In latest TikTok fad, creators make big bucks off “NPC streaming”


TikTok’s latest viral trend isn’t a choreographed dance, lip-sync performance or Venetian woman screaming at pickpockets. In fact, most people really aren’t sure how to describe it. Yet the words of the content creator who made the trend go viral are instantly familiar to her legion of fans: “Ice cream so good. Gang gang. Yes yes yes.”

That nonsensical stream of words, often accompanied by robotic body movements, is part of TikToker PinkyDoll’s usual performance as a kind of flesh-and-blood, non-playable character, or NPC.

NPC content, a niche category that incorporates elements of ASMR, and that some say contains sexual undertones, is a growing trend on TikTok that is amassing millions of views and earning top practitioners like PinkyDoll and Cherry Crush thousands of dollars per day.

Here’s what to know about the viral TikTok trend:

What is an NPC video? 

The term NPC originates from the roleplaying game “Dungeons and Dragons” as a way to describe characters whose actions are dictated by the game master, according to the website Know Your Meme. It later gained traction in the video game community, where it refers to characters with programmed dialogue and actions that can’t be controlled by the gamer, like the pedestrians in “Grand Theft Auto.”

How do NPC streamers make money? 

During TikTok livestreams, users can send their favorite content creators virtual gifts through the livestream’s comments section in the form of online “stickers” shaped like ice cream cones, roses, birthday cakes and other items that will pop up on screen. 

Users purchase stickers using TikTok coins that are bought using real-world money on the platform’s app or website. The virtual tokens are available in packages, with the smallest bundle of 70 TikTok coins costing 74 cents and a package of 7,000 coins going for $74, the platform’s coin recharge page shows. Gifts like a flower sticker cost as little as one TikTok coin, while a sticker depicting a pair of lions will set users back 34,000 TikTok coins. 

NPC creators take home 50% of the value of all the stickers they receive during a livestream. They must convert the stickers into gift coins, which are then exchanged for “digital diamonds.” When a creator has $100 worth of diamonds, they can cash those out for real money, Insider reported. 

During Tiktok livestreams, users can send content creators virtual gifts. The online “stickers” (seen above), are shaped like ice cream cones, roses, birthday cakes and other items that pop up on screen once sent.

Screenshot of TikTok livestream by @vicblends

TikTok keeps what’s left of the other 50% of proceeds from the virtual gifts, “after deducting the required payments to app stores, payment processors and any other adjustment required under [TikTok’s] terms and policies,” a TikTok spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. 

NPC performers like PinkyDoll often respond robotically to virtual gifts they receive during a livestream with made up sounds or catchphrases evocative of the stickers being sent, encouraging fans to send more. The resulting word soup, along with creators’ repetitive body movements, resemble the actions of NPCs on video games.

How much money can NPC content creators make?

Top creators in the NPC category are earning thousands of dollars per day.

PinkyDoll makes between $2,000 and $3,000 per stream, and up to $7,000 a day from her videos, she recently told the New York Times. Streamer Kai Cenat recently revealed he made nearly $6,000 by going live on TikTok in a video he posted to video game streaming platform Twitch. 

Why do people watch NPC videos? 

Online, there has been much speculation, if little agreement, about what users find so appealing about NPC videos. According to some creators and viewers, the enjoyment comes down to the fast pace of the videos and the gratification they feel from controlling the human NPC’s on-camera reactions in real time.  

“It’s very stimulating, because it’s fast and very repetitive, so people sit and watch it to see the next reaction or if I will break character or mess up somehow from too many gifts,” Cherry Crush, a popular NPC TikTok creator, told the New York Times in an interview. 

Another reason why the videos could be gaining traction is because they incorporate elements of ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a practice in which people whisper into a mic or enhance tactile sounds of using different objects, which leaves some listeners with a tingling sensation in their bodies.

For example, in some of her videos, PinkyDoll uses a flatiron to pop popcorn kernels and taps her acrylic nails against each other, creating sounds that some users may find pleasing. 

Other social media users say there is a sexual element to NPC content having to do with controlling the movements and words of performers, some of whom are attractive women. 

“The SECOND I saw this NPC trend I knew it was sexual and fetishized,” one Twitter user said in a tweet. 

 Some creators deny claims that their content is even remotely sexual. 

“I don’t make my show sexually suggestive at all,” Cherry Crush told the New York Times.  “I always thought it was just funny & entertaining.”

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