Is a gamer born or does it happen over time? What makes one’s idea die on the cutting room floor while the other turns into a blockbuster? Gamers and those within the culture are as diverse as America itself, but we all share similarities. When entering the PC gaming world one has to know the layout, where it came from and where it is going. We can look at the background of some of these pioneers and learn from them and if nothing else enjoy a good story.
Obsolete Gamer has had a chance to interview quite a few from the Alienware and Dell family including Alex Aguila and Arthur Lewis and we were excited when we had a chance to sit down with co-founder of Alienware, Nelson Gonzalez.
Can you tell us about what got you into gaming?
It was all about the arcade baby! The arcade was the catalyst to my immersion in those virtual worlds. Aside from video games, playing games from an early age was in our DNA. Everybody in the neighborhood was hyper competitive and we played basketball, football, chess, wargames, boardgames and of course…dungeons and dragons! We loved every aspect of gaming and competition.
What were some of your favorite games growing up?
Too many. I’m pretty old, but I will mention some of the PC games which is probably what you might be interested in:
Civilization, Privateer, Myst, Falcon, X-Com, Alone in the Dark, Red Baron, Pirates, Star Wars TIE/XWing, Aces over Europe/Pacific, Mech Warrior, SimCity, Doom, Quake, Wing Commander Series, Might and Magic Series, Unreal Tournament, Dawn of War, COD Series, Medal of Honor Series
Now as far as Alienware part of the name and style of the brand came from your love of science fiction?
Absolutely. I grew up watching great SciFi and Horror flicks. Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Invaders, UFO, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space and of course, the X Files to name some of the TV shows. The movie list would be too long to detail. Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still (original), Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars would be a glimpse into my list though.
You and Alex Aguila were friends from an early age correct?
Yes, I met Alex when I was 10 or so. 35 + years…way too long! Arthur Lewis which now runs Alienware, has also been a friend since I was like 16. Hector Penton from Origin PC I’ve also known for 30 + years.
We are all big-time gamers.
What type of PC games do you and Alex use to play?
Right now I think both of us are on sabbatical. We are playing intense Warhammer 40K and its consuming quite a bit of our time. Alex plays a ruthless Space Marine Blood Angel. Hector is a brother of the Hivefleet Leviathan and my path is that of the Eldar.
Did you have any rivalries game wise with Alex?
Absolutely. Falcon 3.0 comes to mind. Quake 2 was also an immersive bloodbath 🙂
What was your first PC?
An XT 286 I believe.
You also began building PC’s at a young age can you tell us about that?
I started building PC’s with 80386 Intel processors with clock speeds of 12MHz…LOL. Then we moved up to 486’s w/VESA bus video cards. Then came Pentium processors and 3D graphic cards (gaming nirvana). The dawn of 3D games such as Castle Wolfenstein and DOOM really hooked us all. I was forced to become the technician of the group so we can play all these games. We played most of those games in DOS and they required some tinkering such as creating boot disks with Autoexec.bat and config.sys files for specific games . Ah… the good ol’ days.
Before Alienware you created your own PC building company, can you tell us about that?
Well I thought that I could build PC’s locally in South Florida, but soon realized that wasn’t my cup of tea. I really liked high performance and squeezing every bit of juice out of a PC. Building standard PC’s for business’s just didn’t satisfy me. I always felt that if we did something that was specific for the gamers just like us, we could survive as a business.
How did the beginning of Alienware come about?
I was with a friend of mine (who happens to be Hector Penton’s brother) in my kitchen one day and I pitched him the idea of custom building PC’s for gamers like us. I asked him what he felt about the name Alienware and he said it sounded pretty cool. At that point it just felt right. I immediately called Alex and asked him if he would join me in this new adventure. I told him that he needed to quit his job, give me like $5K and come to work immediately. To his credit he said yes without hesitation. The funny thing is that we weren’t really speaking to each other at that time and I can only imagine the conversation he had with the wife that night. 🙂
What was the first few months like running Alienware?
Boy it was very intense. At times we nervously laughed and secretly prayed 🙂 We had no money, no resources, but somehow we felt confident. We knew if we ‘built it’, they would come. PC Gaming was in its infancy and we had experienced how addictive it really was. We knew we were on to something, but we just didn’t to what extent.
What would be one of your favorite moments while at Alienware?
There were so many, but that first PC Gamer ’98 Area 51 review written by Gary Whitta was one of those rare moments were I felt validated.
The first online order.
When we hit one million in revenue.
When we reached 100 employees.
When we had Michael Dell visit us at Alienware.
When we sold the company to Dell.
Do you have a funny story about Alienware you can share with us?
Alex telling me that “no one would order an expensive custom PC online” and then we get 3 orders the first day 🙂
How did it feel to see Alienware become so big?
Crazy. I knew we wouldn’t have to work for anyone else if we did our ‘thing’ and we performed well. I also felt that if we bent over backwards for the customer and treated our employees like we’d like to be treated, we would be OK. I never imagined it becoming so wildly successful.
What was it like during the acquisition by Dell?
Awesome. I think Michael really understood us and because we had such a synergistic model, the transition was good and the acquisition made sense.
What type of PC do you play games on now?
Alienware Aurora i7 3.2GHz
2 X ATI Radeon 5800’s
Win 7 64-bit
Do you play console games?
No not really. I’ll load up Heavenly Sword or Gran Turismo every once in a while for shits and giggles.
What PC games are you currently playing?
I was playing DC Universe online, but stopped, we all started playing 40K. I am getting ready for SWTOR and maybe, just maybe Duke Nukem…finally?
What would you say your favorite classic game(s) is?
If I had to pick one, it would have to be Civilization. Wow… did I burn out on that one.
My second would have to be XCOM. Classic arcade would have to be Joust and Lunar Lander.