People livestream on TikTok for all kinds of reasons. Musicians use it as a way to promote their art by playing their music live for their fans. Some people use it to play board games with a live audience, others like to sit and chat while getting ready for an event. In the summer of 2023 a new type of TikTok live stream emerged that had the entire app buzzing. It started with a few creators and then grew until a considerable number of users were trying it out. It’s called NPC live streaming and it turns out, people were actually making a lot of money from it.
NPC stands for “non-player/playable character,” which is any character in a video game that you can’t play as. They’re those characters you talk to in games that’ll give you information or a mission to help string the game along. They’re recognizable by their repetitive speech and robotic movement. Some video game players will have a favourite NPC character in each game they play, and they’ll make time in their gameplay just to chat with them. TikTok creators started acting like NPC characters on live streams, adopting fluid and robotic movements and saying the same phrases over and over again with the same monotone expression, and they’ll do it for hours. Viewers “virtually gifting” the creators with specific virtual “gifts” would trigger specific phrases or movements, and the more they were gifted these virtual presents, the more they would say the phrase. The “gifts” actually translate to real money, which means these live streams were actually generating an impressive amount of cash without having to do much to get it.
According to cbsnews.com some of these livestreamers can generate up to $7000 a day from going live a couple of times. The virtual gifts require TikTok users to invest some of their own money, though. Users can exchange their real money for “coins” in predetermined bundles starting at 74 cents, which can then be turned into virtual gifts to share with their favourite creators. When livestreamers reach a certain threshold of gifts, they can cash those back out to real money. TikTok keeps about 50 per cent of the proceeds from the gifts, which means viewers are spending a lot of their own money to send to their NPC streamer of choice.
According to KnowYourMeme.com one of the first people to do an NPC livestream was a Japanese TikToker who goes by @natuecoco, but TikTok creator PinkyDoll is credited with popularizing the concept of NPC lives on the social media app. The Montreal influencer who goes by Fedha Sinon in real life, brought attention to the trend when a video of her repeating phrases while popping corn kernels in a hair straightener in her kitchen on a livestream went viral on X (formerly Twitter). Once people found out how much money she was able to make from something simple and yes, a little bit silly, the rest is history. Now scrolling on your TikTok FYP, you’ll probably see a number of people trying their hand at NPC live streaming. People have gotten creative with it, too. Creators will dress up to take their character to the next level. You can watch Barbie themed livestreams, animal themed ones, and even sick victorian child themed lives (my personal favourite).
Over the pandemic content creation on sites like Patreon and OnlyFans became more popular to make extra money from the comfort and safety of people’s homes. It didn’t always need to be X-rated content either. A lot of influencers turned to the tiered subscription-based platforms to share photos of them in swimwear or lingerie, nothing more than they would regularly share on Instagram for free, to make some extra income. OnlyFans has been around since 2016 and revolutionized the online sex work space. According to neoreach.com in 2021 the site started seeing a rise in Instagram models creating accounts on the website to share their content directly with their fans. In turn,their fans can directly compensate them for consuming their content. Now they wouldn’t have to rely on ads and sponsorships to make money. They could be in total control of their content and how much they were making from it. These subscription-based sites create spaces for creators to collect deposits from adoring followers, so it’s not really surprising that this type of transaction would spill into TikTok’s live space. It’s hard to figure out why we enjoy watching these livestreams as much as we do. A reason that might explain the fascination with NPC livestreams is the curiosity to see how long a creator can keep the act up. Indy100.com says this specific content relies on an increased level of interaction from both the “performer” and the viewer to succeed, and on an app that generates content that caters to shrinking attention spans, this is kind of an anomaly. Music producer Timbaland was discovered as one of PinkyDoll’s top stream viewers, so it’s safe to say the trend has everyone from regular teens to hollywood moguls engaged.
TikTok is a weird and wonderful place with new trends emerging daily. The app has changed the way we consume content, so it’s only natural that the content we like to consume has evolved with it. Since September of 2023 the influx of the app’s users attempting to make a quick buck off of an NPC livestream has died down, but there are some who have continued to create this niche content on a regular basis. PinkyDoll’s lives became so popular she travelled to Los Angeles at the end of August to attend the Streamy awards only a few weeks after she went viral for the first time. Her overnight success is just another example of the kind of Cinderella stories we hear about what can happen when you become popular online. As long as there are people with the hunger for at least a little slice of internet fame, we’ll get to see more out-of-the-box content like NPC livestreams trend. It’s just all part of the fun. We enjoy riding the wave of internet trends and the excitement w feel watching where these trends and people end up in the social media zeitgeist.