“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit:” Jason Schneider on launching his own games company in Happy Camper

Jason Schneider, Happy Camper

Jason, it’s lovely to catch up. In very exciting news, you’ve launched your own games company in the form of Happy Camper. How would you describe the business?
Happy Camper is focused on bringing families closer together. That’s our mission. We do that through face-to-face play – and there’s no better example of face-to-face play than games!

Games have played a big part in my life since I was very young and have been a part of my professional career for over 20 years… What I love about games is that they’re kind of like a third-party at the table. They lower the temperature and provide a catalyst for people to really connect. Happy Camper is focused on bringing all of that together in really high-quality products.

There’s also a charitable aspect to what we do. Built into our mission – and our name – is a need to give back to camps. Summer camp was a very meaningful experience for me when I was younger; that’s where I learned to love games. Portions of the proceeds from our games will go support summer camp scholarships.

Amazing. And did you always have a desire to launch your own company?
I’d say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was a younger, I would always look for opportunities to ‘bring in business’… I even once bought and operated a Good Humor ice cream truck. During my time at Gamewright, I considered myself an ‘intrapreneur’ – I’d always try to push fresh ideas and find new revenue streams from within the constraints of a corporate environment. Happy Camper is the next evolution of that ethos.

The first game you’re bringing to the US as Happy Camper is Trio. What appealed about this game?
I had the chance to test Trio with some families early on and I was immediately struck by how it seemed to have a magical quality. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes it tick – the player interaction, the subtle memory aspect, the surprise element… At its core, the game is simple to learn and play, but its incredibly compelling.

In the game, you try to collect trios of identical number cards, so three ‘2’s or three ‘4’s for example. Or, you can try and collect three ‘7’s – because if you do that, you instantly win. The 7s start off as hard to get, but that element really builds this delicious tension as the game progresses because a last minute win can come out of nowhere.

Trio is one of those games that has a “Let’s play again, instantly!” quality. That’s always a sign of something special.

Jason Schneider, Happy Camper

And is Trio indicative of the sorts of games you’re looking to distribute at Happy Camper?
Absolutely. It’s a game that works well on two levels… It’s a great family game that kids love to play, but also resonates with adults. That quality is indicative of a Happy Camper game. I had the good fortune early in my career to work on the production team of Sesame Street, and one of the key things I took away from that experience was the importance of connecting with both kids AND their parents equally. I want our games to resonate with both audiences too. It’s a tall order – I’m the first person to say it! – but it’s in the DNA of Happy Camper.

Trio came from Cocktail Games and the game has already enjoyed success in Europe. Can you talk us through how you scout out games to bring to the US? I imagine there’s plenty of gems that never make it Stateside – and vice versa!
I’ve always had a strong affinity for the international board game community. I travel to Essen and Nuremberg every year, and I relish the connections I’ve made with incredible publishers, like Cocktail Games. The language of games is international. Games break down barriers and bridge cultures to bring people together. That’s the mission of Happy Camper.

But to answer your question about how I scout for games, I have secret agents platooned all across the globe… I get cryptic telegrams in the middle of the night about the hottest new games!

Ha! I want that to be true!
It all comes down to relationships. If a great new game starts to do well in a certain region, I tend to find out about it pretty quickly. That said, while it’s great to have a tight-knit community, it’s also thrilling when someone with no ties to the industry comes along and launches a great game that takes the world by storm. That type of thing broadens the universe of games, which is critical to our industry’s success.

I’d encourage anyone reading your articles that has an idea but has never pitched to just give it a go. One of the things I love about this business is that there’s no single formula or playbook – you never know where the next great game is going to come from!

Absolutely. Now, away from distributing games, does Happy Camper also plan to license concepts from inventors down the road?
Absolutely. Designers and inventors are the lifeblood of our industry. The only thing I’ll stress here is that, while l’m open to taking pitches – I still need a little time to get on my feet. I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of interest and support from the inventing community who’ve reached out and offered their games to Happy Camper. I’m not saying no – but I just need a moment to catch my breath.

I’ll also say that I’m aiming to produce fewer games than I did in my previous role. With thousands of games coming out every year, it’s getting harder and harder for consumers – and retailers – to figure out what’s worth shouting about. My aim is to be a tight curator and a reliable source for games – like Trio – that have that special ability to connect with a broad audience.

You mentioned about there being so many games, and that making the lives of retail buyers more difficult. What’s your approach to getting your games in-front of the right people? Is it all about impressing buyers or going direct to consumers, or both?
My belief is that it’s a combination of things. A great game gets built up by passionate retailers with deep product knowledge who have a pulse for the needs and wants of their customers. That – coupled with getting out and playing with consumers – can lead to success.

I was at PAX Unplugged in December; that’s where we launched Trio in the US. The response was overwhelming! That’s the power of a good game – they’re like magnets. They draw people in and then those people play with other people, and so on… Games get sold when games get played.

Jason Schneider, Happy Camper

‘Games get sold when games get played’ – great line! I have one last question for you Jason… Naming a new company is always a big deal. How did you get to ‘Happy Camper Games’?
It’s a huge decision naming a company – one you have to live with forever! I went through a lot of iterations, but I woke up one morning and was taking stock of what’s important to me and where I came from. I kept thinking about the many years I spent at summer camp, and how it played a big role in sparking my love for games… And then the term ‘happy camper’ just popped up. It’s a familiar phrase and it just stuck. It’s the same with games – if you can’t stop thinking about it, you know you’re likely onto something. That was the case with Happy Camper.

And for anyone that wants to catch up with you soon, what shows are you planning on being at this year?
I’ll be at GAMA and PAX East in March, and then ASTRA, Gen Con and Essen later in the year. I’d love to make it to UK Games Expo too, if my schedule allows.

Thanks again Jason. Good luck with Happy Camper moving forward!

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