By Ryan Jin (’22)
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the latest rousing phenomenon that has swept the world of both gaming and media by storm: Among Us. The game was developed and released by indie game company Innersloth (also producers of the popular Henry Stickmin Collection and Dig2China) on June 15, 2018, and currently has nearly 4 million active users as of late September 2020. This article will discuss the numbers over the years regarding the player base, as well as fundamental facets that aligned which made Among Us the trend it is today.
Among Us started off as a humble game, only surrounded by an average community of roughly ten people during the few months after its release. Growth seemed to lag in its first year; the number of players never exceeded one hundred until June 2019, after a healthy summer season of more people joining the game. However, from September to December, the game suddenly experienced a heavy downtrend, losing more than 70% of its player base by year-end—it was dying. Then came 2020. Relatively speaking, Among Us in 2019 is nothing like the awakening beast we’ve observed thus far in 2020. In January, the player base finally saw a hefty increase in numbers since four straight months of dwindling attention, signalling a new swing of direction. In true avalanche fashion, after a 45% increase in the first month, the game would not slow down but instead accelerate ever faster with each passing month. By May, the peak number of players was double the previous one, and the rocket truly launched into hyperspace in August and September, where the game saw +700% back-to-back gains in its number of players. Roughly, it went from about an average of 2,000 players in July to +150,000 players in August, according to Steam Charts. It should be notable that this only takes into account the number of people who play Among Us on Steam/PC; the game is also widely available on mobile devices. In fact, one of the reasons why it’s so popular (outside of its extremely low system and RAM requirements to run on the PC) is because it’s free to play on mobile, which contributes immensely to its popularity. According to a developer at Innersloth, as of late September, “Mobile and PC combined had 3.8 million concurrent [players] last weekend.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) streamed Among Us on Twitch on October 21, 2020. Her stream peaked at 435,000 viewers, immediately becoming one of the largest broadcasters on the platform, in terms of viewership.
One without knowledge of the release date of Among Us might expect its spike in
popularity to be the result of the game being recently released, having caught some magic fairy dust to attract upon a hoard of gamers like worker bees swarming its queen. However, the game was released in 2018; why did it become a trend in mid-to-late 2020? The game really started to spread from a few Twitch streamers playing the game live with viewers and friends. It must’ve caught steam fast (that’s where potential luck comes in), because now, according to Film Daily, there are more than 100,000 people watching Among Us gameplay on Twitch at any given time. It helps that YouTuber giants such as PewDiePie, jacksepticeye, CORPSE, and many more content creators are all consistently playing the game and uploading videos, receiving millions upon millions of viewers each day. Furthermore, public figures outside of the gaming realm have brought monumental attention to Among Us, case in point being Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (more commonly known as AOC), who streamed the game on October 21, 2020, with some prominent Twitch streamers. She would utilize the opportunity not only to promote the game, but to encourage all of the viewers watching to vote for this upcoming election.
One thing to consider when asking why this previously obscure indie game became so popular in 2020 is the nature of the year itself. This has been a time dominated by social-distancing and isolation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the globe. With virtually everyone trapped at home and having nothing better to do, many may find solidarity in a simple yet engaging game that allows for friends and people across the world to congregate to play. Personally, I prefer playing Among Us with friends online, where we can chat on Zoom or Discord; even though we’re sitting at our desks in our own home and staring across electronic screens, it really feels like a large group party setting, especially considering the fact that up to ten people can play at once.
“Where was the body?” “It was in electrical.” “Did you see anyone?” “Yeah, I was with orange.” “It’s red. He was standing on top of the body. Super suspicious. Vote red.” And… Red was the Imposter.
Finally, the game itself is quite addicting, which is ultimately what unites all of these other factors that likely contributed to making the game so popular. For those who don’t know, Among Us is essentially a mafia-inspired game (according to one of the game developers and artist Amy Liu). Players assemble aboard a ship or station setting (depending on the map) to accomplish set tasks in the game, such as fixing wires or reactors. At least… that’s what the normal game players, or crew members, are assigned to do. In every game, there’s at least one “Imposter,” whose end mission is to kill everyone on the map without being suspected of the murders. It’s the job of the crew members to eject the Imposters before they kill everyone. Bodies can be reported. Team kills can occur if there’s more than one Imposter. Discussions can happen to vote off certain members on the map. There will be confusion. Betrayal. Malarkey. That’s what precisely makes this game so enjoyable. As a crew member, there’s that feeling of not knowing who the Imposter is and being on guard or suspicious the whole time, not knowing who to trust, where you’re forced to bring out your best Sherlock Holmes. As the Imposter, there’s that certain cunning that’s required to kill without being noticed or suspected, and also the darker and more sinister side that the Imposter role brings out in all of us; one must conjure up the most elaborate lies and deceptions to avoid capture, and there’s really no better feeling in the entire game than winning in the end as Imposter after having fooled every last one of your friends.