“NPC” livestream trend
An increasing number of TikTok creators have embraced a peculiar trend known as "non-playable characters" or NPCs, and some have found a way to monetize their participation in this unconventional phenomenon.
The trend of human creators emulating NPCs is relatively recent. One of the earliest documented instances can be traced back to a Japanese TikToker named nautecoco in a 2022 video. Since then, other creators have joined in with similar TikTok livestreams, although their reception has been mixed. According to Marcus Bösch, a TikTok research fellow at HAW Hamburg, who manages the Understanding TikTok newsletter, interest in the NPC trend keeps growing. He's been compiling an expanding list of NPC videos as part of his research into how these trends evolve. Proprietary data seen by the BBC reveals that creators using the hashtag #NPC uploaded over 47,000 videos in July, which collectively garnered 835 million views.
Streaming oneself in front of a phone, repeatedly uttering the same phrases and actions, might appear like a peculiar pastime. Nonetheless, some NPC creators have started to see significant revenue from this trend. In July, PinkyDoll disclosed to The New York Times that she earned between $2,000 and $3,000 per livestream through in-app gifts that trigger her scripted responses. This income is a testament to her highly engaged viewership, even though individual gifts are often worth just a few pennies. For instance, sending an ice cream cone gift to PinkyDoll costs $1.30.
Fedha Sinon, who goes by the moniker PinkyDoll and is based in Montréal, is a prominent figure in this emerging trend. The 27-year-old TikTok personality is recognized for her peculiar habit of repeatedly reciting sing-song and often nonsensical phrases during TikTok LIVE sessions. Her catchphrase, "Ice cream so good," has taken the internet by storm, even reaching meme status.
@cozydawgy Thank you Slay Mmm Ice cream so good #pinkydoll #ai #live #fyp #foryou #sundayfunday ♬ Barbie World (with Aqua) [From Barbie The Album] - Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice & Aqua
PinkyDoll is among the vanguard of the NPC trend that has seized the attention of TikTok users. In this trend, content creators mimic the repetitive actions and phrases of non-playable characters (NPCs) commonly found in video games. PinkyDoll has cited her inspiration from the background characters in the Grand Theft Auto game series, often referred to as "idle animations." Video game developers program these background characters with limited phrases and actions to create a vibrant in-game world where they repeat these actions and lines. Jess Maddox, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama specializing in internet culture, explains, "These characters in games have few phrases to say or actions to perform and often cycle through them. As such, NPC creators will only cycle through the same phrases and actions while avoiding too many new ones."
While the NPC livestream trend might seem unusual, it has proven lucrative for some creators. Viewers can purchase virtual "gifts" for these creators during their livestreams, which appear on-screen. When a creator receives a gift, they respond with a pre-programmed phrase or action. For PinkyDoll, gifting an ice cream triggers her iconic "Ice cream so good" response, while a cowboy hat prompts a "Yeehaw, yes" reply. Creators earn a portion of the cost of these virtual gifts, even though they are often valued at just a few cents.
While Jess Maddox has not specifically studied NPC creators, she has found that these TikTok creators primarily rely on livestreams for the bulk of their app income. Maddox also believes that it won't be long before brands jump on the bandwagon to collaborate with NPC creators for sponsored content, further boosting their earnings.
Although the NPC trend is currently enjoying a surge in popularity, its long-term sustainability is uncertain, given the fleeting nature of social media trends. Nevertheless, experts believe that this trend could endure. Maddox points out, "I can definitely see this trend continuing. I've spent years studying ASMR on YouTube, and the parallels to NPC TikToks are striking." Indeed, some ASMR creators are transitioning from YouTube to TikTok to generate quick revenue and build an audience.
In any case, regardless of the staying power of creators like PinkyDoll, this phenomenon signifies a broader trend. It demonstrates that creators are continually exploring new and unconventional ways to make money on social media platforms, and they will continue to do so as they seek innovative avenues to connect with their audience.