Inner Sloth / WIRED
Carlo Finizio was pleading for his life. He had stumbled across two bodies with knife wounds, but now he was being accused of committing the deed himself. It was his word against a crewmate, Jaryd Lazar – who Finizio had seen walking away from the crime scene with another crewmate. But Lazar beat him to the punch. “We caught you red handed,” he said.
Finizio, more commonly known by his Twitch handle Shotz, maintained his innocence, but the crew voted to kill him anyway. “You are so stupid,” Finizio said, before he was dumped out of the ship and into a pool of lava. Lazar and his fellow imposter took the win home.
This is a scene from Among Us, a 10-player game where players complete menial tasks, like uploading files and calibrating the distributor, in order to keep their space ship running. A few, randomly selected players are chosen to be imposters each round. They have to do whatever it takes to kill everyone else and stop them from completing the mission. If they’re caught, they lose.
People have fallen in love with this virtual version of Mafia. Among Us first launched in 2018 to modest attention, but has blown up after streamers in South Korea, Brazil, and the United States started streaming it in 2020. Viewers have watched over 40 million hours of murder mystery over the last week alone. Hundreds of thousands of players are playing it on Steam and it’s been downloaded 86 million times on iPhone and Android phones.
The game’s base mechanics aren’t particularly deep. The tasks are mini games where players flip light switches, connect wires, or reset the ship’s Wi-Fi. Players get better at popping through ventilation shafts and sabotaging the oxygen supply by playing as impostors more often — but most of the legwork comes when they have to lie their way out of a jam.
“It’s a game of murder, mystery, deceit, and betrayal,” said streamer Ludwig Ahren recently. “The only tool we have is communication. It’s all about talking to each other.” That’s a big change from the fast reaction times in first-person shooters that usually help streamers rise to the top – as Ahren found out recently.
He was convinced that one of his crewmates, a streamer named Daphne, was trying to sabotage their mission in outer space. He confidently implored them to send her out of the airlock. “If Daph is an imposter, I will walk out of here a hero,” he told the viewer’s of his stream as votes were cast, as if they were on an episode of Survivor. “If not I will be a failure.” The vote was unanimous and Daph was removed from the ship, but Ahren was wrong. Daph wasn’t a traitor. He stared blankly into the void after convincing his whole team to kill the wrong person.
Popular streamers, like Félix “xQc” Lengyel and Ben “DrLupo” Lupo, have been quick to capitalise on dramatic situations like this by broadcasting the game with friends and fellow broadcasters. They’ve put out calls on Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere for more players to fill out their crews, with smaller streamers taking that as a chance to grow their audiences the only way Among Us will let them: by lying.
Finizio, who normally streams Grand Theft Auto V, has a little more than 160,000 followers and regularly gets around 2,000 people to tune into his stream. Lazar is one of the most popular streamers of all time with nearly 5.4 million followers and ten times as many people watching him regularly. It’s doubtful that Finizio can find better exposure elsewhere.
“Since the biggest streamers will be at the top of the respective game’s category, they always benefit the most,” says StreamElements CEO Doron Nir about how top streamers like Lazaar, better known as Summit1g dominate 85 per cent of the content on Twitch. “Because the latest trend includes social party games like Fall Guys and Among Us, if these top streamers play with smaller streamers, they can help boost those channels too.”
Situations like the one between Finizio and Lazaar, one with a modest audience and the other being a bonafide Twitch superstar, are common with Among Us. Tournaments, Discord channels, and game nights have brought different personalities – and the audiences that follow them – together.
The success story behind Among Us and the streamers who play it is an unusual one, so no one is entirely sure whether or not the game will have the longevity of Fortnite and other games that dominate Twitch. The developer that made Among Us, a three person team out of Redmond, Washington, didn’t expect any of this success when they first released it two years ago, let alone now.
The team worked 14 hour days when the game first started to blow up and are now trying to update servers in order to keep up with the massive amount of interest that’s been generated by streamers. They scrapped their plans to release a sequel to Among Us, instead opting to release new content for the current version of the game.
Like Mediatonic – the developers behind the recent Fall Guys battle royale game show sensation – they hope to keep players interested in Among Us by adding new maps, tasks, and game mechanics. It’s hard to say if people will retain their interest in this form of betrayal and intrigue, but it’s clear that viewers love to watch murder mysteries unfold in real time. Streamers with the ability to fib on command are taking advantage of that fact.
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