Gaming and esport is one of 2022’s hot trend for the fashion industry. From Nike to Champion, from Gucci to Louis Vuitton, everyone’s on the hunt for the next collaboration. However, fashion and luxury brands are yet to find the right practices when it comes to targeting them gamers and esport players.
In March 2021, a young 18-year-old crypto artist’s digital sneaker collaboration with RTFKT sold out in a matter of minutes, generating 3.1 million dollars. Gaming, NFT, AR, avatars are redefining the codes of fashion, and those of luxury. However, brands are yet to find the right practices when it comes to the tech world. Often jumping the gun, afraid of being late to the party, they rush in without a full understanding of who is on the other side of the screen.
The power that lies behind a luxury good is only as virtual as the one you give it. It’s a question of perception based on the imagination and storytelling created by the brand. Since the beginning of the pandemic most of our interaction has been online. What is the best way to represent yourself now: a physical Cartier watch on your wrist, or a virtual piece worn by your avatar over Zoom?
The version of yourself you share via social media, and the time you spend curating it, is already a carefully designed presentation of yourself. One could say this is not so different from having your own avatar; it’s a doppelganger extension of yourself living the life you wish you had [‘living your best life’]. Restrictions due to the pandemic, money, access etc are making your virtual life even more necessary to escape the physical world, its limits and uncertainties.
What gamers and luxury buyers have in common, is the appreciation for the attention to detail, precision almost to the level of perfection, and, of course, the wish to escape into alternate universes. This allows us to relive a time we wish we had been a part of, or explore a magical land, or a futuristic world. In Gucci’s late Aria fashion show video in April 2021, the artistic director, Alessandro Michaele, takes the viewer through The Savoy Club, a tribute to The Savoy Hotel in London, which is where founder Guccio Gucci worked as a liftboy in his youth. The same video takes us into a different universe to relive the heritage of the brand and its transformation all the way into its current phase: a fantastical garden. Michaele’s note on the video “a deep and ecstatic diving in everything we yearningly miss today… a jubilee of breath”.
Further, what the luxury industry and the tech industry also have in common is inaccessibility. As Tom Florio said about Anna Wintour in the September Issue [Documentary,2019] “I just don’t find her to be accessible to people she doesn’t need to be accessible to”, the same could be said about hardcore gamers.
1. Who are those 3 billion gamers fashion wants to catch?
The tech and fashion industry seem so different and yet have the same vision of one another. “…people are frightened of fashion and that because it scares them or it makes them feel insecure, they put it down. [people] say demeaning things about our world […] because they feel in some ways excluded, not part of the ‘cool group’ so as a result they just mock it” (Anna Wintour, The September Issue). It’s a great summary of how fashion still sees “geeks” and “gamers”. Those gamers have the same view of fashion.
However, since the explosion of the internet bubble, geeks have become a new target that brands are seeking to seduce, to better understand, and to better work with. The powerplay has reversed: they are now a necessity as employees, consultants and clients for the fashion industry. But, just like Pokémon, difficult to catch, they are.
The biggest markets in terms of revenue in video games are China, closely followed by the US, Japan and South Korea. Next comes Europe, focused around Germany, UK and France. However, new markets such as Africa and the Middle East are growing as gaming becomes more accessible;by 2022 the number of gamers is expected to surpass North America. This is because of the increase in cheap and affordable devices, represented as : 2.5 billion mobile players, 1.3 billion desktop players, and 800 million using gaming consoles. Interestingly, Europe is second behind Asia in terms of % of mobile players; in part due to decreased mobile costs. Many games on multiple devices, representing additional channels to push products to players. Another very important stat: 98% of revenues in mobile games are generated through in-game transactions (or ‘in-app purchases’), a trend which video gaming is set to follow (see for example, Fortnite battle-passes)..
Women account for 46% of gamers worldwide. 26-30 year old women often have more of a “hardcore gamer” profile, with and 36-65 year olds being more of a mobile device gamer with a “time filler” persona. This is a clear overlap with fashion enthusiasts:Luxury and sportswear brands will definitely try and tap into video games in order to attract female gamers.
It is therefore important that brands learn how to define a gamer and the personas in the gaming community. This information can be utilised by brands to target them differently.
Casual gamer could compare to a fashionista, who loves shopping and replicates their favorite influencers outfits on Instagram. On the other hand, hardcore gamers, those who can be found nightly on Xbox Game Pass, PSNow, or hanging out on Reddit, could compare to someone who reads about fashion everyday, knows about the craftsmanship behind products, keeps up to date with the business industry, dissects future trends and consumer behaviour, sometimes even trying to make fashion into a living. The distinguishing feature is the amount of passion, which is reflected by the time that goes into it. It’s crucial to make that distinction. Brands would do well to remember that comparison when they target hardcore gamers: they have more extreme wants, needs and desires, and as they cannot be easily distracted or diverted due to to their expertise on the subject.
Gamer segmentation source Newzoo
Gamers need to be segmented into many different categories in order for brands to target them properly. They can be broken down into 8 personas, from our hardcore to our casual: the Ultimate Gamer, the All-Around Enthusiast, the Cloud Gamer, the Conventional Player, the Hardware Enthusiast, the Popcorn Gamer, the Backseat Viewer, and the Time Filler.
2. How fashion brands are engaging with gamers
Social media, video games, streaming platforms and AR reflect a change of lifestyle that is occuring. The new generation has a second life and it’s fully digital. Brands need to find a way to communicate and exist inside this parallel life, in order to reach out and engage with them.
I had the opportunity to exchange with Julien Dupont, Partner Development Director at Fnatic, one of the most successful and well known esport brands which was created in 2004. He noted that esports cannot count on media rights as a main source of income, as players can watch and play for free. « Merch » (short for merchandising) is therefore one of the key revenues of gaming; this was an opportunity that sportswear brands, followed by fashion brands, were quick to grasp. As for getting the product out there it’s just a question of networks and networking. Valued products can ‘drop’ and sell out in a matter of minutes, depending on targeting the followers of the esport brand, the right influencers and their followers, and the right product placement. Luxury brands and esport/gaming target many of the same segment of clients but the core values of these companies and their CEO’s are at antipodes. Even when middle management suggests, it’s hard to get top management on board. This explains why it’s taking so long for them to understand how to work together and the opportunity they represent to one another. Merging these two worlds to give birth to authentic collaborations and best practices will take time. The fear of trying it out and getting it wrong was holding them back. However, Dupont is positive luxury brands will find their way. The esport/gaming world is simply inspiring itself from traditional sports marketing. Luxury brands will identify the KOL of the esport/gaming worlds, and just like Roger Federer or David Beckham will make them into brand ambassadors in the coming years.
In December 2020, Balenciaga created a video game instead of a fashion show to present its collection named Afterworld:The Age of Tomorrow. Demna Gvasaglia, the artistic director, is a keen gamer himself. What better way to offer a fully immersive experience to Balenciaga’s clients into Gvasaglia’s inspiration behind the collection. It was a playful way to permeate the universe of the designer, discover the outfits in detail, in movement and in 3D thanks to photogrammetry, a technique that allows the reconstruction of designs from pictures. Once models are disguised and dressed, they are modelised so as to be integrated into the game.
“Luxury customers have digital lives now, and it’s natural for them to want to take products into these lives”, said Ian Rogers, chief experience officer at French crypto start-up Ledger and an advisor to LVMH. “The idea of buying a luxury handbag and taking a digital representation of this into a video game or another digital environment is not too far away”.
Brands are first starting out by reaching the casual gamers who are already fashion clients. Those who play fashion/lifestyle games such as the Sims or Animal Crossing or those who wish simply to be ahead of the trends and can feel gaming being part of the “cool” and young new thing. Brands following this approach include Valentino and Jacquemus, which can be seen targeting the Time Fillers (23%) and All-round Enthusiasts (10%) .
Similarly, Sportswear brands such as Nike or Champion can be seen targeting the Pop-corn Gamers (14%) Backseat Viewers (6%) and Lapsed Gamers (15%)
The large and luxury worldwide established names are trying to reach all the way to the Ultimate Gamers (14%) and Subscribers (21%). These gamers usually invest their time in their games, and luxury brands and the high price tags allow them to reflect this in game to competitors. The brands are also trying to sell big-ticket in-game products through high profile collaborations, such as Gucci x Fnatic or Louis Vuitton x LOL.
3. How to breach the gap between gamers and fashion?
Despite all of the above there remains a large gap between the brands efforts to attract this community, and the gamers who actually see and appreciate the attempts. The video below of Gucci’s designed goods for Roblox goes to show how gamers see luxury brands’ attempts : Gucci x Roblox.
The key repeated reasons for this communication issue seem to come from the lack of knowledge from luxury brands of the gaming community and gaming world. This can be by:
- the wrong social media/communication channel;
- the lack of authenticity behind the action and thus gamers being suspicious they are being used as a quick and easy sell;
- the luxury brands setting prices too high; s; and
- the lack of knowledge from luxury brands of the gaming community and gaming world.
Reflecting this, the most challenging part of writing this article was infiltrating the gaming world. The more serious they are about gaming, the harder it is to reach out, especially since I myself, am not a gamer and do not use the social media platforms they use to exchange or get their news from; this is fashion’s first challenge. I first got the idea for this article when I realised my boyfriend who plays League of Legends everyday, had never heard of the Louis Vuitton collaboration, let alone who was the artistic director behind. Searching for “league of legends fashion” (a popular video game), gives articles about collaborations, but this is directed to the fashion industry (such as Vogue Business, Le Figaro, WWD, Highsnobiety, The Business of Fashion), and not the target. These media are not the customers media choice, which would instead be Reddit or Discord.
There is a whole market that the luxury industry is not accessing properly, one composed of young working professionals with disposable income which could be tapped into using gaming action and the right communication channels. These are often the same individuals who also rushed into the alt-coin opportunity. The expression “lambo on the moon”, used to describe the moment when your alt-coin investment is exploding and allows you to buy a Lamborghini, is an interesting one as it shows their passion for virtual possessions and status symbols, making them the perfect target for luxury brands.
I sent out a survey to my network who play video games (mostly France based). I received 35 answers, out of which only 7 spend between 2-5H/day, all others play under 2H. 50% were men and 50% were women, 55% aged between 25-35 years old and 33% between 15-25 years old.
From the 7 who play over 2H a day, most have already bought from a luxury brand but few have gone in shop or followed their Instagram accounts. This is therefore a great opportunity to transform these one-time customers, or prospects into loyal clients by showing them the luxury industry is interested in what they like and can be part of their world. There is no clear trend as to how they shop: on and offline, either directly from the brand or store’s website (Nike, Carhartt, Uniqlo, Citadium) or platforms but they also buy in vintage stores. They communicate with their friends on Discord, Telegram, Facebook messenger and post/get their information from Reddit, Twitter, Youtube, Twitch, less so on Instagram. The underlying motives seem to be relevance and convenience. Finally when asked what would motivate them to go into a physical luxury store, some ideas were: play and try on the clothes from a capsule special collaboration in real and in the game, or a VR experience inside the universe created between the luxury brand and the game.
Therefore, based on the stats and information above, in order for your brand’s gaming action to have the best return on investment, it’s important to define your target persona to best allocate your efforts and budget. Key elements to consider include:
- your brand’s visibility and E-reputation;
- choosing which game to collaborate with and why;
- choosing between a full online release or a phygital one (in-store and on-line);
- choosing how to collaborate with the game: product collaboration, merchandising, experience, product placement, collaboration with artist/gamers, a VR experience in shop;
- choosing the right media to reach your audience about this action.
In conclusion, sportswear and fashion brands have well understood this opportunity, using consulting agencies and collaborations to better target this large audience. Luxury brands, as usual, tend to be less agile and more timid when it comes to innovating trends and new markets, however are increasing their collaborations based on other brands’ successes. Once they define their strategy however, it will only be a matter of time before our latest purchase comes with its digital version for our avatar. After all, purchasing skins from a luxury brand (Louis Vuitton x LOL) or products for your gaming character (Gucci x Roblox) were the first test for this experiment. Blockchain and NFT’s can even offer that certificate of authentication that the luxury industry was waiting for from the tech industry, certifying exclusivity, and even digital immortality for a design.
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