Among Us developer Innersloth has expressed some displeasure following the recent reveal of Fortnite Battle Royale's newest limited-time mode, Impostors. The ridiculously popular title from Epic - itself a ripped-off reimagining of a game that tried ripping off other popular titles and failing - has lifted more than just a core gameplay mechanic from the indie title.
Among Us is a cartoony indie multiplayer game wherein colourful, little crew members of a spaceship must uncover who has been replaced by a murdering impostor alien.
Ever since Among Us exploded in popularity, it has become one of the most extensively memed pieces of media, both in games and beyond. Humorous misspellings and mispronunciations like "amogus" spread, people started seeing the iconic crew member design in anything vaguely cylindrical and the very words 'impostor', 'suspicious and 'sus' gained inherent humorous value.
All of these online jokes also translated to immense tangible success for the game - Among Us became such a hit that Innersloth cancelled a sequel to instead focus on supporting the extant game with more content, and has broken 500 million monthly unique players several times throughout its lifetime.
This success and popularity also led to a lot of copycats popping up - these mostly existed as cheap asset flip mobile games, or games that simply transplanted Among Us wholesale into 3D and first person. However, even bigger, more legitimate AAA studious have failed to resist the smell of success by the looks of it.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War recently introduced the Double Agent limited-time mode which is basically exactly what's on the tin - it's an impostor game mode reformatted to fit the 80's setting of the game. However, Epic Games' Impostors mode for Fortnite is a much more blatant ripoff.
We didn't patent the Among Us mechanics. I don't think that leads to a healthy game industry. Is it really that hard to put 10% more effort into putting your own spin on it though?
— Puff (@PuffballsUnited) August 17, 2021
The very name, the spaceship location and even the layout of the said ship are obvious attempts to ride Among Us' wave of popularity. Similar tasks, game mechanics and designs are being used in Impostors, with zero attribution to the original title. Several of the people working on Among Us at Innersloth have expressed dissatisfaction on Twitter.
Innersloth's co-founder stated that while the company didn't try patenting the Among Us gameplay mechanic because that would not lead to a "healthy game industry" (true), they chastised Epic for not putting in that extra 10% of effort to differentiate its gameplay. Developer Adriel Wallick shared a popular webcomic about plagiarism, and developer Gary Porter pointed out the similarities between the maps.
Fortnite ripping off other properties is hardly a surprising turn of events - the game itself is a rip-off built on another rip-off. Fortnite: Save the World was trying to capture the Minecraft zeitgeist while sprinkling in a bit of Orcs Must Die and failed. Then when PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds launched to explosive success, the developers scrambled to salvage Fortnite assets for their own battle royale mode. Ever since, new content and limited time modes have seen a selection of other people's ideas pushed into Fortnite, sometimes with licenses and sometimes without.
— Adriel Wallick (@MsMinotaur) August 17, 2021
Considering the titanic amount of revenue Fortnite is generating for Epic, and the huge popularity disparity between it and Among Us despite the latter's own success, likely no significant result will be achieved - Epic Games doesn't put in that extra 10% of effort, in the words of Innersloth's co-founder, because it doesn't need to; it isn't profitable to do so, and their horde of lawyers protect the company from any smaller entities anyway.
This does raise some interesting ethical questions about the industry, though. Among Us, despite having risen to become the most popular one, isn't the first game to feature this kind of impostor gameplay. In its wake, many of the arguable copycats have put enough of an original spin on the base concept with significant changes in gameplay, setting, or mechanics that they definitely feel more original than derivative.
— Gary Porter (@supergarydeluxe) August 17, 2021
Fortnite's Impostors mode also drew more ire from Innersloth, we suspect, than Call of Duty's Double Agent mode because it is a lot more direct in its appropriation of ideas and designs, seemingly paying no mind to putting its own spin on it - it literally is just Among Us in Fortnite. The developers raise a good point about how patenting gameplay mechanics would be a hellish scenario for the game industry, but major companies flexing legal resources while copying indie hits definitely isn't an ideal situation either.
For what it's worth, Impostors will no longer be available in Fortnite in a few weeks time.