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

written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

Gaming and fashion may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but what our avatars wear, whether it’s skydiving into battle in Fortnite or having a dinner date in The Sims, has been interesting because video game characters could change get dressed

And more recently, luxury labels have been keen to enter the space. Balenciaga, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Valentino have dabbled in the past three years, hosting shows in the Animal Crossing town-building game; collaborating on clothing and outfits, often called “skins”, in titles such as League of Legends and Fortnite; or create game environments that can be purchased on Roblox.

And while the appetite for digital apparel has skyrocketed 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 sneakers and RTFKT selling for $133,000, gamers laid the groundwork for today’s virtual fashion boom.

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

“The direct-to-avatar economy is not necessarily new,” Cassandra Napoli, senior strategist at trend forecasting firm WGSN, said in 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 very special experience for people who are already players.”

Last year, a virtual Gucci bag was sold on Roblox for the equivalent of $4,115, more than the value of the bag's actual physical counterpart.  In September, a digital version of a Carolina Herrera dress worn by Karlie Kloss at New York Fashion Week raised $5,000.

Last year, a virtual Gucci bag was sold on Roblox for the equivalent of $4,115, more than the value of the bag’s actual physical counterpart. In September, a digital version of a Carolina Herrera dress worn by Karlie Kloss at New York Fashion Week raised $5,000. Credit: Roblox

Now, he said, “the magnitude of games in general has really become more mainstream.” According to a 2020 WGSN report, 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 he spent more time at home.

Personalized creativity

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

“That’s really where digital fashion manifested itself: 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 moniker Lovespun line and has been creating custom designs for games like The Sims, Second Life, and Roblox for a while.

The Sims has partnered with fashion brands for nearly two decades, starting with H&M.

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 made by players, any look was made possible. Players get “custom hair, clothes, makeup, pretty much anything you can think of,” Svoboda explained. If you want Kylie Jenner’s matte lip colors, matching pink dresses from “Mean Girls,” or Jules’ every look from “Euphoria,” there’s a mod for that.

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

Jonathan Simkhai's virtual collection presented in Second Life.  The open virtual world began to attract the biggest names in fashion in the mid-2000s.

Jonathan Simkhai’s virtual collection presented in Second Life. The open virtual world began to attract the biggest names in fashion in the mid-2000s. Credit: Linden Lab

In Roblox, top developers have earned millions and have the opportunity to design game environments for their fashion associations. 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,” she said.

Coveted virtual products

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 big wave of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). released One thing that has never been surprising is the lengths people will go to collect digital outfits.

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

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

Video game outfits, o "skins" they have become a multi-billion dollar business in recent years.

Video game suits or “skins” have become a multi-billion dollar business in recent years. Credit: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends

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

This interest has been fruitful for many multiplayer games, including the wildly popular Fortnite, whose style is integral to its gameplay experience.

Louis Vuitton and League of Legends partnered in 2019 on a series of skins.

Louis Vuitton and League of Legends partnered in 2019 on a series of skins. Credit: Louis Vuitton x League of Legends

“The whole player experience is centered around this idea of ​​fantastical self-expression,” said Emily Levy, director of partnerships at Epic Games, which publishes the title. Fortnite may have risen to fame 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 outfits have developed “cult followings,” Levy said.

A long term relationship

Sallyann Houghton, director of fashion at Epic Games, 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 video games and metaverse platforms, and has also created catwalk experiences for designers such as Gary James McQueen (nephew of Alexander McQueen ).

“Advances in graphics have only come so far,” 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 physical designers would struggle to pull off to achieve.

Fortnite has partnered with Moncler and Balenciaga on creative outfits that can react to game environments, like Moncler's altitude-adjusting pieces.

Fortnite has partnered with Moncler and Balenciaga on creative outfits that can react to game environments, like Moncler’s altitude-adjusting pieces. Credit: epic games

But many of the recent partnerships have also been one-off, and it will be some time before it becomes clear whether the big fashion houses are committed to the gaming market for the long term. Gucci is a brand that invests heavily in the space, with projects including Pokemon Go, Roblox and Tennis Clash, as well as its own Gucci Arcade, inspired by vintage games. This is due to its global potential, according to Robert Triefus, who leads its corporate and brand strategy.

“(Gaming) crosses generations, crosses genders, crosses ethnicities. It’s a true global community in every way,” he wrote in an email to CNN. “We realized there was an opportunity for Gucci to have a voice in this community.” Triefus added that his team has conducted “various types of experiments” for a “deeper understanding of the game 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 branded video game products will always be a draw.

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

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