Chasing the gold in the official Olympics mobile game

The 2012 Olympic Games are here, and with them, as usual, comes a slew of official and unofficial video games aiming to allow players to recreate the thrill of competition at home. On computers and consoles, the official video game was handled by Sega, but the official mobile game — available for both iOS and Android — has been produced by Korean developer Neowiz Internet.

London 2012 — Official Mobile Game, to give the app its full title, is available in both free and premium versions for both iOS and Android devices, the only difference being the fact that the premium edition provides players with approximately $5.50 worth of virtual goods for use in the game in exchange for their $0.99 admission fee. Both versions of the game follow a “freemium” model, whereby the amount a player may engage with the game in a single session is throttled by an energy bar, virtual goods can assist with progress and continued engagement is encouraged through a deep and time-consuming leveling system. Premium players enjoy a slightly larger energy bar and double experience gain.

Players begin their Olympic quest by creating a character using a number of male and female preset appearances and selecting one of six different abilities to “specialize” in. The character’s specialist ability receives an immediate boost and also improves at a faster rate than the others during training, meaning certain characters will become better at some events than others. To counterbalance the fact that players may not know what they would like to specialize in at the outset of the game, it’s possible to create up to three characters on a single account, though the third character slot must be unlocked through a $0.99 in-app purchase.

Once the player has created their character, they have three choices: Training mode, which allows them to compete in events against computer-controlled opponents to improve the associated statistics; Olympic mode, which allows for asynchronous competition between players who have set records online; and Challenge mode, which tasks players with achieving specific conditions in various events to unlock new content. Each day also provides players with three Daily Challenges to complete, each offering rewards of either in-game currency or stat-boosting equipment items.

The game contains nine events in which players may compete: 100m Sprint, 110m Hurdles, Triple Jump, Pole Vault, 100m Freestyle swimming, 100m Butterfly swimming, Kayak K1, Double Trap shooting and Archery. Only three of these are accessible at the beginning of the game — the remainder must be unlocked using in-game currency acquired through play.

Each event has its own unique control scheme — the 100m sprint requires players to alternately tap on each side of the screen, for example, while the two swimming events require players to perform “strokes” on each side of the screen either alternately or in unison, depending on whether they are taking on Freestyle or Butterfly. Some events offer tilt controls — for example, players may aim their gun in Double Trap by tilting the device — but these are not sensitive enough to be practical and are thus best disabled. If tilt controls are turned off, they are replaced by on-screen buttons and sticks that perform their function adequately.

The game’s monetization stems from the fact that a lot of things in the game cost in-game currency. Unlocking events and purchasing stat-boosting equipment all requires the expenditure of these “stars”, and the rate of gaining them without paying is very slow. For players who are truly impatient, a $20 in-app purchase will net them a “Legend” character with all their statistics at 600, giving them an immediate and noticeable edge over the competition. This has a touch of “pay to win” about it, and effectively renders a lot of the online competition a matter of who has spent the most on the game. While many mobile players are seemingly happy to engage with this kind of model, core gamers who prefer multiplayer competition to be based on skill rather than how much time or money has been invested into a game may leave disappointed upon discovering this fact.