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VTubers: A Brief History

10/05/2022 Written by The Game Marketer

What is a VTuber?

A virtual YouTuber (or VTuber) is a content creator who uses motion capture technologies to portray an animated character on YouTube or Twitch. VTubers are most commonly associated with gaming and anime, with many popular VTubers using anime-style characters in their content. VTubing originated in Japan in the mid 2010’s (with the majority of VTubers streaming and creating content in Japanese at this time), and has since become popular in English-speaking parts of the World in the 2020’s.

The term ‘Virtual YouTuber’ was coined by one of the first major break-out VTuber stars, Kizuna AI in 2016. Kizuna AI maintained her status as one of the most popular VTubers until taking an indefinite hiatus in February of 2022. However, virtual YouTubers existed years before Kizuna AI rose to stardom and coined the term. One of the very first virtual YouTube creators was Ami Yamato. Yamato used her incredible animating skills to blend her virtual character with real-life surroundings and posted content ranging from vlogs, to movie parodies, to make-up tutorials. Yamato herself was so early to the trend that she barely considers herself a VTuber – and has been quoted as to saying; “Everyone is a persona of their true self… Everyone is virtual on YouTube.”

What is a VTuber?

Success in Japan

As mentioned above, VTubing has bee popular in Japan and with Japanese speakers since 2016, with Kizuna AI leading the charge. Other popular Japenese-speaking VTubers who debuted in the 2010’s included; Houshou Marine, Kaguya Luna, Usada Pekora and Shirakami Fubuki. These creators, along with others, laid the foundations of VTubing, and brought the content-style to the attention of the masses. Whilst VTubers began becoming popular in the mid-2010’s, it wasn’t really until the Covid-19 pandemic that the content-style took off in a huge way. Viewership of VTubers on Twitch grew at nearly twice the rate that overall viewership on Twitch grew during the early months of 2020.

Whilst VTubers started out as individuals running their own channels (maybe with small teams of people helping them), such as in the case of Ami Yamato, agencies and companies have now become the main source of VTuber content. The current biggest VTuber agency on YouTube is Hololive, with 22 out of the top 25 most subscribed VTubers on YouTube belonging to the agency. Other agencies such as Nijsanji and VShojo are also big names in the VTuber scene, with each agency owning multiple different VTuber characters and have 10s of millions of subscribers and followers between them.

VTubers Brief History

Global Success

Leading on from the huge success of VTubers in Japan, VTubers have also grown exponentially in popularity in the Western market in recent years. In fact, the number 1 most subscribed VTuber currently is Gawr Gura (who overtook Kizuna AI’s follower count in June 2021), who is an English-speaking, Western-based VTuber. Likewise, the 5th current most subscribed VTuber, Mori Calliope, is also English-speaking and Western-based. The success of English-speaking VTubers such as Gawr Gura and Mori Calliope displays the potential of English-speaking VTubers and the success that they can have.

What Next for VTubers?

Whilst the concept of VTubers is still relatively fresh to most people, there has already been huge success stories coming out of the VTuber scene. VTubers also provide a distinictly unique marketing opportunity for brands, particularly for video games. There have been several successful VTuber marketing campaigns to this day, such as the Japanese National Tourism Organization’s ‘Come to Japan’ video campaign featuring Kizuna AI.

VTubers are an exciting emerging style of content creator that will provide lots of unique and interesting opportunities for brands to produce engaging marketing content.

If you are interested in hearing from The Game Marketer about how to collaborate with VTubers, let us know!