It feels like Among Us took over the world in a night. In less than a year, it went from a concurrent player peak of fewer than 200 people on Steam to the most streamed video game on Twitch for the month of September. But back in 2018 when amongushack first launched, developers InnerSloth were happy if anyone was playing at all.
Personality, Subterfuge, Logic — in that order.
Among Us is a faster-paced, more streamlined version of the classic social deduction party game, Mafia.
In Among Us, 4-10 players must work together to repair the damaged components on their spaceship before it explodes. However, there are alien Impostors among your crewmates who want to bring your space mission to a violent end. They can achieve this by sabotaging the ship’s equipment or committing murder outright. Crewmates must keep their ship in working condition while working out the identities of the saboteurs before time runs out or the Impostors kill them all.
Players can interrupt the regular flow of gameplay by calling an Emergency Meeting or reporting a dead body. Then, all surviving crew members are given time to discuss with one another before voting on a player to unceremoniously expel from their space boat. It’s here where the real game begins. Arguments break out, harsh words are spoken, and feelings are hurt as the Crewmates desperately try to deduce who the Impostors are. Meanwhile, the Impostors must sidestep accusations and manipulate other players to shift the blame on an innocent Crewmate.
Versions of Mafia have existed on the internet for years now, but none have achieved the same mass appeal as Among Us. Town of Salem and Werewolves Within simply recreate the campfire format of the real-world original — gameplay is reduced to a chat box and killings take place off-screen. Among Us succeeds where those games haven’t by reducing the logical deduction element of Mafia and doubling down on the emotional aspect.
It doesn’t matter if you’re eye witness to a cold-blooded killing if you can’t convince your Crewmates that you know who the Impostor is. Whether you’re a Crewmate or an Impostor, it’s the ability to direct conversations or stir up drama that wins games. This is also what makes among Us Imposter Edition such a great title for streaming — streamers’ personalities can take center stage, opening up opportunities for cross-promotion and collaboration between channels.
Going Viral Three Times
Designed to bring the drama and intrigue of Mafia to a mobile party game setting, Among Us was originally local multiplayer only. In an interview with Escapist Magazine, programmer Forest Willard admitted that not long after its initial launch, InnerSloth was ready to move on: “We made that and we released it, and there was definitely a point where we were like, ‘That’s it. We’re done. We’re gonna move on to the next game.’” A month later, InnerSloth had online multiplayer up and running.
This would become a recurring theme throughout Among Us’ development — features and new items would be implemented, the game would be “complete”, then renewed interest would inspire further development. InnerSloth would only continue supporting their game due to multiple waves of varying levels of “viralness.” Artist and designer Marcus Bromander to Escapist Magazine: “I feel like every time we saw big waves of players, that pushed us to get excited and want to do more with it.”
Even as the game grew, InnerSloth never dreamed their funky, space-themed Mafia variant would take off the way it did. But while the media has focused on its sudden explosion into wider internet culture, Among Us was a hit in non-English territories long before American and European streamers picked it up. Willard shared the story of the game’s development in a long series of posts on Twitter.