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How games were an early entry point into the world of digital fashion

By Francois Malget


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Skin designed in collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Source: Riot Games

Digital fashion is starting to make a big impact on the fashion industry. A lot of extremely innovative work is being done in that particular segment of the industry, but there is still a disparity with its widespread applications. In order to change this, experts are talking about the necessity of gamified environments. Gamification in itself refers to the integration of game-mechanics into non-gaming environments. In the case of digital fashion this is the integration of visuals and sounds into a real-life environment, in order to engage with visitors and enhance their engagement and participation.

What this makes very clear is the intricate relationship between the world of gaming and digital fashion. Being digital environments by nature, games have always been a great entry point for various fashion houses to integrate their pieces digitally. This synergy between digital fashion and the world of gaming has existed since the introduction of human characters in gaming, as afterall, every character in every game has always been wearing clothes. Not only have they been wearing garments to cover their naked bodies, ideally they are also important clues to provide further pieces of information on the character. They are also tools to illustrate the wider environment the game is taking place in, adding depth and richness to a digital realm.

Conceived and designed by inside developing studios, the next step was to get the players more involved by offering them the opportunity to customize their avatar according to their personal tastes, introducing a sense of self-expression and personal aesthetic into the world of gaming. This is closely linked to the wide-spread popularity of games whose storylines follow one specific character or avatar, increasing the likeliness of a closer relationship between the player and the character. This becomes especially apparent in games that feature an avatar navigating an open-world environment, as in games like ‘World of Warcraft’ or the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series, or real-life simulations, such as ‘Second Life’ or the highly popular ‘The Sims’ games. The latter also increased the likelihood of direct identification with the avatar, as in many cases they were idealized versions of the players themselves.

Identifying with your avatar

As part of this customization, clothing was an intricate part. Players were able to acquire digital clothing pieces in exchange for in-game currency and later on real currency.

‘Second Life’ was developed by Linden Lab and was first introduced in 2003 and has, according to a 2020 interview with Ebbe Altar, CEO of LindenLab, still around 900,000 active users. The concept is based on living life in an alternative world accessible through a computer. Inside this world, people were able to acquire items and even property, creating a new potential source of income. One company to recognize this early was Adidas, entering the digital arena by opening a presence inside the virtual world. But, it wasn’t just real brands that were able to create digital clothing. Users also had the opportunity, given the necessary coding abilities, to design and offer their own collections to other players. This integration of real brands into a game environment wasn’t just a single occurrence. Other very popular examples of this were ‘The Sims 2: H&M Fashion Stuff’ (2007) and ‘The Sims 3: Diesel Stuff’. Both of these were expansion packs, add-ons onto the main game, which offered the players digital versions of H&M and Diesel pieces for their avatars.

Fashion and Games today

Today, according to Statista, the gaming industry is worth around 178 billion US dollars, an increase from 70.6 billion in 2012, with estimates it will continue to grow to 268.8 billion by 2025. As online games became more popular and wide-spread, the initial hesitation to spend money in-game has been overcome as proven by the hugely popular game ‘League of Legends’. With around 100-120 million active monthly players, it counts as one of the biggest online games. Free to play, but with an option to acquire in-game tender through legal tender, the game has generated 1.75 billion US dollars in 2020. Within the game, people are playing through avatars called champions, which each having multiple skins, different visual representations, available. In 2019, Riot Games, the company behind ‘League of Legends’ announced a collaboration with French fashion house Louis Vuitton with Nicolas Ghèsquière having designed two exclusive skins.

Linea Rossa collection in Rider's Republic. Source: Prada

Another game which witnessed fashion houses launching into a digital realm was Animal Crossing, a social simulation video game developed by Nintendo. Experiencing a surge of popularity during the pandemic, which forced people to find new ways to connect, the brands also picked up on the appeal of the game. Marc Jacobs and Valentino brough their designs to the game, later followed by brands like Gucci Beauty, Pandora, Ted Baker and H&M, all establishing a presence. Two of the latest brands to follow were Balenciaga offering exclusive skins in the game ‘Fortnite’ and Prada approaching the digital world by offering its Linea Rossa outerwear pieces to players of the game ‘Riders Republic’.

It becomes evident that fashion houses have recognized the huge appeal and potential for profits of offering digital pieces. What started within an encapsulated in-game world is now slowly arriving in our reality as with technological advancement, the emergence of AR technology, it is starting to become more widely available and applicable to our daily lives, opening up an entirely new potential market. Of course, this does not only attract big fashion brands, but also a lot of new-age designers who have focused on digital creations. As digital fashion has now transcended the realm of gaming, is making inroads to more widely used applications and is even becoming an entity in itself, the success will ultimately depend on how far reaching AR will be integrated into our daily lives in the future. As long as our physical bodies take precedence over a virtual one, we still have to follow the demands the physical world opposes onto us, such as the necessity of getting dressed, no matter how many digital worlds we like to connect to in our free time.

Digital Fashion