Controlling a Real Life Avatar

Jooyoung Lee
5 min readApr 12, 2021
NewNew turns creators into real life avatars that users control

I’m a sociologist with a passion (some might even call it an addiction) for gaming, so when I heard about NewNew, I took an immediate interest in this content marketplace, which gives users control over content creators. This platform is truly unique because users get to buy votes that determine how creators live. In many ways, users get addicted to the app because it gives them situations in which they feel power and control, much like when people play “Animal Crossing”, “The Sims”, and other role-playing games. The runaway success of these games showed developers (and the wider gaming community) the simple and addictive fun of having control over an avatar. For instance, in 2019, EA announced that The Sims had made $5 billion over its lifetime and had amassed 30 million players since launch. NewNew takes this addictive formula one step further. Instead of virtual characters, users have control over real people, which makes this app even more addicting and exciting.

The Sims is one of the top grossing games of all-time

While many users of NewNew enjoy voting on big life decisions (i.e. what a content creator ought to name their child), many are also drawn to controlling mundane stuff like what creators eat, if they will workout or not, and where they should buy new clothes. Control over these ordinary “micro-decisions” is addicting because it gives users recurring moments of power over creators throughout a typical day. While big life decisions garner lots of attention from users, micro-decisions occur more frequently and replenish the power rush that users get when they dictate what creators do with their lives. Feelings of power are felt and sustained through mundane tasks, much like users in “Animal Crossing” who send their avatar on side missions and get them to perform everyday tasks.

The deceptive fun and addiction of doing ordinary things with an avatar in Animal Crossing

NewNew is fun and addicting because most people do not get to call the shots very often nor do they feel empowered in their everyday lives. Regardless of who they are and where they’re from or how much money they make, most people live in worlds in which their choices and influence are constrained by external factors. A person might want to go on vacation for several months, but cannot do so because that would require them leaving behind a family, or quitting their job. A person might want to get a tattoo, but might fear what family members would say, or what their employer might say. The list goes on and on. As much as we like to think of ourselves as wholly autonomous beings, most of us operate in worlds where our thoughts, choices and decision-making are constrained by forces outside of ourselves (i.e. family, environment, culture, work, etc). NewNew is an escape from a world of constrained choice. It gives the average user unprecedented power over creators who are beloved, admired, lusted after, and even hated — all of which motivate time, money, and engagement from users.

In a recent New York Times article, “For Creators, Everything is for Sale,” Taylor Lorenz compares NewNew to a “choose your own adventure” game. This description captures the game-like allure of the app, but it understates what New New actually does. “Choose your own adventure” narratives pivot on a few choices that lead to a few preset pathways and outcomes for characters. This makes “Choose your own adventure” stories quite predictable and easy to reverse engineer. Once you’ve determined the key turning points in a story, you can anticipate which choices lead to which outcomes. This is also why people quickly lose interest in “Choose your own adventure” stories. Attention declines once you know in advance how different decisions lead to different outcomes. Uncertainty is a key ingredient in driving addiction, since it keeps people in suspense and motivates them to keep tuning in to find out what happens.

Black Mirror’s jump into the “Choose your own adventure” genre left fans somewhat underwhelmed

NewNew transcends the “Choose your own adventure” model because real life is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Users get addicted to this app because they do not know how different decisions will impact a person’s life. This uncertainty is what puts New New into its own category and is what drives repeat engagement with the app. The joy and addictiveness of this app comes from watching a life — in all of its unexpected twists and turns — unfold in real time.

NewNew is also addicting for many of the same reasons that users are drawn to “Just Chatting” and “In Real Life” streams on Twitch, which consistently have the most viewers on an app ostensibly known for gaming. Data from the first week of April 2021, for instance, shows that “Just Chatting” streams were the most watched type of channel with 3 times as many viewers as popular games like Fortnite. Creators on these channels often broadcast themselves doing the most ordinary things like sitting at a desk and “just chatting”, doing chores around the house, or cooking. Viewers enjoy the real and authentic connections they make with streamers and are gravitating to NewNew for the same reasons. There is a collective appetite for real and authentic content in an era where so much is curated and staged.

NewNew is also making it easier for content creators to make money. While Twitch streamers receive ad hoc donations and subscriptions from viewers, most have to “break character” and formally ask their communities for money. This creates an awkward break from whatever they’re doing and reminds viewers that the content they’re consuming is done to make money. NewNew has an unobtrusive and fun way for creators to make money. Instead of switching into “fundraising mode”, creators monetize micro-decisions which allows them to raise money without having to formally ask for it. This creates a more seamless content experience in which creators aren’t suddenly switching roles and suddenly asking their audience if they can get paid for their content. Users see value in buying votes because it replenishes their sense of power and shapes the life of a creator who has their attention. Early data is promising on this front. New creators have made $1,000 in a few weeks from users. Creators who are established influencers on other apps have amassed $10,000 during this same period. This data indicates what game developers have known for a long time — users are willing and eager to pay for control because it makes them feel powerful.



Jooyoung Lee

I'm a sociologist who writes about things.