Remember Paul Bragiel?
He’s the American venture capitalist who made a run at qualifying for Sochi as lone member of the Colombian cross-country ski team. He failed, despite devoting most of 2013 to training to make the Games after spending years as what he described as a chunky, out-of-shape computer nerd. Read the story.
Falling short as an Olympian, Bragiel is now relying on the computer nerd side of himself to make waves in Sochi. On Friday, in tandem with the Olympics opening ceremony, he will launch a new mobile game titled Team Paul Skiing that allows players to live out the dream as if it came true.
The game is simple. Users control a bearded cross-country skier through various landscapes, dodging an array of hazards, including a balalaika-wielding bear. If players do well, they make it to the Sochi Olympics and win a gold medal.
It’s worth noting, Bragiel also wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking for an honorary spot in the opening ceremonies, basing the request on his argument that he is an inspiration to people who take big and sometimes irrational risks to fulfill a dream.
Bragiel hasn’t received a definite reply to his letter, but as things now stand, he is no longer keeping his hopes high. Most likely he will attend the opening ceremonies as a guest of the Finnish Olympic Committee, he says.
Before Bragiel takes too much grief for trying to milk as much recognition as he can from his Sochi attempt, it’s worth noting that the game – which took four months and labor input valued roughly at tens of thousands of dollars to create – is intended to raise money for charity.
Team Paul Skiing corresponds with the launch of the Team Paul Foundation, designed to assist athletes in below the age of 18. The profits of the game will go to funding the foundation.
During an interview in Helsinki Wednesday, Bragiel said that attempting to make the Olympics revealed the demands and sacrifices junior athletes make in striving to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
“A lot of them forego university, and almost every single one of them ends tens of thousands of dollars in debt,” he said. His game, he says, could be “an amazing way to reach out to people and raise money for these kids.”
The economics behind the game are nearly as simple as the game itself. While free to download on Apple Inc.’s iOS or Google Inc.’s Android, players can make purchases during the game, the proceeds of which will go initially to Colombian Olympic athletes and junior cross-country skiers in Finland, where Bragiel spent much of his training time.
In theory, free-to-play games can pocket millions for their developers. King.com Ltd, for instance, has made a bundle with Candy Crush Saga. So has Finland’s Supercell Oy, which made Clash of clans.
Egor Sheetikov, a Lithuanian whose On5 games firm created Team Paul Skiing, said the skiing game is designed so users won’t feel pressure to make purchases. The game, he said has “soft” and “user-friendly monetization” techniques.
Sheetikov and Bragiel are old friends. The wannabe Olympian initially shrugged off the idea of a game as ridiculous, but then when it was linked with a charity effort he changed his mind. A self-labeled optimist, Bragiel now reckons, “if it gets a lot of exposure at least that can be leveraged into fundraising and awareness of what these athletes go through.”
–Geoffrey A. Fowler contributed to this article.