Suddenly a name on the tip of everyone’s tongues, Among Us is a multiplayer game developed by InnerSloth for iOS, Android and PC via Steam. Even though it was released two years ago, the game didn’t become a global hit until a couple of months ago. From July to August, Among Us saw an increase of over 660% in downloads, according to SensorTower. We’re already in November, and the application is still in the top ten games most streamed on Twitch and downloaded.
But what made Among Us go viral? Many are crediting the COVID-19 pandemic for its sudden and huge success. Some attribute the skyrocketing to a few popular Twitch streamers.
As marketing professionals, though, we’d say: it’s not this or that, but multiple factors combined at the perfect time and place. Let’s dissect that a little bit.
#1 Simple Product, Easy Adoption
Among Us is a virtual version of popular social deduction games, Mafia and Werewolf. So its mechanics are familiar to most gamers. It may take a round or two to learn the controls, but that’s all!
You can play with anywhere from four to ten people in a public or private room. When the game starts, each player is assigned a random role—a crew member or an imposter. Crew members need to complete a set of spaceship-fixing tasks before they are murdered. The imposter needs to kill the majority of the crewmembers before they finish their tasks or identify the source of the evil. Each time a dead body is found or a player feels threatened, a meeting can be called, and that’s the only moment when all players are allowed to chat and vote for a suspect. The player with the most votes gets ejected.
#2 Low Cost
Let’s be real. If Among Us weren’t cheap, it would never have reached this success in such a short time. We are not at a time where we can spend valuable dollars in silly hobbies. A higher price could be a huge entry barrier.
On Steam, the game costs $4.99, which is relatively low in comparison to other games. The mobile version, on the other hand, is free to download and play, charging only to remove ads and buy some fun avatar costumes.
#3 Virality and Shareability
As pointed out by Outgrow, people are more likely to share certain types of content than others. News and humor are at the top of the list, followed by opinions and how-tos. Among Us, an indie game, was not widely known until two months ago, therefore a novelty. Additionally, as in every social deduction game, the players need to lie, convince and deceive others, which ends up in serious laughs (and sometimes arguments).
Being an imposter is complex. As players struggle not to get caught as an imposter, a door opens to a series of how-tos: How to play Among Us, how to become a better imposter, how to do tasks faster, etc.
#4 High Demand for Social Interaction
A successful product requires a demand to already exist or be latent. Among Us is a real-time multiplayer game with a strong social interaction component. During a time when everyone was forced to be physically isolated, people craved social interactions. Given the circumstances, virtual interaction via Among Us offered exactly that.
#5 Distribution and Accessibility
Among Us can be downloaded by anyone, anywhere on the planet, thanks to the internet. But most important, it’s available in more than six languages. In fact, Koreans and Brazilians formed two of its largest player bases in the early stages, according to @aemuuu, Innersloth artist.
I need to verify with @forte_bass but I’m pretty sure we had more than 8 concurrent players playing in the first 6 months. 😅 Among Us was first popularized by Korean and Brazilian streamers earlier on. Still an encouraging message, it’s crazy to see the numbers today!
— AMY ✨ (@aemuuu) September 24, 2020
#6 Free Promotion and Wave Surfers
Zackery Cuevas from androidcentral.com noted, “The first Twitch streamer to latch onto Among Us was streamer SRKaif, but Among Us didn’t skyrocket in popularity until popular streamers sodapoppin and xQc began streaming the game to tens of thousands of simultaneous viewers.”
One streamer followed another, and suddenly there were famous TV, Hollywood, sports, social media personalities and even politicians tweeting and talking about and playing Among Us. Even with demand in place, popularity wouldn’t have exploded if it weren’t for these influential streamers and trend surfers.
Sometimes a product may get unexpectedly promoted by those who take advantage of its success to advertise themselves, too. Jay and Arya, for example, are two German filmmakers and content creators who recently released a short Among Us-based film on YouTube. They were simply showcasing their ability to script and shoot professional-looking videos, but it quickly drew more eyes to the game as well.
A Golden Opportunity
Innersloth probably never saw any of this coming, and perhaps didn’t even see the opportunity when the pandemic started. But what if they had seen it? Could they have reached a higher number of downloads by now? Could they have better planned and prepared to receive and attract even more users? Could they have avoided a sea of hackers and spammers taking advantage of what turned out to be a fragile codebase? Probably yes.
Now that the InnorSloth team has the Among Us wave going, for how long can they keep surfing it? I really hope they can build on this phenomenon to further invest, find new revenue streams, and continue to entertain us. I’m personally looking forward to new game features (new tasks, new maps), VR extensions, action figures, or even a movie—why not? There are so many possibilities. As the Netflix documentaries Toys that Made Us and High Score remind us, marketing is not just about communication, it’s a multi-disciplinary strategy.