In a year ravaged by one of history’s most widespread and disastrous pandemics, humanity took solace in games. Animal Crossing: New Horizons‘s release coincided with the very beginning of COVID-19’s spike in the U.S., timing that may have aided in the game’s outstanding sales numbers. Somewhat later, Among Us began its rise to being known to just about every corner of the internet, thanks to well-known streamers. A game where you sneakily murder crewmates and attempt to lie your way out of trouble is a phenomenal premise for friends around the world. It should come as no surprise given its popularity that Among Us would become a nominee for the upcoming 2020 Game Awards—Best Multiplayer Game and Best Mobile Game.
However, those aware of a certain detail will squint at its very inclusion in the show: it was released in 2018.
I’ve taken it upon myself to research the details as to why Among Us was even nominated for the 2020 Game Awards, outside of the obvious “It’s too popular to ignore.” And from all that I can gather, there’s nothing to refute that very obvious claim. The game that has defied its own expectations nearly two years after release may have set a precedent that forced the Game Awards to go against its own rules. The bigger question thus becomes: does it hurt the integrity of the awards?
Refuting the Claim
It seems counterintuitive to start this by immediately countering my initial question, but I feel it’s important to note that, despite whatever people may take from this, it’s not something that should be taken like a smoking gun. I’m simply trying to provide discussion over a strange loophole in an award ceremony that some don’t even find that credible. However the show wants to manipulate its rules or provide a little love for an indie darling is within its own rights to do so. All it really affects is how people see the legitimacy of the whole thing—perhaps troubling to the show producers, but does little for the average player.
Here’s a tidbit from the official Game Awards website that could be used to defend Among Us‘s inclusion:
The Game Awards recognizes that many games are ongoing services that evolve over time with new content, features, and improvements. Games released in previous years are eligible in all award categories, so long as the jury feels their inclusion is merited due to new content, improvements or service updates.
To this day, the popular game is still being provided minor updates to make the game better for all sorts of players. Developer company Innersloth also provides occasional devlogs on their itch.io site for those wondering about what changes are being planned, especially after scrapping the intention of making a sequel. “The jury” may have found it credible enough to include Among Us within the nominee list due to the revamped focus on the game upon its rapid success in 2020.
Technically, Tons of Nominees Aren’t 2020 Games
Look at the nominees for Best Fighting Game:
How many of those games do you think came out in 2020? Well, obviously, all of them came out in 2020—in those specific packages, anyway. But in terms of the base game, without the superfluous, business-inscribed package deal, how many of these games came out in 2020? If you guessed two, you would be correct.
Only two out of the five nominees had their base game release in 2020. Street Fighter V released in 2016, Mortal Kombat 11 released in March of 2019, and Under Night In-Birth is currently on its fourth iteration, releasing as a base game (outside being a Japanese arcade-exclusive) all the way back in 2013. The quote above about the “new content, improvements, or service updates” causes a huge safety net for games that initially didn’t do well to come back in following years to compete again. And who’s to say Mortal Kombat 11 won’t release a “Mega Ultimate Edition” and appear again next year? Could it win this year and next year for what can be logically stated as partially the same game? If the Game Awards are willing to stretch that far, Among Us being in contention doesn’t seem that much of a reach.
And the Best Fighting Game category isn’t the only one that employs this. Kentucky Route Zero in the Games For Impact category was repackaged in 2020 after initially releasing in 2013. Best Role Playing Game has Persona 5 Royal, which is an updated version of 2016’s Persona 5. If not for this distinction, I would think Persona 5 Royal would have been royally snubbed for a Game of the Year nod, given its incredible reviews. So with all this said, is Among Us being in contention all that surprising? Well, somewhat.
The Jury Is Sus
Is the Game Any Different?
Let’s flip the script on the “new content, improvements, and service updates” comment. With the titles referenced above being repackaged, one can logically assume that they are new experiences, albeit not totally new. DLC, notable content updates, things that make the games different in some way—enough to justify new monikers like “Ultimate” or “Championship Edition.” What has Among Us produced in 2020 within these fields? Well, from what I can find, not much.
Now, I should note that I have never actually played this game, so I can’t speak from experience in what has changed between the point it got popular and now. All I can do is research and see what the developers themselves have stated and what others have already noted. The only trouble with this is that Innersloth does not tend to say much. Most I could find of concrete evidence is this Attack of the Fanboy article from a month ago that details small changes in the beta. All else is detailed in this devlog from the developers about planned changes.
And then there’s this quote from the developers in another devlog from January of this year:
Among Us has had a very good run. We thought it was a completed game twice in the past as we came back to add online multiplayer and two new maps. But as of the Polus release, we’re sure that Among Us is a complete game.
Granted, this was before it blew up. This was before it was averaging 100k viewers a day on Twitch (only a slight exaggeration, if at all). The developers likely believed that the game would stay in relative obscurity and they wouldn’t have to adhere to the desires of millions around the world. Even so, if they felt it enough to justify that the game was finished by the time the Polus map dropped, is there anything left to say about the state of the game in terms of minor updates? It doesn’t seem anywhere near the level of its competition, even when considering the scope of the game.
Time Doesn’t Adjust
To add an extra wrinkle to this discussion, here’s another quote from the Game Awards website about eligibility timeframe:
…games that were released in December 2019 are first eligible for this year’s awards…
When did the Polus map drop? November of 2019.
At the point where the developers themselves stated that this was a “complete game,” it still doesn’t meet the requirements stated on the site itself in terms of eligibility timeframe. There is no loophole anywhere that I can find that would make it fit. The game first released in 2018, the game was “complete” (albeit pre-conceived) by November of 2019. The cutoff date for games eligible for this year’s awards is December 2019. It just barely missed the cut, but it missed the cut nonetheless.
So why is Among Us still a nominee for the 2020 Game Awards in this case? Because it still updates with minor patches to gameplay to this day? That seems too slippery of a slope to commit to. There are tons of games that developers still update to provide more accessibility and improvement, which is provided through the Best Ongoing Games category. Yet Among Us wasn’t nominated for Best Ongoing Game, and neither was Animal Crossing: New Horizons—despite providing near-monthly updates and being in contention for Game of the Year. So there’s no consistency anywhere.
What of the updates that Innersloth are planning for the game? Well, here’s another part of the overall quote from just above:
Games eligible for The Game Awards this year must be available for public consumption on or before November 20, 2020.
With a major update, one could make a stronger case for Among Us being among the nominees, whether it be through the new map shown above, gameplay variety, or whatever else… the only thing is that they need it now. Like, literally right now. Today is November 20th, 2020.
Unfortunately, the next major content is planned for next month (ironically, with a teaser planned for The Game Awards), which will mean they will again miss the cutoff. And yet they’re still nominated.
So Why Is Among Us a Nominee?
Because it’s popular. Because it’s too large to ignore. Not including it at all would be a sin against the gaming community. At least, that’s what it seems like. Every indication of The Game Awards’ own rules would go against its very nomination and yet it appears. Jokes will be made about the jury being full of imposters and turning a blind eye to its inclusion. Whatever the case, the mystery probably isn’t as complex as this article makes it. They probably wanted to continue to show acknowledgement for an inspiring indie game that rose to fame in incredible fashion. I only hope that people don’t use that as fuel to decry the selection process for playing favorites or not including games that also barely qualify. But that would never happen, right?
What do you think about Among Us‘s inclusion? Fair or unfair? Let us know in the comments below!