This year has been filled with indie hits that have taken the world by storm, proving that you don’t need AAA games to draw in a huge player base. Among Us, Fall Guys, and Phasmophobia are all proof that as long as you have a strong vision, decent execution, and low barrier of entry, your game can dominate. With that said, could a game like Among Us be a bigger hit than Cyberpunk 2077 next year?
Define “bigger hit”
Awards aside, the success of a game should be measured by its active playerbase. When players aren’t playing your game, they should be watching your game. The big winners of 2020 so far have had massive active player numbers and massive audiences on Twitch, and the shared element between them has been a low barrier of entry. How much does your game cost? Is it on platforms that are generally accessible to a large audience? Is there mature content that might turn away certain demographics? Is the gameplay simple enough to grasp quickly, but interactive and variable enough to keep the game fresh?
There’s a reason why Rocket League, Fortnite, and now Among Us continue to draw in massive crowds. They’re all simple-concept free games that require little time investment, and are friendly to gamers of almost all ages.
It’s also painfully easy for people to pull in friends to play with – especially with crossplay enabled. Crossplay has been such a focus for new games because it’s obviously a huge boon for multiplayer, and it will become even more essential in 2021 as the console wars pick up again.
When your games are released for free and have multiplayer, it’s more and more likely people will play them, stream them, and collaborate on content which ends up acting as free marketing. These things add up to the perfect formula for a game that quickly becomes popular, and remains popular. And a few indies deployed the formula to great success this year.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better
It’s no secret that some of the best games have the simplest concepts. Among Us brought one of the best in-person party games into mobile and desktop form, linking 3.8 million players globally.
Its simplistic execution naturally made the game accessible to people who wouldn’t normally turn to a video game for their entertainment. Everyone gets Among Us and can play Among Us, and the game has proven to be a great medium for otherwise completely different demographics – politicians and the American public, for example – to connect through.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitch stream happened to be the 5th largest Twitch event of all time. Among Us – a simplistic indie with a graphics budget of negative $10 – brought in bigger viewer numbers than AAA monsters like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and GTA V ever will. You can probably add Cyberpunk 2077 to that list. Sure, AOC’s star power drew those numbers in, but she chose the perfect game at the perfect time with Among Us, giving a casual low pressure game for her to still be engaging as a streamer first, and politician second.
All this really shows that at the end of the day, how fun a game is – and how successful it gets – is not always determined by how much ray tracing or Keanu Reeves you put it in it. 2021 might be the year in which indie games take the spotlight from AAA titles, and we are here for it.