The Gaming Gods of Nique Fajors
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes there’s nothing more serious than playtime.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Nique (pronounced “Nigh-Q,” like IQ) Fajors is a curious mixture of stolid and hell-bent for thrills.
Standing 6-foot-2, with the manner and bearing of a military man, Fajors grew up in the Irish-Catholic town of Arlington, Mass., a suburb of Boston. His father ran a tech startup in the late ’70s and early ’80s, building circuit boards. As bad luck would have it, it failed, as startups often do, but it framed Fajors’ understanding of much that came later.
“I did not understand the concept of hard work until I turned 40,” the 46-year-old Fajors said. “But then I started to grind, push myself and more easily accept the daily humiliations of being an entrepreneur.” His entrepreneurial path deposited him in the design and development of mobile games — digital diversions with titles like ShaqDown, ShaqRun, Shaq Sky Slam and the about-to-be-released ShaqDown 2. The audience? Fans of basketball, martial arts, cars, zombies or all of the above.
Mobile games are a notoriously high-risk end of the market, Flappy Bird notwithstanding.
You could argue that jumping into digital games wasn’t exactly a risky maneuver, if you’ve been reading the news and sensing that the industry feels more like a license to print money. After all, as of January 2014, SuperData Research puts revenues at about $1.03 billion.
But mobile games, Fajors’ stock-in-trade, are a notoriously high-risk end of the market, Flappy Bird notwithstanding. Because for every lunatic success like Flappy Bird or Angry Birds, there’s a trash bin of failures called … well, um … and that’s precisely the point. No one knows.
And yet this is where Fajors, a lifelong gamer himself, has staked a claim. Armed with a Harvard MBA, he first spent time in a Bush White House senior policy adviser role at the U.S. Department of Commerce, decamping in 2004 from the political scene to become VP at a struggling software entertainment company called Acclaim Entertainment (which has since filed for Chapter 7).
The jump took stones, but what followed was the hell-bent-for-thrills part.
”I moved to Northern California to work for a Japanese console games publisher,” said Fajors about his time as a VP at Capcom. “At one point the founder of the company invited several employees and their families to one of his homes in Napa. Walking around his lovely home, I knew I would never be able to provide my family with a similar home being just his employee. Since that time I’ve been the COO of one startup game company and the co-founder and CEO of One Spear Entertainment.”
One Spear Entertainment is Fajors’ money-where-his-mouth-is professional play that found him making moves in the gaming space that would succeed in ways that the others couldn’t.
“Mobile game publishing is a remarkable ecosystem that has transferred the power back to consumers,” Fajors opines. “The concept of the free-to-play game that was developed and refined in China is a model that puts great demand on game publishers and developers like us.”
“Because it requires us to compete with each other and other forms of popular entertainment for the attention and disposable income of gamers. And it’s a hit-driven industry, just like filmed entertainment.”
Which means that Fajors is working One Spear’s brands according to some pretty intensive data analytics — and designing games that pimp their connection with one of their biggest partners in every sense of the word, basketball great Shaquille O’Neal. Hence ShaqDown, ShaqRun, Shaq Sky Slam and ShaqDown 2, set for an April release, all featuring the former NBA MVP and a veritable Justice League of sports and entertainment figures fighting their way through, among other things, a zombie apocalypse.
A little out there, but not to the 4.2 million players who launched sessions in 2013, catapulting ShaqDown to number eight on GameStop’s Top Mobile Game listing. Still, that’s a number that John Getze, a vice president at the much larger and established gaming company KIXEYE, derides as meaningless when stacked up against games like “Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga that are pulling in 10 to 25 million a day,” Getze said.
“That would be correct,” says Fajors, zigging where we expected him to zag onto some well-prepared marketing spiel.
”But some of our best titles will be released this year,” he adds. ”And yes, Supercell [maker of Clash of Clans] is a remarkable company that’s redefined what startup success looks like in the entertainment industry. I play one of their titles often.”
I also realized that success is mostly about who quits last.
— Nique Fajors
Respectfully noted, but when, as a paid app, One Spear’s games broke into the top 100 in overall paid games in 14 countries, including Russia, China and the U.S., and their free app was in the top 15 for all free games, it was a clear indication that Fajors is in it to win it.
“Look, the best mobile game publishers integrate exceptional data analytics in listening closely to their customers and taking action, social technology by allowing their customers to engage with each other, and proven game mechanics to produce winning titles,” he says.
”I also realized that success is mostly about who quits last. Which has seen me turning off the success kill-switch that’s programmed into most African-Americans. We get to a certain point of success and then we hit the kill-switch either because the work is too hard or we don’t believe we deserve the success that is forthcoming.”
Time, and next month’s release, will tell. But Fajors, smiling genially, seems as assured as one man could be in the face of zombies, the apocalypse and crazily shifting market conditions. And his secret weapon? “I play games like a 12-year-old!” he laughs.
For the win.