This past week everyone has been talking about the “out of no where” “overnight” success of Among Us. If you haven’t seen the chatter, check out this and this great analysis from Simon Carless.

Also look at this graph of reviews. This is hockey-stick growth.

Basically, Among Us is made by Innersloth and is a $5 multiplayer game that plays like The Thing and Warewolf. The game is Free on mobile but is paid for with paid DLC.

2 months ago the streamer Sodapoppin did a 4+ hour streamof Among Us (watch it here). The game went viral and now Among Us is selling more copies than Fall Guys 

So people on the internet see this spike and they think “this came out of nowhere.” Game devs new to marketing see dollar signs in their eyes. The thought being, you just have to get covered by one really good streamer and then boom! Millionaire!

If you take some time and dig into how exactly a game goes viral you will notice that there are a lot more factors than just that 1 streamer. One of the developers of the game (named ForteBass) was in the Brace Yourself Games discord explaining exactly how this all went down. A lot of the information from this blog comes from his comments and from their own dev log. I included the full text of the developer’s comments in the Appendix at the bottom of this blog.

Among Us’s success is an amazing story and the developers are super nice and deserve all that they got. I want to point out the right lessons to take from this amazing event and what it means for your own marketing. 

Just as a reminder, Among Us is the name of the game, Innersloth is the name of the company, ForteBass is one of the game’s developers I quote extensively through here.

Ok, 6 things we can learn from the Among Us success story.

#1 This will not happen to your game

These sort of “come from nowhere and become the most popular thing on the internet” stories are so appealing but they really only happen once or twice a year. There was Flappy Bird, Untitled Goose Game and a couple more. Not many.

Part of the reason Among Us has been getting so much Twitter chatter is because it is such a magical thing to have happen that everyone wants to watch it. It is like a shooting star that unexpectedly blazes brightly across the sky. You just want to soak it in and be happy you saw it when you did.

While it is amazing to watch, I have to be honest with you, this is not going to happen to you. Don’t base your business on one of these once-in-a-lifetime moments. You cannot plant this. It just happens. In fact, if your studio is hanging by a thread and this miraculous viral crazy thing is what saved your company, you just delayed your inevitable crash. Lightning doesn’t strike twice and your next game will not be able to replicate this and then you will be back to hanging by a thread. Instead, you should be structuring your business on sustainable, repeatable sales not hope and pray miracles. 

If this does happen to you, accept this as a magical gift from the video game gods. Do not expect it to happen or base your business on it. Just realize that this sudden explosion is NOT typical and you cannot reproduce it. There is no amount of market research or planning that can do what Among Us did. 

Games are like fashion: for no explainable reason some weird piece of clothing is the MUST BUY thing of the season. It is like how Crocs became the best selling shoes for a number of years. Nobody knows why this happened. For some reason everyone thought these shoes were ok to wear out in public.

Amazon.com | Crocs Men's and Women's Offroad Sport Clog | Comfort Rugged  Outdoor Shoe With Adjustable Strap | Lightweight | Mules & Clogs


For every Among Us there are thousands and thousands of games with the same quality that didn’t get viewed by the right streamer at the right time and never blew up like this. 

Sorry to be such a bummer. I promise the rest of the points will be more uplifting.

#2 Their game is good

Among Us is a good game. It is well implemented, it is fun, and people like to play it for a very long time. On steam the game has Very Positive user reviews. 

If you notice, in the stream that kicked off this viral hit, the guys played it for 4 HOURS! That is a great sign of a great came.

I see a lot of posts from devs who say “Streamer XYZ played our game and 3 million people watched it but it only resulted in 30 downloads.” A lot of times that is because the game doesn’t have great retention or isn’t primed for Streamers.

Recommendations

Your game has to be good. I am sorry, but it has to be. You can’t fool people into liking a game and then pay some streamer to play it for 15 minutes and then expect to have About Us results. I am serious. You need a good game that people play for 4 hours un-coerced.

On Steam, the average “time played” must be in the hours, not minutes. Once you have the retention problem solved, then you can start hoping for streamers to boost your sales. 

#3 They persisted

As an indie, the problem with making a multiplayer game is that it is hard enough to get a few people to play your game, much less enough simultaneously that there will be people to play against. In fact, ForteBass admitted “Yeah, I initially didn’t want to make Among Us because of the multiplayer aspects. We had seen stuff like Bombernauts flop and the added complexity of multiplayer made it really unappealing.”

Among Us started very slowly and ALMOST flamed out because they didn’t have enough players. They struggled and struggled but “once we had like 30 people online at all times, things were ok. We also had to reduce the min player count from five to four even though four players is baaaarely playable.” – Says ForteBass

The secret to getting 30 concurrent players? Innersloth’s co-founder is Puffballsunited who started as a very popular flash developer with several games on Newgrounds. He has 16,700 fans on newgrounds and 25,500 Twitter followers.

Also notice his profile was created in 2007. He has been building an audience for 13 YEARS!

And even with that huge following they released a game before Among Us named Bombernauts. That game bombed. It currently has 87 reviews which is super low. Check Bombernauts out here.

So even with that huge NewGrounds following and another multiplayer game, and making the game free, they still had a very very slow start to Among Us.

Recommendations

If you are making your first game, don’t make it multiplayer. You need a substantial audience before you can even get started. So start now and maybe in 13 YEARS you can have a big enough audience for a multiplayer game.

#4 Partners matter and drive most of your traffic

If you are new to games marketing, it looks so simple from the outside. Just get a streamer to cover your game and then that is your marketing. But that magical thinking is like saying “If I just grow an afro and talk in a soft tone while I hold a paint brush I can paint like Bob Ross. Easy!” 

Bob Ross | Biography & Facts | Britannica
The hair accounts for 90% of that skill

The Streamers are just the visible, last mile of a strategy that is made up of so many other working parts.

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t see when you are just entering this market. Developer ForteBass outlined everything they had to do before they got the right streamer at the right time to cover their game. 

Let me explain…

Back in Dec 2018 the Among Us team reached out and asked itch.io if they could feature their game for a front page promotion. They got it and that front page promotion was noticed by a Korean streamer named Kevin Choi. They didn’t even reach out to Kevin Choi. 

From that stream, Among Us Blew up in Korea and to this day makes up 50% of their audience on Steam.  Here is the post they wrote shortly after that initial stream blew up.

Side note: that video only has 502,454 views. It wasn’t watched THAT much but it was very potent. It converted a lot of viewers – a good sign of a very sticky game.

Recommendation

That initial boost from the Korean streamer setup their ongoing success (more on that in a min). But it all comes back to asking for platform support. When you are marketing your game you must work with the platforms. Network with them. Make your game known to them. Ask for featuring, sales, and promotions (again more on this in a minute).

Platforms are really what give your game visibility. With the extra eyes on your game there is an increased chance that a streamer will find you and decide to do a video on your game. 

If you want to learn more about how and why you should be spending more of your time marketing to the platforms, read my other blog The 5 types of people that you are not marketing to but should be.

#5 They kept trading up and up

Developer ForteBass gave even more details on how they built up their fame. Several other medium sized streamers discovered the game over the years. Then a streamer with about 580K subs named Kaif found Among Us, streamed it, and brought a new European audience to their game.

Somehow Valve noticed this spike in sales and in February 2020 reached out to the Innersloth team and asked if they would like to participate in a Daily Deal (a 24 hour quick sale)

Innersloth opted in and put the game on sale for 50% off (which was not an all-time-low)

The Daily Deal sold a bunch of units for them, but more importantly, it drove a ton of people to wishlist it. For months those thousands and thousands of wishlists just hung out there doing nothing.

Then in June, Innersloth participated in the 2020 Steam Summer Sale and dropped the price to an all time low of 75% off. All of those thousands of people who wishlisted the game during the daily deal got a notification. One of those people was a Twitch employee named Pluto who had a friend named Sodapoppin. And Sodapoppin’s stream was what sent Among Us to go thermo nuclear.

Here is the Among Us price history generated by Steam DB. Look for the daily deal at 50% off then the Summer Sale at 75%.

Recommendation

Let’s recap how the platforms helped Innersloth

  1. Itch.io gave them a front page
  2. That caused a Korean streamer to give them their first boost
  3. Then enough additional streamers drove sales of the game
  4. Those sales got the attention of Valve
  5. Valve gave them a daily deal which drove wishlists
  6. Then an All-time-low Steam Summer sale triggered a Twitch employee to buy it
  7. That Twitch employee told his streamer friend to play it.

See how each step in that ladder got bigger and bigger sales and shown to more people. That is how you do it.

However, I actually think the Innersloth team should have hustled more. Steam came knocking on their door and said “We want to feature you! PLEASE LET US PUT YOU ON THE FRONT PAGE.” I bet the Innersloth team could have had a viral hit much sooner if they had taken the effort reach out to Valve earlier.

Here is a recent tweet from one of the biz devs at Valve recommending that developers contact them to work with them. (In Kevin Simmon’s tweet a DD is a Daily Deal)

Nobody is going to promote your game for you. Build up your confidence! Put on your hustle pants. Be brave and ASK for things. It is your right! But you have to have a reason to prove that you are worth it. Be polite and say “Hey this big streamer just covered our game and they loved it, and our wishlists are super high, can we get a daily deal sometime soon?”

#6 This wasn’t “out of nowhere”

First off, Among Us was already a big hit on mobile. It was downloaded 1 million times back in May 2019. You can read it here on their devlog.

Remember, if you are Steam-centric developer, we can get a bit wrapped up in our own world and consider mobile “not real games.” I used to develop on mobile and it is real gaming and we should be looking at what they do over there. This snarky sub-tweet from a mobile game developer sums it up best.

Although Among us was released back in 2018, the team has been updating it frequently. If you look back at the community posting they have posted at least 15 updates to steam alone.

Similarly their itch.io dev log has been updated 35 times since release.

Among Us has been regularly maintained and the team has done a great job talking to their community. They also setup an active Discord to manage their community.

 Now all of these updates cost resources but because of regular boosts from other streamers they were able to make it worth it. 

Recommendation

Don’t think development is over after your launch. Keep pushing. Keep communicating with your platforms.

Summary

If you were following the developing Among Us story on Twitter you might have assumed the lesson was something like 

“A streamer just found this one weird game that was released 2 years ago and now they are millionaires. You just have to be lucky because the store is full of shovel-ware. This industry sucks. Indie apocalypse!”

The real story is 

  • Be a game developer for 13 years and build up a following of 16,700+ people.
  • Make a failed multiplayer game so that you can learn what not to do.
  • Make another really sticky game with good retention. 
  • Update the game constantly. 
  • Ask for visibility from itch.io.
  • Be lucky in that a streamer big in Korea found you.
  • Stick around long enough for other mid-sized streamers to find you.
  • Get on Valve’s radar and have them beg you to put your game in a Daily Deal.
  • Collect a bunch of wishlists.
  • Put your game on sale as part of the Summer Sale.
  • Have another streamer and their friends to find your game.
  • Also be lucky enough that all this happens during a once every 100 year pandemic that forces people to connect online instead of in person.
  • Become a millionaire.

I don’t list all this out to discourage you. I am writing this because a lot of indie devs naively think marketing is “email a streamer your game and then you get rich. If you don’t get picked up then you failed.”

In reality, a lot of time, a lot of hustle, and a lot of luck goes into a big hit like this. Don’t quit! Work the system! Make a good game!

Appendix: Quotes from ForteBass (Biz Dev guy at Innersloth games)

Okay, so here’s a short (hopefully) analysis of Among Us as the “biz guy” at Innersloth.

First, yes, Twitch streams are the cause of our spike. This started just after Steam Summer sale, which is actually pretty important for us as a 2 year game at 5 dollars that has already reached 75% off. Pluto and Sodapoppin’s timing was impeccable, but we can go deeper:

I haven’t talked to Pluto yet, but I’d bet that he found Among Us during the 2020 summer sale, which frankly, is the only Big Steam Sale that’s gone well for us. We actually ignored sales for most of 2019 because they really didn’t help us financially.

But in Feb 2020, Steam reached out to us for a daily deal, and we went for 50% off. If I remember right, each of those two days produced an entire month of sales, and left us with a higher baseline of sales after as well as a boatload of wishlists. So that in turn made our Summer sale worthwhile which snowballed into minor top seller visibility. (#35-ish)

But why did we get a daily deal? Well, I didn’t ask, but at the beginning of the year, Kaif (a midsize UK streamer) and his friends picked us up. We were already profitable by that point and actually had just announced Among Us as complete, which caused a sizable drop off of players as well as a decline. Kaif completely reversed that and brought in a wave of new European players (a new-ish market for us), particularly on Steam (which was our #2 marketplace at that time).
So now we’re working out way back: It’s end of 2019, America and Europe are not our big customers: Brazil, Korea, and the Middle East are. Google Play is our bread winner, IAP for maps and pets are why. That all started with Godenot in August 2019 (3.6M Youtube) who found our game on Google Play (probably recommended by players? Possibly via itch, even. Idk, but I know he streamed from mobile before switching to PC. We had considered wrapping up Among Us back then because profitability was not in sight, but the Brazilian audience drove us to create more content, and that was wise.

But there’s one more step on this ride because our first audience was Korea, and they still constitute 50% of our Steam Among Us sales. That all started in Dec 2018 with Kevin Choi. He found Among Us via itch.io, and I think that’s because we got a day of promotion on the front page. This is literally the only promotion we have expressedly asked for. Everything else has been patience, a high retention game, and frequent public updates. Discord is very important for this. It goes nuts when we announce literally anything.

I can probably drum up some charts to support this (admittedly not very short) recap, but I hope it’s interesting, and I’m open to questions. (Especially tech ones, I am the sole programmer and rather proud of what I have beget despite its many many flaws current instability.)

Russia never really took off tho, kinda weird, but LA is completely destroying our server atm. There was only english until like… October 2019? Well after our success.

No, Korean was such a huge undertaking and issue because of the chat system blowing up character count (in my bitmap font base text renderer) that I kinda refused to do Chinese although I really want to.

I initially didn’t want to make Among Us because of the multiplayer aspects. We had seen stuff like Bombernauts flop and the added complexity of multiplayer made it really unappealing, but our other game idea wasn’t panning out, so I prototyped Among Us and it was immediately fun and interesting.

So to combat the critical mass of players, PuffballsUnited already has a following from Newgrounds (see also Henry Stickmin from last Clark Tank, it’s more than just a flash game bundle. ) and he’s most popular on mobile, so we made that free from the get go. Once we had like 30 people online at all times, things were ok. We also had to reduce the min player count from five to four even though four players is baaaarely playable.

ForteBass on the Clark Tank Channel of Brace Yourself Discord


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