Games and fashion might seem like unlikely allies, but what our avatars are wearing – whether it’s skydiving in a battle in Fortnite or a dinner date in The Sims – is interesting, as video game characters can dress up first.
More recently, luxury brands have sought to enter the market. Balenciaga, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Valentino have made runway shows in the village building game Animal Crossing over the past three years; work on clothing and outfits, often referred to as “skins”, for games such as League of Legends and Fortnite; or creating gaming environments for Roblox shopping.
And while interest in digital clothing has grown outside of games in recent years, along with the rise of collectible NFTs — look at Dolce & Gabbana’s record-breaking $6 million collection or a $133,000 pair of Nike and RTFKT sneakers — gamers have laid the groundwork for the current virtual fashion boom.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the gaming community helped create a thriving environment for independent designers creating custom fashion in video games like The Sims, as well as a lucrative system for selling digital goods from EverQuest and World of Warcraft on eBay years before. this. game developers and clothing brands have begun monetizing skins for a wider audience.
“The avatar-driven economy isn’t necessarily new,” Cassandra Napoli, senior strategist at trend forecasting firm WGSN, said in a CNN video call. “I think what’s new now is that people are more aware that this is an opportunity, whereas in the past it was a very niche experience for people who are already gamers.”
Last year, a virtual Gucci bag was resold on Roblox for the equivalent of $4,115 — more than the cost of a real physical copy of the bag. In September, a digital version of the Carolina Herrera dress worn by Karlie Kloss at New York Fashion Week raised $5,000. Credit: Roblox
When The Sims first debuted in 2000, offering a world like ours instead of the fantasy game industry that dominated it, the creative pool for virtual fashion exploded. Like many other games, The Sims can be modified or “modified” with aesthetic changes such as hairstyles or clothing imported from programs outside of the game.
“That’s where digital fashion really came into play — the idea of not wanting to always look like an NPC (non-player character) or another player,” said Jenny Svoboda, a Texas-based designer who goes by the online moniker Lovespun and custom design for games. including The Sims, Second Life and Roblox since the mid 2000s.
The Sims has been partnering with fashion brands for almost two decades, starting with H&M. Credit: EA Games
The Sims have partnered with H&M, Diesel, Moschino and Gucci over the years, but with unofficial player-created designs, any look is possible. Players do “custom hair, clothes, makeup – just about anything you can think of,” Svoboda explained. Whether you want Kylie Jenner’s matte lip colors, matching Mean Girls pink outfits, or every Jules look from Euphoria, there’s a mod for it.
But where custom designs are meant to enhance The Sims gameplay, they have become the basis for platforms like the early metaverse of Second Life, where everything in the virtual world is created by its inhabitants, and Roblox, where users both play and create games on the platform. . In Second Life, big fashion brands started bidding back in 2006 when American Apparel, Armani and Adidas opened their digital storefronts, while the platform was reportedly valued at around $64 million. Earlier this year, Jonathan Simkhai showed his Fall/Winter 2022 collection at Second Life instead of showing it physically at New York Fashion Week.
The Jonathan Simkhai Virtual Collection featured in Second Life. In the mid-2000s, the open virtual world began to attract the world’s top fashion brands. Credit: Linden Lab
Top developers have reportedly made millions on Roblox and have the ability to create playable environments for their fashion partnerships. Svoboda has worked with Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger and Karlie Kloss, and she believes Roblox has “definitely been a gateway and an opportunity for a lot of brands to come in and collaborate,” she said.
Desirable virtual goods
Edward Castronova, professor of media at Indiana University Bloomington and an expert on the virtual economy of video games, has documented the rise of virtual goods since the late 1990s, when the first major wave of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) began. came out. One thing he’s never been surprised by is the lengths people are willing to go to collect digital clothing.
When the fantasy MMORPG Ultima Online, which debuted in 1997, offered users unlimited storage for their gear, one user became obsessively collecting T-shirts, according to Castronova in her 2006 book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Gaming.
“He somehow acquired and kept over 10,000 of them for unknown reasons,” Castronova wrote.
In recent years, video game costumes, or “skins,” have become a multi-billion dollar business. Credit: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends
Rare armor and skins became coveted items – and their own off-game economy was worth tens of millions on sites like eBay in the mid-2000s, Castronova documented – but it wasn’t until the 2010s that game companies started monetizing them. Skins, which have become a multibillion-dollar source of income from games, have also attracted the attention of fashion brands.
This interest has been fruitful for many multiplayer games, including the hugely popular Fortnite, whose style influences are an integral part of the gameplay.
In 2019, Louis Vuitton and League of Legends teamed up to create a series of skins. Credit: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends
“The whole player experience is centered around this idea of fantastic self-expression,” said Emily Levy, director of partnerships at Epic Games, which publishes the game. Fortnite may have gained notoriety in 2018 for its 100-man competitive combat game, but it also hosts social events like concerts (which featured Ariana Grande) and fashion tournaments. According to Levy, some organizations have developed “cult followings”.
Long term relationship
Sallyanne Houghton, director of fashion at Epic Games, believes the two industries will continue to converge, noting in particular that technology has finally reached the point where luxury brands can mimic their physical clothing. Epic is also the developer of Unreal Engine 5, a real-time 3D modeling tool used in many video games and metaverse platforms, and has created a catwalk for designers such as Gary James McQueen (Alexander McQueen’s nephew).
“Advances in graphics have come so far,” she said. “Now we can create a digital twin, whether it’s a piece of clothing, a building or a landscape, to help capture the mood of the collection.”
In partnership with Moncler, for example, the characters’ outfits changed from light to dark depending on their height, a nod to the Italian company’s Alpine roots – a creative twist that the designers would have had a hard time achieving.
Fortnite has partnered with Moncler and Balenciaga to create creative apparel that can respond to in-game environments, such as Moncler’s height-adjustable apparel. Credit: epic games
But many of the recent partnerships have also been one-time, and it will be some time before it becomes clear whether the major fashion houses will be committed to the gaming market in the long term. Gucci is one of the brands heavily investing in space, with Pokémon Go, Roblox and Tennis Clash projects, as well as its own vintage-inspired Gucci Arcade. According to Robert Tryfus, who leads corporate and brand strategy, this is due to its global potential.
“(Games) cross generations, genders, ethnic groups. This is a true global community in every sense,” he wrote in an email to CNN. “We realized that Gucci has an opportunity to speak out in this community.” Triefus added that their team conducted “a number of different experiments” to “deeper understanding of the game world”.
Whether we’re experiencing a true digital fashion renaissance, entering the era of the so-called metaverse, or what Castronova calls the “hype wave,” Castronova believes branded merchandise in video games will always grab attention.
“People care about how they look, whether in a virtual environment or in reality,” he said. He added that wearing a Versace baseball cap in a game is “great marketing.” “It’s getting harder and harder to get people aged 18 to 34 interested, and their eyes are focused on interactive experiences. So I think it will continue and intensify.”