March 13, 2024

How does AKA Virtual rescue classic IPs from the “midlife crisis”?

Remember those classic characters that accompanied you through your childhood? Whether it was the multi-talented Ninja Turtles, the “blue hero” Rockman, the mischievous Pink Panther, or the various superheroes and princesses you’ve seen in cartoons and video games, many of these once-popular idols that filled our childhood with memories have been all but forgotten, gathering dust, far out of the spotlight.

However, thanks to social media and new technologies, these forgotten heroes and aging beauties finally have a chance to shine again.

SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog is one example of how classic IPs (Intellectual Properties) can be re-polished.

How does AKA Virtual rescue a classic, aging IP like Sonic the Hedgehog from “midlife crisis”?

Sonic captivated fans worldwide with its video game debut in the 1990s, before making its way into movies, comics and animations. However, as new fictional characters appeared on the scene, Sonic the Hedgehog began to decline in popularity, falling out of favor and losing much of its charm.

But things have begun to turn around in recent years.

In 2023, SEGA launched the short animation series, SONIC & FRIENDS. This web series depicts Sonic the Hedgehog in a noticeably different animation style from the original, opting for a cuter approach to the character. Each video, lasting only 30 seconds, avoids complicated storylines and typically consists of Sonic and his friends dancing around happily. These videos have sparked intense discussions on social media, with each garnering thousands to tens of thousands of comments and hundreds of thousands of likes, indicating high levels of community engagement.

In less than a month, the SONIC & FRIENDS series garnered 7 million views on TikTok, not only rekindling public interest in these beloved characters, but more importantly, opening up a new channel for SEGA to connect with the younger Gen Z audience.

In 2023, AKA Virtual embarked on a new collaborative effort with SEGA Corporation on the latter’s iconic mascot – SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.

AKA Virtual was the main contributor behind this success, as the firm handled everything from script writing and character design to film production and social media management.

By pioneering “next-generation storytelling,” AKA Virtual has attracted well-known IPs to become Indonesia’s second-largest Vtuber agency

“What we are creating is next-generation storytelling,” said Jia Shen, founder and CEO of AKA Virtual. “Gen Z and Gen Alpha are what we call ‘digital natives.’ The ways they receive information are very different from previous generations. To communicate with them, you must first find the proper channels. These channels are definitely not traditional media such as TV and magazines; instead, they are TikTok, Xiaohongshu, Instagram Reels, and even VR Chat.”

Headquartered in Japan, AKA Virtual is a 3-year-old start-up that specializes in using Real-Time CG Technology to create various 2D/3D characters for IP owners. What makes AKA Virtual stand out is that it does not aim to make traditional feature-length animations but instead focuses on new kinds of interactive experiences using new-generation media, such as Vtuber virtual idols, short videos, livestreams, virtual concerts, and AR/MR.

In addition to creating characters, AKA Virtual oversees initial script design and character development, handles video production, and manages social media interaction. AKA Virtual has also developed a series of professional solutions that allow creators to produce high-quality livestreams and AR/MR content using only mobile phones and computers.

Simply put, AKA Virtual is more like a think tank and an arsenal that supports well-known IPs, rather than merely a technology provider. By offering real-time CG technology alongside tailored content strategies, the company ensures rapid global exposure for new IPs while helping old IPs connect with young audiences through novel interactive methods.

JKT48V hosted Jak Japan Matsuri 2023 in Indonesia.

In addition to being favored by many well-known IP owners, AKA Virtual has also been successful with its own VTubers. The company currently has a total of 25 VTubers, including Akemi Nekomachi, a male VTuber that has amassed 1.94 million subscribers. AKA Virtual’s primary markets are Japan and Indonesia, and it boasts Hololive Production, one of Japan’s two major VTuber agencies in Japan, as one of its clients. In Indonesia, AKA Virtual has secured its place as the second largest VTuber agency and serves as the creative force behind three virtual idols in the Indonesian girl idol group JKT48.

AKA Virtual’s Indonesian VTuber Akemi Nekomachi has become the top male VTuber spot with 1.65 million subscribers on YouTube as of 30 Oct 2023.

Two trends that have allowed AKA Virtual to identify market gaps

How did AKA Virtual discover this untapped market? First, the nature of content changed.

Content production is happening at an unprecedented pace. In an era of information overload, people’s attention spans have gotten so short that they’ve not only become the scarcest resource on the planet but are also driving intense competition among companies. Whoever captures the most attention can greatly enhance their brand’s visibility. However, new tactics are needed to win on this new battlefield. “What stories should we tell? How and where do we tell them in order to reach the new generation? These are the pain points that every brand has to address.”

Jia Shen pointed out that the shift in attention has fundamentally changed the way content is presented. “Micro-storytelling,” which revolves around social media, is brief, quickly updated, and receives significant engagement, with short videos as a prime example. In September 2021, the short video platform TikTok surpassed 1.5 billion active users, while YouTube Shorts had reached 2.2 billion active users worldwide. Hubspot’s 2023 marketing report pointed out that among the various forms of social media content, including images, articles, podcasts, Instagram stories, and livestreams, short videos yielded the highest rate of return. In terms of discovering potential customers and audience engagement, the effectiveness of short videos surpasses all other types of video content.

Second, IPs were aging.

A valuable IP is based on time and a history of success, but continuous innovation is needed to stay relevant. If the owner of an IP does not continually make use of it, it will gradually grow old and be forgotten by fans. Even once-famous IPs are incapable of reconnecting with newer generations of consumers without well-managed social media engagement and content.

As it so happens, social media management and content production are AKA Virtual’s major strengths. Jia Shen observed that as social media has become the primary source of information, many IP owners have become more willing to increase their social media marketing budgets to increase IP exposure.

Under the conventional licensing model, a company that wants to make use of a well-known IP for promotional purposes must pay licensing fees to its owner; however, this model has not yet been established in the world of social media. “What we found is that up until now, no one has really provided licensing for social media contexts.” This gap represents vast and unexplored opportunities for social media licensing, and AKA Virtual is well-positioned to take advantage of them.

AKA Virtual fills this market gap by providing a range of content creation services, including 3D/2D models, livestreams, and VTuber content, as well as social media management services. In exchange, IP owners grant AKA Virtual the licensing rights to use their IPs for free. The clients usually comprise game developers, VTuber agencies, TV stations, or film production companies. Though the characters, IPs, or mascots these clients own may have acquired a certain degree of popularity, they might not be active on social media, or the owners might be unfamiliar with short videos. As a result, they lack the crucial “interactive” element that would allow them to connect with an audience.

By outsourcing content production and social media management to AKA Virtual, IP owners are able to gain extra exposure without needing to commit additional marketing resources, giving older IPs a second life. From AKA Virtual’s perspective, acquiring the license for a well-known IP creates more room for imagination in future operations.

Why can’t game developers and film producers do it themselves?

At this point, you might be wondering, “Can’t game developers, VTuber agencies, and TV stations just do it themselves?” In fact, not everyone is capable of mastering content creation in line with current social media preferences.

In terms of cost, making 3D models with traditional CG technology is charged by the second, making it very expensive as well as time-consuming. Therefore, by the time the work is completed, social media preferences may have already changed. 

In terms of content, film and animation production companies may be good at creating characters, but they don’t know how to create social media content that doesn’t look like an advertisement. In addition, they are better at telling long-form stories and lack the technology to produce short videos and short animations, not to mention that their narrative logic varies considerably from that which is needed for effective short-form content. Game developers, on the other hand, may already have 3D characters at their disposal, but they lack the technology to make the characters really “come alive.” As for businesses and government agencies, they use mascots as the face of an organization but don’t know how to get them to interact with fans on social media or during livestreams.

“Furthermore, in order to be successful on social media, you have to be very active, constantly releasing content. You need to post new content almost every day, or at least four pieces of content per week, to quickly achieve popularity,” Jia Shen explained. Algorithms are also key to determining exposure. Content must closely follow the trends of current algorithms, precisely targeting trending topics, popular songs, or memes in order to master the “traffic secret” and generate more publicity.

A commitment to creating Pixar-level 3D short videos

AKA Virtual’s approach is to release content quickly and in large quantities, helping clients discover which IPs and social media approaches resonate most with audiences and giving them the chance to allocate resources more precisely to those products that have the greatest potential. This strategy allows clients to avoid being dependent on one-off cooperative licensing programs with questionable effectiveness. Jia Shen pointed out that his team’s extensive experience and deep involvement in the industry for many years, particularly in the realm of IP licensing and promotion, enabled them to discover this widely overlooked market opportunity.
“We believe that virtual characters will replace today’s live streamers in the near future, and this has been the original intention of our business.” Jia Shen continued, “We also believe micro-storytelling to be the most suitable content for the new generation.” Next, AKA Virtual will focus on launching “Pixar-level” 3D animated content at an even faster rate to create the “Netflix of short videos.”

This article has been contributed to AsiaTechDaily.

Recent Articles

See All