The Making of a Sleeper Hit
Do you know what a sleeper hit is? A sleeper hit is when a song, tv show, music album, movie, or other media product is not very successful upon its release, but later on, hits it big.
One of the best, boppiest examples of a sleeper hit is the song ‘Truth Hurts’ by Lizzo.
That song was out in 2017 and garnered very little attention at the time.
But Queen Lizzo kept on working, singing, and performing: I first spotted her myself laying vocal tracks for RuPaul’s Drag Race songs and appearing as a guest judge of the show in 2018. This means that even though I didn’t know her yet (I’m Dutch, we get your good stuff a little later), the woman was hustlin’. You don’t just appear on the biggest reality TV show of our time; you must be paving the way someway somehow.
And with a little help from a 2019-romcom that featured Truth Hurts in its soundtrack, and the many TikTok videos using the line “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch”? Suddenly, the song, and Lizzo, were everywhere.
Not only did Lizzo’s Truth Hurts become a huge hit two years after the fact: it was enough to help her album Cuz I Love You become an overwhelming success in 2019. That sleeper hit helped her become one of the biggest pop stars of our time.
And right now, we are witnessing one of the biggest sleeper hits the gaming world has ever seen: Among Us.
I was instantly delighted watching YouTubers play Among Us; this adorable game with cute little crewmates, inspired by The Thing, Werewolves, and Mafia (dare I say even a little bit of Alien thrown in there) was so fun to watch.
And, crucially for the masses, seemed so easy to play anyone watching got into it.
With instructions so clear (finish tasks as a crewmate, or kill and sabotage as an imposter) and full of social elements, things we desperately need in these quarantined times, Among Us proved irresistible to many, even those who are hesitant.
As my boyfriend can attest, I am not good at video games. I enjoy them vicariously through him and YouTubers, but I don’t play much myself. Anything with fighting freaks me out. Thanks to growing up in a PC-only household, anything with a controller gives me clammy hands and a headache. Put a time limit on a task or a mission and I become frazzled and chaotic.
But doing easy tasks and hanging out with my friends? That, I can do.
One of my friends (a fellow pop culture maniac and know-it-all) was already pestering us about this game, so when I piled on by texting all of my friends, buying it as a Steam gift for some of them, and cheerfully but repeatedly asking them to play it with us one night, it didn’t take long before we were all in a spaceship fixing wiring — or pretending that we were, in order to not arouse suspicion.
And all over the globe, countless groups of friends and strangers were doing that too— two years after the game first was released. Because it was easy enough that non-gamer friends could join and interesting enough that gamer friends would not get bored, everyone started playing.
As Twitch-streamers and YouTubers started picking up the game over summer 2020, Among Us became the most downloaded game in the App Store in October and a Steam bestseller. Suddenly it is e-ve-ry-where.
Let’s peek back two years ago, where nothing much happened for the game. In fact, the Wikipedia page of Among Us provides a fascinating insight into the proceedings at Innersloth, the small company (consisting of three people) that developed Among Us. The studio has also developed the Henry Stickmin games, a comical collection of choose-your-own-adventure games with a myriad of options that all tie into wacky different scenarios in the end.
Because Among Us didn’t really go anywhere, Innersloth nearly abandoned the game several times. Due to a small group of enthusiastic players and some savings, they never actually went through with that and decided to keep working on it instead.
They released two more maps in 2019 for $4 and kept on updating very regularly for the fans of the game.
Then it became big in Korea.
Then it became big in Brazil.
Slowly but steadily, other YouTubers and Twitch streamers started picking it up.
Until mid-2020, when Among Us was no longer rising to fame: it had risen to fame. From memes to YouTube content to everyone you know suddenly hanging out with friends on Discord, Among Us is now a huge, cultural phenomenon.
Now here we are. During a time in which we need low-stakes fun and socially safe hang-outs, a game from a few years ago became one of the most played and most beloved games.
Laughing as AOC and Ilhan Omar play Among Us, as well as spending a few nights a week hanging out with my friends in Discord and a virtual spaceship, are on my “Happy Memories of 2020” list. For a lot of people, Among Us brightened up a pretty bleak year.
Though they were unaware of it at the time, InnerSloth made something back then that would become so wonderful to so many of us. Something worth keeping, worth working on, worth spending time on. I’m thrilled they did, because I like to play Among Us with my friends and yell at them when they correctly think I am the Impostor. Most importantly though, I play because I am inspired by it.
From their story, anyone can derive a very uplifting and motivating aspect of creative work:
You never know what will happen in the future.
Be it a game, a song, or whatever else, there’s no guarantee something you create will be a sleeper hit.
But you don’t know. And you don’t even really need to know. All you need to do is make the things you want to make, appreciate those who enjoy it, and work for them— now and in the future. This is a truly meaningful and rewarding experience, even without becoming a sleeper hit.
But, hey. The fact that it could happen? Keep it in mind, anyway.
It might be exciting enough to get you through some of the difficult or menial moments of creative work.
The Road Ahead
Right now, InnerSloth is focused on making sure the Among Us experience is as smooth and enjoyable as possible for the slew of people who have started playing it.
“It’s nice to see that it worked out for us. Just going our way and doing our own thing,” said one of the developers.
But there are plans for an Among Us 2, and I’m sure other things they are now able to do thanks to the huge success of the game.
With their unwavering loyalty to their games and followers, and now this crazy experience under their belt, I can’t wait to see what InnerSloth does next.
I look at InnerSloth and Among Us now, as a reminder to just create things, without knowing who might enjoy it or what might come of it. Now, or years from now.
Their merch store opens soon, says the website.
I’m buying a t-shirt.