If you spend any amount of time around Twitch or content creators in general, you might have stumbled across a Vtuber. These are content creators who, instead of presenting as themselves online, present via the use of an avatar. While the concept has been around for a while, recently it seems like Vtubers are exploding in popularity. So, what’s the deal with Vtubers? Why would someone choose to be one? And could we see a day where Vtubers are the norm? Let’s discuss!
What IS a Vtuber and where did they start?
A Virtual YouTuber or Vtuber, is basically someone who uses a generated avatar in the place of using a camera and appearing as themselves in their content. The concept originated in the 2010s in Japan. The first official Vtuber went by the name of Kizua AI, created by production company Activ8. Kizuna had a proper actor voicing them, and in less than a year accrued over two million subscribers on YouTube alone. After Kizuna’s success, more and more Vtubers from other companies followed.
Now, with free programs available like Vtube Studio, beginning your own Vtubing journey is easier than ever. Despite this though, many creators actually commission their own models from artists and riggers, who can create incredibly unique models to help the creator express whatever type of avatar they want. Off the top of my head I’ve seen countless cat girls, devils, teddy bears and even a stained-glass window themed Vtuber. It seems anything that could be a Vtuber, as long as you either have the skills or wallet, can be one.
I also want to make clear that Vtuber is often used across the board these days, not JUST for virtual creators on YouTube. I have seen ‘Vstreamer’ used for creators who just stream on platforms like Twitch, but for the sake of simplicity, I will be using Vtuber for all virtual creators in this article, regardless of their platform.
With personality and appearance often being sited as a major reason for the popularity of certain content creators, why in the world would you want to hide or alter yours to become virtual character? Well, for many, it’s how they actually prefer to present themselves.
I chatted with a couple of amazing Vtubers recently to see what their direct reasons for becoming a virtual content creator were.
For some like creator StormRNG, it comes down to wanting to create a character,
“I’ve always felt like a character in my own show”, Storm explains. “I’ve never really felt comfy being myself on camera, but I’ve always had a loud and animated persona. This sort of made me want to create something to match who I was.”
This sort of statement was echoed by another wonderful Vtuber who spoke with me, ChibiNo1, who explained,
“Being a Vtuber gives me the confidence to be myself without worry about what look like! It makes me really happy and gives me strength.”
During my chats with both creators, it became very clear to me how special these Vtuber personas are to people who use them, almost finding it easier to express themselves via the use of these avatars. Some Vtubers chose to create entirely different personas around their characters, while others merely use them in place of a camera. For some, Vtubing could also be a choice for safety reasons. A Vtuber I watched in the past explained that due to problems with stalking, she has to use a virtual avatar as using her own face and voice, could result in her stalker finding her. Without the concept of Vtubing, it’s possible this creator wouldn’t have even been able to follow their content creation dreams at all.
As someone who personally loves Vtubers and Vtubing, it would be easy for me to say there isn’t any. But there are of course drawbacks with anything and I think it’s important to showcase those too.
The first that comes to mind, is the cost and time that comes with electing to be a Vtuber. Both Storm and Chibi disclosed to me they had spent at minimum 1k AUD on their Vtuber assets, which is a pretty common number I’ve seen doing research. Becoming a Vtuber is not as simple as pressing a few buttons like it is to just set up a webcam. Either you have to spend countless hours drawing and rigging your model or pay someone to do it for you. Both are equally taxing on the creator, whether it’s in time or money.
Another drawback is that for some, the concept of Vtubers in general is rather off putting.
One Redditor shared,
“I don’t like VTubers. Something about them just comes off as fake and superficial.” They continue, “Even when snippets of their true personality shows, it’s cherry-picked to reinforce their persona [..] You can’t seriously expect me to buy into this “real life anime girl” aesthetic if you don’t even show me your face? Hell, maybe use your real voice and maybe that could be a good first step.”
While I disagree with this, by choosing to use a Vtuber persona, there will be those who find that choice off-putting. And, if you began as a webcam creator and switched later, this can certainly mean members of your audience might stop watching entirely, which is a risk some creators aren’t able to take.
Will Vtubers be the future of content creation?
Since the global pandemic, I’ve personally noticed more and more Vtubers popping up across all platforms. But does that mean we can see a future of only virtual content creators? Storm and Chibi both see Vtubers growing in popularity further, and both site it as being a good thing.
“I see Vtubing getting much bigger, I think the possibilities to express yourself are so fun and amazing”.
“Through Vtubing, we’re making a fun, comfy place where everyone is welcome. If someday everyone can find a place where they feel like they’re comfortable and safe, I don’t think that’ll be bad at all, and that’s what Vtubing is aiming to do.”
I can’t see traditional webcam or no cam content creators going away any time soon, but if Vtubing makes people feel more comfortable and confident to put themselves out there, I think that’s certainly something positive. Content creation has this remarkable ability to make people feel connected. And in a world where 54% of respondents to the AIHW’s suicide and self-monitoring website, “reported that they felt more lonely since the start of the pandemic”, I can’t see that ever entirely being a bad thing.
Special thanks to the Vtubers who helped me out with this article. Check out StormRNG and ChibiNo1 for some awesome content!