Critical Play: Among Us
During our playtesting, several players drew a connection between our game and the current hit, Among Us. In both games, your team must work together to uncover who is an imposter (or catfish, in our game!). Naturally, I decided to focus my critical play on Among Us to understand what mechanics they use to make a successful and balanced game.
What I want to know
I want to focus my critical play on game balancing. Currently, we are struggling with the problem of giving our imposters a competitive edge within a larger group all trying to uncover their identity. I’m going to be paying special attention to the mechanics that allow for Among Us to be well balanced and fun for imposters, despite being against the whole team.
Mechanics & Induced Dynamics
Again, I’ll be focusing on the mechanics related to the gameplay of the imposter as this is most relevant for my comparative research. The mechanics related to the imposters are:
- Imposters receive the ability to kill a crew member. (a button the player clicks when they are close to another player)
- Narrow field of vision, allowing imposters to kill other crew members in secrecy since there will always be blind spots
- Text chat/discussion which allows imposters to defend their innocence, or for crew members to nominate suspected imposters for elimination
- Minigames that keep crew members distracted and moving around the space constantly, sometimes exposing vulnerabilities to the imposters
- A majority vote implies that a player will not be eliminated unless a large portion of the group believes he/she is the imposter
Types of Fun
First and foremost, Among Us is a game of Fellowship. You must work together to uncover the imposters, or imposters must work together to slowly kill off the crew members and stay hidden. This game of team-based cat and mouse makes for a fun and cooperative social mediation game for all ages. Second to that, the creative direction enlists some elements of fantasy and discovery. Crew members are on a spaceship where they must complete various tasks to keep the ship steering forward. This theme adds to the Fellowship by making imposters counter to the ultimate goal of the team.
Graphical Design Decisions
Fun and theming are enforced through character design, location design, and communication UI. Most interestingly, during the voting phase of the round, you see how everyone on the team voted right before the ejected player is announced. This reinforces elements of Fellowship, as you can see who voted as planned or deviated from the group’s consensus. This is subtle and only represented graphically by a small icon for a split second, making discovering this fact feel more like mastery over time as opposed to a conscious decision of the game maker.
Overall, the graphical elements keep players immersed in the game. From the cut scenes to the music and finally the space ship you can explore, the game designs have built a cohesive environment to play. I loved the cut scenes when I was ‘killed’ (which usually happened to me first, oops!). They felt cohesive, quirky, and playful.
Among Us is free to play, and ads are shown between games. As a social game, I think this makes sense. It is already difficult enough for a mobile game to convince 1 player to purchase it fully, let alone at least 6. By making the game free to play, it ensures that players will always have others to play with, whether that be friends or strangers online. Though ads do break the immersion, it is a good tradeoff to position them after matches as to not interrupt the actual gameplay.
Interestingly, it is very hard to name call in the game as their text filtering system is very strict. This keeps Among Us fun and playful for all ages. Moreover, there are no profiles. Each round, players are encouraged to choose a random username (not their real name). Lastly, communication between players is limited. You cannot add friends or use voice chat. This hyper strict approach severely limits any potential for abuse.
Among Us has inspired new ideas to better balance our game so that imposters have a competitive edge while being in the minority. Is there a way to allow imposters in our own game to ‘kill off’ the crew? Are there blind spots that allow them to set up traps?
I also found it enjoyable that ‘killed’ crewmates could still participate in the game by completing tasks, sabotaging the spaceship, or keeping a watchful eye out on the remaining players. I think Among Us has a lot to teach us on how to keep players engaged, even if they’re the first out!