As video games become a more mainstream and prevalent form of entertainment, marketing has cashed in on this worldwide phenomenon. Video games are the perfect vehicle to fulfill the strategic marketing mission of everyday life by providing unprecedented levels of engagement to its consumers. International brands are capitalizing on this growing market by creating partnerships with video game studios to develop profitable product placement on both ends. This includes the glamorous fashion industry.
The collaboration between fashion and gaming may seem like an odd couple, but clothing brands are partnering with giant game IPs for good reason. According to Newzoo, the global gaming market was forecasted to reach $148.8 billion in 2019, and according to the DFC, there are more than 3 billion video game consumers worldwide. The money isn’t just in playing games, but in a whole ecosystem that includes competitive esports, streaming, original content, and peripheral sales such as mice, keyboards, and headsets.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. As gamers value character customization more than ever, high-profile brands need gaming to stay relevant. While real-world brands ground unreal worlds, gaming presents fashion with a massive, global demographic. Gamers of all types are spending big bucks on their immersive and ever-growing hobby.
Product Placement and Customization
As video games evolve, a hysteria for deep customization of their worlds and the inhabitants within them has exploded. Not only is character customization the ultimate way to feel a connection to beloved avatars, it is a way to connect real-world brands to their unreal counterparts, thereby creating a more immersive experience for the player. Product placement can make virtual worlds as lifelike as possible by drawing a line closer to reality.
Perhaps the start of the customization craze could be traced back to the skateboarding franchise, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Tony Hawk’s Underground. Tony Hawk’s big appeal was that it featured real skaters on real decks. If a player wanted to insert their own likeness into the game, Create-A-Skater customized appearance, skater stance, clothes, accessories, and skateboards. More than anything, Tony Hawk’s emulated the aesthetic of skating culture by partnering with real-world brands with which skating enthusiasts were familiar, like Quicksilver’s t-shirts and board shorts. Tony Hawk’s was one of the first to bring product placement to the forefront of video game ad revenue and marketing.
Need for Speed: Heat, a racing game franchise published by Electronic Arts, features, for the first time ever in an NFS title, character customization. Players can dress avatars in a variety of different clothing, including real-world brands like Marcelo Burlon and Adidas. One of the game’s main characters, Ana, wears an Adidas sweatsuit. The symbiotic relationship between games and fashion brands strikes again as Adidas launches its Need for Speed-themed Top X sneaker along with matching apparel, selling at Adidas Originals retailers in the United States.
Product placement and character customization go hand-in-hand with sports games. A player can create themselves with startling accuracy in games like NBA 2k19. In doing so, they can envision themselves dunking, but now they can also see what they’d be wearing as they did it. Then they could buy those same clothes in real-life. However, It’s a wish fulfillment scenario gone awry, as now fans are criticizing the basketball series saying that advertising has become too aggressive. Both Jordan and Nike sponsor the game, even going so far as to include real-life branded Jordan tournaments. Product placement in gaming was a cursory experience, but now, according to some, branded apparel went overboard, sullying the escapism into video game worlds.
A New Era of Expression
The Final Fantasy series cultivated a close relationship with numerous fashion brands and designers such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Vivienne Westwood—who was featured in a Final Fantasy XV side quest. The female lead in Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning, is a popular face in haute couture, gathering gigs in high fashion left and right.
In 2012, Prada dressed Final Fantasy XIII-2 characters, including Lightning, in the menswear Spring/Summer collection in order to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Final Fantasy franchise. In 2016, French fashion house Louis Vuitton featured Lightning in their Spring-Summer 2016 Series 4 advertising campaign, describing the lavender-haired heroine as a reflection of the “new pictorial process” and a “herald of a new era of expression.”
That wasn’t Louis Vuitton’s last foray into gaming. This year, the French fashion house partnered with Riot Games’ League of Legends, a fast-paced competitive strategy game, to create the LVxLoL collection. The partnership also collaborated for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship Finals to create a bespoke travel case for the Summoner’s Cup Trophy and skins designed by Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière. Qiyana, the Empress of Elements, was also seen wearing Louis Vuitton in the True Damage music video.
Moreover, these weren’t the first instances of major fashion brands collaborating with game IPs to create an integrated marketing plan. In 2003, Capcom partnered with Diesel Jeans to design the main characters in Devil May Cry 2 and promoted the game’s release by selling the unlockable costumes all over Japan. Diesel also had ties with Interplay Entertainment’s 1999 first-person shooter Kingpin: Life of Crime by placing the Diesel logo on character textures. Finally, Diesel Jeans developed a computer game in the late ‘90s called Digital Adrenalin—55DSL.
As fashion houses are dressing characters like Lightning, game fans are spending exuberant amounts of money to emulate their favorite game characters. Costume play, or cosplay, is a fast-growing industry and among one of the most popular multimedia arts today. Dedicated costume makers will spend upwards of $500 per costume to fabricate their own fantasy duds to show off at cosplay conventions. Certain cosplayers are internationally famous within the gaming social scene due to their seamstress skills, and more often than not, personal beauty.
Professional cosplay is a business, one that thrives on brand recognition of the media IPs. Accessorizing cosplay through replicas and video game memorabilia can be just as expensive as the handmade costumes themselves. Video game weapons such as the Needler from Halo, and Destiny’s Thunderlord Machine Gun, can be wielded for a nice chunk of change. Lastly, for $375, Metal Gear Solid fans can don the very same watch that Big Boss wears in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
To some degree, fashion has always had a place in virtual worlds—from the early internet’s doll creator, The Palace, to the virtual dollhouse mega-series,The Sims. Browser-based paper-doll games allowed users to manually click and drop clothes onto their two-dimensional big-headed avatars, called dollz. As a true example of the ‘90s, The Palace featured baggy-clothed, skateboard wielding, shaggy-haired teenagers that were vaguely reminiscent of Bratz dolls. That was just the beginning.
From the start, The Sims featured real-world brands and celebrities in their expansion and stuff packs, like Drew Carey as a party-crashing NPC in The Sims: House Party. The Sims 2: H&M Fashion Stuff started the trend of weaving real-world fashion into the cartoony Sims series. The stuff pack even included a fashion runway for simmers to show off their own outfit designs.
This trend continued with the The Sims 3: Katy Perry’s Sweet Treats that added fabulous fashions and hairstyles lifted straight from the pop star’s red carpet appearances. Furthermore, modders added thousands of real-world fashion brands into every iteration of the game. With just a few downloads, a simmer could style their sim in almost any real-world, recognizable brand.
Most recently, The Sims 4 released Moschino Stuff Pack on PC in August 2019 that featured a partnership with the luxury fashion brand, Moschino. Not only could players dress their sims in Moschino gear, simmers could wear the exact same clothes for $595. Unfortunately, the cheat ‘motherlode’ doesn’t exist in the real world. Moschino also released an advertising campaign that pictured their models as sims in a real world, set against digitally rendered Sims 4 backgrounds and posing in typical, hilarious sim style. In truth, the Moschino collection carries that video game aesthetic with bold outlines and two-dimensional graphics that seem as if the threads were painted instead of being worn.
Navigating Mobile Gaming
This trend of virtual doll houses featuring real-world brands extends outside of console and PC AAA titles. According to Newzoo, mobile gaming revenue exceeded $68.2 billion in 2019, almost double that of PC games. Therefore, the impenetrable blue steel gaze of brand advertisement has fixed its eye upon the mobile landscape. Style icons and socialiates, such as Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry, are capitalizing on those outrageous numbers with fashion apps and dress-up games.
Gucci, a high-fashion brand, joins in by adding arcade-style games to its mobile app. The first two games are called Gucci Ace and Gucci Bee, the former referencing the iconic Ace sneaker. Gucci Ace features levels that draw inspiration from each era in gaming. For instance, the first level signifies 8-bit while the next depicts a console-dominated gaming world. In a true reflection of itself, the last level pictures the future of mobile gaming. Moreover, Gucci outlines their own history as a mega-brand as players journey through the different games on the app. This type of interactive storytelling can be utilized for practical and engaging marketing.
A True Love Affair
While fashion has always had a bit of a love affair with gaming, it is perhaps more necessary than ever for fashion to use gaming as an advertising canvas to remain relevant within modern culture. Real-world brands anchor beloved digital worlds in a marketable and bona fide way while gaming offers a wealth of potential to connect and engage with consumers on a personal and intimate level. Gaming is reshaping the world and transforming the way people are consuming entertainment and global products. In the end, Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Louis Vuitton, summed it up best: “reality and fantasy becomes one.”