Once considered a childish niche, gaming has now an undeniable gravity that many brands and industries seek to capitalise. As video games find inroads to new audiences, they alter the consumer landscape and the way brands market themselves – including fashion and luxury houses.
Streetwear and pop culture site Highsnobiety has released a first six-part white paper titled “Select Your Character,” which explores the collision between gaming and fashion, and the virtual future of luxury. According to Highsnobiety, the gaming industry is altering the consumer landscape and challenging norms around marketing, entertainment, and community-building.
“The niche communities that luxury once catered to – car collectors, watch experts, wine enthusiasts – have now been replaced by distinct virtual worlds. These enclaves, whether they exist on a subreddit, a Discord channel, or an unnamed backroom of the internet, are creating a new consumer metaverse: spaces that are hyper important to those who spend their time there, but relatively untouched by brands,” Highsnobiety notes.
According to Thom Bettridge, editor-in-chief of Highsnobiety, one of the main conclusions drawn is that gaming itself is so ubiquitous that it is almost a mistake to think of it as a category. “Calling someone Gen Z a gamer is like calling a baby boomer a ‘TV watcher’, or calling a millennial a ‘social media user’,” he said, adding that “79% of Highsnobiety readers we surveyed described themselves as ‘gamers,’ which is hard to think of for a stylish website.”
Bettridge also said the statistics in the report indicate “a real urgency” that fashion brands figure out how to present themselves in the gaming world in order to maintain their relevance.
Fashion brands position themselves in gaming
Some of the most iconic luxury brands like Gucci and Balenciaga have already started making inroads into the gaming space, issuing virtual garments for sandbox worlds or creating their own video games, in an attempt to attract new customers.
Louis Vuitton partnered with Riot Games’ League of Legends on prestige skins for 2019’s League of Legends World Championship Finals, while Marc Jacobs and Valentino outfits have turned up in Animal Crossing.
Some of the more adventurous luxury fashion brands are already experimenting with immersive gaming, like Balenciaga’s retro video game Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, which the brand released to showcase its fall 2021 collection.
At the same time, the fashion industry has turned to an influencer-style strategy to introduce their brands to the gaming world. For example, companies like Net-a-Porter and MM6 have collaborated with Kara Chung – an Animal Crossing player with a popular Instagram account featuring outfits from the game – to create a series of digital garments.
Of course, it’s no surprise that luxury fashion brands want to position themselves in an industry that is estimated to generate $175.8 billion in 2021; one with an increasing number of women. A 2020 report from the Entertainment Software Association found that women account for 41% of all gamers in the United States.
Gaming comes with risks for brands
However, in an industry just as diverse as the world it mirrors, winning over new consumers isn’t very easy. As in real life, newcomers can raise suspicions in online communities – particularly those who have a clear marketing mission, Highsnobiety warns.
For companies, there’s also a level of risk involved when partnering with influencers. “Not only can it be hard to control a brand image in a sandbox game, but in an industry notorious for sexism, racism, and homophobia (remember gamergate?) employing the wrong influencer could be detrimental.”
Moreover, fashion and video game crossovers have the potential to exacerbate pressures to conform to societal expectations around trends, money, and status in a negative way.
So, what’s the solution? Highsnobiety says it’s likely that the best fashion and gaming crossovers will contain a mix of strategies that cater to the communities they hope to reach. “If they don’t, brands risk losing relevance amongst a new generation of consumers.”