The past year has seen the majority of the global population take a dramatic shift from IRL to URL. With the pandemic forcing people to lockdown and work from home, the gap between the online and offline world is now smaller than ever. Our social lives moving online has meant that for many of us, the digital realm is, for the time being, the only way to present ourselves. With that comes the desire to shape our digital identity, and what better place to create a unique digital persona than through the world of gaming. According to the 2020 Global Games Market Report from market intelligence firm Newzoo, last year saw a 9.3% rise in revenue for global gaming markets, taking the total value of the gaming industry to a whopping $159.3bn.
With those figures in mind is it really surprising that the fashion industry has tapped into video games? With an increase in those turning to online gaming (shout out to everyone that re-downloaded The Sims at the start of lockdown), so too came the desire to stand out in the digital world. It’s no secret that players spend a significant amount of time customising their in-game personas, and that’s where fashion ties in. If we really think about it, fashion and gaming go hand-in-hand; both offer escapist realities, explore fantasy realms and offer the consumer the chance to reinvent themselves.
The colliding of the fashion and gaming worlds isn’t a new thing. For SS16, Louis Vuitton cast Lightning, the protagonist of role-playing video game Final Fantasy XIII, as the surprise guest star of its campaign. 3 years later, in 2019 the brand once again turned to the virtual world, this time partnering with online multiplayer battle arena game League of Legends to release a physical capsule collection, setting a pre-pandemic precedent for mainstream fashion brands to infiltrate the digital world. In the same year, Moschino also released its ‘Stuff Pack’ for The Sims 4, allowing players to deck out their characters in Jeremy Scott designs.
Whilst mainstream fashion brands had dipped their toes into the world of virtual gaming pre-pandemic, 2020 was arguably the year that fashion and gaming truly collided. COVID-19 restrictions prompted the mass rollout of virtual shows and AR models, with gaming becoming an integral part of the conversation of how we consume fashion in the digital age. Whilst data on the actual spending rate on luxury brands in esports and gaming is scarce, the volume and success of collaborations throughout the past year suggests that a significant change in how we shop fashion is on the horizon.
2020 saw Gucci team up with The North Face to produce Pokemon Go skins, Ralph Lauren created virtual Bitmoji clothing, and even Travis Scott jumped on the hype. Holding a virtual concert on Fortnite, Scott used the platform to sell exclusive skins and merchandise. But, arguably, the biggest mass lockdown gaming phenomenon has been Animal Crossing.
Animal Crossing made its comeback in 2020, releasing Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch on 20th March (which conveniently coincided with some of the first worldwide global lockdowns). As a “social simulation” video game offering players the chance to escape to an alternate functioning reality, the timing couldn’t have been better. As a game that heavily relies on customisable avatars, Animal Crossing provided many luxury fashion brands with a new and exciting opportunity to showcase their clothes, with the absence of physical runways. Brands including Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Anna Sui all created garments for the game, with photographer Kara Chung, and stylist Marc Goehring of 032c taking it one step further by hosting their very own in-game runway show.
One in-game feature allows users to customise the clothing of their avatars, which has also contributed to the hype surrounding in-game designer goods. This hype stems from the boom in popularity of Instagram pages, such as Nook Street Market, who’ve commodified in-game customisation for those who want recreated designer looks. Nook Street Market has posted in-game style inspo featuring the likes of Chanel, Prada and FILA.
So what do luxury fashion brands have to gain from partnering with video games? The obvious first answer is that with doors to physical stores shuttered, infiltrating the world of gaming provides an alternate marketing tool for brands. However, gaming also allows luxury brands to tap into a new audience, one that may not necessarily have been accessible prior. Animal Crossing seemingly proved most popular amongst Gen Z, a demographic that largely can’t afford to shop luxury fashion in reality. Not only do the games introduce this new audience to the brand, offering ownership of inaccessible items IRL, but the games familiarise the younger generations with the brands which in turn increases the chances of them buying into the products in future years.
It’s a similar story for games such as League of Legends. According to 2020 research by Dot Esports, League of Legends has an 87% male demographic. With the fashion industry largely targeting the female population, by collaborating with male dominated games, luxury brands can once again reach a new audience.
Introducing high-end fashion is also a great marketing strategy for the games themselves. In the same way as celebrity endorsements help push products, whilst boosting said celebs familiarity (Nicole Scherzinger and the Muller ads spring to mind), collabs also boost the recognition of video games, whilst attaching cultural significance to them.
The pandemic has changed the way in which we purchase fashion in many ways, with technological developments opening up a new stream of revenue for luxury brands. With the steady increase in the prevalence of virtual clothing, we question what the future holds for our fashion shopping habits. Not only did we see a dramatic increase in virtual skins over the course of the past year, but the end of 2020 saw another digital industry first, with Balenciaga presenting its FW21 collection via an immersive online video game titled Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow. With the rise of emerging fashion technologists like The Institute of Digital Fashion, gaming skins are just the tip of the iceberg. Are you ready to enter the new era of fashion?
Text: Sam Pennington