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How imbalance made Among Us popular

Image via Innersloth
Image via Innersloth
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Izaak

Asymmetrical multiplayer games have seen a recent resurgence in popularity, carried mostly by the extreme and sudden growth of the Among Us player base.

The past three months of gaming have been dominated by Among Us, with over half a billion players playing just last month. But asymmetrical games often have specific challenges that they need to overcome, something Among Us could circumvent entirely.


The asymmetry problem

The easiest way to create a multiplayer game is to give all players or teams access to the exact same tools, the same goal, and the same number of players and let them compete against one another. This process ensures that teams are equally powerful and can even remove many development costs related to balancing other parts of the game.

Perhaps the most famous multiplayer games to make use of this format are the Halo and Call of Duty series, where the games often revolved around the dynamic of equality. While these games may have had some unbalancing features (such as levels in Call of Duty), the map design and available weapons and loadouts for equally leveled players were usually similar, if not outright identical.

Asymmetrical multiplayer games generally take a lot more work to balance out. For shooters, these often result in “attack or defend” games. Red Orchestra is a personal favorite when it comes to asymmetrical multiplayer. They answered the natural disparity in the game’s design by significantly limiting what tools players could access.

This went so far as to outright limit which loadouts teams had access to and how many specialists they could have. Red Orchestra is also fundamentally a game where most players die in one shot, and respawns come often enough that death isn’t too much of a setback.

But these kinds of asymmetrical games never achieved the kind of massive mainstream appeal that their symmetrical counterparts did.


Among Us takes asymmetrical multiplayer mainstream

It’s certainly fair to say that nothing has ever been so mainstream as Among Us, as the game has achieved a record number of players scattered all over the world. Among Us isn’t just an asymmetrical game, but its asymmetry is a significant part of making people either like or dislike it.

For example, one of the most common complaints about Among Us is that one of the roles is significantly more fun than the other. Players tend to strongly prefer playing as an Impostor, something painfully obvious for anyone who has tried to play Among Us in a public group, only to have multiple players disconnect as soon as the game starts.

Among Us solved the asymmetry problem in a fairly unique way. Rather than strenuously testing and balancing maps for both Impostors and Crewmates, Among Us allows each playgroup to find their own balance instead. This allows players to figure out what works for them, rather than enduring a game crushed by poor balancing.

The only parts of Among Us that can’t be adjusted to each playgroup’s liking are the map’s physical layouts. In this regard, Innersloth was careful to make sure the map’s featured plenty of tools for the Impostors to get around and a few security features for the crew to stay informed.

What’s important here is that none of these features in Among Us are game-breaking on their own. Instead, they only offer slight advantages, and players are forced to rely on their wits and skills.


Edited by Ravi Iyer
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