Fashion and video games. It’s not an association that you’re likely to make. But more than ever, that sentiment is changing. In many popular video games, fashion is intrinsically linked to the game’s success. This article will present a new way for fashion brands to attract customers and fans. Virtual spaces are a powerful and still relatively untapped marketing opportunity, but fashion is uniquely suited to this medium. Especially with shifting audience demographics and emerging technologies.
Fashion and Video Games are Already Entwined
For those not familiar with gaming, allow me to introduce you to the concept of “skins”. Skins, or outfits, are adjustable looks that you can put onto your character. It allows players to customize their virtual avatars to express themselves with a look they find cool or funny. The concept exists in a variety of games. One of the most successful examples is Fortnite. This free-to-play game has made headlines for the billions of dollars it has brought to Epic Games. A lot of the money comes from the purchase of cosmetic items. And the cosmetics people care the most about are skins. Sometimes skins in Fortnite look like normal people. Sometimes they are fantastical creatures. And other times they are licensed characters like Iron Man or Darth Vader.
Even though Fortnite has made the most headlines in the last few years, plenty of other massive games make most of their money from players through the purchase of skins. League of Legends, Fall Guys, and Valorant are just a few of the many games that have players clamoring for cosmetics.
So there is a lot of precedent for fashion brands to make an appearance in video games, because it’s easy to see that expressing oneself is a high priority for gamers. Why not bring some real-world outfits to these universes?
Source: Epic Games
Why Do Players Love Cosmetics?
Cosmetics generally do not grant any competitive advantage in games. So why would gamers want them? It’s not that different from choosing your outfit when you leave your house. Everything you wear makes a statement about you and affects how others perceive you. It’s the same in virtual worlds such as multiplayer games. A skin can express a player’s love for a certain look or a certain character from a licensed property. They may pick a character that they feel represents who they are, or who they would like to be perceived as. In a game that has social aspects, an online avatar is equivalent to a social media profile that shows you at your best.
It can also be about status. Some skins in games are given out as rewards for completing a certain task or attaining a certain level. Some ultra-rare skins are only given out with the purchase of expensive items like the Ikonik Fortnite skin that was only available to owners of a Samsung Galaxy phone. Who wouldn’t love to show off their difficult-to-acquire outfits? Much like how a person wearing Gucci or Prada is going to turn heads, a player wearing an outfit that can only be unlocked once they reach the highest level in the game is going to impress other players.
Is it just multiplayer games?
While multiplayer games have an obvious social aspect to them, and are a great medium for fashion, single-player games should not be ignored. Plenty of single-player games have a variety of outfits or looks. When it comes to games that involve looting and discovering new pieces of an outfit or armor, there is a constant debate about what you should focus on. Do you just use whatever item has the best effect? Or do you prioritize looking good? If the fuzzy pink hat has the best stats, should you wear it with the demonic armor you acquired from the underworld? It’s a question gamers are often faced with, but many choose looks over numbers!
And even though single-player games lack an inherent social aspect, players will still capture screenshots of their character in awesome or funny positions, and share those with their friends. Everyone will play the game differently, and players like to share these experiences with each other! Not to mention that streaming on websites like Twitch is incredibly popular, and streamers can show off their unique characters to their audience.
From Physical to Digital
Fashion brands have many ways to promote themselves and make themselves part of the fabric of a game. One of these is to transpose their physical products into a virtual world. There’s nothing crazy about this idea. If you sell shoes in the physical world, you can sell (or give away) those same shoes in a virtual space.
Players who are already familiar with your brand can wear their favorite fashion in-game. New audiences can learn about your brand by seeing your cosmetics in the in-game marketplace or on other players. You could also include a redemption code for a digital version of an item when a customer purchases the physical version. Or the inverse – offering a discount code to players who buy the digital version.
Ownership of Digital Goods
Digital goods are still scary. When your ownership of certain items is tied to an account and a company’s servers, you could theoretically lose access to your items with no warning and no recourse. But with that in mind, it’s clear that plenty of people value digital goods as much as physical goods. In-game cosmetics are an industry all to their own, and many video games themselves are purchased digitally and are tied to a player’s online account. To take it to the extreme, even our money is a digital good thanks to online banking. So while some may worry about the stability of digital items, most users agree that they’re here to stay for quite a long time.
Fashion and Games: A Perfect Match
Fashion brands and video games are a marketing match made in heaven, right now. A lot of things are happening all at once that makes these collaborations a perfect opportunity. In 2021, the gaming market was valued at $198.4 billion, with expectations that that number could double in about 5 years. And gaming is increasingly becoming more woman-centric, with an estimated 48% of gamers in the United States being women. And since women potentially spend 76% more per year on clothing than men, it makes sense that fashion brands would have their eyes on this growing market. On top of that, gaming has made a major social shift in the last decade, moving from something relegated to “nerd” culture to something incredibly mainstream. This is reflected most strongly in esports, with universities around the world offering esports scholarships, and esports tournaments commanding massive audiences.
A lot of high-end fashion companies have already collaborated with popular games on skins and cosmetics. Here are just a few:
- Prada in Riders Republic
- Balenciaga in Fortnite
- Louis Vuitton in League of Legends
- Ralph Lauren in Roblox
On top of these examples, many clothing brands have branched into the NFT space, which could be used in virtual social spaces in the future.
Any fashion brand can create a set of custom skins. But there is a lot of potential value in going above and beyond. A good collaboration provides value for all parties, beyond just a skin. In order to better represent a brand’s values, and its overall reason for wanting to partner with a game, a game can create special challenges or mini-games around the collaboration.
To relate it to social media, releasing a skin in an in-game store and then advertising it is a bit like posting an Instagram photo with a caption about how great your product is. It’s an advertisement, and it’s passive – easy to ignore. But integrating this collaboration with challenges and mini-games is a bit more like a social media scavenger hunt or a question designed to create engagement. The ultimate goal at this stage is to build engagement between players and brands in a new space and capture a new audience of consumers.
Overall, fashion brands need to offer something of value to players, and enrich their experience. Much like in the physical world, gamers can pick and choose which brands they want to associate with. And they can choose to ignore a brand if they don’t make an impression. Ads don’t add value, but interactive experiences do.
What do Fashion Brands Gain?
Video games and other virtual spaces are more than just games – they are social spaces and communities. So by tapping into an already-engaged and tight-knit community, fashion brands are accessing an incredibly valuable audience. What they need to keep in mind is the community aspect, however. Communities, including gaming communities, are not just buckets of consumers that are primed to buy. They are a group of people that trust each other’s opinions. And they will rise up as a unit if they decide that a brand’s collaboration is being put forward in bad faith.
The thing that makes a game a game is its players. Fashion brands must speak to the player community, rather than to the game itself. While on paper, the collaboration is between a fashion brand and a video game brand, the real agreement is between the fashion brand and the players. In order to have a successful partnership, fashion brands must keep in mind that players will vote with their dollars.
Working with Tech Companies vs Content Creators
There are multiple paths to getting your fashion brand into games and virtual worlds.
The first is to work directly with the game to create a co-branded integration. Your items may be featured in the official marketplace for cosmetics, or in other promotions in the game. This requires a legal agreement between the two entities, especially when it comes to how your brand will be portrayed. There are middleman companies that can help organize these deals, so don’t be overwhelmed!
Another option is to work with content creators that make cosmetics for the game. This does not work for every game, but is an excellent choice for the games that support it. One such example is The Sims. In this game series, players can create their own items and make them available to download as add-ons for the game. For many games, this custom content cannot be directly monetized. But that’s why a mod creator may be willing to work with and be paid by a brand. Nothing is stopping you as a brand from creating a mod for a game, and in this case you would just be outsourcing the work. Gucci did this with The Sims 4 in 2020, in a move designed to amplify Gen Z voices. It was a major move in a trend that shows great potential for brands, games, and modders!
Lastly, you can use an NFT marketplace to release virtual items if you choose to take the metaverse route.
The Future of Fashion and Virtual Worlds
There is an exciting future for fashion and technology. Here are just a few of the places it can go.
AR glasses have not taken off as quickly as SnapChat and Google probably would have liked, but there may still be a future for them. Fashion and digital goods are closely tied to that. When you’re out in the physical world, your fashion choices are somewhat limited to what is socially acceptable. And if you’re playing as an Orc in World of Warcraft, you won’t be walking around with green skin. But with Augmented Reality glasses, you can be seen by other AR glasses users however you wish. You can bring your avatar out with you. Perhaps you could be completely overlaid by your avatar. Or you can be wearing some of the accessories and items that you acquired in a virtual world.
The best part about fashion and video games intersecting is all of the jobs that will be created. In order to translate physical outfits into a virtual world, there will need to be teams of 3D artists. These artists will need to understand not only how to build a 3D model of an outfit. They will also need to be able to make it fit different body types, interact with the physics of the game world it’s going into, and fit the graphical style of the game.
If fashion and video games continue to evolve how they work together, there will be a fundamental shift in marketing. Brands (not just fashion brands) will need to decide if they want to create a one-and-done campaign or if they want to create a continuous experience. Will companies treat video games like a billboard that can host an ad for a period of time, or will they treat them like social media profiles? After all, you generally don’t create a Twitter profile for one campaign, then delete it. You want to grow and continue to use that profile. So, we may see a shift from one-off collaborations through limited-time skins toward continuous campaigns that keep fashion brands top-of-mind for an extended period of time.