Hello everyone. It’s been quite a while, since I wrote a blog post. I hope you are all doing well in these odd and hard times. I usually write about social media, community management and marketing in video games industry, however today’s article is going to differ quite a lot from what I’ve already posted. Ana Valens, a Daily Dot’s columnist, wrote a piece, in which she blames current political and social unrest as the main reason why Among Us, a simple, yet phenomenal „survival game”, based loosely of Space Station 13 (a cult classic, having pretty much he same core mechanic), I believe, has become a smash hit in the last few weeks.
Although her article has been tagged as an opinion piece, I believe that such an „opinion” is deeply flawed and we wouldn’t lose a lot if it got somehow discarded. Here is why.
Part One – „Americacentrism”
Her article is written from an American point of view, which is, of course, undersandable in her case. From what I understand, Ana is an American citizen, was born in The USA, works there, got her education there. This, however, renders her article fundamentally flawed. Ana fails to realize that there is a whole world outside of her country.
A simple Google Trends search shows us that The USA barely makes it to top 25 countries when it comes to the game’s popularity (and stands at 42nd place when we take smaller, less significant markets into consideration).
Funnily enough, the game turned out to be more popular (proportionately, of course) in such „right-wing authoritatian hell holes” like The Faroe Islands, Jamaica, Brunei and Venezuela.
As you can see, I’ve ironically chosen a democracy, a constitutional monarchy, an islamic monarchy and a left-wing dictatorship. It’s because politics had nothing to do with the game. Ana was simply trying to find correlations between her opinion, whilst ignoring the fact that the game is popular all over the world. We tend to look at our lives and people, things, events in our lives through a lens of self-centered bias and emotions. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that. I also understand that The USA is in a state of civil unrest. However, being in a position where one is able to reach thousands of people with their opinion, requires at least a tad bit of research and self-criticism. This could make the author not look like a person, who tends to ramble and who makes faulty connections between unrelated facts.
Also, the game is damn fun.
Part two – gameplay loop
If you don’t know what Among Us is about, here’s an excerpt from the game’s Wikipedia article:
„Among Us is an online multiplayer social deduction game, developed and published by American game studio InnerSloth and released on June 15, 2018. The game takes place in a space-themed setting where players each take on one of two roles, most being Crewmates, and a predetermined number being Impostors. The goal for the Crewmates is to identify the Impostors, eliminate them, and complete tasks around the map, and the Impostors’ goal is to kill the Crewmates without being identified.„
The gameplay loop looks as follows:
Players enter a lobby > a round of the game starts > Crewmates move around the level and have a set of predetermined mini games to play all over the level (they all need to be completed in order to win the round of the game), while Impostor(s) has to blend in and kill Crewmates or to sabotage the mission in other ways > when a dead body is found or an emergency meeting is called, a session of discussion and voting is under way – these are the only moments when players are able to communicate with each other > players vote on a person who is most likely the Impostor > a person with the most votes is killed off and the game loops until victory conditions for either side are met > players can join a new game with the same set of people.
Looks kinda simple and fun, yet challenging to an extent, doesn’t it? It not only looks like it, it is like it. Rounds also don’t take a lot of time to complete, so the game is quick and fun. In other words, Among Us works just as well as it gets and it’s also executed well enough. The biggest problem of the game? Connection issues due to their servers being basically DDoSed by waves of new players.
Developers of the game hit that sweet spot, where they force players to feel just enough stress to keep them questioning others, while making mini games simple enough even for a kid to play. Core mechanics of the game simply stimulate player’s bodies to produce enough hormones to make it fun, positively stressful and rewarding, that’s just it.
Ana entirely ignoring great execution of the idea shows that she doesn’t appreciate the game for what it is and she’s also rendered unable to understand how games operate on a fundamental level. I’ve checked her LinkedIn profile to see if she has any experience in gaming industry and it turns out, that the only significant job she took in the field was a short-lived gig as a QA tester at Sekai Project – a publisher, which specialises in visual anime novels. She mentions Just Deserts (developed by a third party) and Labyrinth of Grisaia (which isn’t published by Sekai Project, according to the game’s Steam page) as titles which she worked on. As we all know, QA testers aren’t often required to know a lot about how games are made, their role is different. Taking this under consideration, along the fact that mainstream media journalists usualy don’t have enough expertise to write about more complex or work-demanding topics, results in an absolute lack of surprise that she failed in this manner.
Part three – Fall Guys and „accidental influencer marketing”
Fall Guys are a smash hit, which has a pretty similar idea to Among Us, when you think about it. The best/the fittest will prevail. Even though it’s considered a party game and is quite different when compared to Among Us, it doesn’t really surprise me that both titles are often paired in discussion about games. Crewmates look similar to FG’s avatars, the idea behind the titles is, as stated above, similar, both can be played as a party game. The overwhelming popularity of Fall Guys and its lack of a mobile port led people to discovering Among Us.
I believe that such a theory can be supported by the fact that Fall Guys started gaining a lot of traction a few weeks before Among Us, according to similarity of the titles and a simple Google Trends comparison. Both playerbases also seem to cannibalize each other, however it’s entirely an opinion of mine and I don’t have sufficient data to support the claim.
What can easily be stated, though, is the grand amount of Twitch streams and Youtube videos regarding Among Us. This table shows which games have been streamed the longest on Twitch in August:
According to Google Trends, I believe that Among Us will surpass Fall Guys this month.
Ana fails yet again to notice real reasons why Among Us has become so popular lately. There’s of course no way for us to measure how much of the buzz regarding Among Us has bnen generated by Fall Guys’ success, but realizing that the game was pretty much irrelevant for the most time it’s been released (June 2018), I doubt InnerSloth (developers of Among Us) planned it to turn out this way and I also don’t believe they had enough funds to make a push for a proper big scale marketing campaign. I’m not even sure if Ana realizes how powerful user-generated content and influencer marketing can be. Among Us is, at the moment, the ultimate testament to this statement. The game, due to its nature and art style has a lot of meme potential, which only helps with spreading like a wildfire. Also, a combined F2P (mobiles) and P2P (PC) model is extremely intriguing and it deserves a post of its own.
Although, it’s not a perfect comparison, I’d say that relation between AU and FG is similar to one between Minecraft and Terraria.
Part four – mistaking things that aren’t fascism for fascism
Ana utilizes olympics-tier mind gymnastics to draw comparisons between Among Us and fascism, while she also fails miserably to prove her point. She rambles for a few paragraphs how fascists may use deceit, manipulation and other mischeivous ways to gain power in a state. While it is true to an extent, I don’t really see centrally planned economy, cult of a leader, ethnic cleansings (it’s more of a national socialist thing, though), nationalism, chauvinism, or a state in Among Us. I don’t know, maybe I have a different build of the game. I’d be happy if Ana pinpointed these characeristics of a fascist regime in the game.
She throws around quotes from biased books, some data about trust in the government, sexualization of fascism and other irrelevant stuff. She also asks a question to which I’ll respond.
„Isn’t Among Us just a non-sexual exercise in consensual nonconsent?”
It is not. It is an excercise in Machiavellianism and, to a lesser extent, social Darwinism.
Fraud and deceit have been present in politics since the dawn of time, and Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote about utilizing these methods in practice, wrote his most ground-breaking works in 16th century. While his ways could be considered as „evil”, they are surely intersting and effective, as we’ve seen through history. Communists and bolsheviks also used a ton of his techniques, so it’s not an entirely fascist characteristic, to be Machiavellian.
Ana also talks a lot about LGBT community for some reason, even though this community is completely irrelevant to the topic. It’s like bringing up door handles during a discussion about blue cheeses. Makes no sense, just like her entire article.
Ana Valens was clearly clueless while writing her article. Her opinion was rooted in false convictions and assumptions, not caring at all about more rational and more obvious reasons behind the popularity of Among Us. Even though she has minored in Political Science, it’s clear that her diploma is worth a tad bit less than a single 2002 Lilo & Stitch McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. Quite baffling (and terrifying to an extent) to see a person so blinded by faux impressions in a position, which requires at least a minimal amount of coherent thinking and conducting proper research. I’d ask her to write better articles, but I hope to never come across these journalistic abominations. I also don’t think that she’ll ever respond to this article, simply because she has shown on Twitter that she’s not good at taking criticism.
tl;dr – It’s bollocks and Among Us is a great game, which exploded thanks to a similar product and an innovative distribution model.
Addendum – I’ve changed header options. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more articles in the upcoming months. Sorry for being on hiatus for quite some time. Last months were crazy. Also, you can follow me on Twitter to see more from me – be it regarding professional matters or personal stuff.