23rd October 2020
Twitch welcomed a new star to the platform this week with US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (A.K.A. ‘AOC’) making her debut. She streamed the wildly popular game Among Us and attracted 4.8M views in 15 hours, with 426,000 concurrent viewers. This places her in the top 10 individual broadcasts on the platform and cements Twitch’s status as TV for Gen Z.
AOC’s broadcast is further evidence that gaming has evolved into mass entertainment.
To understand why, we should pay close attention to the game she chose to play.
At first glance, Among Us is an unlikely candidate for the biggest game of 2020. Fortnite broke new ground for entertainment with immersive, interactive experiences that offered personalised skins, Hollywood premieres and hip-hop stars – Among Us has just 3 maps with bargain basement graphics. In the game players are randomly assigned roles as ‘crewmates’ or ‘imposters’ during a space mission. You are tasked with completing the mission or sabotaging it. The thrill comes through identifying who is playing which role, with imposters often resorting to murder in order to win.
Yet Among Us has enjoyed explosive growth. The free-to-play mobile version recorded 100 million downloads in Q3, the paid version on PC has now racked up over 145 million hours of playtime and it’s currently the 3rd most popular game on Twitch. The creators of the game have cancelled plans for a sequel so they can focus on their current success.
These statistics would be stunning for any title but are particularly impressive considering Among Us was released in 2018 and struggled to find more than 30 simultaneous players. The sudden reversal in fortune is all thanks to lockdown. Social distancing accelerated the trend towards using a game as a medium to meet friends, catch up and spend time together.
Platforms such as Minecraft or Roblox were already competing with social networks as spaces for younger audiences to spend time. The game became context for the conversation and as COVID stripped out opportunities to meet in person, social gaming was perfectly positioned to grow.
Among Us is a perfect example of social gaming. There are 3 key characteristics:
Simplicity: with no expensive hardware required and a very forgiving difficulty curve you can play instantly. The lack of plot and player development is a feature, as it focuses attention on the players rather than the game.
Spontaneity: roles are assigned at random and the action relies on people lying. This provides a near-infinite combination of potential outcomes that ensures every round feels fresh. The ability to play strangers simply adds to the novelty.
Scale: players can invite friends to join them, with a maximum of 10 at any time. Rather than sprawling multiplayer games that dominated the 2010’s we see a shift towards more intimate, curated social gaming between smaller groups.
‘There is An Imposter Among Us’ is the unsettling truth revealed at the start of each game of Among Us. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that a game based on duplicity has become the breakout hit of lockdown in the era of fake news, but marketers should pay attention to social gaming as part of the new normal. In the same way COVID-19 has likely permanently increased ecommerce’s share of retail, social gaming will permanently account for more time spent in media.
Author: Jack Smyth, Creative Technology Officer, Mindshare Worldwide