The VTuber fandom expresses itself in many ways, and fan games are one of the most creative. With no way of monetizing these mammoth projects, passion is pushing the space forward into a new era of high-quality productions as the space grows.
In November, two of Hololive Indonesia’s more prominent gamers, Kureiji Ollie and Kaela Kovalskia, were locked into a civil war of sorts. The battleground was HoloDive, a new fan game with a feel akin to flash games of old.
In the chat was first-time developer ‘Pompmaker1’, who was as excited as he was nervous to see his fan game get picked up by the talents he idolizes.
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HoloDive: Down The Rabbit Hole is very simple. Inspired by Katawa Crash, the goal is to fly ever faster to escape a monster chasing you (‘Real Life’) with power-ups scattered along the way. Pomp mixed a few things around to add his own spin on it — for example, instead of flying horizontally across the screen, you fall down a bottomless pit.
It’s something Pomp, a prominent fan artist in the space, had an idea of making months ago, but only bit the bullet when he was forced to create a game in his university course.
“The first assignment was to make a one-button game, and that’s it,” he laughed, recounting to Dexerto. “That’s the only motivation I had.
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“I always wanted to make a Katawa Crash-style game for Hololive, and then David Wu made Delivering Hope which is Nanaca Crash for Hololive [both are old flash games based on similar launching mechanics]. When I saw that come out, since he made it, I thought I didn’t need to make anything. But then my assignment came along, and I thought Katawa Crash is the perfect one-button game.”
Ollie and Kaela were each trying to break each other’s high scores. The former took a stab for an hour, and got a decent run before calling it in. But the latter kept grinding and grinding, pushing the clock ever upwards. While they were doing it, Pomp was stressing — did his simple game even have two hours worth of streamable content in it, let alone seven?
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“It’s enjoyable but you have a lot of thoughts in the back of your mind. They’re playing your game? That’s amazing! But then immediately that thought shifts to ‘I hope they are having fun. I hope this mechanic wasn’t too hard. I hope this doesn’t make them too mad.’”
However, it went off mostly without a hitch. Fans loved all the mini in-jokes thrown in by Pomp, who has been a long-time fan of Hololive. Thousands of fans tuned into the stream, and then even more went and downloaded the game to play for themselves. After that one broadcast, more than 3,000 new players jumped into this small university project of Pomp’s.
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He is one of the lucky developers to have his game played on stream by the talents themselves. But even without their direct support, VTuber fan games are everywhere as developers, artists, and the general fandom band together to give something back to the streamers they love so much.
The medium harkens back to an era of the late 2000s and early 2010s, where budding developers would be everywhere on sites like Newgrounds. But there are some serious productions being made, and fueled by pure love, the quality of these fan games is exponentially rising.
The rising quality of VTuber fan games
Fan games, in the VTubing space, are like any form of creative expression in fandom. It resides alongside fan art, cover songs, and fiction — people putting whatever skills they have to use to create something that reflects their appreciation for the VTuber.
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The history of these games is almost as long as the history of VTubing. In the early days of agencies like Hololive, fans were creating simple one-button games to share around the community. Talents, enamored by the fact people were willing to create works of art for them, would share them on stream and sometimes play them.
“Projects have always been a rite of passage,” Cyrojelly, the owner of the Millie Parfait ‘FaMillie’ Discord, said. The community behind the NIJISANJI Ethyria VTuber has just created a platformer-slash-bullet hell game called Journey of Calamity, which features Millie as the main character.
“Any time there is a major milestone in a VTuber’s career, it’s customary for their fan base to do some sort of project; birthdays, anniversaries, major milestones.”
Journey of Calamity was made to be “Millie-proof” despite being a platformer, a genre she notoriously sucks at.
However, as Pompmaker notes, the space has leveled up significantly in recent months.
“I remember the first [Hololive fan] game that got big was smol Ame, the platformer by Kevin Cow,” he recalled. “It formed the template for the future fan game attempts where it’s a simple gameplay concept, usually based off an existing game, with a lot of in-jokes and references sprinkled in, and a lot of mechanics based on Hololive members.
“When artists started getting involved in the game creation, the quality shot up. It started building up to some bigger games. People were getting more into fan games. They were starting to link up, make bigger groups, and they were starting to treat the fan games more like ‘how can we make a very good looking Hololive game? A professional looking one?’”
Many look towards HoloCure, the Vampire Survivors-inspired roguelike. The game went viral earlier in 2022 for good reason: it had the polish of a fully-fledged game. With professional animator Kay Yu at the helm, and a talented team of game designers behind the scenes, it was by far the most professional fan game project in VTubing.
Seeing HoloCure and its wild success changed how people saw the VTuber fan game space. Players weren’t necessarily demanding AAA-games, but the new standard had been set. Developers were eager to try and replicate the same success. The scale of the fan game sector exploded.
“I’ve seen a huge rise in the amount of Hololive fan games which put emphasis on the graphics, music, gameplay — the quality,” Pompmaker continued. “There’s an emphasis on polishing it as much as possible, rather than making something cute for fun.
“It’s not that the ‘something cute for fun’ games don’t exist — Holodive is one of those — but a lot more people are trying to be professional about Hololive fan games, which is very cool to see.”
It’s not just fan game creators drawing inspiration from other developers. The fandom feeds itself. You get the odd spark of inspiration from a specific bit of art or music dedicated to a VTuber.
Tian Nya knows this well. They have worked on a couple of fan game projects. Holoware was one, inspired by Warioware, but was “unfortunately incomplete”. Their second, WOWOWOW KORONE BOX, a spin-off of Super Crate Box for Inugami Korone, was much more successful. They are now developing a third game, ELITE EXORCIST MIKO, which is a bullet hell inspired by the massively popular Touhou franchise, but with unique twists.
As a “generalist game developer with no particular specialty”, they saw an opportunity to use their skills to express their love for VTubing, specifically Hololive, after seeing what others were putting out.
“The creative output of the Hololive fanbase is incredible, there’s a variety of art, music, animations, and more from a lot of amazing creators,” they said. “Games do tend to be less frequent, and seeing it’s what I do best, I decided to give it a go.”
And as much as the fandom feeds itself, everything comes back to the VTuber. The virtual medium itself provides ample creativity for those willing to get hands-on. The designs are amazing, and the intricate lore builds the story for you.
“You say ‘imagine if there was a game taking the lore of these characters and making a cool game based on them,’” Landlos, the lead artist on Journey of Calamity, said.
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“It’s no surprise people make games about them because not only do their personalities inspire being creative, but their characters with the cool lore — the Witch of Calamity who was literally crucified — inspires a lot of creativeness.
“There’s a lot of inspiration that comes from watching VTubers from how much creativity comes from the media itself, which I don’t think is found [anywhere else].”
A different way of creative expression
Game designing can be the ultimate form of creative expression. It combines a bunch of mediums like programming, art, music, and writing into one bundle. That’s not to say one form of expression is inherently superior to another — that’s not what fandom is about — but there’s a wider appreciation for something that can be tangibly played.
“The heightened immersion and interactive experience provided by games is really difficult to match with other media like writing, visual art or music alone,” Tian said. “Done properly, one can express anything other media can through a game. However, it’ll require much more time investment from both the creator and the audience.”
The scale of these projects is often on another level though. Kiro saw it first hand — they were the organizer of the recent Lazulight: By Your Side visual novel, made to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the NIJISANJI EN wave.
Their project had dozens of people working on it, floating in and out across a year. This presents a huge challenge of coordination on these major games, especially considering the work is unpaid due to licensing restrictions (VTuber agencies prohibit fan game makers from monetizing work because they still control the IP).
“You have to tackle a lot of creative differences, not to mention organizing time allocation for everyone’s tasks, as well as handling the recruitment of folks to help with the creation of the fan game in the first place,” they said.
“Considering the fact that fan games are sometimes made with the intent of releasing them on special occasions as well, this means [one failure] could end up being the death blow for some projects unless there’s a will within the team to continue onwards to release it, even if it means missing their original deadline.
“Fan games have a different sense of ‘weight’ attached to it, considering it’s something that’s worked on by so many people, possibly for weeks or even months.”
Fan game projects like Lazulight: By Your Side can take months, if not years.
It does make it all the sweeter when everything falls into place though: “I think there’s a sense of pride in constructing something from scratch,” Cyro said.
“If you do an artbook, you’re asking people to draw and submit into a form, and it’s up to the staff to put it into some book or video. On their side though, all they’re doing is submitting through a Google form. For a game, a lot more goes into it. When we were in the process of making it, I had to do a weekly meeting where we would all sit down and talk about what we got done in the past week, and what we need to get done. It gets people more involved.”
Labor of love, not money
It is important to remember that VTuber fan games cannot be monetized. This changes the approach entirely. For something as intensive as a fan game — no matter whether you’re a sole developer like Pompmaker, or part of a bigger project — that’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for no monetary reward.
What it does is bring the community together, and form even stronger bonds thanks to their shared love of VTubing.
“Every person working on it is a volunteer, doing this just because they want to,” Treebobber, the team lead on the Lazulight visual novel, said. “You can’t force them to be fully invested into the development of the game. It’s always a question of ‘can you do this in this time? Is that okay?’
“You’re not forcing someone to do something against their will. It’s a more cooperative process than other projects would be. Throughout this project, we got to know each other well, and the way we treated each other brought us closer. When it comes to the entire feeling of the project itself, once we finished the game, I felt a sense of admiration for the other members of the team.”
Every fan game creator echoed the same sentiment: they just want to give back to the VTubers, and the community that has given them so much joy over the years.
“It’s a way to thank the VTuber for being themselves and being a part of something greater,” Los said. “It’s not just giving back to the community, but it’s giving back to the streamer.
“Although some would say they’re just normal people who stream themselves playing or doing things to entertain us, I believe that those little things they do could actually change people’s lives,” Kiro added. “For some, tuning into a VTuber’s stream could be the thing they need to get themselves through hard times, or just as a way to brighten up their day.”
It can even lift some of the pressure off: “Not worrying about income, KPIs, budgets and the like is incredibly liberating and part of what makes working on a fan game so appealing for me,” Tian said. “Without numbers and deadlines hanging over you, you’re free to express your vision however you please, and make what you want to make.”
The love fandom pours into these games is often reciprocated by talents. VTubers do occasionally play these fan games on stream, or in rare cases get their hands dirty and muck into the project — something Pompmaker got to experience when he reached out to Ollie on a whim.
He was scouring through streams to get sound bites for each of the girls involved in the game. The progress pics he was sharing on Twitter got noticed by the Hololive VTuber, who then lent her voice to the game.
“She commented on it, and just as a joke, I said ‘hey Ollie I’m having trouble finding some of your voice lines. Could you voice it for me?’ I didn’t expect to hear anything back.
“But then she approached me and was like ‘hey, were you serious about that voice lines thing?’ and we were in business. I did get in contact with her, and she voiced as many lines as I needed for the game, and that was amazing. That was extremely generous of her.”
A lot of the fan games mentioned in this article are still works-in-progress. Every week, you can find new projects popping up on Twitter, looking for developers to chip in and promising a wide variety of adventures centered around these virtual idols.
It’s a long labor of love, but the reward, in everyone’s case, has been worth it. Regardless of whether it blows up like HoloCure, or lives in a little niche corner of itch.io, the journey of creating the game is cathartic. And for those who might be too timid to dip their toes into it, there’s no better thing than to just jump in, find a project for an oshi, and express your creativity through it.
“The best thing to do is to just begin making something, whether by yourself or with others,” Tian said. “It’s best to learn by getting hands-on with a project. It’s not an easy or quick process, but the more you learn, the more you’ll be able to apply to your future projects.
“There are plenty of roles in game development, and hopefully you can find the ones that work best for you!”