A young Japanese woman sporting an enormous pink bow and white opera gloves staring into your soul from their stream is not something you see in the normal world of Twitch. Vtubers are becoming more commonplace than ever before and not all Twitch fans appreciate them. Kizuna Ai is a component of an emerging trend where 3D avatars – instead of humans – are getting celebrities on YouTube, with dedicated fanbases and company deals. It’s becoming so popular that one company is investing tens of millions in “virtual talent” and talent agencies are being established to manage these avatars. It’s a movement that has big implications for the longer term – it could change how brands market their products and the way we interact with technology. It could even allow us to live forever.
Vtubers Are Exactly Like Human Streamers
Usually, vloggers are people that speak directly into the camera to their fans, sharing things like beauty tips, product reviews and popular culture rants. But within the past year, they need had to deal with “VTubers” like Kizuna Ai. “We saw this start to require off right at the top of 2017… and it’s continued to grow,” says Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube. He points to Kizuna Ai’s channel as an example of the spike in VTuber popularity: it had around 200,000 subscribers last December, but overflow two million just 10 months later.
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Google’s Earnest Pettie says the quantity of daily views of VTuber videos this year is quadruple last year’s figure. And while there are no easy thanks to measuring exactly what percentage VTubers there are, User Local, a Tokyo-based web analytics site, counts a minimum of 2,000. These include Nekomiya Hinata, a peach-haired character who plays combat video games, sprinkling in niceties in Japanese while gunning down foes. Another, Ami Yamato, maybe a British virtual vlogger based in London who features a penchant for Starbucks and strolls around within the “real” world, occasionally alongside live humans. She’s been vlogging since 2011.
This isn’t yet a worldwide trend – Allocca says VTubers are popular mostly in Japan. But therein country, the futuristic videos have gotten the eye of companies, keen to assist these characters find popularity beyond YouTube.
Is Vtubing Going To Replace Twitch?
Gree, one of Japan’s biggest mobile app developers, plans to take a position 10bn yen ($88m) over the subsequent two years into developing virtual talent, creating more live-streaming opportunities, building filming and animation studios, and giving creators resources.
We believe that 3D avatar characters and their activities in virtual worlds will take people to the subsequent stage of the web – Kensuke Sugiyama. “We believe that citizenry needs avatars beyond nicknames and profile pictures,” says Gree spokesman Kensuke Sugiyama. “Although virtual talent is currently only a distinct segment area of entertainment, we believe that attractive 3D avatar characters and their activities in virtual worlds will take people to the subsequent stage of the web .”
Sugiyama says that as virtual and augmented reality technologies still develop, more vloggers and internet users could transform into fantastical and vibrant characters – which successively could become brands themselves.
It’s not just Gree, either. Kao, a Japanese cosmetics and chemicals company, “hired” VTuber Tsukino Mito at a live event in Tokyo to see on a washing machine’s smart screen to sell detergent. The Ibaraki prefectural government created a virtual influencer last month to see in tourism campaigns, and Kizuna Ai herself was selected by the national tourism board to see in videos to lure foreign visitors to Japan.
This demand is driving associated industries: a talent agency in Japan launched in April that caters exclusively to virtual avatars. It’ll help clients organize events, video collaborations with other creators, and more.
How Did Vtubing Begin?
An early adopter of this trend may be a character that’s almost 60 years old. Barbie, the doll that has appeared across toy lines and television programs for many years, made her own virtual vlogging debut back in 2015, before the increase of the Japanese VTubers.
Could they replace human YouTubers?
But why replace human vloggers in the first place? After all, vlogging is one of the most cost-effective sorts of making video – switch the camera on, talk, and upload. While there could be some editing involved, it doesn’t involve costly effects or set design. So why replicate a speaker with another – costlier – version?
It’s because the virtual character is often used at scale in ways in which human characters can’t: they will appear in video games and apps outside YouTube, and as VR and AR technology improves, they will even hold computer game concerts. (VTuber Kaguya Luna did just that earlier this year.)
American comedian duo Rhett & Link published a vlog that’s been viewed 2.5 million times, voicing concerns that virtual YouTubers could replace humans. After all, they never get tired. Their appearances are often changed on a whim. They never demand payment or more Patreon donations.