Observations of the VTuber scene

Moin. This thing is mostly observations of the VTuber scene a few weeks in. I end up making some content recommendations in it, so it might be useful to long-time VTubers as well, though it shouldn’t be understood as “this is how you should do something”, but rather a “this is how I see it being done currently”.

The obvious

Starting with the obvious: As a VTuber, your body can look like however you want, but your movements and expressions typically are fairly restricted. Even if you are 3D and have roomscale tracking, you still can’t really interact with objects or other people in a convincing way. At least not now, and not in real time.

That said, even with these limitations, being a VTuber just gives you a lot of benefits that you wouldn’t get as a regular person:

  • Full privacy. Which you’d also get doing Podcasts, radio or voiceover-stuff in general, but all of which would lack…
  • Facial expressions. Just having head bops and wiggles and a mouth that can change between an eternal smile and a 😀 when talking is enough of a fixpoint for me that I can actually watch a just-talking-stream of a VTuber without feeling the need to do something else. (For comparison, I cannot listen to podcasts on a couch, as my eyes start to wander off fairly quickly. Which then leads me to doing something else and abandonning the podcast altogether, more often than not.) Now, you also get that just talking to a camera, but then you’d be giving up your privacy.
  • A more-interesting-than-average brand, without doing anything. Even as the most generic anime girl, you’re still way, way more recognizable than a generic gaming channel that has some 3D-dubstep intro as its only “branding” element.

Branding

Umbrella brands are surprisingly powerful. You can see this most clearly with Hololive and Nijisanji IMHO:

The Hololive brand is super strong. Every new member gets to start out with thousands or tens of thousands of subs, simply because it says “hololive” next to it. And that already sets expectations: It’s going to be a woman, the woman is going to be an idol, and there in general won’t be any unbearable technical issues.

Nijisanji in contrast doesn’t have these expectations as strongly, although their members also start with at least a few thousand subscribers. That is partially because there’s just so many more members, partially because new members could be anything, man or woman, quality ranging from good to “average new YouTuber”, technical ability ranging from good to permanently clipping audio. That said, Nijisanji is offering quite a valuable service (VTuber avatars and support) to quite a lot more people. And this non-exclusivity gives the company quite a bonus in my book.

Update: It has been pointed out to me by various people that I completely misunderstand Nijisanji and the impact they’ve had, and that Nijisanji ID’s technical troubles are more a problem of Indonesia not having that good of an infrastructure. The problem is, these technical issues, though not their fault, are translating into what image I’m seeing of them, and all the awesome stuff they did in the past is invisible to me, unless I really start digging. To be clear, this is an issue of the brand, not an issue of the individual creators among them. And even though the different regional branches are more or less independent from each other, the overall brand still is Nijisanji Region (apart from China), not some wildly different naming like you get with Mars, Twix and Snickers (which all belong to Mars).

These umbrella brands are fairly rare on YouTube these days. For me, only Machinima comes to mind. Like, even the EDUtube empires of the Green brothers or Brady Haran don’t have an umbrella brand. Instead, they have SciShow and CrashCourse with direct sister channels, but keep those brands fairly separate.

Formats

Formats really matter. Most VTubers are doing game streams and talk streams. Those who do game streams tend to get discovered better, while people who do talk streams tend to get loads more super chats. For example, Flare manages to out-rank Aqua in super chat revenue, despite having less than half her subscriber count.

Doing unique formats which are more than just the generic talk/game streams also seems to be an advantage:

  • Coco grew insanely fast with her Asacoco news show,
  • 3D shows (especially 3D debuts) perform super well,
  • non-standard game streams like speedruns/races work quite well, and
  • non-standard talk streams (interviews, fairy counselling, etc) work as well.

This is true across all of YouTube, btw: Having a unique format at least gives you a chance at standing out, and even though you run the risk of having a format which just doesn’t resonate with viewers, you at least are looking for doors with each format you try instead of bashing your head against the wall with generic gameplay in the hopes of breaking through eventually

Highlights and clips are super important, especially for the Japanese scene. I don’t think Fubuki would be where she is now without her viral meme videos, I don’t think any of them would have anywhere near that large of an international audience if it wasn’t for the translators and the translators only translating highlights, rather than whole streams.

I do think that VTubers (and streamers in general) should try hiring fans to make highlight videos and upload them to their own channel, so that their channels become more accessible for those living outside of the normal streaming timezones. Nijisanji in particular has been getting better at that recently, on their company channels at least.

Misc.

Ultra-low-latency with DVR disabled is everywhere. I don’t think this is benefiting any channel that gets more than 100 concurrent viewers or so, because at those sizes, the chat starts being more delayed than the stream itself. This is because YouTube polls chat at set intervals for new messages instead of sending out each message on its own, and those poll intervals get rarer with more messages being sent.

Also, it makes it rather difficult to watch the stream on slightly subpar connections, or just if you’re half a planet away. This is because any rebuffer that sets back the latency to >5s will cause another rebuffer and skip ahead, resulting in large parts of the stream just being constantly buffering. Really as soon as you’ve got a few viewers, Low Latency is the way to go, with normal latency being great for anything which doesn’t have any meaningful chat interaction built in (eg singing streams).


Sexuality is quite a thing. It probably is easier to be that sexual in public if your real face isn’t attached to it, and it’s quite surprising how far you can get with that on YouTube without even being demonetized. On top of that, it tends to generate quite entertaining content by default. That said, I think the process of sexualising others is more problematic among the VTuber scene than other communities on YouTube, whether that is fans commenting on it on every occasion, bosses putting their talent into swimsuits, or character designs having tits so large that you’re running out of alphabet to describe them. I hope for the women involved that the disconnect between their character and the real person can helps with this.


VTubers in general seem to do disproportionately much live content, with the notable exceptions being Kizuna AI and Ami Yamato. I think there’s a lot of potential for non-live content which strictly works with motion capturing (as opposed to hand-animation). It doesn’t need to be the current livestreaming VTubers doing that either; in fact, most of the VOD content I see from the current live-VTubers is somewhat similar to the early 2006-level YouTube nonsense. There really is a lot of different directions to explore here. Putting it out there right now: I want to see a VTuber with a degree in Astronomy teach me about Supernovae.


VTubers being mostly Japan-based obviously results in a lot of Japanese content. The search interest in the USA in VTubers is growing quickly though, so any VTuber who can do English content is at an advantage here. Also, assuming that VTubers become popular in the US, you can bet that they’ll spread to the rest of the world as well, so it might be worth to start doing VTuber content in your local language, so that by the time it gets big, you’ll already be ready and at the forefront.


A lot of VTubers have been doing daily streams. And while that definitely isn’t bad, please, do yourself a favor and take days off, where you don’t spend a single thought on your channel. Daily content tends to be unsustainable, with even the largest YouTubers burning out with that after just a few years. More well-being advice can be found in the Creator Academy.

Overall, …

… I’ve been very impressed by how compelling the content various VTubers make have been to me. I’ve never watched more than 5 episodes of Anime I think (including Pokemon or the Simpsons), but the charme of a dog girl doing cute things while playing Doom, or a chubby devil trying to convince an art student that eyes don’t grow back just gets me. More recently, I’ve been hanging out with the Indonesian crowd, as their content is 75% English anyway, so I actually have a chance of getting the jokes.

In that sense, otsuu, I’m strapped in and ready for a wild ride.

1 thought on “Observations of the VTuber scene”

  1. Updated the opener to reflect that this is the perception of a newcomer, rather than a thorough analysis. I do believe that my content recommendations are good though.

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