Among Us: Deduction, Deceit, and The Rise of Social Gaming

Written by Franz Chan

September 15, 2020

If you’ve been anywhere near Youtube and Twitch streams recently, you’ve probably seen that familiar sight of popular streamers shouting at each: “No he vented!” “NO! I was doing a task!” “Why didn’t you do lights???”

Out of nowhere, a phenomenon was born – amongst the cutesy art, conspiracy theories and the most heated debates not involving politics, Among Us was riding the wave of 2020. This crazy year has seen a peak in gaming with phenomena such as Animal crossing, uber next generation 4k gaming consoles and a big leap in PC graphic cards. For this September, it has seen the unlikely rise of  Among Us.

Humble Beginnings

Among Us is surprisingly not even a new game, having been released on Steam and Mobile in 2018. The murder sci-fi mystery takes cues from classics such as The Thing, Alien and the classic party game Mafia. In fact, some of the game’s files are hilariously named “spacemafia”.

If you haven’t played a game or you’re trying to understand what’s going on, the game’s simplicity makes it appeal to even the most casual of players/viewers. Your part of a crew of 10 on a spaceship, and 2 of you are secretly impostors trying to sabotage and kill everyone else. As a crewmate your goal is to complete all of your tasks, composed of mundane, silly minigames that you have to complete in order to win the game as crew and work with each other to find who the impostors are on the ship. As the impostor, your goal is to work with the other impostor, murder people, blend in and sabotage so that the crew all die and can’t complete their tasks.

While the game is playable online with matchmaking with randoms via chat, it only really shines when you play with a group of people you’re familiar with via voice – each with their own styles and strategies on how to approach the game. And that’s where the magic lies – the deceit, deduction and the personalities of these streamers come out and the heated debates add to the entertainment value. And since the action and the rounds happen so quickly, the “one more round” mentality really makes it an addicting game to observe and to play.

 

Just Like Wildfire

The game didn’t sell well initially as humble developers Innersloth admitted to being really bad at marketing and having struggled to keep the game online (which initially didn’t even have online) in some interviews. The game started picking up in Korea and Brazil before it’s sudden global surge after being picked up by popular streamers Sodapoppin and xQC.

And just like other party games like Skribbl.io and Jackbox Party games that have picked up since the quarantines started, Among Us spread like the pandemic, with over 300,000 players on Steam in September from only 400 players just a year ago, and only having over 200 players in January 2020. That’s basically unheard of for a very niche game.

The game has peaked at over 1.5 million players simultaneously and over 400k concurrent Twitch viewers which a big Triple A title would be envious of. Simply an incredible rise to the top.

 

 

What the Industry can Learn from Among Us

While the developers did not expect this huge boom of their once niche game, it just goes to show that simple, timeless graphics paired with an approachable winning game formula just needs the right audience and opportunity to grow. And that even games with less than stellar launches can still find life down the line and bounce back in a big way.

Innersloth and Twitch streamers somehow found lightning in a bottle with Among Us with basically 0 marketing budget, and the game is now set out to conquer the rest of 2020.
With a very affordable price tag ($4.99 or Php 160 on Steam) or even for the price of free on mobile, Among Us is very dynamic with different situations, playstyles, different maps and is basically a game that will never get old.

The success of the game has already guaranteed a sequel which is great for the developers, and big gaming companies also have to see that sometimes small and simple is not to be trifled with. We have all of these big production games with big releases and massive DLC packs and full $70 price tags coming out to huge marketing and hype, only to be overthrown on the top of the charts by a 2-year-old niche indie game with zero marketing budget.

And seeing how the industry works with riding the trend and copying each other with microtransactions and battle passes and clones of the same genre, I’m sure they’re already scrambling their different dev teams on making a similar game where personalities can shine instead of just APM and aiming skills. The audience is clearly there and it’s something which is accessible for anyone.

As boardgame cafes and meetups and D&D campaign resurgences have been halted by the pandemic, games such as Jackbox Party Pack and Among Us have taken over online viewing and casual gaming habits and the industry can also learn how to hone and adopt to the social gaming trend. Just be sure to be mindful of the cameras when you use the vents.

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