VTubers are making millions on YouTube and Twitch
It was the biggest meeting of online stars ever. In the hotel lobby at VidCon, where I was waiting to meet Twitch streamer Code Miko, I saw an Instagram-famous husky, a Netflix finalist who was a fan favourite, and a contentious beauty blogger. Nevertheless, as a chic Korean American woman walked up to me, I realised I had been partly expecting to witness a 3D, hyperrealistic cartoon rather than a live person. VTubers like Code Miko are occasionally hard to identify in person, unlike so many of the social media stars in the echoing hotel entry hall. Perhaps it was the near-hallucinatory tiredness from day three of a sizable online video convention.
“VTuber” is a trend that has its roots in Japan and stands for “virtual YouTuber,” but the subculture is now common on other streaming platforms like Twitch, where Code Miko has around a million fans. Streamers utilise motion-capture technology to inhabit a virtual avatar and create a background and mythology for the figure in order to create their virtual personalities.
The streamer told TechCrunch, “I thought it would be extremely cool to play another character. “I simply felt as though I had a vision. I wanted the viewers to be able to engage live on stream with a virtual avatar I was controlling. I love “Ready Player One,” so when I thought I might be able to earn a little portion of it, I was excited.
For instance, the NPC (non-playable character) Code Miko longs to play the lead in a well-known video game, but she is too glitchy, so she has turned to streaming. The real person behind the avatar is known to fans as “the Technician,” but her real name is Youna. Youna’s avatar is far more lifelike than other VTubers since she was a VR animator before the epidemic caused her to lose her career and she started working full-time on Code Miko. Additionally, the majority of VTubers wouldn’t even dare to expose their faces on live, much less meet a journalist in person. However, Youna occasionally exposes her face to give viewers a look at her mocap technology.
Since anime originated in Japan, VTuber avatars frequently resemble anime characters. Fans are divided on who the first VTuber was; some claim Hatsune Miku, the avatar of a Vocaloid music production programme, who has opened for Lady Gaga, made an appearance on David Letterman, and plays live for stadium-sized crowds, was the catalyst for the movement. Others attribute the creation of the term “VTuber” and the launch of her channel in 2016 to Kizuna AI, a venture of the Japanese tech company Activ8.
The success of Kizuna AI gave rise to a new generation of internet celebrities in Japan. VTubers are more allowed to be themselves, even when they are acting as a virtual persona, in contrast to Japanese idol culture, which puts its real-world idols to impossible high standards.
In a video, anime YouTuber Gigguk commented, “They live in this gap between anime character and actual human.” However, they are able to experiment with novel ideas or get away with things that other individuals occupying the same place are not.
Years of VTuber success in Japan, but the epidemic is when the genre gained international attention. The hugely popular VTuber agency HoloLive debuted its English-language branch as most of the world went into lockdown, pursuing a new audience of Western viewers.
The strategy wasn’t only successful. It permanently altered the streaming scene.
Gawr Gura, the most popular VTuber on HoloLive English, has garnered over 4 million YouTube viewers in just two years. The anime girl with white hair is dressed in an enormous blue shark sweatshirt, which frames her face with shark fangs. She obviously has highlights in her hair that match her brilliant blue eyes, and when she grins, her lovely shark-like teeth are visible. Like many VTubers, she is a musician who also broadcasts games like Minecraft, Mario Kart, and even Japanese Duolingo. She is “a descendent of the Lost City of Atlantis, who swam to Earth while remarking, “It’s so boring down there LOLOLOL!”,” according to her channel description.
Additionally, HoloLive debuted talent like Mori Calliope (2 million subscribers), who describes herself as “the Grim Reaper’s first apprentice” and joined YouTube to “collect souls” from her followers. Red-eyed and wearing a black crown and veil in her pale pink hair, Calliope is a rebel.
While we can’t confirm the status of her soul-harvesting, Calliope is unquestionably making money. The seventh-most superchatted YouTuber in the world, Calliope made $854,595 in 2021 alone from superchats, a YouTube livestream monetization tool, according to Playboard, an independent YouTube analytics site.
Why even become a VTuber?
It’s unusual for a VTuber to make their body as visible as Code Miko did because anonymity is sometimes the main draw of these streams.
To become a VTuber, you are not need to contract with a well-known agency like HoloLive. Although Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse cannot compare to Code Miko’s technology, it is not the standard. A new streamer may construct a face-tracked, 2D virtual character with only an iPhone.
Trans VTubers are now a thriving community, and some of them claim that creating an avatar has helped them deal with their gender dysphoria. Unlike the social media platform TikTok, where revealing your face is almost required, VTubers are free to display a different aspect of their personalities. The most popular female streamer on Twitch is the VTuber Ironmouse. However, the Puerto Rican gamer is actually chronically ill and occasionally bedridden, so VTubing allows her to have fun and interact with others, especially when she has to isolate herself from the coronavirus.
These avatars serve as additional defences against abuse for certain streamers.
Youna told TechCrunch, “I don’t get the same level of nasty reaction online as my female coworkers do. “Trolling someone who is a cartoon is harder.”
Then again, she chastised a viewer for saying that her equipment represented “the future of porn” on a recent broadcast when she displayed her cutting-edge mocap outfit. There is more to these online personalities than just sex appeal, even though some VTubers do get a little racy—after all, this is the internet.
Zhicong Lu, an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong who has studied VTubers, said that she believes that many viewers don’t really care about the person who voices the avatar. They know very little about the voice actor’s real life; it’s more about the character, the avatar.
But anonymity brings with it a new set of difficulties.
The voice actors “may be replaced and their work may be abused, especially for VTubers controlled by firms,” Lu said. A lot of the most well-known VTubers are produced by or under the management of companies like HoloLive, Nijisanji, and VShojo. However, it’s conceivable for agencies to hire a new voice actor without the audience realising. VTubers have different personalities that are inspired by their voice actors. The percentage of compensation the performer receives from the agency is also a secret.
According to Lu, “the tough part is that people literally cannot see anything.” It is completely opaque. Due to the avatar, it is not translucent.
Of course businesses want to make money
As part of a collaboration with Twitch, a VTuber of Tony the Tiger started his broadcasting career in the middle of August. Yes, that Tony the Tiger, the cereal box mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes since 1952.
VTubers have been employed in the promotion of companies like Netflix, SEGA, and AirAsia, according to Teddy Cambosa, a marketing and VTubing expert. Activating the sizable fandom that surrounds VTubers, however, is more difficult than merely taking part.
Brands who are interested in the VTuber market should be aware that the demography is not just for the short term, according to Cambosa. They may take advantage of the fans’ devotion after they are aware of their culture and behaviour in order to get their business and keep it in the long term.
The VTuber debut of Tony the Tiger was awkward. The mascot and the four IRL streamers that joined him did not really play “Fall Guys,” and he often abandoned the live, leading thousands of fans to demand Tony’s return in the Twitch chat. However, Tony the Tiger somewhat made up for his absence by referring to his 13,000 fans as his “pog champions.”
Beyond the VTuber community, companies like PacSun and Calvin Klein collaborated with Lil Miquela, an Instagram influencer who is run by the venture-backed business Brud. But these marketing initiatives frequently draw criticism; why not work with a genuine, non-CGI lady to model these garments? Teen females are already accused of being harmed by social media, in part because of its promotion of unattainable beauty standards. A virtual ideal of a female body, however, is the most unrealistic beauty standard there is.
VTubers must be genuine to connect with followers, but Tony the Tiger and Lil Miquela have the resources and means to be both technically outstanding and well-marketed. The phenomena is ultimately about the human connection, even for VTubers who only communicate with audiences through their avatars. Even though you’ll never see their face, the person behind those large anime eyes is still a real person.