The Vtuber Industry: Corporatization, Labor, and Kawaii

“I do play games, I promise I play games. Just not this type of game.” A tiny animated girl wearing a shark hood named Gawr Gura demurs on stream as she maneuvers a 3D shark through the ocean of the video game Maneater. “I wanted to play this game so I could wow everybody with my shark skills but all I’ve done is make a fool of myself.” Her voice sounds dejected, but even her model slumps downward, her eyes closed. For a vtuber (virtual YouTuber) who streams every week as a cheery shark-girl, the moment is oddly revealing of the person behind the avatar.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/akdj3z/the-vtuber-industry-corporatization-labor-and-kawaii
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Now THIS is Cyberpunk.

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I am suddenly an old man on my porch yelling at clouds. I don’t understand why anyone would want this. I thought it was a stretch in Idoru, but reading this, I think if Gibson missed on anything, it’s how much less technology would be required to create virtual stardom than he assumed.

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I do I share the article’s curiosity about contracts, although I don’t know enough about the agencies to even begin to ask questions. I just hope that the livers get the support they need, but as the author points out it seems like a black box both in respects to worker’s rights and to finances. From what I gather, some agencies (not mentioned in the article) really mismanaged their workers, even withholding pay for months on end. Like any new, growing tech field it seems ripe for exploitation.

Sorry, what do you mean? Are you asking why somebody would want to be a virtual youtuber, watch them, or work for an agency? To the first I’ve heard many reasons, from not being comfortable showing your real appearance, to enjoying an idealized or fantastical form. To the second, they’re entertainers, like any other streamer or LP’er. Many of them are quite good at it, too. To the third, well, like any other field starting out as an independent is difficult.

I think I most understand why someone might want to create a virtual avatar to appear in public, but I already have trouble understanding why people watch streamers. The closest I can get to understanding it is the appeal of the human being there (or a particular real world interest: like planners playing Cities Skylines). So make it an avatar, with a backstory and characterization and adding in a layer of “corporate controlled” virtual and I extremely don’t get it. To be clear, I don’t mean to say “this is bad”, I mean to say I really don’t understand the appeal (more of a confession that I am out of touch on this than anything),

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This is also past my yell at clouds point. Y’all wild.

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This is one of those things I don’t get now, but once the market is oversaturated and the character designs get wild, are less ‘underage girl in a hoodie’ and more laser targeted at my sensibilities and interests, I’ll probably find one I enjoy enough to watch them play Elden Ring or whatever.

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I think if you’re already bought in to the idea of streaming in general, then this is a small and obvious next step. If you’re not, you’ll never get it.

The labour questions are a big source of concern, though. It seems like the anonymity doesn’t actually serve to protect the people behind the characters from their audience, while on the flip side it makes it harder for them to agitate for better contracts since their streaming “brand” is wholly owned by their employer and the audience has no idea who they work for.

It reminds me of the bad old days of comics when books didn’t even come with credits and legends like Carl Banks were just known as “the Good Duck Artist”.

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It’s hard not to be wary of the practices behind the scenes, both in terms of personal credit for their performances and the opaqueness of their internal conflicts, like failing to protect their workers from harassment or suspending talent for minor slip-ups re: Taiwan.
It’s been years since Hololive debuted and they have not even hired chat mods as far as I’m aware…

I can only hope it’s not secretly a mess back there and the cute and funny animated people are paid fairly and enjoy their time, they’re certainly great at it, seriously go watch some clips.

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the credit angle is a very valid point. i can’t help but cringe at the lack of apparent leverage for the employees. if there is an unfair split of revenue between the company and the person streaming they don’t even have the leverage that kirby or the kirby estate had cause at least kirby was a known name in comic circles

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I like the idea of people using virtual avatars to stream (provided I only see them in as a bust because the lack of arm/shoulder movement terrifies me). I think it’s an excellent solution for people who want to seperate their real life persona from the one they have as an entertainer. I think it’s good for trans people who want to stream without people focusing on their appearance. I think it’s cool that people can stream as their fursonas. People have been using avatars as a form of identifying themselves to others on the internet since forums first let you slap images next to your username. I can’t imagine anyone following only my posting history on here sees me as anything but a brightly colored alligator furry. I have friends who have basic 2D and 3D rigs for streaming just because it’s a good way to give people an image of yourself to latch onto without… actually giving them an image of yourself.

However, there’s a difference between singular streamers raking in dosh mostly independently with sponsors on the side, mostly beholden to their own work schedule and whatever weird tax shit they need to do for their income, and… this. Where I’m iffy about Vtubers is the existence they maintain as corporate entities that are essentially being sold as the gaming version of idols. The idol comparison doesn’t strike me as far off, even given my limited understanding of idol culture. It’s a level of celebrity culture I’m not interested in participating in, and extremely wary of, given past incidents. Except the celebrity in this is mostly in the avatar, not in the actor, so it feels like there’s more wiggle room for worker exploitation on the part of the company.

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This space is just starting, I think.

It’s gonna get wild soon.

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Fursonas are where we will really see how far we can push Vtubing technology. I’m fucking hype for it.

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Wilder (and more personalised) characters are great to see, the vtubing space is already broadening from the themed anime girl space, showing that folks can express themselves however they like with indie setups or small groups. (been doing it myself and it’s revitalised an interest in streaming)

I like my share of corporate vtubers but the more democratised it gets the better, I think it’ll be a sizeable part of streaming culture going forward.

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Comparing Hololive to Disney feels like more than a bit of a stretch. The only necessary corporate comparison is Idol groups–an industry that Hololive at least has explicitly claimed to be modeled after, and subsequently an industry from which Hololive has unfortunately inherited some of its flaws. Better not let your microphone pick up any male voices in the background, for example.

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This one is one of my favs:

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The program used to rig the 2d models (it’s actually very interesting in that you’re essentially tweening raster art that you’ve done an extremely fastidious amount of layer organization on and it’s not a million miles from the puppet tool in after effects) is more expensive than photoshop. Over and above this you need a commercial license for facerig, which is also moving to a monthly subscription model. Vtubing is already an industry that fully expects to make bank at every level (except the artists who will always be mega underpaid). If you do even a cursory search, there’s a ton of people that want to get into it but almost none of them have the technical know how to make / set up the models so I can see why it would be easy for a corporate arm that provides all that stuff ready to go to recruit.

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All this shit is fucking fascinating. I refuse to have an old man yells at cloud moment until I actually spend some time watching vtubers and get a taste of the actual content and how it differs from other streaming content (which I’m also woefully unfamiliar with).

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While i’m all for stuff questioning the labor practices and the almost guaranteed exploitation inherent to all artistic ventures, I don’t think the authors of this piece did enough research on Vtubers? I think the idea that vtubing precludes the talent from being themselves or that the audience is more invested in the anime avatar in the front rather than the actors behind them is extremely wrong. Even just sticking with HoloLive, just watch a mix of talented entertainers like Ina, Kiara, Pekora, Korone, or Haachama, who are all diverse personality wise and are people you flat out just can’t sub out with another performer. Pekora is the most popular streamer in Japan period, and that isn’t based on her avatar. Uncomplicated people that can easily be pulled off the shelf and replaced is just staggering in how completely wrong it is

EDIT: The more i mull this piece over in my head the more I find it incredibly demeaning to the performers being speculated on. There is definitely ways to critique the space, especially the corporations involved, but when the article clearly comes at it from people barely interested in the talent as more than faceless oddities, its hard to see it more than a wierd spec take gawking at a form of entertainment that they don’t really have any interest in understanding

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In general, I find the widespread anonymity in parts of japanese pop-culture industries (for example, it’s quite common for manga artists and to a lesser extent even movie and game directors) to never show their faces or appear much in public quite refreshing in contrast to the excessive visual branding of, especially, american pop-culture. Yet, the concerns about the potential labour dispute disadvantage are of course valid. Capital is good at ruining everything, so it’s unsurprising that it can also ruin this.

There seems to be some disagreement in the thread with the articles narrative. I wouldn’t know what’s closer to the truth, as I’m a fish out of water regarding Vtubers, and tbqh I don’t know if I’m interested enough to do the heavy research myself. Naturally, I’ll also stay away from trying to analyze ideology or whatever in the Vtubers personas and their appeal for that reason.
Furthermore, I must admit that I’m not really familiar with live-streaming in general, as I prefer recorded videos (of streams too) over watching someone live. It’s just much more convenient for me and I don’t care at all about the real-time interaction through the chat, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. The employment situation of Vtubers though, in contrast with the weird quasi petty-bourgeois/small business nature and associated remnants of tech ideology of regular youtubers or streamers makes me much more interested in this particular part of the industry.

If someone wants to link further articles on the topic, that they think provides a good overview, I would appreciate it.

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