How Among Us became a favourite during the pandemic
By KK Ottesen
Forest Willard, also known as ForteBass online, 31, is a game developer and a co-founder of InnerSloth, the three-person indie game company that created the viral hit "Among Us," which counted at its peak late last year half a billion players worldwide.
Q: You all are a small development company when so many of the big hit games come out of much bigger studios. What was it like, that creative process, when you started working together?
A: Well, we've released two games. But part of the process is failure, honestly. It's just so much failure. Like, our first actual game we never released. No one knows about it. I think it never really got a proper title. We worked on it for, like, a year. And basically said, "This isn't working." (Laughs.)
And so we went to a much smaller idea called "Dig2China" - and released it. It's kind of fun, but nothing to write home about, right? And we kept trying to make another game and eventually came up with the idea of "Among Us." Marcus (Bromander, an InnerSloth co-founder) used to play, basically, Mafia, but you would run around a house and pretend to, you know, kill each other. And then you'd flop on the floor and yell out, "dead body," when you came across a dead body. So we wanted to make a party game where you can have that sort of running around, but without the limitations of: OK, this house needs to be so big, or you need to have a field or a good terrain for running around. So that simple concept of just a game that already exists, but add one thing on it and make that good is sort of where "Among Us" came from.
Q: "Among Us" was released back in 2018 - and only in the last six months or so went viral, reaching half a billion players at its peak. How was it received when it first came out?
A: So we're really bad at marketing. And we sort of knew that and expected how it would be received, which was, you know, not very many people played it. When we first launched our Twitter, for example, we would make a tweet about "Among Us" on Twitter. And no reaction at all. Like, actually, zero likes. Then Marcus would retweet it - he has a decent-sized following from his past success with the Henry Stickmin games - and it would get, like, 15 likes. Something like that. But that was good enough for us to actually get feedback. And that's, I think, the most important part about that early stage: If you're getting any reaction and any amount of feedback, that's already a kind of a success. Indie games right now just have really, really terrible visibility. There's tons of great games coming out that just don't get any eyes at all.
Q: And then how did it really take off, or go viral?
A: We had a Twitch streamer named [SR_]Kaif who made a video. It was pretty successful. Kaif is a British Twitch streamer, so that brought us into Europe a little bit. Enough that Steam picked us up, asked us if we wanted to do one of their sales promotions. And when we did that, we saw a huge spike in sales - like, three months' worth of sales in two days.
One of the Twitch staff saw "Among Us" (during the summer sale), and so he had a stream with (Twitch streamer) Sodapoppin and eight of their friends, where they played "Among Us." We didn't really know how significant that was going to be. Seeing Sodapoppin stream to, like, 30,000 people, seemed really cool, but you sort of expect it to just go back to normal tomorrow. And it didn't happen that way. At all. It started to actually go viral within the streamers. We saw it spread through the "Overwatch" community and the fighting game community and all of these different communities within Twitch. And so, yeah, it sort of took us by surprise, definitely. It was super exciting.
Q: I'm sure people come to you all the time: How do I make my game go viral? What advice do you give?
A: Make a small game. The smallest possible game. Just so you know everything that goes into it. A lot of people come up with these big ideas, and they think they're going to make a huge game. And then you get some amount into it, and you lose your way. And then you don't ever actually make a game at all. So if you're just starting out, just make something super tiny. Just focus on something very, very simple and make that. That's how we got our start.
Q: One of the big reasons for the game's success is bringing people together- whether streamers on Twitch or my son's sixth-grade class, frustrated at being isolated during the pandemic. What role do you think the pandemic has had on the success of "Among Us"?
A: It's really, really hard to say. But people have come to me and said, you know: "Thanks for making this game. It's helped me keep in contact with this person or that person, or my family plays it together." Lots of schools saying: "This is actually sort of replacing recess in a way." It's helping keep people engaged with each other as, like, a school function. My favorite is the schools that have come and asked, "How do we block this because kids are playing too much of it during class?" So it's definitely a mutual thing. Like, it helped us grow very quickly. And we've helped people stay in contact.
The Washington Post