In 2019, when Richard Ma bought his wife a $10,000 digital dress from the fashion house The Fabricant so that she could ‘wear’ it on social media, most people laughed at the idea.
A dress that doesn’t exist? That costs how much? No way, you’re having me on.
Price-tag aside, a year and a half later and the concept doesn’t seem quite so bizarre.
“In 10 years time everybody will be ‘wearing’ digital fashion. It’s a unique memento. It’s a sign of the times.” It’s hard to argue that Richard was onto something and was actually way ahead of his time.
2021 has turned out to be the year that virtual fashion has been eagerly hitting the headlines for its pixel perfect popularity.
Yet, over in the gaming industry, digital clothing has actually had an established presence for quite some time.
In 2018, for example, Fortnite made as much money from selling virtual outfits as Amazon did for selling real clothes.
A Global Community
Key to connecting with a younger audience who have grown up as gamers, the industry has quickly levelled up from a bedroom hobby for spotty teenage boys to a global spectator sport, to ubiquitous in mainstream culture.
Gaming motivations massively differ of course; from adrenaline-fuelled competition to seeking achievement, otherworldly escapism to building social relationships.
Whatever your reason, it seems we all now have the gaming itch. Well, about a third of us, anyway.
There’s an estimated 3.4 billion gamers worldwide – over 30% of the entire world’s population – and all now with increased spending potential.
As the global community grows ever stronger, throw away any preconceptions you have of gamers: the recent industry shift has totally rewritten the rule book.
41% of all gamers in the US and 45% in Asia are female. They’re also the driving force behind mobile game adoption, spending more in-app than their male counterparts – signalling exciting new opportunities to target consumers with a penchant for both fashion and gaming.
Enter Lux Fashion
So where does luxury come into all this? Well, when Louis Vuitton entered the esports arena in 2019 with their League of Legends partnership, it was described as a “validating moment” by Naz Aletaha, Head of Global e-sports Partnerships and Business Development at Riot Games.
They not only validated the gaming community, but began paving the way for other big players to step up.
From that point on, it gave way to a slew of lux-branded in-game character skins and virtual gaming worlds.
From Moschino x Sims to Marc Jacobs x Animal Crossing and, more recently, Burberry announcing its partnership with Mythical Gaming – the brand’s first dip of the toe into the wondrous world of NFTs.
And when you think about it, the two worlds make the perfect match: both are inherently about enabling self-expression and curating your persona.
The gaming-luxury fashion crossover is helping to democratise the luxury landscape too, transforming a previously elitist industry into one that’s accessible to all.
It grants players access to virtual worlds where their avatar can wear Prada or Balenciaga on the daily for a fraction of the cost of the eye-watering real-world price tags. It’s also an ideal gateway for younger consumers not yet able to afford the IRL equivalent.
Catering for the Casual
Not everyone wants to own a console or get really involved in gaming, so some savvy businesses are also creating softer in-roads for more casual gamers, namely through gamified styling apps.
Worlds away from the intensity of the esports arena, luxury styling game Drest is one game doing just that.
Taking inspo from Farmville – one of the most popular Facebook games of all time – the app sees you play the role of stylist, taking on challenges for the latest red carpet looks and editorial photoshoots, decking out your avatar head to toe in the likes of Gucci, Stella and Bottega.
And if in-game dress-up isn’t enough for you, all of Drest’s avatar clothes are also sold IRL via Farfetch, tightly sewing the seam between the real and virtual worlds, giving you the chance to style before you buy.
Singaporean luxury fashion game ADA is another redefining the landscape.
Players create their own avatars and take part in daily styling challenges that earn them credit, to the point that they can totally subsidise a real purchase, an enticing incentive if we ever did see one.
Apps like these are making moves that will undoubtedly revolutionise how we play and shop online as more brands wise up to the lucrative world of gaming.
And with the recent rise of in-game avatar alter-egos, it won’t be long before the beauty industry follows suit with the same vigour as the fashion world, giving players a space to experiment with looks, try new products, and further enhance their virtual identities.
A handful of brands have already cottoned on to the opportunities, too.
Gillette Venus has created in-game codes that allow players to adorn their digital selves with authentic attributes such as wrinkles, cellulite and eczema, Drest has partnered with makeup artist Mary Greenwell for their very own virtual-only makeup, and MAC and Givenchy have launched Animal Crossing makeup looks.
It puts turns consumers into co-creators.
Gamifying the retail experience
Away from the potential of transforming e-commerce – something that has remained largely unevolved since its creation – the beauty of gaming is that it can be blended into real-world game-play.
Pokémon Go-owners Niantic have driven a colossal 500 million users to sponsored locations in the game through reward-led incentives.
The opportunity for brands to craft the ultimate experience through in-app game-play which drives footfall in-store, to unannounced pop-ups or secret parties could be huge.
When Gucci launched their partnership with Pokémon Go and The North Face, demand boomed: millions of avatar items were redeemed and the corresponding physical store collection sold out in less than a day.
In order to get your hands on the Gucci x The North Face products in the game, players had to visit specific locations – known as Gucci Pins – at special pop-up shops and stores around the world.
Our work for Burberry’s new Shenzhen social retail store capitalises on this concept: rewarding interaction with the ultimate in-store experience, shrouded in mystery.
So what does the future hold?
The once unforeseen synergy between the luxury and gaming worlds is now too obvious to be ignored.
And as the relevance of digital goods increases, it’s hard to see the two being separated.
Aside from the necessity of remaining culturally relevant, gaming is fast becoming an increasingly important channel in its own right, providing an opportunity for luxury fashion brands to generate new data and revenue streams.
Brands must build their authority in the gaming arena carefully, considering how they show up in the virtual world – this is the chance for brands to really push their boundaries and try on a new virtual look.
The brands who win in the gaming space over the coming years stand to build a really strong following for the future, while also connecting with a new generation of female gamers.
And on the flipside, it could be game over for any brand that doesn’t keep pace with the ever-evolving digital landscape.
Thanks for reading. Interested in talking to our digital experts about an exciting project you’re working on? Or even just intrigued by the possibilities of gaming for you brand? Get in touch today.