You can thank The Sims for the rise of luxury fashion in gaming: KION546

Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

Gaming and fashion might seem like unlikely bedfellows, but what our avatars wear—whether it’s skydiving into battle in Fortnite or dining in The Sims—has been interesting since video game characters could change their clothes. for the first time.

And more recently, luxury brands have been eager to enter the space. Balenciaga, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Valentino have all dabbled in the past three years, putting together runway shows in the village-building game Animal Crossing; collaborating on clothing and outfits, often called “skins,” in titles like League of Legends and Fortnite; or creating purchasable game environments on Roblox.

And while the appetite for digital apparel has taken off outside of gaming in recent years, along with the advent of collectible NFTs (check out Dolce & Gabbana’s record-breaking $6 million collection, or a pair of Nike and RTFKT sneakers sold for $133,000), the players laid the foundation. basis for the current boom in virtual fashion.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the gaming community helped establish a thriving environment for independent designers creating custom fashion in video games like The Sims, as well as a lucrative system for selling digital merchandise from EverQuest and World of Warcraft on eBay, years before. game developers and clothing brands began monetizing skins for broader audiences.

“The direct-to-avatar economy is not necessarily new,” Cassandra Napoli, a senior strategist at trend forecasting firm WGSN, said on a video call with CNN. “I think what’s new now is that people are more aware that this is an opportunity, whereas in the past it was a niche experience for people who are already players.”

Now, he said, “the magnitude of gaming in general has really become more mainstream.” According to a WGSN report in 2020, skin sales accounted for 80 percent of the $120 billion spent on digital video games in 2019, and that was before the industry’s pandemic boom, as much of the world was passing more time at home.

personalized creativity

When The Sims first debuted in 2000, offering a world like ours instead of the fantasy titles that dominate the industry, the creative pool for virtual fashion exploded. Like many game titles, The Sims could be modified or “modified” with cosmetic changes, such as hairstyles or clothing, imported from non-game programs.

“That’s really where the digital trend kicked in: the idea of ​​not always wanting to look like an NPC (non-player character) or another player,” said Jenni Svoboda, a Texas-based designer who goes by the online moniker Lovespun and has been creating custom designs for games like The Sims, Second Life, and Roblox since the mid-2000s.

Over the years, The Sims has been associated with H&M, Diesel, Moschino and Gucci, but with unofficial player-made designs, any look became possible. Players make “custom hair, clothes, makeup, just about anything you can think of,” Svoboda explained. Whether you want Kylie Jenner’s matte lip colors, matching pink outfits from “Mean Girls,” or all of Jules’ looks from “Euphoria,” there’s a mod for that.

But when custom designs are meant to enhance The Sims gameplay, they became the foundation for platforms like Second Life’s early metaverse, where everything in the virtual world is built by its residents, and Roblox, where users play games and create games on the platform. . In Second Life, major fashion brands began claiming their rights as early as 2006, with American Apparel, Armani, and Adidas opening their digital storefronts, at a time when the platform was reportedly valued at approximately $64 million. Earlier this year, Jonathan Simkhai presented his Fall-Winter 2022 collection at Second Life in lieu of a physical show at New York Fashion Week.

On Roblox, top developers have reportedly made millions and get the chance to design gaming environments for their fashion associations. Svoboda has worked with Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger and Karlie Kloss, and believes that Roblox “has definitely been a gateway and an opening for many brands to come in and collaborate,” he said.

coveted virtual goods

Edward Castronova, a professor of media at Indiana University Bloomington and an expert on the virtual economies of video games, has documented the rise of virtual goods since the late 1990s, when the first great wave of online role-playing games emerged. massively multiplayer (MMORPG). released. One thing that has never surprised him is how much people collect digital outfits.

When the fantasy MMORPG Ultima Online, which debuted in 1997, offered users unlimited storage for their gear, one user became monomaniac for collecting T-shirts, Castronova recounted in her 2006 book, “Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games”.

“Somehow he acquired and stored over 10,000 of them, for unknown reasons,” Castronova wrote.

Rare armor and skins became coveted items, and their own non-game economy was worth tens of millions on sites like eBay in the mid-2000s, as Castronova documented, but it took until the 2010s for game companies to start monetizing them. Now a multi-million dollar earner in games, skins have also garnered the attention of fashion brands.

That interest has been fruitful for many multiplayer games, including the super popular Fortnite, whose style is an integral part of its gaming experience.

“The entire player experience is centered around this idea of ​​fantastic self-expression,” said Emily Levy, director of partnerships for Epic Games, which publishes the title. Fortnite may have risen to fame in 2018 for its 100-person competitive combat game, but it also hosts social events like concerts (where Ariana Grande has performed) and fashion tournaments. Some outfits have developed a “cult following,” Levy said.

A long term relationship

Sallyann Houghton, Epic Games’ director of fashion, believes the two industries will continue to converge, noting in particular that technology is finally in a place where luxury brands can mimic their physical clothing. Epic is also the developer of Unreal Engine 5, a real-time 3D modeling tool that powers many metaverse video games and platforms, and has also created runway experiences for designers like Gary James McQueen (Alexander McQueen’s nephew).

“Graphics advances have come a long way,” he said. “Now we can create a digital double, whether it’s a piece of clothing, a building or a landscape, that helps communicate the mood of a collection.”

For a partnership with Moncler, for example, the characters’ outfits changed from light to dark depending on their altitude, a nod to the Italian company’s alpine roots, a creative twist that physical designers would have a hard time pulling off.

But many of the recent partnerships have also been one-offs, and it will be some time before it becomes clear if the major fashion houses are committed to the gaming market for the long term. Gucci is a brand that invests heavily in the space, with projects with Pokémon Go, Roblox and Tennis Clash, as well as its own Gucci Arcade, inspired by the old games. That’s because of its global potential, according to Robert Triefus, who heads its corporate and brand strategy.

“(Games) cross generations, they cross genres, they cross ethnicities. It is a true global community in every way,” he wrote in an email to CNN. “We realized that there was an opportunity for Gucci to have a voice in that community.” Triefus added that his team has carried out “a number of different types of experiments” for a “deeper understanding of the gaming world.”

Whether we’re in a true digital fashion renaissance as we enter an era of the so-called metaverse or what Castronova calls a “hype wave,” Castronova believes that branded products in video games will always be a draw.

“People care about how they look, whether it’s in a virtual or real environment,” he said. Wearing a Versace hat in a game “is tremendous marketing,” she added. “It’s getting harder and harder to catch the eyes of 18-34 year olds, and their eyes are on interactive experiences. So, I think that will continue and intensify.”

The CNN Wire
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