Among Us set a new record for the highest number of monthly players for a mobile game: approximately 500 million, in November 2020.
For comparison, GTA V has sold 140 million copies since 2013, and at its peak, Pokemon Go had 147 million monthly players.
So, clearly Among Us is not only a much-loved game, but arguably the most successful mobile game ever created.
And what lessons about building great UX can we take from Among Us? What can we transfer into other industries?
4 key takeaways
1. Predictive actions
It’s incredibly frustrating when you select an online lobby to join, but by the time you’ve clicked on it, it’s already full.
And whilst developers can’t really stop that happening, they can make the experience of what happens in these instances better.
Given a set of circumstances—like trying to join a lobby that is already full—you can predict the user’s next desired action: they’d try to join another.
In this instance, Among Us kicks you back to the home screen, just to show you a modal saying that the game has already started.
But, given that the user will probably close this modal, go back to the available games, and try to join another, why not just show a simple message on the lobby screen itself?
Saving two clicks may sound insignificant, but in the world of user experience its not.
2. Spatial context
Some things are given context (and more broadly, meaning), purely by being close to something else. I don’t mean similar to, but actually physically positioned nearby.
For example, a ‘keep clear‘ sign only makes sense when viewed in context of its location—if it were 100 feet down the road, everyone would be confused. I call this spatial context.
In the physical world this happens intuitively. If you see a ‘keep clear’ sign near a driveway, or a gate, you’d connect the two and understand the instruction.
But people often forget that pixels on a screen have the same impact.
So now let’s look at the lobby settings of Among Us:
How would a player modify these settings (i.e., to modify the game rules)? Well, they’d need to stand near the in-game laptop, press ‘Customise’ and then go to the final tab.
For regular players, this may work fine. But it’s not intuitive for new players, because it’s out of sight, and away from the context of those settings.
One nuance to mention here is that often games will trade friction for immersion—i.e., forcing users to go into their “rucksack” to get an item, even if it’d be easier to just display the item at all times.
But, I’d argue that creating a game lobby isn’t an intentionally immersive or gamified experience. But rather a functional activity that requires clarity and context for new users.
3. Intentionally inactive
Imagine that you’re stood at a lift, pressing the call button. Nothing happens, so you press it again, and again. After waiting a few minutes you’d probably conclude that the lift was broken.
Now, how would your perception change if there was a sign explaining that the lift had been temporarily disabled for cleaning.
An intentionally disabled function without any explanation is just a broken feature.
With that in mind, let’s look at Among Us’ decision to disable (well, limit), the chat function based on how old the player is. They have a simple fork:
In principle, this may be sensible. However, there is no noticeable difference between an active or inactive chat box. There isn’t even any feedback when you interact with it—it just doesn’t do anything.
It’s the equivalent of pushing a broken call button, waiting for a lift that never comes.
And like my analogy, Among Us needs a sign, otherwise people may assume that the app is broken. Here’s how they could fix it with two simple changes:
4. Tap to copy
The Nintendo 64 didn’t need a clipboard, because it was just a games console.
But now games are built on feature-rich platforms (IOS, Xbox, Windows), with plenty of functionality available to their developers—and the utility of a clipboard is no longer questionable.
When you create a game on Among Us, you need to share a 6-digit code with your friends, which in practice means typing it out in a message, or saying it over voice chat.
But that first scenario is a bit awkward, because you can’t copy the code. The digits are rendered in-game, and so neither selectable using the native IOS functionality, nor does Among Us have a copy function.
And so players need to memorise the code, close the Among Us app, open their messaging app, and then type it out without errors.
A simple tap-to-copy feature here would almost entirely remove this friction.
If there were a ‘heatmap of clicks’ for this screen, I’d be willing to bet that a statistically significant number of people click on the code expecting this to be how it works anyway.
I know I did.
I get asked to do case studies on video games all the time, and have been pretty reluctant generally. This is because there’s so much nuance to game creation, which breaks the fundamental laws of experience design.
Just to name a few examples:
1: Friction is intentionally added to increase the complexity of a challenge, even though the reward may be static (e.g., diminishing XP rewards from grinding particular tasks).
2: UI is designed to be aesthetically immersive, and not to maximise efficiently (e.g., the player’s inventory may be designed as a scrollable rucksack, even though a basic list of items would be far easier to use).
But Among Us felt like a good opportunity to showcase the opposite: how similar the concepts of building great UX for video games, and software can be.