Gaming and fashion may seem like bedfellows, but what our avatars wear — whether skydiving into battle in Fortnite or going on a dinner date in The Sims — has been of interest since video game characters first changed their clothes. can.
And recently, luxury labels have been keen to enter the space. Balenciaga, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Valentino have all participated in the village-building game Animal Crossing, hosting runway shows over the past three years. Contributing to clothing and outfits, often referred to as “skins”, in titles such as League of Legends and Fortnite. Or creating a shoppable gaming environment in Roblox.
And while the appetite for digital garments has taken off outside of games in recent years, with the advent of NFTs — see Dolce & Gabbana’s record $6 million collection, or a pair of Nike and RTFKT sneakers that cost $133,000. I’m selling out — gamers base the current boom in virtual fashion.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the gaming community helped establish a thriving environment for independent designers to create custom fashion in video games such as The Sims, as well as EverQuest on eBay. And in creating a profitable system for selling digital goods from World of Warcraft, years ago. Game developers and clothing brands began monetizing skins for a wider audience.
“The live-to-avatar economy is not necessarily new,” said Cassandra Napoli, a senior strategist at trend forecasting company WGSN, in a video call with CNN. “I think what’s new now is that people are more aware that it’s an opportunity, whereas in the past, it was a great experience for people who are already gamers.”
Last year, a virtual Gucci bag resold on Roblox for the equivalent of $4,115 — more than the price of the bag’s real, physical counterpart. A digital version of the Carolina Herrera dress worn by Karlie Kloss at New York Fashion Week in September cost $5,000. Credit: Roblox
When The Sims first debuted in 2000, offering a world more like our own than the fantasy titles dominating the industry, the creative pool of virtual fashion exploded. Like many game titles, The Sims can be edited with aesthetic changes, such as hairstyles or clothes, imported from programs outside the game.
“That’s really where digital fashion came in — the idea of not always looking like an NPC (non-player character) or another player,” said Jenny Svoboda, a Texas-based designer who goes by the online moniker Lovespun. Goes from and has been. Creating custom designs for games including The Sims, Second Life and Roblox.
The Sims has partnered with fashion brands for nearly two decades, starting with H&M. Credit: EA Games
Over the years, The Sims has partnered with H&M, Diesel, Moschino and Gucci, but with unofficial designs created by players, any look is possible. Svoboda explained that players “create their own hair, clothes, makeup — almost anything you can think of.” If you want Kylie Jenner’s matte lip colors, matching pink dresses from “Mean Girls” or every Jules look from “Euphoria,” there’s a mood for it.
But while custom designs are intended to enhance the gameplay of The Sims, they became the basis for platforms like the early Metaverse Second Life, where everything in a virtual world is created by its inhabitants, and Roblox, where users on the platform Play and create games. . In Second Life, big fashion brands started staking their claims as early as 2006, with American Apparel, Armani and Adidas opening their own digital storefronts, at a time when the platform was valued at around $64 million. Earlier this year, Jonathan Simkhai presented his fall 2022 collection at Second Life in lieu of a physical show at New York Fashion Week.
Jonathan Simkhai’s virtual collection featured in Second Life. The open virtual world began to attract top names in fashion in the mid-2000s. Credit: Linden Lab
On Roblox, top developers reportedly earn millions, and get to design gaming environments for their fashion partnerships. Svoboda has worked with Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger and Karlie Kloss, and believes Roblox has “definitely been a gateway and an opening for a lot of brands to come in and collaborate.” They said.
Prestigious virtual goods
Edward Castronova, a 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 massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) first appeared. The wave had come. One thing that continues to surprise him is the lengths people will go to collect digital clothing.
When the fantasy MMORPG Ultima Online, launched in 1997, offered users unlimited storage for their gear, one user became obsessed with collecting shirts, writing in his 2006 book “Synthetic Worlds: “The Business and Culture of Online Games” mentions Castronova.
“He somehow acquired and stockpiled over 10,000 of them, for reasons unknown,” Castronova wrote.
Video game organizations, or “skins,” have become multibillion-dollar businesses in recent years. Credit: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends
Rare armor and skins became coveted items — and their own off-game economy worth millions on sites like eBay in the mid-2000s, as Castronova has documented — but game companies weren’t able to monetize them until the 2010s. It took a decade. Now a source of billions of dollars in gaming revenue, skins have also caught the attention of fashion brands.
This interest has been useful for many multiplayer games, including the uber-popular Fortnite, whose style is integral to its gameplay experience.
Louis Vuitton and League of Legends partnered on a series of skins in 2019. Credit: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends
“The entire experience for players is centered around this idea of sublime self-expression,” said Emily Levy, partner at Epic Games, which publishes the title. Fortnite may have skyrocketed in popularity in 2018 for its 100-person competitive battle game, but it also hosts social events like concerts (where Ariana Grande has performed) and fashion tournaments. Some organizations have developed a “cult-like following,” Levy said.
A long term relationship
Cillian Houghton, fashion director at Epic Games, believes the two industries will continue to converge, noting in particular that the technology is finally at a point where luxury brands can replicate their physical clothing. Epic is also the developer of Unreal Engine 5, a real-time 3D modeling tool that powers many video games and Metaverse platforms, and has run for designers such as Gary James McQueen (Alexander McQueen’s nephew). Way experiments have also been made.
He said that progress in graphics has come so far. “Now we can create a digital double, whether it’s a piece of clothing, or a building or a landscape, that helps convey the mood of the collection.”
For the collaboration with Moncler, for example, the characters’ clothing changed from light to dark depending on their height, a nod to the Italian company’s Alpine roots — a creative twist that body designers were hard-pressed to achieve. There will be pressure.
Fortnite has partnered with Moncler and Balenciaga on creative outfits that can react to gaming environments, such as Moncler’s height-adjusting clothing. Credit: Epic Games
But many of the recent partnerships have been one-offs, and it will be some time until it becomes clear whether the big fashion houses make a long-term commitment to the gaming market. Gucci is a brand that invests heavily in the space, with plans for Pokémon Go, Roblox and Tennis Clash, as well as their own Gucci Arcade, inspired by vintage gaming. That’s because of its global reach, according to Robert Treffs, who leads its corporate and brand strategy.
“(Gaming) crosses generations, crosses genders, crosses generations. It’s a truly global community in every sense,” he wrote in an email to CNN. “We felt there was an opportunity for Gucci to have a voice in this community.” Triefus added that his team conducted “many different types of experiments” for a “deeper understanding of the gaming world.”
Whether we’re in a true digital fashion renaissance as we enter the era of the so-called metaverse or what Castronova calls a “hype wave,” Castronova believes branded goods will always be a draw in video games.
“People care about how they look, whether it’s in a virtual environment or a real one,” he said. Wearing a Versace hat at the game is “great marketing,” he added. “It’s getting harder and harder to get the eyeballs of 18- to 34-year-olds, and their eyeballs are in interactive experiences. So, I think that’s going to continue and intensify. will come.”