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Among Us and Indie Game Popularity

By Gemma Penson - Computer Science Student @ Trinity Hall, Cambridge


In recent years, games built by small, independent development teams, known as indie games, have cascaded into the gaming space. Some of these indie games, including Five Nights At Freddy’s and Kindergarten, are now global successes, but predicting which indie game will gain popularity next is no easy feat.

In the Department at Computer Science at Cambridge University, case studies are often used to learn from the past, understand the dynamic computer industry and to gain inspiration for future projects. One particularly interesting case of this indie-success phenomenon is the online multiplayer game Among Us which has been downloaded more than 100 million times across its various platforms. The game, which was made by a team of just three developers, was first released in June of 2018 but it wasn’t until mid-2020 that the game saw a gigantic surge of popularity. So what caused this sudden surge?

Firstly, Among Us is an adaption of the social deception game Mafia, with other adaptations including the role-playing game Werewolf and the table-top game Secret Hitler. Mafia is known to be a fun, endlessly playable game which scales well with big groups and where losing is very inconsequential with no items or experience points to lose. Those that hadn’t heard of Among Us before, but that have fond memories of playing Mafia, are much more likely to give it a try and recommend it to those that they have played Mafia with.

However, Among Us isn’t just an Mafia adaptation - its colourful maps, variety of tasks, and time-restricted emergencies add an element of excitement and engagement that other Mafia games were lacking for non-traitor players (imposters). As PC Gamer Wes Fenlon says, other video game adaptations are "just add[ing] an online interface for the basic Werewolf rule”, whereas Among Us is an entirely new, evolutionary take on the concept.