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GDC 2023: Omega Strikers wants to slide-tackle competitive toxicity

Omega Strikers is the debut title from Odyssey Interactive, a team of ex-Riot developers looking to win your loyalty with engaging action gameplay.

Key art for OMega Strikers with all the available in-game characters

We’re on the ground at GDC 2023, checking out the latest exciting titles from all the developers we can get to sit in a chair for long enough to ask them questions. First in our hot seat is Game Director David Capurro and Head of Marketing Ryan Rigney from Odyssey Interactive, a team of ex-Riot members coming together to create something new. In this instance, that new thing is Omega Strikers, a self-described footbrawler with sights on a competitive scene that lacks toxicity while prioritising intuitiveness.

If the concept of a footbrawler is perplexing you a little, think of titles like Mario Strikers and Knockout City and add a healthy dollop of science fiction fun. I mean fun. From the whiplash-inducing action gameplay to the roster of characters that includes a giant hamster and a girl made of boba, this is sci-fi with a smiley face. From the off, there’s something inviting about Omega Strikers, but that’s no accident.

When asked what separates Odyssey Interactives title from other science fiction sports titles, or even just other online competitive games, the developers told us it’s all about the approach to in-game intuition and skill. Rigney puts it best, “we want to be worse than others at monetization.”

That sounds counterintuitive to me, as it would to most, but with a bit more context, it makes sense why they’re aiming for this, at least in Odyssey Interactive’s opinion. “There’s a truth about competitive games right now in that they can be difficult and they’re not necessarily fun. It’s toxic. There are dark patterns in the design just trying to trick your brain with gacha mechanics or loot boxes.” Rigney tells us before continuing, “but we don’t have any of that stuff. For us, it really is core to the game. Compare us to other studios. What are we going to be good at? And it was always core gameplay.”

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It’s no surprise that a team of developers with experience at Riot, a studio responsible for some of the biggest competitive online games of the last decade, want to find a way to distance themselves from some of the questionable practices in titles like League of Legends and Valorant. The ethos is clear at Odyssey Interactive. The game and the player come first, and to justify microtransactions, the base game needs to feel playable for all.

There’s something very old-school and endearing about the approach to a live-service game from the team of developers behind Omega Striker, and in all honesty, to a gamer like me, it’s music to my ears. Hearing the line “It’s free to play, you can buy skins, but there’s no pay-to-win. We just want that stuff not to be a thing that brings you down.” is a thrill I might never quite get over.

Of course, all that is all well and good, but ethical practices don’t bring in audiences alone. Fortunately, Omega Strikers kicks ass. Our editor on the ground had a quick spin behind the controls of a Switch version of the game, and even as someone who isn’t a big fan of the genre, found herself immediately engaged.

Screenshot of a special goal in Omega Strikers

It’s not just the approach to skilful competitive play and a move away from questionable microtransactions that helps Omega Strikers stand out from the crowd. This game’s world is vibrant both in terms of design and lore. The developers told us that the action takes place in a world where humanity has solved the energy crisis, providing plenty of free time for utopian humans to play some ball games.

As refreshing as it is to hear the developers talk about the elephant in the free-to-play room, that being pay-to-win mechanics, it’s not nearly as exciting as talking about the hamster in the arena. Omega Strikers has an exciting variety in its roster of characters. From Dubu, the aforementioned tank hamster that serves as the biggest in-game character thanks to a little overfeeding, to Juliette, your classic peppy teen craving fame at the top of the game, there’s something for everyone.

The developer’s reason for the wide variety of characters is inclusivity, with the pair telling us “we want people to connect with the characters on [an emotional] level, and each of them has that core heart to them that we hope people pick up on.” This isn’t a story tacked on to a well-worn design either. The characters are built from the feelings up. According to the team behind Omega Strikers “for each character, one of the starting points is a relatable emotional place.”

Screenshot of a game in OMega Strikers with the goalie kicking it out

What comes across more than anything when talking to Odyssey Interactive about Omega Strikers is that both the game and developer are wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The saying goes “the road to hell is built with good intentions”, but this game looks to be an outlier in that regard. There’s so much care on different levels here, from the honesty surrounding the role of microtransactions in free-to-play titles to the will to give you a way to connect with your favourite footbrawler. Omega Strikers seems to value loyalty and engagement above all else.

It doesn’t just seem that way. It is that way. While discussing pay-to-win shadiness and the Odyssey Interactive approach, Rigney told us, “if you make a core experience that is satisfying for players, they will reward you and loyalty. So that’s what we want to get.”

There is one caveat we had to ask about, though. Both Mario Strikers: Battle League and Knockout City struggled to keep user numbers up after release, with the latter set to cease operations later this year. Again, the developers impressed us with their hubris.

“The honest answer is that for every developer making a live service game, it’s the challenge they have to solve. If anyone just says, “oh, don’t worry about it”, they’re full of it.” Rigney told us, before explaining how the beta system the team is running is already giving them plenty of insight, acting as an extended beta period before release. Through this testing in specific locations, they can garner feedback to apply to the game for its worldwide release.

A pink sakura pitch in Omega Strikers

Omega Strikers also has the advantage of having a single pool for players across all versions, offering crossplay in the purest form. So, even if things get a bit rocky, there are never going to be the boundaries so many games face in matchmaking. Providing a few people are willing to play ball, you’re not going to have to face neverending matchmaking menus. I say ball, according to Capurro, the in-game name for the ball is the ‘core’, with the object of players’ affection always glowing bright gold.

Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding when Omega Strikers arrives on Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android on April 27, 2023. Still, we think there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic here, with the developers keenly balancing hubris and optimism ahead of the launch. With any luck, success comes calling for Odyssey Interactive. This might be the start of a new wave of developers all too aware of the woes of pay-to-win gaming and with the nuance to offer another way. If not, at least there’s a massive hamster to play with.

For more chats with developers, check out our Yoko Taro interview and Monument Valley interview retrospective.