How an Obscure Indie Game Became One of the Most Popular Video Games in the World
I have an 11-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl who are all of a sudden obsessed with the game Among Us, which they play on their iPads. They’re playing it together (which playing nicely together doesn’t happen all that often) and with their friends online.
I’m part of a Facebook parenting group that discusses new apps, games, and texting lingo, so we can try to stay one step ahead of their access to potentially harmful content. So when I saw another parent ask what this game is and if it’s safe for her young teenager, I paid close attention to the comments. Every single one came back positive. Many parents talked about how they’re playing along with their children. Others said their families have found it a Godsend while at home and isolated from their friends.
It turns out the game launched in 2018 by the company InnerSloth. At the time, it received little fanfare. Like many games before it, Among Us seemed destined to live out its existence in relative obscurity — until late summer, that is.
Among Us was downloaded nearly 42 million times on Steam in the first half of September, according to Safebettingsites.com, and it was downloaded nearly 84 million times on iOS and Android that month, according to SensorTower.
The game hasn’t left the top five on Apple’s U.S. App Store since Sept. 1, and it has seen more than 158 million installs worldwide across the App Store and Google Play to date, SensorTower says.
What happened, and what can we learn from an app that goes viral nearly two years after it’s initial release?
What is Among Us
The game itself is not new. PC Gamer says it’s essentially a recreation of older games before it — like Mafia, aka Werewolf, aka The Resistance, aka Secret Hitler. At its heart, Among Us is a social deception game about a group of players trying to identify the traitor(s) in their midst.
The majority of players in the game take on the role of crewmates, working together to complete tasks in different space settings. Anywhere from one to three imposters are also on board, working to sabotage the ship and kill crewmates while escaping detection.
Screenrant.com goes on to describe that crewmates must try to stay alive and correctly identify the impostor(s) via emergency meetings, where they can discuss why they think a certain player is or is not the impostor. Ideally, no one speaks until a meeting is called. Once initiated, players can debate potential suspects and have the option to vote off a crewmate. Crewmates win the game when they correctly identify all impostors among them. Conversely, the victory goes to the impostors if they’ve managed to kill off enough crewmates without being detected.
The game is only $5 for P.C. users and free for IOS and Android downloads (you can buy an ad-free version for $1.99/month). It’s highly likely that the low barrier to entry and simplicity to use also play a large role in the game’s current success.
The Power of Streaming and Social Media
A few months after the pandemic started driving people indoors and away from social gatherings, several popular gamers started streaming Among Us on Amazon’s Twitch streaming service.
Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at SensorTower, said,
Its current success was really born out of that platform (Twitch) more than traditional social media, which is where most viral app hits find their launchpads.
PC Gamer notes Among Us is a game that any streamer can play, without the expertise needed to be good at Fortnite or League of Legends. And putting 10 streamers in one room magnifies the celebrity power.
We also can’t forget the media giant that is now Tik Tok. Videos on TikTok, including the Among Us hashtag, have amassed more than 13 billion views. This is where my son initially discovered the game.
Moral of the story? If you’re not marketing on these platforms, it’s time to get with the program.
As of late 2019, the userbase of TikTok users had reached 800 Million. It is estimated to reach over a billion users in 2020.
Almost 50% of TikTok’s global audience is under the age of 34. 26% of all TikTok users are aged between 18 and 24.
The TikTok app has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times worldwide.
The TikTok app reach is worldwide: 466 million are from India, 173 million from China, and 123 million from the U.S.
Twitch users are also young and global. Many companies will hire an influencer to either play their game or talk about their product while playing. Users are looking for entertainment, not ads, so make sure the focus is interesting and fun. It’s time to meet Gen Z where they’re at.
Find Your Audience
Among Us struggled for nearly two years to find an audience willing to give it a chance. With only a small but loyal following in the beginning, InnerSloth used the time to gather feedback and make improvements. In fact, the company was set to launch a sequel to the game. When it became popular in the past few months, InnerSloth scrapped those plans, deciding to put features designed for the new game into the current one.
It isn’t too uncommon for games, especially smaller indie ones, to have a slow start until they find their audience.
The same phenomenon can happen with writers and marketers who struggle to find their readers/buyers. One lesson we can take away is to use a core group of followers or early adopters to help us find how we can improve. Don’t be too shy to ask for feedback. A base of loyal fans is your largest asset when looking to grow.
If you’re struggling to find your audience, keep refining your ideas. Even the best concepts can sit idle until finding their niche.
Bring People Together In Creative Ways
As we enter another dark phase in the ongoing pandemic, people are turning to interactive gameplay as a fun way to stay connected. It’s the socially-distant version of having friends over for a game night.
According to Screenrant.com,
It’s rise in popularity can largely be attributed to its communal engagement amidst a time where social distancing has become the norm in attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Other online party games like Fall Guys or the Jackbox Party Packs have also been doing well during the pandemic.
I’ll admit to being one of those families who picked up a Jackbox Party Pack. We’ve had a ton of fun with it. Laughing and playing a friendly competition together helps take away some of our anxiety — even if it’s only for a few hours.
Among Us is a powerful example of how the environment can shape your success or failure. Of course, the game’s creators had no idea what would happen in 2020, but it’s not too late to pick up on this trend. If your brand (including your writing) can provide an escape from the current crisis and somehow bring people together, make sure your audience knows.
At the time of this writing, InnerSloth has three employees who are no doubt overjoyed by their game's success. The independent company is David to Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo’s Goliath.
For a small company or new writer, it can feel like you’ll never make it to the big leagues. Yet, we are living in times where the playing field has never been more level.
Consider the lesson’s from Among Us’ meteoric rise to have a potentially viral hit of your own:
- Use the power of social media, especially platforms like Twitch and TikTok to reach a young, global audience (if those are the people you’re trying to reach). Influencers can take you from obscurity to a household name.
- Speaking of who you’re trying to reach, realize it may take time to nail down your audience. Develop a base of loyal followers and use them to help make you better.
- Take advantage of current events and your audience's mood. Develop a brand focused on addressing their needs in creative ways.