherwise, and that sales are declining: http://images.anandtech.com/doci/10613/jpr_q2_2016_mkt_historical_quaterly_gpu_sales---2010---2016.png

    Avatar image for girlusocrazy
    GirlUSoCrazy

    @sellingthings: Ok, thanks for trying to find references and give me something to go on. I will keep an open mind and try to look for a broader picture on this and check out the stuff you are talking about but having read about these things often in the news I haven't really seen so much to support those numbers, they seem a bit high imho.

    Avatar image for crxuchilbara
    crxuchilbara

    @girlusocrazy: I think he's lying.

    Avatar image for girlusocrazy
    GirlUSoCrazy

    @crxuchilbara: I like to give the benefit of the doubt and I'm not infallible

    Avatar image for snugglebear
    snugglebear

    I had an Alienware once. Once.

    Avatar image for girlusocrazy
    GirlUSoCrazy

    What, PC maker thinks PCs win? Smells like an advertorial to me

    Avatar image for Triton
    Triton

    Done with Alienware and their crappy mother board.

    Avatar image for wtf_666
    wtf_666

    Does that mean the end of petitions begging for games to come to PC? I doubt it...

    Avatar image for crxuchilbara
    crxuchilbara

    @sellingthings: I don't think they care😉

    Avatar image for Barighm
    Barighm

    Not sure why people think consoles becoming more like PC's is a good thing. The absolute best eras of gaming came when consoles were very much like...well, consoles. Nowadays, we have broken on release games receiving endless patches, accounts for every player, microtransactions, "upgradeable" (read: more opportunities for devs to screw games up) consoles, shallow DLC, account linking...all PC inventions.

    Let's stop pretending PC features is some sort of auto-win just because consoles got online multiplayer and heavily discounted digital games. Things were just fine in the late Xbox/early 360 era.

    Avatar image for snugglebear
    snugglebear

    @Barighm: Agreed. The purpose of consoles is that you have a ready device to insert a disk or cartridge into without worrying over components. You get the game, you put it in, you play the game and the next game and the next and don't have to fuss with settings or drivers. PCs are excellent for what they do on their end and some experiences are better on PC, but lets stop trying to make consoles into PCs or, worse, mobile phones.

    Avatar image for chano880
    chano880

    @Barighm: I agree that consoles should stay consoles. Else why not just buy a PC ? Especially since hardware is becoming more accessible/cheaper that matches or even performs better than consoles. And also the fact that MS has been pushing its exclusives to Windows. (shame it's locked to Win10 and its store though)

    There's few reasons why I still keep my PS4 around and they are getting fewer by the day.

    Avatar image for Berserk8989
    Berserk8989

    @Barighm: Oh yeah, damn microtransactions and never-ending pre-Alphas, don't forget about them.. and almost complete obliteration of physical copies too. 80-90% of PC market revenue is made of microtransactions from mobile-esque games like League of Legends, DotA and Counter Strike. Star Citizen brought it to a new level though, offering 2000$ microtransactions (which are far more than just cosmetic, which actually give players who pay a big advantage) in it's pre-Alpha state. Pure cancer. Physical games market was also made irrelevant by the PC (on the PC at least... for now, but who knows when consoles will do the same). Even if you buy a game physically, it basically offers no benefits, since you still just only get the code with which you own the license to play the game, not the game itself. You can't exchange it for other games with people, you can't trade it, nothing.

    Consoles did some $hit in recent years, true, paid multiplayer being on the very top of it. But hell, even that is not so bad if you think about it. For 5 bucks a month you get 2-3 games, additional discounts (The Witcher 3 GotY edition is for example only 30€ on the PS Store currently if you have PS Plus, while Steam and GOG sell it for 50 and 46€ respectively) and a more hacker-free and fair (due to everyone playing on the same system with the same visuals and framerate) multiplayer. That "fair" multiplayer is losing its meaning too though, in the form of the PS4 Pro, an upgraded console, again a cancerous PC trait that expanded to consoles.

    Avatar image for The1stFishBone
    The1stFishBone

    @Berserk8989: I agree with everything you said. This has to be the longest post I've ever seen where I can make that claim.

    Avatar image for chano880
    chano880

    @Berserk8989: Your witcher 3 example is not the best when you can get the PC GOTY edition for 30€ too , without the added 5€ from the PSN subscription fee. Also the amount of PC games selling at a way lower price point than the console counterparts totally trumps the argument.

    As for the PC market revenue, you got numbers to back that up or are we just pulling numbers out of our tushies ? Microtransactions are used on both sides, do you really think DLC/microtransactions don't sell well enough on consoles too ?

    The only good and valid point you put there was the physical copy market, which I 100% agree with. But consoles are shifting towards digital too. Sadly it's the future.

    Avatar image for Berserk8989
    Berserk8989

    @chano880: It actually doesn't "trump" the argument. Even though PC games (especially older ones) do tend to be IN GENERAL discounted a little bit better, there are still far from terrible deals to be had with and without PS Plus/Xbox Live on the respective stores and at retailers, especially some smaller ones (definitely not Gamestop and the like, but Zavii or Base.com). But the big + for consoles come with physical games and the used games policy. You can trade games to other people from the community or exchange them for other games with them, etc. That literally saves you a TON of money and can add a great social aspect too.

    Here are the numbers to back my statement: http://www.eteknix.com/top-10-pc-games-revenue-destroys-consoles-2015/. The top grossing games are mostly free games that run on every budget laptop and feature microtransactions. Apply some basic math and you get the vague idea of what PC gaming profit consists of.

    Avatar image for chano880
    chano880

    @Berserk8989: I never said the consoles never had good deals. They do. It's just that the PC has better deals and way more often. It's just numbers speaking.

    Even with more recent titles PC tends to have better prices if you know where to look. That being said, consoles have the physical market going for them (and used market along with it) so I could concede that it balances it out in a way. But there's no denying that consoles are going more and more towards digital, which is something I personally don't want to after "witnessing" it happening on the PC-side (I was never in favor of having this digital monopoly in the first place)

    I'm assuming that the top grossing games list is worldwide which would include the Asian market. That alone will skew that list to the F2P/microtransaction market as you have millions of players that are willing to buy and spend tons on "F2P" titles. On the flip side, consoles there won't do as good so the western market will weight in more on it, which is evident by the COD, FIFA and NFL titles in the list.

    A fair comparison would be western market for both ends. Sure there would still be the F2P titles there but it would be a slightly (at the very least) different list.

    Avatar image for Berserk8989
    Berserk8989

    @chano880: Yes, that list represents the worldwide market, but only the digital one. We can only guess how the list would look like if it would be western market only with physical sales included. I think on the PC side, rankings would be about the same, just that the revenue for games like LoL, DotA, World of Tanks, etc. would be less. On consoles i expect it to be about the same too, just with a higher revenue on basically all of the top 10 games.

    To be honest now, both lists of games seem terrible to me, but i still like the console's more, because we see that the AAA market there flourishes, even though it's the quite bad side of the market (with games like CoD, FIFA, Madden). I still prefer the AAA market (even though their top representers here are bad AAA games), than i do the free, mobile-esque and microtransactions dominated PC market.

    Avatar image for chano880
    chano880

    @Berserk8989: "To be honest now, both lists of games seem terrible to me" we both agree on that then haha I love me some DOTA 2 and WoW and I don't mind LoL or WoT but the amount of money some people spend on F2P titles is beyond me. But to each their own.

    Avatar image for G-Corleone
    G-Corleone

    @Barighm: Completely agree. I don't hate PC, but i don't see the point in pretending to like unneeded features.

    Avatar image for beantownsean
    BeantownSean

    Bah...I could never buy into novelty builds like Alienware and Falcon. These companies only came about by looking at what overclockers and case modders were already doing.

    Rather pick out my own parts; build and tune myself.

    Avatar image for deactivated-58a78a043e9d4

    People still buy pre-built PCs? Ok, for less money you can select the components and have someone else build one for you (or have them select the components for a particular spec).

    Avatar image for Triton
    Triton

    @pongley: Depends if you the the time/money and know how.

    Avatar image for The1stFishBone
    The1stFishBone

    @Triton: Not to mention your gurenteed to get a pc that works when you buy from Alienware. When you build stuff yourself weird crap happens, and if something breaks you don't have to worry about figuring out what happend.

    Avatar image for xolivierx
    xolivierx

    @The1stFishBone: I went to this store. The owner had different settings with different prices for various Pc packages. I selected a specific package and the dude built the pc right in front of me. Worked straight out of the box with no performance issues, a legit windows and warranties. It was way more powerful than any Alienware PC, at a fraction of the price, with quality components from known brands.

    Avatar image for deactivated-58a78a043e9d4

    @Triton: Like I said, you can pay someone a small fee to do it for you. Most component stores do that.