Among Us is a fantastic game. Few could’ve predicted its rapid rise to popularity, and least of all the developers themselves. But 2020 was an ideal year for such a title – with the pandemic having disconnected so many people from each other, it’s not surprising that an adaptation of a party game found such massive success. Mafia – the social deduction game Among Us is based on – has been around in one form or another since the 1980s, whether we’re talking about Ultimate Werewolf or Town of Salem. But no version has popularised it to the same extent.
The phenomenon of Among Us is a testament to what is truly possible for small game developers, and just as with Disco Elysium last year, it warms my heart to see indie devs triumph over titles with far bigger budgets, and powerhouse studios backing them.
But it’s important to acknowledge that this phenomenon isn’t one unique to mobile. The massive success of Among Us is rooted in content creators, and illustrates the power of the streamers who originally revived it, and their ability to set trends.
Has Among Us had a profound impact on mobile as a platform? Beyond immense popularity, I don’t think it has. That’s not to say popularity isn’t a viable way to choose a mobile game of the year, but we have one prize, and there was a game on that list that is both extremely popular, and has done a huge amount in changing people’s perception of the platform.
Genshin Impact positively exploded on release, accruing the biggest Discord server ever, with one of the most successful mobile game launches of all time, but it represents a genre that’s generally disparaged beyond mobile: gacha games.
Mobile constantly has to put up with the prejudice of its peers, and, sadly, there are legitimate reasons that people have come to feel that way. There are plenty of bad games on mobile, including obvious cash grabs and clones, and we know it better than anyone, but too often that distracts from the absolute gems that do exist. Gacha in particular is a mobile-focused genre that deals with a lot of dislike, in spite of the fact there are good gacha games, and whole communities dedicated to playing them.
Beyond Pokémon Go in 2016, I can’t think of another mobile gacha that has landed as squarely in the mainstream, or with western audiences, as Genshin Impact. What’s more, Genshin didn’t have the advantage or sway of an IP as gigantic as Pokémon. Yet the game was still extremely successful at launch, in large part due to its resemblance with Breath of the Wild. But I think upon playing it, many realised there was far more to Genshin Impact, and its popularity continued to thrive due to its gorgeous production values, wealth of content, regular updates, and decent monetisation system.
Genshin Impact is so popular, in fact, that it has forced most of western games media to pay attention to it. We suddenly had big gaming sites vying to create extensive guides for a free-to-play gacha RPG, discussing roll percentages, and how to get currencies. It was like some kind of weird fever dream. But it’s indicative of the impact that Genshin has had on people’s perception of gacha, and of the quality of mobile games in general.
What’s more, Genshin’s quality and good monetisation can’t help but hold all mobile games to account, and demand that they be better. Though the game still has the low roll percentages for top tier characters and weapons that gacha is known for, it’s not hard to get primogems – whether by in-game quests, events, promo codes, or Mihoyo giving them away (as it just has in celebration of the Game Award nominations). The Blessing of the Welkin Moon is also an excellent subscription letting players pay a little to roll throughout the month, so avoiding the temptation of buying currency outright, as you’d have to with plenty of other gacha games.
And that’s if you even want to spend money at all. There’s a huge amount of content on offer in terms of quests and exploration, and it’s more than possible to play for free – especially if you play it like a mobile gacha RPG, i.e a small amount everyday. I think Genshin Impact has set a high bar for mobile games, and while I hope its example leads to a better crop in general, it has at least proven what is possible, helping to alter that ingrained perception of gacha.
But this shouldn’t be a case of either/or really. In an ideal world, Genshin Impact and Among Us would’ve both won at the Game Awards. But there is only one mobile game of the year, and while I think Among Us deserves the praise and success coming to it, I don’t think it was *mobile* game of the year. If anything it’s pretty shocking that Genshin didn’t win any of the categories – what more could Mihoyo have done to deserve that recognition?
This is why mobile games should have their own awards show. We can take the prizes and give them to Among Us, Genshin Impact, and the fantastic mobile games that were overlooked this year because they were just mobile games.