Delving deeper into the design of a space detective.
Space is perhaps the perfect place for collaboration and innovation, but also for sabotage and betrayal. This is what Among Us is about. This hugely successful video game was released in November 2018 by InnerSloth Games, an independent game company based in Redmond, Washington.
But it has become popular over the past few months. Many famous bloggers stream and analyze its gameplay. Videos for Among Us had over four billion views in September, according to YouTube. To date, TikTok videos with the hashtag #AmongUs have garnered over 13 billion views. It now has 60 million active users. However, the success was not achieved overnight. The average number of active users in 2018 was approximately 30-50 people.
It is available on iOS (iPhone / iPad), Android and Microsoft Windows. It can be downloaded on Steam for Windows, but not for Mac.
The game is fun with its interactivity, simplicity and fast conversations with other players. Fun is guaranteed whether you’re a crew member or a traitor.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of her design.
1. In some tasks, the sound provides feedback
Sound gives a signal and provides immediate feedback. As a basic mechanic, players can hear footsteps as they walk through the spaceship, further enhancing the immersion in the game. Sound also helps players complete missions. For example, a game will play sounds to help users memorize button press patterns. Pressing a separate button triggers a unique sound that gives the player audible feedback when tactile options are not available on a flat iPad surface. Sound provides clarity because the game will play sounds when the player completes a task or does something wrong. Combined with visual elements, sound allows the player to better control the situation.
Buttons in the game use physical restrictions to prevent errors and force users to act according to how the game was programmed. In the game, the buttons on the right side are used either to report a crime scene or to access elements on the map to complete a mission. The game tells you when to use certain features because the buttons light up when the player stands next to an interactive element. However, if the object is far away, the button is inactive. The “Report” button can only be pressed when the player detects a dead body. Among Us has great usability because it makes it easy for players, especially beginners, to know which elements they can interact with, instead of trying to guess and pushing buttons until something happens.
3. Using working memory creatively is fun
Working memory is temporary information that is currently being used by humans. Much of the gameplay revolves around gathering information about other players in order to expose the traitor. Players need to keep track of where they’ve met other players, where they’ve been, what tasks they’ve completed, and how all of this might relate. This information simultaneously enters the visual-spatial notebook (visual or spatial information) of working memory and the phonological cycle (auditory and verbal information). When it comes time to interact with other players via built-in chat or external voice communication, seasoned players monitor what other players are saying about the sequence of events in order to correlate it with their data and find inconsistencies.
4. No need to register
The game has a low barrier to entry. The iPad app is free to download from the App Store, and users don’t need to create an account. They just enter their username and can play.
According to Fitts’s Law, the time it takes for a user to reach a target on the screen depends on: (1) the distance from the cursor to the target and (2) the size of that target. For touch screens, the cursor is the user’s hand. It is easy to control the game if the user has complete control over his hand movements. Players can use their thumb to control the joystick in the lower left edge of the iPad. Thus, the distance to the target controlling the movement is significantly reduced. There is practically no distance. Players can also increase the size of the joystick in the settings. Simultaneously, the right hand presses the buttons located in the lower right corner, which are also relatively large targets with a minimum distance.
While some tasks require users to drag objects around the screen, the goals are relatively large and easily accessible. It is also easy to exit the task screen. Even though there is an “x” button in the upper left corner, users can exit by tapping anywhere outside the Challenge Window, so players don’t have to hit the target.
1. Problems with affordances in some tasks
Sometimes the way tasks are presented makes it difficult to know where to start, because of poor affordances. For example, this task gave me a lot of problems until I watched a video of a streamer simply dragging the light around the maze. In addition, there is no manual in the game that would teach players how to complete each task, so they have to look for answers on third-party platforms. This can disrupt gameplay. While the lack of affordances is not a problem for some players, it can be discouraging for beginners.
2. Misleading information due to the large number of players
Sometimes the information displayed can be misleading because there are so many players in the game. For example, players try to join an open room, the game shows that there are free spaces, but when they click on it, they sometimes give an error that the room is full. It may take several tries to join the room. This can be very frustrating for players.
3. Inefficient use of peripherals
Peripheral vision is a type of vision in which objects are out of focus. It covers an area that users usually don’t pay attention to, unless there are large bright objects or strong movement. The periphery in the game is often the edges of the screen, because the player remains focused on the movement of his character. For example, when someone enters a room on the map, the game tells you what the room is called, but it’s barely noticeable. White text with a thin black outline is difficult to see, especially for users with vision problems. Remembering which room the player was in is important information that will help win the game, because it can be used to form an alibi in an attempt to identify a traitor or, to falsify one by a traitor. Accessibility is important not only for creating an inclusive environment, but also for a more enjoyable experience.
4. For faster communication you need additional applications
Players can use voice communication services to communicate with friends or other players, as they allow communication much faster and more efficiently than in-game chat. Typing and reading text takes longer. Thus, while playing, you will need to launch another application such as Discord, Zoom, Skype or Facetime. This can be inconvenient as users have to track multiple apps at once.
Among Us has become one of my favorite video games, its pros and positive social impact definitely outweigh the cons and provide a great gaming experience. It should be noted that disadvantages such as the lack of affordances can be deliberate to make the game more difficult. What can be a disadvantage for novice gamers will be a plus for more experienced gamers who require an extra layer of difficulty in mobile gaming. Design decisions can be justified through user research that has not received much publicity.
The popularity of Among Us could give a big boost to the use of mobile devices for cross-platform gaming. Everyone, from pro gamers to newbies, plays on a variety of devices: computer, tablet or phone. All kinds of people can join the game. The minimum barriers to entry contribute to the popularity of the game. In the past, pro gamers and streamers only played sophisticated computer or video games that required expensive PCs and consoles. Games can now be more inclusive.
In addition, it should be noted how video games contribute to socialization. This game provides friends with another way to communicate as people seek out new ways to have fun while maintaining social distance during a pandemic. The game allows you to quickly create communities. People can make new friends here. I have heard stories of people sharing contacts on social networks to call, plan games and make friends. Whether by design or not, Among Us is a place to find new friends.
Another social aspect concerns the rules of the game in the face of anonymity. Among Us players can remain completely anonymous. Since the game does not require an account, everything that happens in the game cannot actually be tied to any player. This may encourage some people to use profanity or discriminate against other communities. And although the game has a censorship function, obscene words in the form of pseudonyms are not censored. The anonymity of the game raises concerns about bullying, especially since there are no age restrictions.
Among Us is growing in popularity and it will be interesting to see the trajectory of its development.