Why Clones of the Popular Game Among Us always Fall Flat
Lack of originality, game design sensibility, and polish are some of the most common reasons.
Indie game designers and developers are usually after one thing — notoriety. Not for themselves, but for the experiences they create. Game makers always want more people to play their games. So seeing a game like Among Us amass about 60 million players per day is like watching someone win a billion dollars in the lottery!
It is not every day that we see a low budget indie game reach astronomic heights of popularity and fame. Games like Braid, Undertale, Cave Story, and Stardew Valley are some such games inducted to the Hall of Indie Fame. Among Us is the latest game to reach those coveted levels of fame, and it has not slowed down since its spike in popularity during the summer of 2020. Among Us has shown us that a game’s release does not always predict its success, as it was released back in 2018 to a modest (and comparatively tiny) audience.
What is Among Us?
For those who are somehow unaware of the premise, Among us is an online multiplayer “whodunit” game of social deduction and deception. You play as a monochromatic crewmate on a space station, where 1 to 3 of your fellow members is out to kill you as “imposters”. Your goal is to either complete all of the ship's maintenance tasks or discover and vote out all of the imposters before they kill you and your teammates.
The popularity and success of Among Us is not unearned. The game is a hit mainly due to its design — when a deceased party member is found, the game opens up to discourse among the players, and the voting process is typically rife with accusations, logical fallacies, and double-crossing.
In a time where we are encouraged to engage in social distancing to reduce the spread of the pandemic, having an excuse to join up with friends and play a social game is all too alluring. That and the low price of the game ($4.99 on PC/Mac and completely free on mobile devices) have been major factors catapulting the game to unanticipated heights.
Here Comes The Imposters
With any game that does well, there are sure to be unimaginative clones of the game that hope to cash in on the game’s success. Many “imposters” of the original Among Us game have nearly identical design, down to the map, phases, and even tasks. These imposter games fall flat because they attempt to recreate every little detail of Among Us. Fans of the original game are not keen to latch onto a clone of a game that already does everything else right. And as a game designer, if your only goal is to mimic someone else’s specifications, your result is bound to be of equal or lower quality than the original.
So it goes without saying that clones of Among Us ultimately fail to capture audiences the same way as the original. But what about games that follow the same genre lines and gameplay beats? Social deduction games are not a brand new concept, and the market is not nearly saturated enough to turn down the idea.
So why have we not seen dozens of new social deduction games?
A Hefty Design Challenge
Creating a successful social deduction game requires a good amount of game design sensibility. The issue of balance is key. Games of this nature are typically considered asymmetrical games, where one minority of players is vastly more expressive and subjectively more powerful than the majority of players, whose main force is their numbers and cooperative strategies.
It can be argued that Among Us does not fully conquer this unbalanced, asymmetric design. Players have been known to enjoy being the “imposter” way more than being one of many defenseless “crewmates”. The game tackles this issue by giving the game’s host the ability to tweak the parameters of the game to create a fair playing environment. In the end, creating a balanced and enjoyable asymmetric game is a difficult task.
Just Other More Interesting Genres
Sure, Among Us is wildly successful today. But its success does not guarantee the success of another social deduction game. Players by this time may have had enough with the genre and are looking for other interesting genres to explore. Consider the case where a game like Town of Salem took off before Among Us. There is no guarantee that Among Us would have been as popular if the game Town of Salem had satiated gamers’ desire for the genre at an earlier point.
Take my advice: don’t make one type of game just because you want to “ride the hype train”. Successful games take months to years to complete. By the time your “Among Us killer” is done, the general public will have moved on to the next big game.
Works In Progress
While there has been very little buzz over upcoming games like Among Us, there are sure to be some works in progress that are hoping to scratch the same itch that Among Us does. We may have not seen a successful competitor to the popular deception game because it is still being developed, and developers are taking their time to craft a truly fun and polished experience!
Among Us is a mainstay game that will continue to be popular for the foreseeable future. With more updates to the game coming in December, it's hard to imagine a clone will be able to top Among Us and take its place.
Are you interested in more game design articles discussing the latest and most popular games? Check out some of my other articles that will give you insight into the most interesting gaming trends of 2020.