In July 2020, during quarantine, Sodapoppin started playing Among Us to his livestream audience on Twitch. The game had been out since 2018 and, until then, was a relatively obscure game produced by an indie developer.
By September, the game was everywhere. It was being streamed by some of the biggest names: PewDiePie, James Charles, Pokimane and even US representative AOC. On TikTok, videos with the #amongus hashtag gathered more than 13 billion views. Its popularity even made the headlines in the New York Times and "sus" became a new addition to the lingua franca of the internet.
Almost as quickly as Among Us burst onto the scene, it began to fade into obscurity, joining the ranks of Fall Guys, Sea of Thieves, StarCraft and other dead games.
Many other games meet this fate. They slowly wither or precipitously drop from relevance losing their streamers, viewers, and playership along the way.
However, this does not happen to every game... Some have reigned for decades and even gained momentum through the years, begging the question: why do games die?
As in the real world, there tends to be 2 types of death: the swift demise and the slow, laborious kind. In some instances, particularly of the latter, there is hope for a resuscitation.
"Thank you, next"
The easiest game “death” to understand is the demise of “flash in the pan” games, that like Among Us, enjoy a split second of fame before disappearing. These games often lack a depth of sophistication needed to cultivate a base of loyal players and are competing against a number of other highly anticipated indie games.
A key example of this is Fall Guys. Despite a dumbfounding 2 million sales on PC in its first week, reaching #1 on the European and #4 on the US PlayStation store by the end of their release month, it fell… hard. Ironically, a good swath of their players jumped ship to join the Among Us hype train.
Some games are sabotaged by their own creators, either from inception with a lack of storyline or quality graphics, or due to the lack of updates, fixes and expansions. Sea of Thieves falls under the first category, as a game that was an unique open world experience with stunning graphics, that lacked a meaningful plot, and generally felt empty with a dearth of characters or items. In the other camp we find games like H1Z1, a Battle Royale title that rivaled Fortnite at the time it was produced. Unfortunately, for Z1, the original developers, Columbus Nova, found themselves in some political and legal hot water resulting in their bank accounts being frozen. Due to the inability to pay for necessary upkeep, the game became riddled with bugs and glitches that never got fixed, which drove it into the ground.
Another game that belongs in the section is New World. Created by Amazon Games, New World was an MMORPG initially positioned to cement Amazon’s presence in the gaming world. Naturally, powerful companies have strong marketing teams and there was a considerable amount of hype built up for its launch. Even though many flocked to the game at first, players soon found a game that lacked a unique character, had a slow leveling process, and was generally uninspiring. Additionally, a lot of streamer support was part of this inorganic marketing campaign (Amazon does own Twitch after all). The streamers that did play exposed many development oversights. One of the biggest being New World’s public voice chat, where players in close proximity could communicate with each other whether they were in the same party or not. This means a lot of kids screeching, spouting profanity or even playing licensed music which could get a streamer banned for copyright violations even though they had no control over the situation.
"So long, old friend"
When the history books of esports are written, they will refer with reverence to the Roman Empire of gaming that was StarCraft. - Kevin Hovdestad, IGN
Released in 1998, StarCraft reigned supreme until about 2015, leaving an indelible mark on the world of esports. In many ways, StarCraft was a key contributor to the establishment of Twitch, driving viewers to the then unknown site and of professional esports as a whole. It was the first game that professional gamers made serious money from.
Much like the fall of the Roman Empire, the investigation into the demise of StarCraft could be the subject of an entire field of study. To spare a dissertation, they key factor in the story StarCraft was South Korea. Failed negotiations between the Korea Esports Association (KeSPA) and Blizzard, the lack of new players joining in other parts of the world, or the fact that League of Legends (released in 2009) began to attract other Korean StarCraft players are often sited as primary reasons. Either way, those of us in gaming today owe a lot to the OG StarCraft pioneers.
This section is bound to stir some controversy. Discussing games that are irrefutably dead is one thing, but to render the prognosis that a game is terminal might cause some upset among those who still play and don't want to face reality. Still, for some titles there's still hope.
While staying relevant for a 6 year run, with natural peaks and valleys, the impressively intricate and aesthetic shooter game has become at risk with its decline both in viewers and players. Because R6 does have a competitive professional scene, it might sustain itself a while longer, but the fact that it far less common at the collegiate level than other games and a decline of new players makes it unlikely that the game with flourish long term.
The free to play (F2P) digital card game has been talked about being in a tailspin as long as 5 years ago. That being said, it has managed to soldier on. The future is looking somewhat bleak though. It's going to be a slow death.
Although I wrote an article a while back with the title "Why Rocket League will be the Most Dominant Scholastic Esports" I am forced by sheer metrics to include it here on this list. While I do believe that the game will continue to enjoy success at the scholastic, collegiate and professional level, there's no doubt that (generally) it's popularity is waning. Simply because it is being played by schools and a younger generation, and that fact that it is one of the more intuitive esports games, means there might be some glimmers of hope left.
While some might point to the recent allegations at Activision Blizzard as a reason for the decline of Overwatch, the reality is that the game has (almost intentionally) been left to stagnate because a sequel has been in the works... for a while. Though the launch of Overwatch 2 has become somewhat of a meme, a lot is riding on its performance post release, which supposedly will be in November of this year. It could be huge for the franchise, or a massive flop. We'll just have to wait and see.
Games are born, die or are plucked from obscurity thanks to the power of streamers. Whether or not a game will last, is largely determined by how many streamers will consistently play the game. Twitch itself is a great metric to determine how successful a game is doing at the given time (like this screen shot taken March 23, 2022 below)
Many categories on Twitch become defined by the biggest streamers of that section. A few great examples of this are TFT and Hearthstone. During its Peak you could start the day by watching k3soju and then 12 hours later watch all the viewers shift to Scarra or DisguisedToast. When viewership peaks like it did for these games they become considered the current “Meta”, driving more players to want to try the games for themselves. On Twitch you aren’t watching for the game, you’re watching for the streamer (or more specifically their personality). This creates potential for situations like Sodapoppin and Among Us to happen: a massive streamer deciding to play a tiny game and catapulting it into the mainstream. Twitch always had streamers who play games together regularly, but Among Us brought streamers from all different categories together and allowed completely new friend groups to form. Like most games, Among Us eventually peaked and then crashed but its impact will never truly go away. These new friend groups have now moved on to new games and established new metas of their own.
It's undeniable that streamers wield significant power. Evidenced by the amount of flexibility that is given to streamers when new games release. Often, streamers will have early access to games and be allowed to have bundles given to them for free. Developers can rest assured knowing that the viewership streamers bring to their game far outweigh costs.
Naturally, bugs, developer inflicted oversights or a lack of enthusiasm cause players, streamers and viewers to veer in other directions. However, once a game begins to lose traction in the streaming world (if streamers don’t believe playing it is worth their time anymore) it is almost inevitable that the game will be “dead” soon.
Ultimately, the question of decline drives at the heart of gaming itself: why do we play games? It is the opinion of this author, that the question boils down to two simple reasons: either to have fun or be the best. Glitches make games less fun to play. Games with small playerships, viewers or chance of future prospects make games less competitive - there's no point in being the best at a game only a few are playing.