If you’ve been on the internet lately, chances are you’ve seen Among Us’ round little astronauts in some capacity. Whether you’ve played it yourself, watched your favorite YouTubers and Twitch streamers play it, or just seen fan art and comics about it, the game has taken the internet by storm. Perhaps you’ve thought it’s just the hip new thing, as Fall Guys was a couple months ago. What’s really strange, though, is that the game has been around for almost two and a half years. Surprised to hear this myself, I decided to examine the many factors that made 2020 the perfect time for a two-year-old game with hardly any players to take the spotlight.
Of course, the first thing the game needed to do was get itself out there. Launching with poor marketing which one of the creators, Marcus Bromander, cited as a weakness of his small team in a Kotaku interview, the game hit the app store in a mobile-only state on June 15, 2018. It was meant to be played locally with friends, initially lacking its online mode. Even though it only had roughly 30 to 50 players at any one time, the developers kept supporting it, adding new content, implementing online play, and releasing it for PC on Steam. On the week of its October 19th, 2018 Steam release, the peak player count was 19 concurrent players. What made the biggest difference, however, was popular Twitch streamer Sodapoppin’s streams of the game in July 2020. Before the streams, the highest amount of concurrent players it had reached was 2,848; now, Among Us’ all-time peak concurrent players is 438,524, sitting at the #3 spot of Steam’s current player chart alongside long-standing juggernauts like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Team Fortress 2.
While the publicity played an undoubtedly large role, it wouldn’t have caught on if the people who saw it didn’t like it. As it happens, Among Us appeals to a wide audience thanks to its visual design and gameplay. The game is about a group of four to ten crewmates trying to complete tasks around a spaceship, but there’s a catch; one or two players, depending on the amount of people in a game, are assigned the role of “imposter” at the start, and their goal is to kill everyone else without exposing themselves to the crewmates who can vote to eject players from the ship. The gameplay itself is as simple as it gets. Tasks usually require little more than pressing buttons (sometimes in sequence or with proper timing), connecting point A to point B, or even just waiting as the task does itself. Killing crewmates as an imposter is done by hitting a button labeled “Kill” when you’re close enough to a target. This simple gameplay eliminates the technical learning curve which makes other games so hard for new players, which makes it more accessible for newer or more casual players. They don’t have to worry about messing up combos or having bad aim; they just have to learn the basics and come up with a good strategy. However, the challenge of killing without being detected, deceiving the other players, or playing detective to get rid of the imposters ensures that the experience is still fun, even if the basic gameplay could be boring if nothing supplemented it. Aspects like vents which Imposters can use to travel between rooms and various surveillance options around the map add an essential extra layer as well.