Gree-owned firm launches app aimed at boosting Japan’s booming world of ‘virtual YouTubers’

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

An app offering livestreamed videos featuring virtual stars debuted Tuesday with the aim of accelerating Japan’s emerging world of avatar entertainers.

Wright Flyer Live Entertainment, wholly owned by mobile game producer Gree Inc., said the app — called Reality — is designed to help virtual celebrities connect with fans and monetize their activities.

Virtual stars are represented online by avatars that usually look like anime characters.

The number of so-called virtual YouTubers has increased rapidly over the past several months, with the current figure topping 4,400.

But there are only about 20 who have turned their efforts into a successful business, said Eiji Araki, who heads Wright Flyer Live Entertainment.

The firm wants to offer support for virtual stars, “but just increasing the number is not that effective. We want them to keep on doing their activities,” Araki said Tuesday during a news conference in Tokyo. “(To do that), gaining fans and monetization are essential. So, we are providing a platform to support that.”

The Reality app allows fans to send text messages to virtual stars as well as digital gifts, such as dolls and sunglasses. Some of the gifts cost money, allowing the operators of the avatars to earn income.

The app will feature popular virtual YouTubers such as Nekomasu and Mito Tsukino and will livestream 60 hours of programs monthly.

The firm also said it will launch another app, called Reality Avatar, in the fall. This one will allow people to create avatars and livestream as virtual characters via smartphones.

Whereas Reality is for existing virtual YouTubers who have gained some popularity, Reality Avatar will be geared toward general users. To produce smooth 3D avatar videos, people need motion-capture and filming devices to mirror their real-life movements and voice. Such equipment has become cheaper these days, but it can still be costly and also requires technical knowledge.

Thus, “it’s still not something that everyone can casually do,” said Araki, adding that Reality Avatar will make it easier.

Gree has been betting big on the emerging sector. The firm launched Wright Flyer Live Entertainment in April and announced a ¥10 billion investment over the next two years.

The firm is also trying to widen opportunities for virtual entertainers to show off their talents beyond posting videos. Last week, the firm said it will establish a record label focused on virtual stars by teaming up with King Record Co., a major Japanese record label.