Among Us Owes its Popularity to the Snowball Effect

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

A bird’s eye view map of what looks like a labyrinth of machines, doors, and rooms teems with brightly colored suited figures. If this sounds familiar, chances are that you fall into the age range of eight to twenty, swept up by 2020’s regnant video game: Among Us.

The game Among Us was released by the American studio InnerSloth as an online, multiplayer, social deduction game. Often compared to the party game Mafia, the online game involves detecting and eliminating an “imposter” within a group of players based on clues within the game. Players are assigned one of two roles in each game — crewmember or imposter. One game supports four to ten players, up to three of which are imposters. The goal of the imposters is to sabotage and kill off as many crewmembers as possible while avoiding detection and blending in with others. The job of crew members is to actively search for clues leading to the identity of the imposter among them by working collaboratively, while performing a given set of maintenance tasks within their setting. The primary defense of imposters, meanwhile, is to perform a series of false tasks in order to drive off other players’ suspicions.

Similar to Mafia, crew members may call emergency meetings during the game to discuss who they believe is the imposter. They need not fear for time during these meetings, because the action in the game is automatically paused. Although the game has a chat feature, players frequently turn to external programs such as Discord to communicate with one another.

Both crew members and imposters have only a cone of vision around them, so the bird’s eye view map of the game may be misleading to new members. Players who are not in one another’s vicinity cannot see each other. Members of the game vote on who should be deemed the imposter — and therefore killed — and the player with the plurality vote is cast out as a ghost. Both “dead” imposters and crew members may communicate with fellow crew members and imposter ghosts, respectively and can help those of their kind out in simple ways. Both types of ghosts may see players, but may not participate in the main action of the game. Any imposter ghosts, however, may perform sabotages on behalf of other imposters within the game.

At strategic points in the game, imposter players may launch sabotages on crew members, as well as kill them. Indications of a sabotage include lights flashing off, doors closing, and a timer blinking, which shows how much time is left before all crew members die unless the sabotage is resolved.

When an imposter kills a crew member, the first crew member to find the “dead body” of their crewmate must raise the issue with their teammates, and under most circumstances, call an emergency meeting.

The game has three settings: the planet Polus, Mira HQ (headquarters) and The Skeld. At the release of the game, the only map option was The Skeld — the other two settings were added later in the progression of the game for $4 purchase, made into $2, and eventually made free. Each map differs visually in terms of methods of death, warning signs of sabotage, and viewing methods.

Thank the Snowball Effect for current popularity of the game

Despite being released on June 15, 2018, Among Us never truly took hold as a popular game until August of 2020. The game’s three main developers — programmer Forest Willard, designer Marcus Bromander, and artist Amy Liu — attest to its rocky start. Bromander goes so far as to cite InnerSloth as the reason behind its initial failure, as it is “really bad at marketing.”

The trio, months after its release began to lose hope of their brainchild becoming a gaming hit. They did, however, continue to begrudgingly update it, to the behest of a small but vocal fanbase. During the first months of its release, Among Us saw an average of only 50 to 60 players on its server at any given time.

The game picked up after known YouTubers began to play and stream it on YouTube. Like the cliche of a snowball tumbling at light speed down a hill, accumulating more mass as it goes, Among Us accrued thousands of players with every passing day since mid-August of 2020. As of September, Among Us surpassed the game PUBG in users, with a total of 400,000 concurrent users. Recently, Willard, Bromander, and Liu took up developing a sequel to the game — Among Us 2 — but quickly abandoned the idea in favor of improving the original game.

Within the past few weeks, there has been talk of cheating within the game — hackers have found a way to infiltrate others’ games. New updates to the system, however, should put a stop to such cases. As of today, players in South Korea, Brazil, and Mexico outnumber players in the United States. With the title of the game most teenagers now rush to in their free time, Among Us has truly taken a turn for the better, thanks in part to the global pandemic.

Through Teen Lenses: What is your general opinion on the game Among Us? What do you find unique about the game? Do you find playing one role to be more engaging than playing the other?

“I like Among Us, and I think everyone should give it a try. The game is fun, easy to pick up, and allows everyone to play (thanks to being free). In today’s gaming market, fast-paced and action-packed thrillers get the most attention; because of that, I find it unique to see a 2d strategy game gain such steam. I think most people will agree it’s a lot of fun to play as Imposter and troll your friends while lying and silently murdering for rounds upon end, but that’s not to say crewmate isn’t a blast. If you find yourself a good group that all decide to take the game seriously, figuring out who did what as a team can prove to be just as fun.” Adam Cole, 16, Junior at Langley High School, McLean, VA
“I think Among Us is a very charming unique game. It has an interesting concept, simple design, and it’s surprisingly easy to learn to play. There are plenty of other casual multiplayer games but I think among us is unique because while teamwork is important to win the game, you can’t just blindly trust anyone. It’s such a weird concept because you have to trust each other while figuring out who not to trust. So to put it simply, I think it’s unique because it twists the idea of teamwork and trust by adding in lying and deception.” Jimmy Fitzmaurice, 17, Junior at Langley High School, McLean, VA
“I enjoy playing it, but I’m honestly not that good at it. I suck at strategy generally. I think it’s a fun game, though. I don’t understand why it’s so popular. It seems like a normal game. What do you find unique about the game? There actually isn’t much that’s unique about it. It’s basically a secret Hitler in space. Do you find playing one role more engaging than the other? I prefer being a crew mate because I’m a real pacifist. I hate the idea of killing people in games especially when they’re represented as cute avatars. Also, I can never kill people in time if I do. Basically I’m a coward. It’s more fun to figure out who the imposter is.” Anonymous, 16, Junior at Langley High School, McLean, VA