Behind the Scenes: Product Development & the GAEMS Rail System
Behind the Scenes: Product Development & the GAEMS Rail System
By  GAEMS PR | On July 20, 2016

Dean Mercier, Managing Director and Co-Founder of GAEMS, takes us behind the scenes of product development and shares how we made the new GAEMS Rail System a reality.

Q: You’ve been heading up GAEMS for six years now. What motivated you to start GAEMS?

I was an IT contractor who traveled 80 percent of the time, spending about one week a month at home. I was a huge Xbox gamer at the time. The need to have “mobile” gaming was problematic and the hotel chains even restricted access to inputs on hotel monitors. It was one trip that lasted two weeks that really drove me to create a solution for myself.

Q: What motivates you to come up with new products?

In the past I was a solutions provider and once I got into the product field with GAEMS it was a natural fit to get into the whole hardware side of the gaming business. That’s what I’m currently doing with my skillset, to work closely with the designers and resources we’ve developed over the last six years to develop really cool ideas. What really motivates me is the opportunity to support gaming environments from a hardware perspective.

Q: When did you first come up with the idea for the new GAEMS Rail System? Was it an aesthetic thing or maybe an ergonomic angle?

It was both. The way we approach product development at GAEMS with our industrial designers is all about the user experience, taking existing and emerging technologies and coming up with better solutions. The concept was birthed from the mess that my desktop was in with all of my media and design hardware and looking at other gamers, bloggers and streamers and the needs that they have that were not being fulfilled. I’m also an avid gun enthusiast and lean toward tactical-looking designs. Our approach is not to make “me too” products but rather to give our consumers something that is unique that enhances the experience visually, functionally or both.

There’s an aesthetic and a functional aspect to why we developed this product. The Weaver System or Rail System, better known as Picatinny to the buying public, is used on modern firearms and there was a moment where I thought that you could upright that rail and make it a functional monitor and accessory stand. That was early 2015 when I first thought of the idea with my team. We go through a disciplined process starting with an initial concept and then moving it to the industrial design team, taking 30 to 60 days to go through existing concepts on the market and conduct research. We establish goals and requirements for the product. We literally looked through hundreds of different types of products, pictures, colors, textures, and materials and then mature the concepts through prototyping. We knew we wanted it to be Picatinny, but we needed to make sure that it was functional.

Q: When did you realize that you had this design bug in you? You came from a service oriented IT background, but you somehow ended up being a product innovator and designer.

When I was managing the IT projects it was much more than just installing software. There were many needs that had to be fulfilled through the different user groups. It had to be a customized approach to creating solutions. Moving from that to product design with no formal design training was a big leap, but in theory I am still working on creating custom experiences that benefit the end user.

When we were designing our first product here at GAEMS, the G-155 portable gaming monitor, we hired two industrial designers that gave me a lot of insight into the whole formal design process and learning about manufacturing. I spent about three years working and learning from the designer that we hired and I guess that’s when I really caught the design bug. I’m a technology guy. I love gadgets. I buy everything new that comes to market that’s leading edge. I like the latest and greatest. My love for gaming and technology drive me. That, married with my background in solutions and solving problems, is what led me to where I am today.

I’m not the guy that’s going to do the refined industrial design. I’m really an inventor sketching out the rough concept and then leading the team to what my vision is. The conviction piece that speaks to our demographic is really the strong industrial design team that we work with exclusively.

Q: So you came up with the idea of the G-155, Sentry and later the Vanguard as a solution for you. Same thought process for the Rail System?

Yes, I’ve started to acquire drawing tools in order to take my ideas further before they are shared with our industrial design team. Those items started consuming my desk space, and I kept having interactions at trade shows with streamers and bloggers and understanding their needs. We get a lot of requests for how we can make the GAEMS Vanguard a portable streaming unit.

Q: You have talked about Xbox and Call of Duty. Have you moved from console to PC gaming?

I really play everything. I started in the console world with Xbox and Call of Duty. That’s where I met John Smith, the other founder of GAEMS, who was working at Xbox at the time. It started with hardcore Xbox that migrated over to the PlayStation and SOCOM. I played that for about seven years and still have a large social group that I play with.

My very first experience with gaming was with PC playing Counter Strike. I’m also a big Diablo fan from Blizzard. I was into hardcore PC gaming and my first gaming PC was an Alienware, playing a lot of Counter Strike while I was on the road. John Smith lived right across the street from me 12 years ago and he introduced me to my first experience on console. Halo and Call of Duty were both really huge for me.

Q: What are you currently playing right now?

I’m still heavy in Diablo and still playing a lot of Call of Duty with my friends on PlayStation 4. And a lot of Candy Crush.

Q: Getting back to the Rail System. When did you first realize that you really had something cool and unique?

Like with a lot of my ideas and concepts I get a lot of sideways head turning when I discuss my ideas verbally. Once we get some rough concepts and some rough renders through two or three versions we start to get the feedback internally and to trusted partners externally. That’s when we realized that we had something really cool that was going to progress further.

There were lots of doubts going through this process. Managing the process can be difficult. I know as a designer that I need to manage that discussion until we get to that “looks like” “works like” stage in the development cycle. Some people have to actually get their hands on it.

The initial Rail System looked like an AR-15 rifle mount, which made some people a little shaky about the idea. Now that the product is done it has that cool tactical feel to it. You’re looking at it and realizing the utility of having that type of mounting system allows us to grow this product however we want. That was the real “aha” moment for us.

Q: You’ve gone through the design and prototyping over the last 18 months and now the product is finally coming to market July 25. What are you feeling right now?

It has taken a while to get this product to market. One of the reasons is that this is a full metal product. Working with metals versus electronics and plastics compounds are completely different worlds, but I feel like our prototypes were on point and we are bringing to market a product that is everything we thought it could be and more.

When the Vanguard was first designed it was all about taking the gaming experience out of the house. We soon realized that nearly 70 percent of our customers were not taking the product out of the house as it created a much more personal gaming experience and they were no longer competing for the primary television in the home to game on. I think the experience our consumers are having with the product is much more personal as it offers a solution even beyond gaming where a portable monitor is needed. We’re starting to see that happening now with the Rail System. Although it hasn’t been released yet, the product is growing in scale with people outside of the gaming industry. We’re seeing people in audio, videography and photography asking about additional components that we can add to the product for these additional uses. This is probably GAEMS’ first product that is growing in size and scale before we actually release it.

This first product is just the base product. A good example is a marketing/video production company that is begging us to expand the Rail System to accommodate their huge array of cameras, mics and lights.

Q: What would you say is the biggest advantage of the Rail System?

The mounting options on the rails offer complete customization options for any gaming and office setups. I also love the tactical look of the product. It just looks like a GAEMS product.

Q: How close (or not) is the final product to your early concepts and drawings?

It’s very close and I believe we’ve even exceeded what we set out to make. Two of the founders of the industrial design company that does the majority of our design and development work are avid PC gamers. They get our world and what we do.

Q: We told our audience that we would launch this product in late 2015. We’re now launching in July 2016. What happened?

The one thing that we wanted to make absolutely sure with this product is that we got it right. This is a product with a very heavy industrial metal that will last a very long time and has required various processes and vendors to build. Pilot runs, fit and finish, tolerances and making sure everything is perfect take a lot of time.

The process is similar to when Apple moved to an all one-piece aluminum case that you now see in the market. It is a CNC (*Computer Numerical Control) process meaning every single rail is cut out of a solid piece of metal so tight tolerances is the key to a proper product.

*Definition: CNC Machining is a process used in the manufacturing sector that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. Tools that can be controlled in this manner include lathes, mills, routers and grinders.

All of the parts and pieces that work with the GAEMS Rail System use this process; not only the pieces that we are creating, but the existing screw mounts for a variety of cameras and accessories such as the Go Pro that are available on Amazon and other retailers. Everything needs to fit together in a multitude of ways, which makes the entire GAEMS Rail System adaptable to many different configurations.

If the tools are off even just a little bit they need to come down and then we go back to determine what wasn’t right, inspect the tool, make adjustments to the tool and deploy another pilot run. This process continues until all of the parts and pieces are perfect. The biggest thing that delayed us was the VESA stand. The ball joint on the VESA stand wasn’t up to our standards and the quality bar that we set with all of our products. The ball joint needs to support up to 20 pounds of weight in a monitor and not suffer from wear. The feel of the mechanism that tightens that ball joint needs to work and feel right to the end user. It took a while but we finally got it right. Our customers are going to be thrilled with this product.

Q: What was the biggest thing you learned through the whole process of building the Rail System?

In our first four to five years we were really working with audio/video engineering, plastics engineering and very lightly touched on the aspects of metal engineering with our existing products. Parts of our teams had very little experience in designing and engineering metal products so we had to expand our resources. We could have easily used a glass filled nylon plastic to engineer the GAEMS Rail System as that was in our discipline. But the ruggedness needed for the system made it very obvious that this product needed to match the requirements for metal used in modern products such as firearms. Your monitor will not outlast the GAEMS Rail System. You will be putting multiple different monitors on this stand, it will last for many years to come.

Q: At GAEMS, there’s always a next. So what’s next?

Everybody knows us as the mobile gaming environment or portable console environment. That’s been our core discipline. One of the great things about GAEMS is that we support all of the different gaming genres and platforms with our hardware. We’re looking at mobile gaming concepts, some VR concepts and most importantly, the PC piece. PC gaming is growing at a rapid pace and there continues to be a number of people migrating from console to PC gaming. We know we have to address that. I am personally excited as I have been gaming more on PC lately and I’m very much interested in the emerging technologies in the PC world that offer a visual experience like never before. You saw our first step towards this with the launch of our M-240. That was our first foray into a monitor. The 60Hz frame rate was really optimized for console gaming but could be used for a number of PC games. Being an avid audiophile I also got to design a custom audio sound stage for the first time that delivers top quality sound. After attending sound engineering school I spent about four years mixing sound in the Seattle heavy metal scene with Queensryche, known then as The Mob. I really wanted to integrate that experience into a GAEMS product.  It’s not the perfect product for PC games that require a very high frame rate and we know that. We’re now looking at a more core PC monitor but it’s not going to be your typical monitor. At GAEMS and as a designer, I never want to be known as the company that makes a “me too” product. We’re really excited about these new products we are working on now. It will definitely be a different and improved experience over what is currently on the market today.

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