Let the GAEMS Begin: A Profile of OSD Partner/GAEMS Co-Founder John Smith

By OSD Staff Writer, Ann Green

It all began ten years ago, when Dean Mercier approached John Smith with an idea about making Xbox consoles portable.  Smith and Mercier are the co-founders of GAEMS, Inc. an acronym for the garage project they started, “Gaming And Entertainment Mobile Systems.”  Both Smith and Mercier are and always have been avid gamers who lived across the street from each other outside of Seattle, Washington. However, Mercier traveled for work 80% of his time while Smith worked locally for a major gaming console company.

Mercier wanted a way to take his console on the road so that he could stay connected with his friends and family while he was away from home.  With his Xbox and his Xbox LIVE account, he knew that he could talk to his friends and family from anywhere in the world if he connected to the internet, and he could keep up on his gaming when he couldn’t get online.  Since no solution existed, he created one. “We brought the idea for GAEMS to major console manufacturers,” says Smith.  “When they didn’t believe in the vision, we decided we would do it on our own and officially launched in 2011.”  It took years because, “we had to figure out how to do it ourselves, through lots of pain and perseverance,” as Smith recalls.

Smith calls Mercier’s design “a technological game-changer” for integrating high-performance gaming monitors with a purpose-designed protective hard-shelled case. Says Smith, “Before people were bound to their living rooms if they enjoyed console gaming, but now they are free to game anywhere.” The cases are not only mobile, they are rugged.

The OSD connection was the product of yet another meeting of the minds, when Stephan Machuga, the founder of OSD (then called “Operation Supply Drop”), met with Smith at a gaming-focused trade show.  “Steve saw the product, and he said that this would be perfect for men and women who were deployed,” says Smith. “His mission was to bring fun where there was none. He wanted to send games, consoles, and monitors to troops downrange, and our product completed his vision.”  At first, Smith thought that Machuga was hoping to stock entertainment rooms, “Then I realized that these soldiers were all downrange, where guns get fired and people die. It is the middle of nowhere and OSD was sending to these forward locations where morale needs to be high.”

“Unfortunately, suicide among soldiers was at an all-time high and morale appeared to be at an all-time low.  But there are things that can help these people,” Smith asserts. “I read in some military periodical that the top two things that soldiers want to do when they’re deployed are: read a religious text or play video games.  OSD and GAEMS together can help with the latter, and helping them achieve their goal made all of us at GAEMS feel really good.”

“GAEMS and OSD have been working together since GAEMS was launched.  They’ve been a key part of our Supply Drop program as well as our philosophy as a whole,” says Glenn Banton, OSD CEO & Executive Director.  “There’s a GAEMS case in nearly every one of our ‘Supply Drops’ and many more that we’ve provided to VA hospitals and USO facilities.  Their products fit perfectly into our program by providing more gaming and entertainment portability to our troops.”

Although they were initially told that no one would buy their product for $250, GAEMS has been consistently sold out every year since they launched.  But as far as Smith is concerned, his business success pales in comparison to what GAEMS has been able to do for OSD. “OSD has also been instrumental in getting the GAEMS name out to the troops who have responded, with nearly 100,000 units sold to men and women in the military that want their own Personal Gaming Environments or PGEs as we call them.” says Smith.

Before partnering with Mercier to found GAEMS, Smith enlisted in the USMC in the 80’s, then spent five years at Microsoft in the Xbox group.  Mercier, who is also the company’s CEO and Chief Technology Officer, has many years of experience in software consulting, development and implementation.

“We believe in officially supporting only one charity at a time.  For me, OSD is a great charity that came into my life and has enabled me to ethically define my contributions with one of the best military charities I have ever been exposed to,” says Smith.  “OSD gets for free what others must pay for because they do better at what I would love to do myself.”

Smith’s philosophy on charity is “give till it hurts to those that it helps the most.”  He supports other charities, but in what he calls an ancillary capacity. “OSD is Number One, and the GAEMS product is the Number One product in the military.  I constantly hear thank you’s from enlisted men and women and from veterans alike via OSD engagements and even random meetings at a variety of trade shows.”

“We don’t want to be the name that’s out there as much as we want OSD to be the name people focus on,” says Smith.  “We’re merely soldiers in an OSD Army. We are very appreciative of the positive feedback we receive, but it’s more important to recognize OSD for all they do.”

Smith sees a parallel between what his products allow their users to do and a famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence.  “You might say ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’ is what we focused on with our gaming products. Gaming is a lifestyle, you should have the liberty to game anywhere and be able to pursue happiness that you gain from your gaming lifestyle,” says Smith.  “If I want to play Call of Duty, and I want to do it on my lunch break, I now have the freedom to do so! The people who buy our products want to be in the same room with friends as well. Split screen sucks! Our consumers can now have a more social experience gaming in a LAN type of environment without risking the perils of transporting their consoles, monitors and gaming gear in a cardboard box.  That’s as American as it gets — allow people to game when they want, where they want, with the consoles they want. Game anywhere. GAEMS everywhere.”

“Game anywhere if you have an inverter for a vehicle or any power source for any other location including a tent.  Take your console with you safely and securely,” adds Smith. “Mobile and rugged is expected with a GAEMS case, but what surprises many is the unexpected performance of a true gaming built monitor inside the case.  Like our deployed troops we are mobile, rugged and fast! A natural fit for gamers who are deployed.”

Smith credits Machuga with being the first to envision the perfect fit of GAEMS and OSD and Glenn Banton for understanding the potential for OSD and allowing GAEMS to help support an even larger group of military men and women.  “OSD boosts morale and helps people when no one else is helping them,” says Smith. “OSD is the organization that recognized who was in need and how to engage with them meaningfully when others do not appear to be listening. Our company tries to listen to our community the way OSD listens to their community.”

Smith’s long-term goals for GAEMS include being able to hire more veterans and finding a successful path to manufacturing in the U.S. because GAEMS “is a company of values; our people have been with us a long time and we are listening and adjusting as we grow.”

Smith wants the focus of the OSD/GAEMS relationship to be on OSD and not on his company or himself.  “Glenn also keeps the focus on OSD as an organization and the volunteers who have been amazing and have changed the world surrounding soldiers, veterans, their spouses, and families.”