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

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

Gaming and fashion may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but what our avatars wear — whether skydiving into a battle in Fortnite or having dinner in The Sims — has been interesting since video game characters could change clothes first.

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

And while the appetite for digital apparel has taken off outside of gaming in recent years, alongside the rise of collectible NFTs – see Dolce & Gabbana’s record-breaking $6 million collection, or a pair of Nike sneakers. and RTFKT sold for $133,000 – gamers laid the preparation for the current virtual fashion boom.

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 goods. EverQuest and World of Warcraft on eBay years ago. game developers and clothing brands have started monetizing skins for a wider audience.

“The direct-to-avatar economy isn’t 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 really a niche experience for people who are already players.”

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

Now, she says, “the scale of gambling in general has really become more mainstream.” According to a report by WGSN in 2020, skin sales accounted for 80% 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 spent more time at home.

Personalized creativity

When The Sims debuted in 2000, offering a world like our own instead of the industry-dominating fantasy titles, the creative pool of virtual fashion exploded. Like many game titles, The Sims can be modified or “modified” with cosmetic changes, such as hairstyles or clothing, imported from programs outside of the game.

“That’s really where digital fashion kicked in – the idea of ​​not always wanting to look like an NPC (non-player character) or another gamer,” said Jenni Svoboda, a Texas-based designer who is called Lovespun and has been creating custom designs for games such as The Sims, Second Life and Roblox since the mid ‘s.

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

The Sims have 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 gamers, any look is possible. Players make “custom hair, clothes, makeup – almost anything you can think of,” Svoboda explained. If you want Kylie Jenner’s matte lip colors, the matching pink outfits from “Mean Girls,” or all of Jules’ looks from “Euphoria,” there’s a mod for that.

But where custom designs are meant to enhance Sims gameplay, they’ve become the basis for platforms like the first metaverse Second Life, where everything in the 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 asserting their rights as early as 2006, with American Apparel, Armani and Adidas opening their digital storefronts, at a time when the platform was reportedly worth an estimated $64 million. Earlier this year, Jonathan Simkhai presented his Fall-Winter 2022 collection in Second Life in lieu of a physical show at New York Fashion Week.

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

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

On Roblox, top developers would have earned millions and had the ability to design game environments for their fashion partnerships. Svoboda has worked with Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger, and Karlie Kloss, and she thinks Roblox has “definitely been a gateway and an opening for a lot of brands to come in and collaborate,” she 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 big wave of role-playing games in online massively multiplayer (MMORPG) was launched. published. One thing that has never surprised him is how long people will go to collect digital outfits.

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

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

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

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

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

This interest has borne fruit for many multiplayer games, including the hugely popular Fortnite, whose style influence is an integral part of its gaming experience.

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

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

“The whole player experience is centered around this idea of ​​fantastic self-expression,” said Emily Levy, director of partnerships at Epic Games, which publishes the title. Fortnite may have become famous in 2018 for its competitive 100-person fighting game, but it also hosts social events like concerts (where Ariana Grande performed) and fashion tournaments. Certain outfits have developed “cult-like 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 at a place where luxury brands can mimic their physical garments. 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 track experiences for designers like Gary James McQueen (the nephew of ‘Alexander McQueen).

“Graphical advances have come so far,” she said. “We can now create a digital double, whether it’s an item 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 touch that physical designers would struggle to achieve. achieve.

Fortnite has teamed up with Moncler and Balenciaga on creative outfits that can react to gaming environments, like Moncler's Altitude Tuning Apparel.

Fortnite has teamed up with Moncler and Balenciaga on creative outfits that can react to gaming environments, like Moncler’s Altitude Tuning Apparel. Credit: epic games

But many of the recent partnerships have also been one-off, and it will be some time before we know if the major fashion houses commit to the gaming market for the long term. Gucci is a brand investing heavily in the space, with projects with Pokémon Go, Roblox and Tennis Clash, as well as their own vintage-inspired Gucci Arcade. That’s because of its global potential, according to Robert Triefus, who leads its corporate and brand strategy.

“(The game) crosses generations, crosses genres, crosses ethnicities. It’s a truly 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 their team conducted “a number of different 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 merchandise 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 great marketing,” he added. “It’s getting harder and harder to get the eyeballs of 18- to 34-year-olds, and their eyeballs are in interactive experiences. So I think that’s going to continue and intensify.”

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