Digital live events are becoming a recuperation perspective for the music industry after considerable lockdown effects since the pandemic began. I went to a Japanese Virtual YouTuber concert to check how well live concerts work in VR, how they create bonding between performers and fans – and how they can serve as a blueprint for monetization.
Cinderella Switch is a monthly music event on VARK. Each session features two Hololive Virtual YouTubers with their singing repertoire on stage in VR. The events are broadcasted like a live concert, usually organized in three main parts: a solo live concert of each VTuber and a final meet & greet session with both VTubers together. The special twist of this concept puts the non-performing VTuber in the role of escorting the viewer to the performance of the other VTuber and vice versa. The viewer actually visits two concerts, each of them with another virtual companion. During the show parts, the escorting companion cheers to the performance and makes comments to the viewer.
Technically, every moment of the live broadcasting is preproduced – songs, light show, motion captured singers and even the cheerleading parts have been choreographed before. Apart from the immersive stage impression which already preserves a sense of presence, the viewer is constantly addressed by the singer, the companion or the animated shadow audience. There is no direct interaction possible. There is no touching, and characters blend out when the viewer approaches too closely. The viewer is limited to swinging rhythmic light sticks. Indirect participation is possible by sending messages to the stage, ordering flower bouquets or placing stage decorations with the donor’s name tag on it. All of these actions can be purchased during the show with in-app currency. None of these actions triggers any difference in the roll-out of the show. The whole event is a celebrity service-supply in return for personal attendance. It’s a strictly orchestrated date.
Every participant views the shows separately from other audience participants. Despite the continuous animation in virtual company, the event is an isolated experience. Communication between participants, and therefore signs of presence, are also made through indirect participation as you can see other people’s messages as well as their sponsored decorations on stage. Keeping in mind that VTubers easily attract more than a million followers on their respective YouTube channel, this allows singleton VR experiences on a very large scale. The whole organization stays in line with YouTube streaming conventions: staged messages work like Super Chat and stage sponsoring mimics Super Stickers. Familiarity is queen, not innovation. But if you compare your event experience in VR with a later video recording on a screen, the difference is remarkable in terms of immersion, intimacy and intensification.
Cinderella Switch events focus entirely on visualization and bonding offers of the merchandise persona, staying loyal to the inner core of virtual idol conceptions. The event is personalized and serialized at the same time, solely through the one-time-only broadcasting moment. This is a very different approach to live events than multiplayer VR performances which can only be realized in small groups. It is also not comparable to social VR music events where avatar participation is in the focus. And VR theater streams normally stay in the framework of their traditional viewing perspective, while the VTuber performance consistently switches to closeness and viewer integration.
A concert session lasts for a whole evening of 3 hours (morning time in CET) – with breaks in between the sections long enough to recharge your headset. The ticket price for the complete live broadcasting event lies in the ballpark of an AAA game, but you may go for individual program parts for less. Shows are in Japanese only, and it helps to be familiar with Virtual YouTuber fandom customs before. There is plenty of kawainess and daisuki moments in play. Chances are that you feel more familiar after having paid a visit in VR.
All images are screenshots by Jochen Schmidt from Cinderella Switch/VARK on Oculus Quest